Lynched in the Snow
Kentucky Law Overtakes Peter Kline
The Rape of Mrs. Truesdell in a Measure Atoned
How the Highlanders Hung a Human Hyena
“Now Get Loose If You Can.”
A Villain Died in the Glare of Red Fire.
If Vox Populi Vox Dei be True, Then God
and Man Have Triumphed.
Lively Times in Newport Yesterday.
One week ago last Friday Mrs. Carrie Truesdell, the honored wife of a respectable citizen of “the Highlands,” in Campbell County, Ky., was attacked while alone in her house, beaten, robbed and outraged by an unknown man—a brute in human form. Day before yesterday the man was arrested in this city. Night before last, in his silent cell in the Newport Jail, he made a full confession of his crime to an Enquirer reporter. Yesterday this confession was published and read by thousands of indignant citizens of Campbell County, friends and neighbors of Mrs. Truesdell, and last night these citizens, nerved to desperate action by the thought of the like danger by which their own wives and daughters were surrounded, gathered nearly a thousand strong before the jail where he was confined, forced the officers in charge to deliver the guilty man to their possession, on foot marched him for miles through the driving snow-storm and darkness to the home of his victim, obtained from her a renewed assurance of his identity, and then, within almost a stone’s throw of the scene of his crime, and in hearing of his suffering victim, hanged him by the roadside to a gallows furnished by nature for such unnatural brutes—hanged him until he was dead. Then they quietly dispersed, leaving the accursed carcass swinging in full view upon the roadside—a warning to all who pass—a terrible example of retributive justice as dealt out by the people for the most terrible of crimes.
THE HISTORY OF THE CRIME
Is fresh in the minds of the readers of the Enquirer. Mrs. Truesdell is the wife of a respected farmer of the Highlands. On the day mentioned, Peter Klein, according to his own confession published in yesterday’s Enquirer, went to Mrs. Truesdell’s residence about seven o’clock in the morning. He asked Mrs. Truesdell where a man named Myers lived. He was told by the lady that she was a newcomer in the neighborhood and did not know, but if he would inquire further on he would probably be able to find out. Klein went away, but returned in about half an hour afterward and asked her where her husband was. Mrs. Truesdell told him he was in the field working, but that he would be in the house in a short while. Klein said this was not true; that he met him going to town. He then asked the woman for a drink of water. She attempted to get it for him, when he struck her in the head with his fist and knocked her down, and then ran up to where she was lying and struck her in the stomach. After these exhibitions of brutality he dragged her into a small room in the house and raped her. After outraging her he tied her hands at full length to a bench and her feet to a door-knob, and then robbed the house of two watches, a chain, a Mexican dollar and a small amount of change. After ransacking the house he went to where the poor woman lay, bade her good-by and told her to get loose if she could. One of the watches and the chain were found on him after he was arrested.
As given the Enquirer reporter, and published and read yesterday, caused intense excitement. Word had gone to the Highlands on Saturday evening of the arrest; but the details of the confession were not known until read in the early dawn by the eager people who awaited the arrival of the Enquirer in every direction. It was read and discussed on the corners, in the places of public resort, along the country roads, throughout the Highlands, by men, woman and children. Then they gathered in little knots in by-ways, and consulted and spoke in low tones of vengeance. The cool confession, the outrageous details as admitted by the villain himself, the evidence of previous crimes of the same kind, the dangers to which they were exposed, enraged them beyond endurance, and they began to clamor for the life of the man, for the quickest and surest means of ridding the earth of so doubly-dyed a criminal and as a warning to others who might follow in his footsteps. Then the little knots began to grow until they took large proportions and the demands became bolder and louder, and as they grew they gravitated toward the common center, the Court-house, where lay, in sullen silence and with untold thoughts, the man who had committed the crime for which they vowed he must die.
