Who Killed Mary Warner?

Lackawanna County, and Scranton in particular, was a very dangerous place to be in 1904. Several murders and other violent crimes were reported throughout the year. Many had been solved and their perpetrators prosecuted, but a few still remain unsolved to this day.

December 1904

While most of these violent attacks were committed by mobsters and bar combatants and had little effect on the townspeople, one murder, in particular, rattled the city.

November 28, 1904

Mary Warner was a German-born immigrant that worked as a “janitress” or a “charwoman” at the County Courthouse – cleaning the offices in the evening. She lived at the rear (or maybe basement) of 1128 Meade Ave with her husband Jacob and young son Floyd. The two married in 1892 when Jacob was almost 47 and Mary just 28. After the couple suffered through a stillborn baby in 1894, their son Floyd Wilhelm Warner was born in 1897.

While returning home from work, Mary was attacked and clubbed to death on the evening of November 26, 1904. She wasn’t discovered until the next afternoon when William Jackson and Alfred Hunt were returning home from a baseball field (likely present-day Weston Field). They made the gruesome discovery in a vacant lot, in plain view, at the corner of Foster St and Albright Ave in the Diamond Flats section of the city.

Newspapers claimed, “a more shocking or atrocious crime has never been committed in Lackawanna County in all its history.” The coroner believed that a single violent blow to the left side of Mary’s head was the cause of death. The wounds were so substantial that he ruled it an instant death. It was believed that the initial attack had happened nearby and her body was then dragged to another area where she was found and was allegedly “outraged” by the perpetrator. While there is no mention specifically of rape, the reports seem to indicate, using the language of the time, that she was molested after she was murdered.

It was initially believed that Mary left her job at the courthouse around 9:00pm and took a streetcar to Albright Avenue where she was dropped off at approximately 9:30pm. There, it was thought that she stopped by Bannister’s Bakery, located at 902 Albright Avenue, to pick up two loaves of bread, which she carried home to her family.

The Warner home was less than 1/2 mile from the bakery and just three blocks away from where she was ambushed – the baked goods were found nearby.

Oddly, the body lay just fifteen feet from the main road and was left uncovered. Police wondered why it took so long for anyone in this busy neighborhood to discover it. Even Mary’s husband passed by this route twice the next morning as he attempted to retrace his wife’s footsteps. Across the street from the scene, detectives stated that they were able to see the body in plain view from the porch of the home of the Setzers and O’Haras.

It was reported that thousands of friends, neighbors, and other curious onlookers flooded the scene while investigators tried to piece together what happened. Many of the women were said to have fainted when they heard the news and/or saw the lifeless body of their neighbor – just 10-15 feet away from the Setzer home.

With little to go on, the City of Scranton put up a $500 reward for information leading to the killer. Of course, the tragedy turned political as the pro-police crowd argued that City Council is not properly funding the police force. It was stated that the 20 square miles of the City were covered by only 40 patrol officers.

Investigators were quickly able to identify the murder weapon. An oak club that was described as being about 3″ in diameter at the top and narrowing to 2″ at the bottom, weighing about four pounds was found near the railroad tracks. The handle was bloodied with fingerprints. It’s believed that the killer fled the scene towards the tracks and threw the weapon into the bushes along the way.

Upon review of the club, it was determined that it was a “cant hook” – a tool used in the mines to help handle heavy timber. The lower part of the club, where there was usually a hook bolted into the stick, was sawed off. The foreman at the Penn Brook shaft recalled seeing this particular “cant” at the mine a few days ago.

Modern Cant Hook

Another clue was a bloody handkerchief. The cloth was also found near the tracks – not far from the murder weapon. It was described as a “cheap variety” and still had creases from being ironed. Unfortunately, this was long before forensics so DNA and fingerprinting didn’t exist just yet. It would take several more years before that technology would come into play and decades for DNA.

As investigators interviewed more people, it became clear that Mary and Jacob did not have a happy home life. Jacob was much older and in poor health. The two often quarreled over money – likely because Jacob, described as frail and ill, would jump from job to job – but only when he was healthy enough to work. Meanwhile, Mary would do laundry for others and she had just started working at the courthouse.

The case was getting plenty of attention throughout the state and around the country. News had immediately reached the papers as far away as North Dakota and Maine.

Williston Graphic, Williston North Dakota – December 1, 1904

Lackawanna County stepped up and offered $2,000 for any information that led to a conviction. It was speculated that this amount of money would entice large, reputable detective agencies to send someone to investigate the crime.

Leads poured in. It was reported that a man was at the Warner home Friday afternoon, and was arguing with Mrs. Warner.

