The 1887 Murder of Jennie Bowman
It was early on the morning of April 21, 1887, when Jennie Bowman began her duties as a domestic (servant/cook) at the home of Mr. A. Y. Johnson, Jr. in Louisville. At about 10:00 AM, Mrs. Johnson and her children left Miss Bowman in charge of the house while they spent the day at the home of a relative. Just minutes after leaving, Mrs. Johnson sent her six-year-old son back to the house on an errand to carry a bundle of sewing. Being so young, the boy could not carry the sewing so Miss Bowman assisted the child then returned home shortly after. About an hour later at 11:00 AM, Mrs. Johnson sent her son, Alfred, back to the house to run another errand. When Alfred arrived at the house, he knocked on the front door to no avail. He walked around to the side of the house and attempted to enter into the kitchen door but it, too, was locked. At that time, young Alfred began worrying that something could possibly be wrong. He then decided to climb into one of the kitchen windows. Once inside he began calling Miss Bowman’s name and he noticed that the furniture and rugs were in disarray.
Alfred made his way into the house where he came upon the back hall and saw a glistening pool of red about the floor. Terrified, and in a state of shock, young Alfred made his way back through the window rather than unlocking a door and exiting that way where he ran to his mother. Alarmed at what young Alfred said, Mrs. Johnson brought her sister, a grown nephew, and some nearby neighbors to go with her back to her house. Both doors remained locked and they made entry after one of the young men, like Alfred, crawled through the window to unlock the back door. Upstairs, groans could be heard coming from Miss Bowman’s room. Without noticing the blood, the party ran up the stairs. By the time they arrived at the door of Miss Bowman, the groans that they had heard downstairs had ceased. The party made entry into her room. There, they found the lifeless body of Jennie Bowman lying face down. Her clothing had been torn and saturated with blood; pools of blood had begun forming around her body. The party relayed that Miss Bowman’s face was badly disfigured and covered in blood.
Mrs. Johnson and the others then washed the blood from Miss Bowman’s face. Then, they could realize the wounds upon her face. A damn dishrag was bound tightly against her throat. This was quickly cut in two. Upon both sides of Miss Bowman’s neck, the flesh was black and blue. There were seven cuts upon her head and forehead. The most serious of the seven cuts was a gash that traveled from the brown to the forehead where it ended just over her right eye. There was a deep gash upon her right temple as well. Her skull appeared to have been fractured in at least three places and one of her eyes was so badly injured that it had been barely torn from the socket. Her nose appeared broken and flat along with an apparent fracture in her right jaw. Miss Bowman’s clothes were removed and she was placed on a cot while others dispatched Dr. W. O. Roberts and Dr. J. B. Haskins, Jr. A telegraph was promptly sent to retrieve Mr. Johnson from his place of work as a bookkeeper. A message reached the chief of police at approximately 11:30 AM and was answered in person by the chief.
Louisville Chief of Police Col. Whallen began his investigation upon arrival by examining the exterior of the house. Chief Whallen noted that the outside doors were locked and secure and they key, normally inside the lock, was missing. It was deduced that the assailants had done this in an attempt to conceal evidence and delay arrival inside the home. Blood and evidence were in the dining room and continued to the top step of the stairs between the kitchen and dining room (which led to Miss Bowman’s room). The dining room furniture was in disarray with chairs being toppled over, broken glass scattered about the area and, just outside of the door, a pool of blood. The floor of the hall, about six feet long and four feet wide was covered in apparent blood. At the far end of the hall where the door to the cellar was located was likely the spot where Miss Bowman first fell. From that point, a stream of blood tracked under the door and down the steps to the cellar. At the foot of the cellar was located a patent metal poker; these were commonly used with base-burner stoves. It appeared that this was the weapon as it was blood-stained and matted with bloody, blonde hair that matched Miss Bowman’s hair. The all-metal poker weighed about three pounds and was around fifteen inches long. This was immediately secured by Chief Whallen. According to evidence and Chief Whallen, it appeared that Miss Bowman regained her feet and the assault was continued. It appeared that she was able to break free from the assailant and attempted to run up the stairs as there drops of blood on the steps and the wall along the staircase; additionally, bloody hand-prints that matched Miss Bowman were plastered along the walls.
