Hanging Weather in Albany

Ready for some more murder? After the hanging of Jesse Strang, the “History of the Police Service of Albany” tells us that:

“The next recorded execution for murder and the first one away from the eye of the general public, is that of Jacob Leddings, who shot and killed his wife Hannah, in the town of Bethlehem, on the 6th of May, 1840 . . . He was tried and convicted after a trial of two days, and sentenced to be hanged on the 4th day of December following, between the hours of 12 M. [sic] and 3 P.M. He was, however, respited until January 18th, at the urgent request of the city clergymen, who represented to William H. Seward, then Governor, that the doomed man was totally unprepared for the awful change that awaited him. Leddings was executed in the jail, corner of Howard and Eagle streets.”

It would be another 10 years before Albany had a capital crime, though the murder itself occurred in Westerlo. Reuben Dunbar was charged with murdering two boys, the Lester children, November 23, 1850.

“The father of Dunbar’s two victims had died several years previous to the murders. The uncle of the boys had married the mother of the prisoner, and Dunbar thinking that the children stood between him and his inheritance, determined, since he could not get rid of their hateful presence by fair means, to accomplish it by foul. The most atrocious crime committed, his sin soon found him out. He led those engaged in the search for the bodies away from the place where they were concealed and resisted stoutly, and so as to excite suspicion, suggested to search in the right direction. He also told various and conflicting stories as to where he had last seen the boys and was on record, in repeated instances, as venting his anger against them, because of their interfering with what he considered his moneyed rights.”

He vehemently protested his innocence over and over, pleading “I shall leave this world in conscious innocence, relying for mercy upon that Being whom I have long professed to serve.” But just before his execution in the Howard Street jail, he made a full confession. Justice moved quickly in those days; he was hanged January 31, 1851, just two months after the murders.

The dubious honor of being the first criminal hanged in the Maiden Lane jail was John Hendrickson, who murdered his wife Maria in Bethlehem in March 6, 1853. (Those keeping score might think the suburbs were considerably more dangerous than the city itself in those days.) It was one of the earliest trials to rely on chemical forensic evidence, as the prosecution charged Hendrickson with poisoning his wife.

“Eminent chemical experts gave testimony for the defense, to the effect that the analysis of the stomach and other organs of the victim exhibited no traces of poison. The prosecution brought out the fact that all the analyses had been for mineral poison and put on the stand Dr. John Swinburne [champion of the limbs], then a young physician, who testified that he had also analyzed the remains and discovered aconite, a vegetable poison then comparatively unknown. This claim was backed up by other evidence showing the purchase of this drug by the defendant.”

Albany was a rough-and-tumble riverport city, yet most of the murdering in those days was being done out in the towns. That would change, and the hangings would continue.

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