Mary’s friend, Mrs. Blume, relayed to police that Mary had told her of the incident but refused to share the name of the man. She added that after that incident, she and Mary went downtown and met up with a railroader named “Ed”. It was reported that Ed and Mary had an intimate relationship. Police are now looking for this man in connection with the murder.

Another man, John Gerrity of nearby Diamond Avenue, told police that he was walking home Saturday evening and he saw a man in a long trench coat with his collar up and a hat lowered down, covering his eyes. The man looked suspicious enough that Mr. Gerrity moved away from him as he passed the stranger along the DL&W bridge that crosses the Lackawanna River. He also said he saw a woman matching Mary’s description following behind him – carrying a couple of packages. After he passed the man, he turned to see if the woman behind was OK. She too moved away from him as she passed the stranger at the end of the bridge. Mr. Gerrity said he kept checking on the woman as he walked and he believed that the man was now following them.

Period Map of Scranton PA (DL&W Bridge in the center of the photo)

The woman continued to follow Mr. Gerrity until they reached Scanlon’s Hotel at the corner of Albright and Providence Rd. That’s when the woman turned onto Albright St and Gerrity continued on Providence. He said to himself that he felt that it was a “lonesome” way to go and when he got home, he shared the story with his wife.

The next day, when word of the murder spread around, Mr. Gerrity couldn’t help but think that it was the woman he saw the night before.

Based on Mr. Gerrity’s account of the events, it was believed that the man Mr. Gerrity saw was the assailant. From that, a theory emerged that had Mary walking home from her job at the courthouse. She walked past the Penn Brook mine where her assailant saw her. The assailant picked up the cant and followed his target. It was determined that Mary went to Turnbull’s Bakery on Capouse Ave, and not Bannister’s Bakery on Albright as reported earlier, where she picked up a “Dutch Cake”. Then she crossed the Lackawanna River via the DL&W tracks, walked up to Providence Road, then turned towards home on Albright Ave.

The man followed her along Albright Avenue when he attacked her at the corner of Foster St. This section of town was notoriously dark with no street lamps in the area. It was presumed that Mary lay dead at the corner where she was initially attacked for quite some time given the amount of blood that was left at the scene. Police believe the attacker struck her, then hid until he knew no one had heard the attack. Once things were clear, he dragged her lifeless body across the street and into the field where he further assaulted her. The man took off towards the railroad tracks to make his escape – ditching the club and the handkerchief along the way.

Just two days after Mrs. Warner was found, Mary’s paramour turned himself in. Edward Jones was a former railroad brakeman who lived on Academy St on the city’s West Side. As soon as he had heard the story, he felt the need to turn himself in to clear his name.

He said that he and Mary had been friends for over two years. Jones stated the last time he saw her was Friday night, just before 11:00pm at the corner of Foster and Albright – the same corner where she was murdered the very next night. Jones said he was out on Friday afternoon with Mary and Mrs. Blume. The three had drinks before Mary left for work and Mrs. Blume returned home. Jones stayed out and visited other taverns in town. Later, he met up with Mary after work and walked her back to her home. They made plans to meet again on Monday.

Jones says that he is not guilty and has no idea who would have done this to Mary, but he added that while at the saloon on Friday night, Mary had told both he and Mrs. Blume about the argument she had at the house earlier that day.

In his initial interview with investigators, Jacob told police about a man named Caffrey that had been at the house on several occasions. The man had fixed some plumbing for the family, but Jacob believed he and Mary were seeing each other as well. Jacob was definitely jealous of Mary and friends told police that Jacob would often confront Mary about her friendships with other men.

By December 1, it’s learned that an investigator from the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency is now being paid by the city to work on the case. One of Pinkerton’s top men from New York is a former Scrantonian and he assigns one of his top detectives to help the city with the case.

The brutal killing had gained so much attention and the reward was so high that many amateur investigators were out in force. Reports surfaced of the Sherlock Holmes wannabes snooping around the scene of the crime, lurking at the funeral, and agreeing to share leads with police, but only after the police agreed to not steal their reward money. Of course, the extra eyes seemed well on the surface, but it distracted officers from doing their work.

Meanwhile, after days of the newspapers reporting that Mary was “outraged”, which appears to be another term for raped, evidence now suggests that she was not – and that jealousy has become the suggested motive. Still, detectives can’t determine if it was Jacob’s jealousy of his wife’s interactions with other men – or if it was one of the other men and their jealousy with the others.

Jacob was very interesting to the investigators. Police initially questioned him, then decided to detain him for further “sweating” – but stopped short of calling him a suspect.