SCENES DURING THE MORNING
As early as half after six o’clock the country people began flocking into Newport by droves. As each hour passed the crowd grew larger, so much so that a special guard was placed around the Court-house. At each of the four gates of admittance to the Court-house were stationed several policemen who would allow no one on the inside of the Court-house yard. About ten o’clock in the morning the crowd became so large that it was feared the man would be taken out and lynched in broad daylight. The Sheriff, Deputy Sheriffs and police force could be seen running backward and forward, and it was evident they were anticipating the mob coming to the jail and taking the man out.
One of our reporters paid another visit to the prisoner late yesterday afternoon. He looked depressed, and manifestly indisposed to look at any body in the face or to talk much. Indeed, he plainly, though politely, told some unofficial interviewers subsequently that he was bothered by too much talk. He very willingly, however, told our reporter his antecedents. He said he was of German parentage and American birth; that he was born and raised in Cincinnati, and lived here all his life except about three years and a half, when he lived in Ohio, about one hundred and thirty-five miles from Cincinnati; that he was a brick-molder by occupation, but hadn’t had work for a week or so; that he lost his wife in 1864, and has no children, and that his father and mother are dead; that he never did any work on the Kentucky side of the river, and didn’t know much about what he went over there that day for, as he had been drinking.
He again admitted during the day to a New Orleans newspaper correspondent the substance of the outrages charged against him, and gave the details—among other things confessing that he outraged Mrs. Truesdell twice.
Deputy Sheriff Reed, having brought in from the Highlands one of the knotted sheet strips with which the poor lady’s hands were tied, showed it to Kline and asked him if he made that knot. To this he answered that he tied the woman, but couldn’t say whether he tied that knot or not; and he stuck to this statement in spite of some bulldozing, decidedly out of place under all the circumstances.
REV. MR. MATHEWS CALLS ON THE PRISONER
Rev. Mathews told the reporter the following: “I visited the jail where the prisoner was confined at about six o’clock, and had an interview with him in the cell. I told him I called as a minister to converse with him and urge him to consider the issues of eternity, and that the state of public excitement impelled me to warn him to make preparations for death. He replied that he was in the hands of the law, and that if they did what was right he would submit to the punishment the law inflicted. I reminded him again of immediate danger, and that his time should be employed in preparation for death. He then said that he was not of my faith; that he was a Catholic. I asked him if he wished to see a priest, and he answered that he did not. I urged him further to turn to the Savior, and trust to His promise to save to the uttermost all who would come to God through Him. He trembled as if overcome with fear or agony, and thanked me for my counsel. I repeated to him a few of the promises, and he again thanked me, and I left him in his cell. I went to my residence, only two squares away, and while repeating to my family the substance of the interview I heard the shouting of the crowd at the Court-house, and returning saw the swaying of the mass of people as the prisoner was being hurried away.”
SCHEMES TO SAVE
Were not wanting on the part of the officials. Judge Cleary, the Prosecuting Attorney, proposed to have Kline taken to Alexandria Jail without delay; indicted to-day, the first day of Circuit Court, tried and convicted within forty-eight hours. The objection urged to this was that Mrs. Truesdell would not be able to appear and testify, and a conviction was at least uncertain without her testimony. Her physician, Dr. Gaines, had stated that she was better yesterday morning, but not out of danger, and he feared the effect of any excitement. Mayor Harton says it was at one time agreed by some of the indignant citizens that the Alexandria scheme might be carried out without interference.
Whether this was an agreement in good faith or not, it is certain that there was a plan determined upon and ripe for execution to remove the prisoner from Newport to the Covington Jail, or further, if necessary. It was to be done as soon as darkness should set in last night, a carriage was ready hired and ordered to be at the back gate promptly at a certain hour. Judge Perkins, Judge Cleary, Mayor Harton, Chief Cottingham and Jailer Schwartz were the only ones privy to this scheme, and it missed execution by a very few moments, the mob reaching there just at dusk.
Swarmed in and around the yard and jail all day long, and the Jailer was kept constantly occupied showing them in and out again. They were all allowed free access and free leave to look at and question the wretched man. Among them was the husband of the injured lady. He was compelled to submit to a search before being admitted, and the officers disarmed him of a revolver.