The working theory was that Miss Bowman went into the dining room with a water goblet in her hand and surprised the intruder; a man who had entered the property with the intent of robbery. As the intruder attempted to seize Miss Bowman she struck him with the broken goblet. It was posited that the intruder then picked up the poker and that is when the assault began. Miss Bowman was a healthy, stout woman who fought valiantly. Rooms located upstairs showed evidence that someone had rummaged through the rooms and the sideboard drawers were pulled out. The intruder likely prevented escape through the door and Miss Bowman probably ran up the steps.
When the physicians arrived on the scene, they carefully examined Miss Bowman’s extensive injuries. They did, without hope of saving her life, the best that they could. Her hair was shaved from her head so that the open wounds could be sutured and bandaged back together. A handkerchief was placed under her chin in an attempt to support her broken jaw. Physicians could do little else and they pronounced that the fractures about her skull would undoubtedly prove fatal. Miss Bowman had but a few hours of life left in her. Messengers were sent to retrieve Miss Bowman’s stepmother and her brothers and a sister. A professional nurse was brought in to care for Miss Bowman in her final hours.
The Investigation and Arrest
Chief Whalen continued his investigation as Jennie Bowman lay dying in her upstairs room. Construction was taking place at the next-door neighbors home, within seventy-five yards of the Johnson house. Laborers there reported not seeing anyone enter the house and they did not hear any unusual noises or screaming. Chief Whallen talked to a young man, Will Shippen, employed at the Pictet Ice Company, where he said he saw two, suspicious-looking white men lurking around the neighborhood all morning. Shippen reported that about 10:00 AM the two men got up from a pile of broken rocks and made their way towards the Johnson house. Shippen described the men as each being about twenty-five years of age and both had smooth faces; both were about the same height and weight at about one hundred and thirty-five pounds and five feet eight inches. One of the men wore a cap and the other wore a slouched hat. Shippen said both men appeared to be tramps. Chief Whallen reported his findings to on-duty policemen with some traveling to New Albany and Jeffersonville in their search. Two policemen also patrolled the river. All trains that day and night had several plain-clothed policemen going into both Indiana and Kentucky. Seven men who bore similar physical characteristics were detained by police for questioning. The men, all tramps, were William Moore, John Graham, Herman Moser, John Tierney, Thomas Ward, Dan Burns, and Ed Moore. At around 5:00 PM that evening, Andy Homer, a bottler on Jefferson Street, reported, to Central Station, that he witnessed a young white man with blood-covered hands and arms in torn clothing. Homer said he encountered the man about three miles from the city on the railroad. Twelve officers in buggies rushed to that neighborhood to investigate the report.
At about 6:00 PM that evening, Miss Bowman began showing signs of consciousness. At such time the professional nurse, caring for Miss Bowman sent for the doctors and Chief Whallen. Though her lucidity was but a few fleeting moments, she was able to reveal some information about the assailant. One of the doctors leaned down and asked, “Jennie, who was it struck you?” Miss Bowman opened her eyes slightly where they closed almost immediately but muttered something nearly imperceptible. The doctor repeated the same question and, painfully, Miss Bowman uttered, “It was a negro.” The doctor forced some brandy down her throat and asked Jennie how the attack happened. Miss Bowman went on to say, “I met him in the dining room when he asked me if Mr. Johnson was at home. I said ‘no’ when he took me and struck me with a poker.” Reports say that Miss Bowman gave a description of the man; Chief Whallen began searching for an African American man that matched the description in which Jenny reported.