Further questioning revealed that the man Mary might have been arguing with on Friday afternoon was a “rag peddler”. Patrick Caffrey, one of several Caffrey brothers that lived nearby was a plumber. Police brought him in for questioning based on Jacob’s statements. Patrick told police that he would frequently see the peddler at the Warner home – and would leave his horse tied outside while he visited the home. Caffrey lived nearby and his Aunt owned the Warner home. He was in the home a couple of times doing work for his Aunt. Coincidently, Patrick and Jacob both worked at Allis-Chalmers – a company that is still in business today.

Patrick steadfastly denied any involvement in Mary’s murder. He admitted that he had been in the Warner home, but it was to repair some water pipes. As for an alibi, he claimed he was out Saturday night in downtown Scranton, primarily at the Valley House tavern – and arrived back home at about 1:45am Sunday morning. Patrick named the people he was out with that evening and police will be following up to ensure they can corroborate his story. He also shared that he saw Ed Jones Saturday night. He knew Ed because he would frequently see him with Mary.

The only reason Patrick is being questioned is because Jacob brought up his name. Police believe Patrick’s testimony and have a feeling that Jacob was trying to deflect attention and get the police to look at other suspects.

December 5, 1904

When Jacob was questioned again, this time in the Mayor’s office, he told investigators that he often saw Mary with other men. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t see cause for concern for her life. He claimed that after Mary went off to work, he and his son went to sleep around 8pm that evening.

At about midnight, Floyd woke up crying for his mother, but Jacob told him to go back to sleep – not thinking anything was out of the ordinary. When they woke up at 5am, Jacob become concerned. Together, they went to the courthouse to look for her. They were told that she left there around 9pm the night before. Jacob grew more concerned – but thought maybe she went to visit a friend or relative. They reversed their steps and retraced what they thought would have been the route that Mary took the night before. They passed within a few feet of Mary’s body – which was slightly covered in snow from an early morning snowfall. Did Jacob know she was there?

Police also questioned Floyd. The young child told essentially the same story to investigators – he and his father went to sleep at 8pm. He woke up in the middle of the night. And they searched for his mother in the morning. He also told investigators that he would often see different men in the house – but that he didn’t know anything about the argument Friday afternoon.

The Pinkerton detective had been in town for five days and finally, reports of a new clue gave hope to the case. However, investigators are being tight-lipped about the lead. All they say is that a new witness came forward with some information. James Reilly of nearby Nay Aug Avenue met with police and shared some previously unknown information.

From that, detectives are said to have a person under surveillance while they continue to keep a close eye on other potential suspects. It was determined that they have exhausted their existing witnesses and they will not be “sweating” them again unless new details emerge.

December 8, 1904

Analysis was performed on the handkerchief and it was determined that it was, in fact, human blood that stained the garment. It was confirmed that the Warners did not own any such items, so it was believed that it was the killer’s linen with Mary’s blood. It was noted that the cant had not yet been tested and that it was still in the DA’s possession.

Police say that the information gathered from Mr. Reilly was largely worthless. He did provide a list of names that investigators were tracking down. One man, in particular, was known to be a nuisance to women in the area. He was described as a “degenerate of a very low type.” The man was said to “accost women in dark and lonely places and make indecent suggestions to them.” He was described as usually “wearing a long overcoat with a collar turned up, and a cap pulled down over the eyes.” Sound familiar? It’s the same as Mr. Gerrity’s description of the man he saw the evening of the murder.

Did Mr. Reilly really have first-hand knowledge of this man? Or did he take what Mr. Gerrity reported in hopes of cashing in on the reward?

City officials say they are aware of the man, but claim he has no connection to the murder.

As the days passed, the public was growing anxious. By December 9th, an editorial appeared in the Scranton Republican. In it, the paper urged patience with the investigation. It brought up a previously unsolved case that is very similar. Thirty-year-old Mary Quinn of West Scranton was brutally murdered in a similar fashion two years prior, but the newspaper claimed that case was an exception. They reiterated their faith in the investigators working the case.

December 16, 1904

A week later, another blow to the case. It’s reported that Detective John Conners of the Pinkerton Agency has returned to New York City. He leaves the city without a suspect, but with a $300 bill – the going rate of $8 per day plus expenses for the detective. That’s about $260 per pay and a total of almost $10,000 in today’s dollar.

It was stated that every lead was investigated and nothing new has been discovered. The investigation was thorough and they believed it was the work of one man, but they didn’t have enough evidence to justify an arrest.

December 24, 1904

Yet one more week passed with nothing new until, as expected, the coroner’s inquest also failed to uncover any new information in the case.