Was also in the city and at the Court-house gate but was refused admittance. This was about two o’clock, and a riot very nearly ensued in consequence. He was desperately angry and very threatening. Last night he mounted the Court-house fence and appealed to all his friends to help him avenge the outrage on his sister.
Several times during the day news came to town of the gathering of the Highlands people, and though Deputy Sheriff Hutchinson sought as late as half-past five o’clock to create the impression that the excitement was dying out, and that nothing would be done before to-night, if, indeed, at all, the officers were confident of the raid they thought they had provided for, and the people in general were in constant expectation. Jailer Schwartz looked for the descent not earlier than eight o’clock, and it was probably times expressly to prevent any removal by bridge or rail or any other way, except by rope.
It was about six o’clock when the lynching party entered Newport. They came by the Alexandria, the Covert Run and the Water-Works roads, and meeting on York street, marched down to the Court-house Square. There were not many in the procession, probably not exceeding a hundred, and when they approached the Square there were only three horseback. These were in front. None of this invading party, and none of its auxiliaries wore any masks or disguises at any time. The Jailer and others heard the shouting up street, and began to make ready. All the jail-yard gates were locked, but the invaders, with their forces swollen to twenty times their original numbers, surrounded the place by all its approaches, and soon effected an entrance. “Come on, every man that has a wife or a sister,” some one cried.
Was short, sharp and decisive. Mayor Harton stepped to the front and said, “Gentleman, stop where you are. This has gone far enough. It want to talk to you.” The answer to this was, “You s—of a b—“ and a shot-gun under his nose. He knocked the weapon up with his little bamboo cane, the only weapon he had, and received a blow on the side of the face that laid him flat and left an abraised wound. Then he was seized and thrown over the fence into Southgate alley. He re-entered from that direction and called out that he wanted to speak to Schwartz. At this a horse-pistol was presented by one of the crowd for his close contemplation. “Do you see that?” savagely demanded the man. “I do,” answered the Mayor. “Well, then, you keep your mouth shut,” was the reply, and His Honor confesses freely that he said no more after that. He says the guns and clubs sticking up looked like a forest.
Meantime, the Jailer was doing battle mildly. “The keys! The keys!” demanded a score of throats. “Give us the keys!” Mr. Schwartz tried to parley and delay, but it was no go. He assured them that the man should be forthcoming to answer for his crime, or the citizens might take the vengeance out on him in Kline’s place, but the only answer was, “The keys! The keys! throw—knock him down and take ‘em away from him.” They began to make ready to batter the door in with a beam, but meanwhile others were handling Schwartz pretty roughly, and at last, after throwing him down and giving him a thump or two with fists, they got the keys away from him. He and Cottingham and Doug Martin had been closely barricading the Jail door, but were soon dispersed. Mayor Harton wisely gave orders before the crowd came not to shoot, as resistance, with that small force must be ineffectual anyhow, and it was useless to shed blood—perhaps innocent blood, too.
The doors open, a few of the foremost men went in and brought the doomed man out, Schwartz resuming his post at the door and keeping the surging crowd back. The other prisoners were all either locked in their cells and the keys in the house or had hidden away for fear. Nothing was said to Kline and he said nothing to his executioners then. They simply pulled him out and made off with him quietly. They went straight to his cell without a word of direction, showing that their ready information was accurate. It is quite likely that some of the quiet day’s visitors had taken the bearings and were with the assailing crowd. With a man on either side holding him up by the arms and marching him along afoot, the wretched creature was taken out of town, holding his head down and looking neither to the right nor to the left. The crowd went as it had come taking York street from the Court-house and moving southward.
It was terrible. The snow was falling fast, and the road over which the crowd went was in a dreadful condition. More than one buggy which was slowly following the mob upset, and the occupants were compelled to pull their vehicle on the side of the road and send the horse back to the city. During all this time the crowd, with their prisoner, was gradually getting closer to Mrs. Truesdell’s residence. Kline walked all the way out there in the center of the men who had taken him from jail.