By midnight it was abundantly clear that Miss Bowman would not make it. Her family, including her father, were at her bedside. It was said that Miss Bowman had an intense fear of meeting burglars and it appeared that her worst nightmares came true. Miss Bowman was due to marry a young German man who resided in the back of Cave Hill Cemetery. Miss Bowman survived the attack for nearly two excruciating weeks before she finally succumbed to her injuries at 9:15 PM on May 9th.
Though Louisville police investigated several African American men, they would soon get a tip that would lead them to an arrest. At about 4:30 PM that Saturday, Louisville Police Officer Henry Strohman was reporting for duty at Central Station when a nicely dressed woman came running after him. In a most excited condition, the woman relayed information to the officer in which she believed that she encountered a man that met the description of the man who had attacked Miss Jennie Bowman just days earlier. The woman reported that she had previously hired an African American man to do work for her. That day, Saturday, she required more work and she returned to her house. She went to the man’s neighborhood and upon knocking on a door, an African American male answered and the woman froze in fear, as she believed the man fit the description of the Bowman assailant. The man was tall and stout, had a mustache, and there were wounds upon his face that had been reported, previously, by Miss Bowman. Officer Strohman, concerned, told her to return home and do nothing further unless she was instructed to do so. Officer Strohman then ran to Central Station where he went to Chief Whallen’s office and relayed the story.
Several policemen were dispatched to the area in which the witness had just told them. The location, near the colored Methodist Episcopal Church, on the east side of Center Street and just south of Green. The police encountered a great deal of difficulty attempting to enter the premises, as there appeared to be no gate or door. After some time, the officers found a small trap down in the center of the fence and were able to make entry. According to officers, there was anticipation that police would visit and the trap door had apparently been heavily barred. An ax was used to break in the gate. Upon entry, the officers found themselves in a narrow and poorly lit passageway with a pair of narrow, broken steps leading to various rooms at the end. Officered knocked on a door and had no response. They, with little force, pushed open the decapitated door. At that point, it was reported that “A negro started up from a soiled bed” where he made an evident effort to appear unconcerned but said nothing. Officer Strohman told the man, “You are under arrest.” The man responded, “What for?” Strohman replied, “Never mind, come with us.” The man was fully dressed and said, “I never was arrested before.” Officers reported that his face was gashed and bruised and a bloody handkerchief was wrapped around his right wrist. He was transported to Chief Whallen’s office at Central Station. Once upon arrival, Whallen asked, “What is your name?” The man reluctantly said, “Albert Turner.” Turner was seated and his injuries were looked over. Injuries included two cuts upon his face, one upon the back of his hand, and a long gash along the full length of his neck. His wrist was of particular interest as in one of her brief lucid states Miss Bowman said she cut the assailant with the jagged edge of the goblet she had held when she first encountered him. Whallen asked Turner, “Where did you get these hurts?” A nervous Turner said, “I ain’t done nothin’. I was cutting wood for a lady and a stick flew up and hit me in the face.”
Officers had been sent back to Turner’s room, where he was arrested. They were instructed to search for articles that belonged to Miss Bowman or from the Johnson house. Throughout his interview with Turner, Whallen had been unsuccessful in his attempt to “wring” a confession from Turner. Upon the arrival of the officers from Turner’s room, they held a pair of silk stockings and a large silk handkerchief. Reports said, “At sight of the stockings the prisoner exhibited the utmost fear.” Turner reportedly attempted to escape from Chief Whallen’s office but was unsuccessful. Turner was then restrained and Whallen dangled the items in front him. In despair, Turner began livid, throwing his hands up in the air and exclaimed, “I done it! I done it! But I couldn’t help it!” It was then that Turner relayed the story of what happened during the failed robbery and the assault (and, later, the resultant death) of Miss Bowman. A nearby carriage was procured to transport Turner to Jefferson Street. Guarding Turner was four police officers, including Chief Whallen. At Jefferson Street awaited a private patrol wagon driven by John Duff. The party then transported Turner southeasterly to Shelbyville without incident. There was a brief stay there to rest and feed the horses and men. Turner was taken from the wagon and placed into the small jail. However, those in Shelbyville soon learned of his arrival and fears arose that a lynching would happen. It was reported that Turner was in a great deal of fear going as far as begging the officers to take him away. Turner was taken out a side entrance and the trip to Frankfort continued. Turner feared for his safety and repeatedly begged the guards to protect him. Chief Whallen turned to Turner and said, “I will save your life, but upon one condition only, and that is that you make a confession of what you did at the Johnson house Thursday, and mind you tell the truth, or we will let them hang you.”
