Thinkery & Verse present

S01 Episode 6: Two in a field

September 07, 2020 Thinkery & Verse, Kaitlin Ormerod Hutson, Johnny Kavanagh, Erin Bogert, Sean Ullmer Season 1 Episode 6
Thinkery & Verse present
S01 Episode 6: Two in a field
Chapters
Thinkery & Verse present
S01 Episode 6: Two in a field
Sep 07, 2020 Season 1 Episode 6
Thinkery & Verse, Kaitlin Ormerod Hutson, Johnny Kavanagh, Erin Bogert, Sean Ullmer

On September 15th, neither Frances Hall nor James Mills report to the police that their spouses are missing. On September 16th, two young people stumble across the bodies of Edward Hall and Eleanor Mills on a lover's lane just outside of New Brunswick, New Jersey.  The investigation begins, but almost immediately falls apart due to county disputes, class deference to the Stevens family, and general incompetence. This episode features special guest Erin Bogert.

Hosted by Kaitlin Ormerod Hutson and Johnny Kavanagh. 
Chorus of voices: Ensemble of "Thou Shalt Not".
Sound design and editing from Erin Bogert and Sean Ullmer.
Copy writing by Kaitlin Ormerod Hutson.
Copy editing by Karen Alvarado.
Episode directed by Erin Bogert.
Produced by Karen Alvarado and Thinkery & Verse.

Warning: the violence against Eleanor Mills is graphic and strange, and will be upsetting to many listeners. 

Want to support, work with, or give feedback to us? Email: [email protected]

Show Notes Transcript

On September 15th, neither Frances Hall nor James Mills report to the police that their spouses are missing. On September 16th, two young people stumble across the bodies of Edward Hall and Eleanor Mills on a lover's lane just outside of New Brunswick, New Jersey.  The investigation begins, but almost immediately falls apart due to county disputes, class deference to the Stevens family, and general incompetence. This episode features special guest Erin Bogert.

Hosted by Kaitlin Ormerod Hutson and Johnny Kavanagh. 
Chorus of voices: Ensemble of "Thou Shalt Not".
Sound design and editing from Erin Bogert and Sean Ullmer.
Copy writing by Kaitlin Ormerod Hutson.
Copy editing by Karen Alvarado.
Episode directed by Erin Bogert.
Produced by Karen Alvarado and Thinkery & Verse.

Warning: the violence against Eleanor Mills is graphic and strange, and will be upsetting to many listeners. 

Want to support, work with, or give feedback to us? Email: [email protected]

Podcast Episode #6 Script

Title: The Investigation Part 1 (1922)

J: Hello and welcome back for our sixth installment of “That’s How the Story Goes: the Hall-Mills Murder Podcast,” still lovingly brought to you by Thinkery and Verse. I’m the host you’ve come to know and love, Johnny Kavanagh.

K: And I’m the one you’ve come to revere, Kaitlin Ormerod Hutson.

J: Last time we talked about September 14, 1922, the day and night of the murder of Edward Hall and Eleanor Mills and what we know of the movements of them and their families on that day.

K: Today we’re going to dive into the tangled and oh so spectacularly messed up web that is the investigation of this crime right after it happens in 1922 and this is just Part 1 of these shenanigans.

J: Exactly there’s so much tomfoolery and just general incompetence and questionable behavior that we couldn’t pack it all into one episode. This is also a good time to mention that there will be some graphic details in this episode, so feel free to skip ahead at those parts.

K: Exactly, so buckle up those seatbelts friends, because it is going to be a bumpy and confusing ride. We’ll start our tale on the morning of September 15. As we recounted last time, both Frances Hall and James Mills described some amount of looking for their spouses on the evening of the 14th, but they still don’t know that the other one’s spouses are missing as well.

J: Yes, so Frances doesn’t yet know about Eleanor and James doesn’t know about Edward.

K: Right. So on the morning of the 15th, Frances makes a call to the New Brunswick police asking if there have been any casualties. There haven’t, and she doesn’t identify herself so the cops don’t know it’s her. Louise Geist wakes up to find Willie. She asks him what he’s doing up so early to which he replies, “Something terrible happened last night. Mrs. Hall and I have been up most of the night.”

J: Several blocks away, James Mills is waking up and getting ready to head over to the Lord Stirling School to start work. He sees Eleanor did not come home at all last night but still doesn’t call the police or any hospitals to see where she might be. At 8:30 AM he arrives at St. John’s to start his duties there. It’s then that he sees the newspaper clipping on Edward’s desk and recognizes it as the one that was cut from his own paper.

K: At the same time, Frances arrives at St. John’s and bumps into James Mills for the first time. It is then they realize both of their spouses are missing. James says, “Do you think they eloped?” Frances replies, “I think they are dead and can’t come home.” Frances goes home to call one of Edward’s sisters in Jersey City and she comes straight away.