December 28, 1904

Finally, on December 28, over a month after the murder, a new piece of information is uncovered about the case. It was learned that the cant was used as a baseball bat by Floyd and his friends just days before the murder. The cant had disappeared from the Penn Brook mine on Wednesday before the murder. It’s believed that Floyd found the cant under their porch on Thursday or Friday when he and his friends used it as a baseball bat. When they were finished, Floyd put the bat/cant in a trash barrel behind their house – leaving the soon-to-be murder weapon easily exposed and accessible.

Even with this new information, police still don’t have enough evidence to support an arrest. They believe they know who the killer is and state that they believe something will come out shortly that will lead to an arrest.

Months pass with no new information. Each passing day the public is coming closer to the conclusion that the case will likely go unsolved and the streets will remain dangerous. The Superintendent of Police, Lorna Day, continues to push the need for more police officers and refers to the case – stating that Mary might be alive today if there were more police walking the beat. Day states that there were 1,200 more arrests made in 1904 than the previous year.

The city of Scranton had over 102,000 people according to the 1900 census – making it the third-largest city in the state behind Philly and Pittsburgh. And it was just beginning to boom! By 1910, the population increased to almost 130,000 before topping out in 1930 at 143,000. In January 1905, Supt Day was asking Council for funding for an additional ten officers – knowing that if he asked for fifteen, he wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Still no closure in sight. The community rallied around the widower and his son. They held a raffle to raise money for the family that was clearly down on their luck.

But that was short-lived. By May 1905, neighbors complained that Jacob was not properly caring for his son. Floyd was seen wandering around outside by himself from dawn to dusk – often with little to no clothes on. Neighbors would often feed him throughout the day. Before long, the Juvenile Court interceded and petitioned to gain control of young Floyd.

In court, Jacob countered saying that he was always willing to pay the neighbors for any food they provided to Floyd, but that he could not afford to pay for his care. He told the court that he had arranged to pay a Mrs. William Becker of Petersburg to take in Floyd – to care for him and to send him to school. Mrs. Becker agreed and the Judge ordered Floyd to her custody. It was reported that when Floyd left the courtroom with Mrs. Becker, Jacob burst into tears.

Jacob wasn’t happy without his son. He petitioned the court within a few months and was able to take back custody of Floyd as long as he continued to take care of the boy. He and Floyd moved in with friends in Petersburg – perhaps the Becker family.

That too was short-lived. By May 1906, Floyd, now 9, was back in the custody of the City. Jacob once again failed in caring for his son. By this time, the City of Scranton established a Juvenile Court and hired probation officers that would look after the children that are taken into custody. Floyd, listed as a “neglected child”, became the first child in Lackawanna County to be assigned to a probation officer – Mrs. Duggan.

It was suggested that Floyd would end up at a new center for youth that was to be built at the corner of Capouse Ave and New York St, but I can’t find any evidence of that happening.

What we do know is that Floyd was eventually sent to the Hillside Home in Clarks Summit. At the time, the facility was used to house the poor and mentally ill and was known as the “Poor Farm.”

In February 1907, Jacob once again petitions the court to turn over Floyd to his care. The court agrees and Floyd is returned home to Jacob on February 23, 1907.

But once again, it was a short stint as Floyd ended up back in the Hillside Home.

In a stroke of either genius or desperation, by September 1908, Jacob decided to present himself to the Poor Board and petition to be accepted in the Hillside Home. This would help him as he was listed as a “wanderer” and described as “considerably emaciated”. Not only would they house and feed him, but he would be able to be near his son. The board granted his request and Jacob moved in the next day.

For each instance in front of the Juvenile Court or Poor Board, it was made known that Jacob was the husband of the murdered Mary Warner.

Jacob was a native of the tiny village of Binningen, Switzerland, and was known as the “Morose Old Swiss” within the Hillside Home. He passed away on May 19, 1912. No death-bed confession. No funeral services. He died frail and poor – and alone, as his son Floyd, now 15, was listed as being away at school.

Jacob’s cause of death was listed as Cirrhosis of the Liver. His body would be “crammed into a box” with another man and sent to the Anatomical Society in Philadelphia. The Society collected human cadavers that they would distribute to medical and dental facilities for research. The two men were put into a tiny crate to save money on freight charges.

It was written that Jacob was one of the suspects in his wife’s murder. The “obituary”, if you can call it that, stated that Jacob was “sweated” for two days and was under surveillance for weeks in connection with the crime. Upon his death, one lawyer was quoted as saying, “Surgeons may ply their knives and steel for the hidden mysteries of the human body, but there is one secret locked up in the breast of that man that no surgical skill will ever find.”