By the time the mob had arrived at Mrs. Truesdell’s residence, it is estimated that it numbered fully seven hundred people. It was composed of Campbell County’s best and most respected people, there were men in it whose wealth and influence equal any man’s in Kentucky. The mob was orderly, quiet and well-behaved. The only demonstrations that were made was a cheer given every few hundred yards that were walked. During all this time Kline seemingly was caring nothing about what was going on. He was calm and cool and acted more like a brute than a human. During the whole trip out he did not show the slightest signs of fear. In fact, he tried to make it appear as if he did not know what was going on. The mob were mostly all well armed. Some had shot-guns and others pistols. They had a leader—one of the bravest and best men in the county, both financially and intellectually. They waited for his command, and whenever it was given it was obeyed instantly, it made no difference what it was.
AT THE HOUSE
The mob reached the residence of Mrs. Truesdell at a few minutes before eight o’clock, having been over an hour on the way. Arriving, they were halted by the leaders, and a half-dozen of the foremost, with Kline in charge, led the way to the house. It is a small log building, situated on the Dayton and Alexandria pike, fronting north, surrounded by trees and shrubbery, and bearing evidences of taste and thrift upon the part of the owners. The party entered the kitchen, and, marching Kline before them, moved to the door opening to the room where Mrs. Truesdell, his victim, lay upon the bed of sickness, and perhaps death, to which his crime brought her. She was found sitting up in bed, supported by her husband on one side and her mother on the other, her father, Mrs. Balser, and brothers standing near.
BEFORE HIS VICTIM
As they entered she turned her pale face, surrounded by its drapery of dark, flowing hair, full upon him, and in an instant recognizing him, instinctively turned away with a shudder, shuttling out the repulsive spectacle and the memories which it brought. Urged by her husband and mother to again look and express an opinion, she asked that his hat, which had been removed, be placed on his head. This was done, and his head, which had fallen forward to prevent her obtaining a full view, forcibly raised. As this was done Kline said, “Wait until tomorrow, so that she can see me by daylight.” The words, though spoken in a low tone reached her ears, and with a convulsive start and hands clasped in agony she exclaimed: “Oh, that voice! that voice!” and turned trembling away. There was silence for a few moments as the suffering woman lay in the arms of her husband, but the howling mob without would not brook delay, and urged by the demands of those present her husband pressed her for a reply. “Tell us, Carrie,” he said, “Whether this is the man.” Taking one more look, she answered: “Yes, that is the man, and he knows it,” and fell back, exhausted and trembling, upon her pillow. This was sufficient, and with scarcely another word he was hurried from the house. By this time the mob had gathered nearer the house, and received the party with yells and cheers of affront as they appeared. Then there was a clamor for the woman’s answer, and when it was announced a great shout went up.
HANG HIM! HANG HIM!
Then the crowd began to withdraw from the house, and soon the suffering woman was left with her husband and loved ones, doubly shocked by the crime and the retribution which was about to be meted out to the brute who had caused it. Then there was a brief consultation among the stalwart Kentucky farmers who had him in charge, and they moved off down the pike a couple of hundred yards or so from the house to
A CONVENIENT TREE
By the roadside where they called a halt. The mob came on hooting and howling crying again for the life of the man, and demanding again that the leaders hurry up the hanging. An examination, however, showed that the tree was not satisfactorily located, as it would be difficult to drive a wagon under it in position to be used as a scaffold. Seeing the bulk of the crowd impatiently waiting their movements, the Regulators, with the victim in charge, moved on down the pike another hundred yards, and for
Another tree, upon the north side of the road—a huge oak, with a strong branch, whose twigs had been cut away, as though in preparation for the event—which projected out over the pike. Here they halted, and prepared for the tragedy which was to follow.
BY COMMON CONSENT
There was no form of trial, no questions as to whether or not the man should be hanged; they simply went on making the preparations, as if by common consent, or with the understanding that that action was a part of their business. Kline was led to the foot of the tree, and a man sent up to prepare for tying the rope. It was then decreed that
THE ROPE WAS MISSING,
And a man on horseback was sent back after it. It was found in the hands of some one in the mob which was still lingering about the first tree in the darkness, supposing that the execution was to take place there. They were notified to come forward to the final stopping-place, and did so without a second invitation. During the absence of the horseman in search of the rope, the men in charge of Kline again plied him with questions, and, pressing him pretty closely,
KLINE SHOWED FIGHT,
Saying that he ought not to be treated in this way, and that if it were not for the crowd, he would whip the man who was talking to him in this manner. Said he: “I’d like to meet you on a prairie alone. I’d use you up in just about a minute.”