The Story According to Albert Turner
Turner said he was passing by the Johnson house on Thursday morning when a negro, whose name he did not know and had never seen before, was sitting atop a carriage mount out front. The stranger reportedly slapped Turner on the back and asked him if he wanted to make a piece of money. The stranger said that he had seen all the people leave the (Johnson) house, which they were in front of, and that they could go in and rob the place. Turner reportedly refused but, after some persuasion from the stranger, he conceded to go in. Upon entering the house the man said his name was Bill Patterson. Patterson proclaimed that he had already served three terms in the penitentiary and that another would not matter much. Turner said that this was his first step in crime and, if he got out of it, would never go into another job. Patterson ascended the stairs to the bedrooms and Turner stayed on the first floor where he encountered Miss Bowman. Turner held up his right thumb, which had been bitten to the bone by Miss Bowman during their struggle.
Turner said Miss Bowman struck him with glass that had been broken off and he proceeded to show officers wounds on the inside of his right hand where the glass goblet gashed his hand. Turner went on to say, “The woman was stout and I had much trouble in handling her. Finally, I broke away, and picking up the poker struck her three times on the head, the last time knocking her insensible to the floor. Patterson heard a struggle and came downstairs. He saw the woman, and we both picked her from the floor, he (Patterson) at the feet and I at the head, and we carried her upstairs. We placed her on the bed. Patterson said, ‘What are you doing to do with her?’ I replied, ‘Lock her up, so we can rob the house.’ Patterson replied, ‘No, let’s do her up.’ He then picked up a poker from the fire-place, about a foot long and several pounds heavier than the one I need, and struck her a fearful blow on the top of the head. The body writhed and blood flowed from her mouth and nostrils. Patterson then jumped on the bed and kicked the woman seven times; three times in the stomach, two in the side, and two on the head, one of which broke the jawbone.
“I tried to pull him away from the woman but was unable to do so. He then made an attempt to outrage her, but I prevented him. His shirt and underclothing by this means became covered with blood. I was a new hand at crime and was badly scared up. I left Patterson in the room with the woman, and ran down the stairs and out the back way and escaped to my room. I was glad when the police came to my house, for I hadn’t closed my eyes and was frightened at every sound I heard.”
A Second Manhunt Ensues
Turner and the officers arrived at Frankfort at 3:35 PM and Turner was hurried to the jail. In jail, Turner was stripped and his bloody and torn clothing were removed as evidence in the case. By 5:00 PM, Turner was safe in jail and Whallen and his officers returned to Louisville by train, arriving at 7:15 PM. Patterson had been arrested Friday by Officer Charles Hickey as a suspect and was being held awaiting a more thorough examination. Patterson was dragged, half-naked, from his jail cell, and with his clothing in his arms, was put in the wagon and driven to the depot on 7th Street for a train headed to Frankfort. Patterson’s hands were handcuffed and refused to answer questions. A stop had been made at LaGrange for a lavatory break. Patterson made a dash for the coach door and made a run for it. Seconds later Officer Ben Fow caught up to Patterson, took his collar, and jerked him to the ground where his feet were shackled. Patterson was steadfast in claiming he did not know Albert Turner nor had he ever seen the man before.