J: At noon, Frances is on her way to pick up her sister-in-law from the train station and stops by the Mills’ home to ask James if he’s heard anything. He says no. When Frances gets home she calls her lawyer to tell him about Edward’s disappearance and he comes right over. At about 3 PM the lawyer reports Edward as missing to the police.

K: Frances returns to the Mills’ house for the second time at 5 PM to again ask James Mills if he’s heard anything and he says no once again. Later that evening she calls the organist of St. John’s to let her know that Edward won’t be attending choir practice but declines to tell her he’s missing. After James Mills opens the doors to the church for said choir practice, he heads over to the Hall home around 8PM to talk to Frances. She says, “They must be dead or they would come home.”

J: So. Weird. Anyway. September 16. The bodies are discovered at around 11 AM by Raymond Schneider and Pearl Bahmer. The two had come out to the lover’s lane to. Well. Do what you do on a lover’s lane, when they stumbled upon the bodies. They ran to Easton Avenue to borrow someone’s phone to call the police. The police arrive and begin investigating the crime scene.

K: Meanwhile, James Mills is having lunch with one of Eleanor’s sisters. She gets a phone call from a reporter saying that Edward and an “unidentified woman” had been found on DeRussey’s Lane. She and James both assume it’s Eleanor. Also Frances Hall receives a call around 11:20 AM asking if her husband is home. She sends her cousin, Edwin Carpender, down to the newspaper to see what they wanted and then he finds out about Edward’s body. He and the lawyer then drive out to the crime scene to identify the body and Edwin’s wife tells Frances the news.

J: It’s here that Frances and James start the denial game. Frances claims to not have any idea why Eleanor and Edward would be meeting, despite the fact she took the message for Eleanor about the hospital bill and that’s what Edward told her he was going to do when he left on the evening of the 14th. James Mills also categorically denies any knowledge of an affair.

K: And things only get more bonkers from there. No one can agree whether the crime occurred in New Brunswick or Somerset as police cannot agree on whether the bodies were killed elsewhere and dumped on DeRussey’s Lane or murdered there, plus the location is right on the border between the two counties. SO they do the Extremely Logical Thing TM which is to do a joint county investigation of the crime. Foreshadowing, this is going to go about as well as you think. 

J: On September 19, the police get evidence from the crime scene including 2 handkerchiefs, a pair of men’s glasses, a driver’s license, an auto registration, Masonic and YMCA membership cards, a calling card, and 61 cents. Willie Stevens is emerging as an early suspect since he had a known grudge against Edward for denying an alteration to his allowance as well as the fact that he owned a .32 caliber revolver, which was the same as the murder weapon. One of the prosecutors is already complaining that the involvement of the press is hindering their investigation, this is going to become a huge theme. Also on the 19th Eleanor has her funeral at the Hubbard Funeral Home and not St. John’s.

K: As September continues on, there isn’t much forward momentum towards a resolution of the case but a lot of stories written about it anyway as anyone and everyone comes forward to throw in their two cents. Frances and Charlotte both call press conferences to say what they think happened: Frances says robbery, Charlotte calls her a liar basically and said it was obviously jealousy. There’s drama and confusion with Pearl and Raymond. She is charged with incorrigibility by her father after she throws a brick through his window and goes to jail. Her story keeps changing about small details that she saw or didn’t and then her father eventually withdraws his charges for no apparent reason. Someone else comes forward with details about fighting between Eleanor and James Mills about her involvement with the church and she allegedly said, “I care more for Mr. Hall’s little finger than I do for your whole body.”

J: Yeah, ouch. On top of that, James Mills is questioned again by police for hours in a way that would definitely be considered illegal today, again another theme that is going to continue to crop up. However, he never wavers on his story. By September 27, the Middlesex and Somerset prosecutors are taking jabs at each other in the press to complain about how little progress they’re making and an order is given to exhume Eleanor’s body. It’s also around this time that Charlotte writes a letter to the governor of New Jersey asking him to intervene. He actually responds to her letter in the press and gets a little involved. On the 29th, now over two weeks since the murders, Eleanor’s body is exhumed and brought back to the funeral home for the autopsy. Forewarning about graphic content ahead, please skip ahead a minute if you’d like. At the autopsy it was discovered that Eleanor was shot three times in the head, each bullet penetrating her brain and one going all the way through. Upon analyzing the bullets they found them to be .32 caliber. The cut in her throat was so deep that her head was almost completely severed and it was very smooth, not jagged. No hesitation and a very sharp blade. In addition to the gunshots and neck wound they found superficial injuries as well: some cuts on her lip and two on her arms below the elbow, possible signs of a struggle.