“No, you couldn’t,” was the reply. “I wish you would; I’d like the chance to whip you myself.”
The quarrel being quieted down some one asked Kline if he wanted to pray or wanted any one to pray with him. To this he made no reply, when some irreverent scoundrel in the mob, which had by that time come up, began a prayer for him, opening with “Our Father,” and ending with an allusion to “two pairs,” whereat there was a divided sentiment some of the thoughtless taking it as a rare joke, and others, who had begun to feel the solemnity of the occasion, crying out “shame.” All this time Kline stood quietly, not tied or in any way restrained, at the foot of the tree, closely surrounded by the eager mob, many of whom were armed with guns and revolvers, and as much unable to save himself as though fettered and incarcerated in the strongest prison of the Commonwealth. By and by
THE ROPE CAME.
An open buggy was driven up, and preparations for the execution were renewed. The rope was a new one, large and strong, and was thrown up through the wind and driving snow to the man who had climbed the tree and sat astride the limb, waiting for its coming. He caught it cleverly and wrapping it about the huge branch, let fall
THE DANGLING NOOSE
Over the heads of the excited mob. The noose was not tied in a very skillful manner, but strongly, and with evident intention of insuring its work. Then there was a low call for a light and considerable delay occasioned by failure to produce one. Some one suggested breaking the lamps off a carriage which stood near, and for a time the partial destruction of the carriage seemed imminent, but a lantern having been produced this was abandoned. The light brought, the knot was completed, and the noose pronounced ready for Mr. Kline’s neck.
Was an open buggy. It was driven up, drawn by one horse, under the tree, and Klein elevated to a place beside the seat, and a moment later upon the seat itself, the mud and snow from his coarse boots falling upon the cushions as a pall upon the scaffold. Even at this trying moment when he was placed upon his scaffold
HIS COOLNESS DID NOT FORSAKE HIM,
And all the hootings and jeers of the mob as he was elevated to his position failed to make him flinch or move a muscle. “See him tremble,” said one, but he did not tremble, except, perhaps, from cold, for he wore only a thin coat and vest, light shirt, no overcoat, a low paper collar, and was ill-prepared to resist the searching wind and wet of the stormy night. He gazed around upon the crowd as he was lifted to his place without a murmur, and quietly submitted to having his hands tied, the fatal noose meanwhile literally dangling before his eyes and at times striking against his face and touching his slouch hat.
HOW HE LOOKED.
The hands tied, his hat was removed disclosing a bald head not badly shaped, black hair rather long and standing well out from the head, dark eye-brows and dark complection, black chin whiskers, a nose slightly Roman, but upon the face scarcely a sign of fear, not a tremor noticeable, he calmly awaited the fate which he knew could not be averted. There was an effort to blindfold him, but this was abandoned. Then the rope was put round his neck and slipped down tightly and drawn up from above so that there was little “slack” left to allow for the drop. Then
A broad-shouldered Kentuckian, whose face below the slouch hat could not be discovered in the darkness and snow, mounted the buggy beside him and prepared for the last work. The work of fitting the noose was slow, and in the darkness and wet from the rapidly-falling snow, very annoying, and the crowd became impatient, but it was finally completed.
KLEIN ASSERTS HIS INNOCENCE.
Mounted beside Klein, the hangman said: “Now, do you want to say any thing about this?”
“Are you guilty, or not guilty?” said some voice from the crowd.
“I am not guilty,” said Klein, and a hoot of derision went up from the crowd, which surged nearer.
“Who is, then?” asked the hangman.
“A man named Albert Jones,” replied Klein.
“We came to the Highlands together that day, and he told me he did it.”