Patterson and the officers arrived at Frankfort where a crowd of about a hundred people was crowded around the train depot. Patterson was taken to the wagon and driven off; a crowd ran behind them but did not become violent. Once inside the jail at Frankfort, Patterson continued denying knowing Albert Turner. It was decided that Turner, described as a tall, heavy mulatto man, would attempt to identify Patterson in a lineup at the jail. Turner walked past two of the African American men and stopped in front of the third man. He (Turner) put his hand on Patterson’s shoulder and said, “This is the man I met on the carriage stone and the one who struck the woman last and wanted to outrage her.” An unnerved Patterson then exclaimed, “I am innocent, as God is my judge, and I have got to die, and I know it. If that poor young lady was here, she would tell you that she never saw me.” Turner abruptly said, “No, she was insensible when you carried her upstairs and tried to kill her.” Patterson said, “Albert, you know I am innocent, you are trying to make me die to cover up your crime. I had nothing to do with it. You are lying on me and trying to put my neck in the gallows. You and I both will be tried for our lives, and you know I am innocent.” Patterson would continue, “You have worn my life away, for we are both on trial for life and death. Those white men put you up to telling these lies on me because there is money in it for them. If I had something in my hand, I would murder you for swearing my life away. Oh, I could kill you before these officers could get their hands upon me.” Patterson then lunged toward Turner in an attempt to choke him. It took approximately five officers to separate the two.
“Turner, this was a most inhuman and brutal murder. The death of Jennie Bowman is upon your hands and upon the soul. You are about to receive the greatest punishment fixed by law for the crime you have committed. There is no more hope for you in this world. God is your only hope. Look to him. Have you aught to say why sentence should not now be passed upon you?”Judge Jackson, 1887
Turner and Patterson were both branded criminals and hoodlums. Patterson had an extensive criminal record. At 12:30 PM on May 13th, Albert Turner was indicted by the grand jury, was arraigned before at 1:00 PM and found guilty of murder in the first degree at 1:30 PM. At 1:35 PM Judge Jackson rendered Turner’s sentence as death. The judge remarked, “Turner, this was a most inhuman and brutal murder. The death of Jennie Bowman is upon your hands and upon the soul. You are about to receive the greatest punishment fixed by law for the crime you have committed. There is no more hope for you in this world. God is your only hope. Look to him. Have you ought to say why sentence should not now be passed upon you?” Turner said that he had nothing to say. Accordingly, the judge proclaimed, “Then it is the judgment of this court that you be remanded to jail, and taken thence by the Sheriff of the county of the first day of July, and be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul.” In his egress from the court, Turner reportedly said, “I would rather be hanged on the 4th of July, instead of the 1st.”Turner and Patterson were both branded criminals and hoodlums. Patterson had an extensive criminal record. At 12:30 PM on May 13th, Albert Turner was indicted by the grand jury, was arraigned before at 1:00 PM and found guilty of murder in the first degree at 1:30 PM. At 1:35 PM Judge Jackson rendered Turner’s sentence as death. The judge remarked, “Turner, this was a most inhuman and brutal murder. The death of Jennie Bowman is upon your hands and upon the soul. You are about to receive the greatest punishment fixed by law for the crime you have committed. There is no more hope for you in this world. God is your only hope. Look to him. Have you ought to say why sentence should not now be passed upon you?” Turner said that he had nothing to say. Accordingly, the judge proclaimed, “Then it is the judgment of this court that you be remanded to jail, and taken thence by the Sheriff of the county of the first day of July, and be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul.” In his egress from the court, Turner reportedly said, “I would rather be hanged on the 4th of July, instead of the 1st.”