By 1920, Floyd is an “inmate” at the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children in Middletown, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. He’s 22 and listed as a painter for the home and is said to be a “progressive lad, contended and a favorite among his companions who like him, are wards of the state.”

Today, the facility is known as Elwyn and still prides itself on its founding in 1852. They describe themselves as “the leader in education, treatment, and support services to children and adults with autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and related behavioral health challenges.”

Mary’s murder faded with time. No leads were reported and the case went cold, even though there was a detective in the city that was on the case and was related to Mary. Edward Young not only was involved in the investigation, but he also served as a pallbearer for Mary’s funeral. Still, the killer was never brought to justice.

There were a couple of instances that brought hope for closure. In December 1907, police arrested a 26-year-old “colored” man, Robert Perry, for assaulting a couple of women in a similar fashion. There was some thought that he was involved in Mary’s murder, but police could not come up with enough evidence to pin it on him. That didn’t stop the court of public opinion from blaming him for the murder. For that matter, people thought he was also responsible for the murder of Mary Quinn – the young woman from West Scranton that was murdered two years before Mary.

Hope sprang again in March 1914, when another “negro”, William Pegram, was arrested in Wilkes-Barre for assaulting a 13-year-old girl. When pressed by a local reporter, he confessed to the murder of Mary Quinn – but his statements were so contradictory that his confession was questioned by police. They did believe that he might have assaulted and killed another woman – likely Mary Warner, but again, the details were sketchy at best. When asked about Warner, Pegram was adamant in his denial of the accusation. Regardless, Pegram, described as a “nut” with an “unsound mind” was convicted of 2nd Degree Murder of Mary Quinn. He would eventually be released and police would reopen the Quinn case. Still no justice for Mary Warner.

Neither Mary Warner nor Mary Quinn has ever received justice for their murders. The evidence certainly points to Jacob Warner as being responsible for his wife’s death, but was it enough to stand up in the court of law? Probably not.

I’m not sure what happened to Floyd. Did he remain at Erwyn until his death? Was he eventually released to live a productive life outside the walls of a mental institution? He was not listed as residing in the home in the 1930 census, nor did I find a death certificate for him in Pennsylvania through (1968). I have to wonder if Floyd was a product of his upbringing or if he was challenged from birth. Clearly, he was neglected as a youth and traumatized when his mother was brutally murdered, then was at the center of custody battles for years during his early development years. I hope he ultimately found peace.

Poor Mary couldn’t even rest in peace. She was buried at what was known as “The Little German Cemetery” on North Washington Avenue in Scranton where her stillborn son was buried in 1894. The cemetery was in a small plot of land next to the Lackawanna County Prison.

The cemetery was founded around 1870 and was the final resting place for more than 300 people. Initial reports said the last to be buried there was in 1904 – the same year of Mary’s death. Ownership of the plot of land changed hands several times and was ultimately lost over time. In the 1950s, prisoners from next door used to clean up the plot of land on occasion.

In 1964, the “almost-forgotten” cemetery was targeted by residents of the area. They wanted the bodies reinterred to make way for a playground as the cemetery was a place for “delinquents” to congregate. Boy Scouts went in and cleaned up the plot of land in 1965, and kept the residents at bay for a while, but they were still not happy. The fight continued for decades.

Cemetery with Prison in the background (1974)

The County took over the plot of land in 1992 under the eminent domain laws and, allegedly, in 1995, the bodies of those were reinterred at the Dunmore Cemetery. Oddly, I can’t find any articles that show the movement of those laid to rest.

March 12, 1997

In 1997, as improvements were underway to the plot of land, a body was accidentally unearthed by construction crews. It was stated that they thought all of the bodies were moved “almost two years ago.” Still, then Coroner Joseph Brennan knew that finding a body, or bodies, was a possibility. He was quoted as saying “We had no specific format of where the people were buried. We went through and removed what we could find.” It was determined that the remains were that of Jacob Rentschler, who died in 1929.

March 31, 1997

From what I can tell, the bodies were relocated to the Dunmore Cemetery, where a monument to those that they could properly identify was dedicated. While there’s no mention of the stillborn son, Mary Warner is listed on the monument – and hopefully, she can finally rest in peace.

So, who do you think the killer was? Did Jacob’s jealousy finally get the best of him? Did Mary break off the relationship with Ed and he retaliated? Was it the plumber, Patrick Caffrey? Or the mysterious “rag man” that was often seen at the Warner home? Or could it have been just a random stranger? What about Robert or William, the two men that were convicted of similar crimes.

2 thoughts on “Who Killed Mary Warner?

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