“What is the use of telling us this?” persisted the hangman.
“We know you are the man; you have confessed it, the woman has identified you and the watches were found upon you. Why don’t you confess it, and not die with this lie upon your soul?”
“This is no time for a confession,” replied Kline; “this is not law.”
“This is Kentucky law,” was the reply.
“Now,” continued the hangman, “I have taken you out of jail, taken you to the woman, who has identified you, given you a chance to confess, and now my only duty is to swing you off, and I’m going to do it, by G--,” and he prepared to jump down and allow the buggy to drive out. There was a moment more of delay, another unavailing attempt to extort a confession, and
THE SIGNAL WAS GIVEN.
Even then there was a moment of delay, for the driver looking up seemed to be struck with Klein’s expression of countenance and the manner in which the deed was being accomplished, and, reaching up, he kindly drew down the unfortunate man’s hat over his face, hiding it from view, and striking his horse a quick blow, drive out, and Klein was
LAUNCHED INTO ETERNITY.
He did not fall, he merely swung off, standing upon the seat until the rope pulled him off it, and without a jar or a possibility of breaking the neck, swung rigidly backward and forward like a pendulum. For a moment there was silence, and then the crowd, remembering Klein’s last words to his unfortunate victim, broke out with them, “Get loose if you can.” “Get loose if you can,” and there was a torrent of cries and shouts mingled with the calls to order by the more thoughtful, who remembered that death is solemn under all circumstances. Then the crowd gathered round, and some seized the dangling victim by the legs and pulled down, as if in desire to aid in the certainty of his death-struggles. For fully two minutes he swung without a movement of a muscle, but soon a fearful struggle set in, the rope slipped the knot in front, and he died slowly and painfully, as if to the more surely atone for his crime.
When the crowd gathered round, and with jeers and scoffs, examined the body closely, holding up the only lantern to the face, and turning it slowly about, that all might see it. Tiring of this, they began amusing themselves by swinging the body to and fro, but the large proportion of the crowd became very much disgusted and left, and by two o’clock the crowd had dispersed, leaving the dead man swinging in the driving snow-storm to await the coming of the Coroner to-day.
At 3 a.m. the body was still hanging, the people of the neighborhood threatening to shoot any one who dares to cut it down.
A LEAF FROM HIS FORMER RECORD.
Five weeks ago last Friday Peter Kline was freed from the Ohio Penitentiary, having served out his term of imprisonment. He was taken to the institution by Joe Moses, and on the day mentioned Mr. Moses happened to be in Columbus on business. Kline and another ex-convict, who had just been released, hailed Joe and wanted him to take a drink with them. He declined the invitation, but met them shortly after on the train bound for this city. On board was a young, unsophisticated girl, bound from Baltimore to New Orleans. Kline scraped up an acquaintance with the girl, and on the arrival of the train in this city he and his convict friend attempted to get her to go with them. Mr. Moses interfered and warned them off, but they persisted in their attentions to the girl, until Mr. Moses threatened to arrest them (he being a Deputy Sheriff) and put them in the Station-house. He then took the girl and placed her under the care of the conductor of the Short Line Railroad, who took care of her on her way to Louisville.
In Newport, and, we doubt not, every-where else, seemed best expressed in the words “Well deserved.” Very few will admit squarely that they approve any lynching, but none were found to condemn any body for assisting at the work. It was this very feeling that was the most efficient aid the lynching party had. If there was any disposition to say nay it was a very mild disposition, only half hearted, and even the officers were lukewarm from patrolman up to the Governor of the State.
[ The Enquirer's follow-up story is here.]
This news story is from The Cincinnati Enquirer of March 17, 1879. The story spells the name of the man lynched both as "Kline" and "Klein," and it's reproduced above as we found it. The next day's story in the Enquirer said that the body was eventually cut down by medical students, who took the body to Cincinnati. Paul Knapp's excellent history of Fort Thomas places the Truesdell home on Mount Pleasant Avenue, near Johnson Elementary, and says the hanging tree was a large sycamore “at Mayo Avenue.”