On the morning of July 1st, devotional exercises were being held for Albert Turner. By 6:00 AM, Sheriff Clark and Jailer Bailey began escorting Turner to the gallows. Turner asked if he could see Patterson and the “other boys” who had been confined in the old jail. They ascended a short flight of iron stairs to the iron gating of the cell-room. Turned shook Patterson’s hand saying, “I want to ask your forgiveness before I die. I hope to meet you in heaven when your time comes.” Patterson replied, “Albert, I forgive you, and I earnestly pray that Jesus is waiting this morning to receive your soul, for I want to meet you in heaven when I die.” The two men again shook hands and said their goodbye. At exactly 6:15 AM, Albert Turner was escorted atop the gallows. His hands were positioned behind his back in handcuffs, his head leaning slightly forward. Turner walked to the front of the scaffold, his back to the jail, facing the rope. It was then that Rev. Scott offered a prayer for forgiveness of the man’s sins and that he might not die with a lie on his soul. The sun made its quiet ascent across the morning sky as Rev. Scott continued his prayer. Upon finishing the prayer, Rev. Scott whispered into Turner’s ear, and then he turned and faced the crowd.
Turner proclaimed, “Now, gentlemen and friends, I hope you all will take warning who see my end, and I hope not another one of you will ever walk on the scaffold. And now friends, there is a man in the prison who robbed the streetcar. I want him turned free. And gentlemen, I want all of you to hear what I have to say. I am going to die with an honest heart and bring no one to the gallows. I am going to die alone. Free the man named Patterson, the man was not with me. That is all I have got to say. I am willing to die now.” He spoke with confidence, not a waver in his voice. Turned faced the jail and said, “Friends, all of you, goodbye, and I hope to meet you all in heaven. That is all I have to say.” It was then that Deputy Sheriffs Jerry Bate and Harry Bell approached Albert Turner, affixing the noose around his neck while placing a black cap over his head. Deputy Jailer Bender leaned forward while fumbling with his coat and said, “Mr. Bender, Willis McNeal has got one of my pictures and hasn’t paid me for it. I want you to collect his quarter.” And then, at 6:30 AM, Albert Turner plummeted from the floor where he swung violently in a circle. His hands were so clinched that his fingernails were nearly buried in his palms. Muscles in his legs contracted violently, bringing the legs stiffly forward until they were nearly in a sitting posture. His body contorted like this several times. His head was pushed forward and slightly to the left. Some 25 minutes later, Mr. Turner was pronounced dead. A coffin was moved under the scaffold, the rope was cut, and Mr. Turner’s body was lowered into the coffin by the undertakers.
There were a number of inconsistencies in this case that many, in 1887, and after pointed out. For example, the unusually short length of the arraignment, indictment, trial, and sentencing, amounting to just over one hour in a single day. There were also a number of other reports of white men who were in the area, one going so far as saying he was covered in blood. Additionally, the next-door neighbors had active construction going on and they reported seeing no one enter the home nor did they hear any screams. According to Turner’s statement, Patterson was out in front of the Johnson house. Turner was openly walking by, free for anyone to see him. There is also the issue of the Chief of Police saying that, if Turner confessed, he would protect him from the gallows. Both Albert Turner and William Patterson were found guilty.
Though both men were sentenced to die on July 1st, William Patterson would go on to receive multiple stays from the governor. There was growing concern that perhaps Patterson really was innocent of the charges. The shocking last words of Turner only compounded this belief. However, at 6:12 AM on June 22, 1888, nearly a year later, William Patterson met the same fate as Albert Turner. He proclaimed his innocence until the latch was released and he fell to his death. There were also some inconsistencies that came up during the Coroner’s Inquest. Miss Bowman allegedly said a yellow man in a short coat assailed her. Later, it was a yellow man with a long coat. The physicians could not attest, with a high degree of certainty her level of consciousness when she spoke. In the end, however, Albert Turner did confess to the crime. Some could argue that he was forced to do this. After all, police were desperately searching for the killer. The public wanted results. We will likely never know what truly happened. What we do know is that Miss Jennie Bowman met a horrific and painful end to her short life and two men met their own demise.
Contributed by Shawn Logan | firstname.lastname@example.org
⁘ Works Cited ⁘
- The Lexington Leader, 9 December 1949
- The Lexington Leader, 12 December 1952
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