K: At this point Frances hires a new lawyer, Timothy Pfeiffer who was a former ADA of New York, to investigate the death and to be her representative. Now it is October and things start to heat up a bit eventually. After some bureaucratic rigamarole, Edward’s body is approved to be disinterred for an autopsy from Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Frances asks to have her own representative present at the autopsy. This request is denied. Police are still on the hunt for the murder weapon even this far after the fact, but given the sheer volume of people who have trampled over the crime scene it is not likely and people continue to visit it. On October 5th the autopsy for Edward Hall is finally conducted. Again there is some graphic descriptions, so please feel free to skip ahead a minute or so. At the autopsy it was concluded that Edward was killed by a bullet that entered his right temple, it exited and came out the back of his neck on the left side. It was also a .32 caliber bullet, just like the ones found in Eleanor’s body. Edward also had other abrasions on his hands, palm, wrist, a bruise on his ear, and a wound on his right calf which was more of a puncture wound. The doctors conducting the autopsy surmised it could’ve been caused by contact with the bushes or a struggle. It was concluded that Edward had probably been killed first and Eleanor second, though her body was significantly more decomposed because her embalming had not been successful due to the severity of her wounds.

J: Now that another confirmation that a .32 caliber gun was used, Willie Stevens is brought in for questioning again and he is interrogated until 2 in the morning, treatment his lawyer objects to. But here is where things really start to seem like they’re heating up. On October 8th, over three weeks since the murders, Pearl, Raymond, Clifford Hayes, and Leon Kauffman are all re-interviewed by police: Schneider and Hayes for 12 hours. Kauffman talks about how on the night of the 14th the three boys followed Pearl and a drunk man, who they didn’t know was her father at the time, and he admits that Hayes shows off his gun. Pearl is interviewed and isn’t released until 12:45 AM the next morning. Eventually, after 30 hours of interrogation, Raymond Schneider confesses and signs a statement that Clifford Hayes was the killer of Edward and Eleanor in a case of mistaken identity, thinking they were Pearl and her father.

K: Almost immediately there is suspicion in New Brunswick that Hayes is the culprit and no one believes this to be true. Even James Mills didn’t believe this could be the real resolution to the case. Hayes’ brother speculated that pressure from the governor influenced the prosecutors to go after someone and Hayes was just taking the fall. Hayes, for his part, denied everything and after his arrest said, “If I killed Mr. Hall and Mrs. Mills, do you think that I would be fool enough to stay around New Brunswick for three weeks?”

J: A valid point, I must say. To further muddy the waters, the Middlesex and Somerset prosecutors don’t even agree on whether Hayes is their man which causes just more confusion. At the same time all this is going down, the saga with Pearl Bahmer continues. Her father is arrested because she accuses him of rape and Pearl herself is sent to jail for her own protection because she threatens to kill herself. On October 11th another police detective goes back to Raymond Schneider in his jail cell and convinces him to recant his first story. After this, Hayes is freed and now it’s a month since the murders and we’re right back where we started which is basically nowhere except now Schneider has been arrested for perjury for the false statement and the statutory rape of Pearl Bahmer. 

K: The local prosecutors finally reach out and ask for help from the NJ attorney general, but it takes awhile for them to get it. In the meantime, the police get their hands on more evidence that had made its way away from the crime scene. This time it is two handkerchiefs stained with blood: one is a large, white linen one with nothing on it and the other is a woman’s handkerchief with a lace border and an S embroidered in the corner. Also around this time Charlotte finds a packet of letters from Edward to Eleanor hanging in a handbag behind a door in their house. The bag also contains Edward’s diary that he kept while he was in Maine the summer of 1922 and she sells all these to a newspaper. On October 17th, Frances, Willie, Henry Stevens, Frances and Willie’s brother, and Charlotte are all brought in to be questioned by police again. The police ask Frances to put on the same coat she was wearing on the night of the 14th. A strange woman is brought in to look at her and then she leaves.

J: Spoiler alert, but that strange lady will turn out to be Jane Gibson. While the police are following the first lead they’ve gotten in over a month, an analysis of the soil around the crab apple tree confirms that Eleanor and Edward were indeed murdered at the crime scene and not brought there from a secondary location. Also more stories start to come out about the tension between Eleanor and Frances the summer before the murders and even a letter from Edward to Eleanor apologizing for Frances’ behavior which was written in August of 1922. There is also plenty of talk about James Mills trying to keep the fights he had with Eleanor a secret as well, so things are really starting to unravel. It’s now 5 weeks since the murders and DeRussey’s Lane is literally turning into a circus. By noon on October 22, 300 cars are parked on the street. Vendors are selling popcorn, balloons, peanuts, and soft drinks near the murder site.

K: In addition to the continued chaos the county prosecutors continue their dumb tit for tat over who did what when and who should’ve been responsible for what after they’re called out about not subpoenaing Hall’s letters and diary before it got sold. Finally, on October 23 a special prosecutor from the state attorney general’s office is appointed to hopefully end this debacle and he gets right to work.

J: His first order of business is bringing back Jane Gibson, who by this time is revealed to be the eyewitness to the murders. The county prosecutors are, again, in disagreement over whether she is to be believed or not (shocker)  but the new special prosecutor is intrigued by her story and he believes her. Jane Gibson says she tried to come forward to the police earlier but they didn’t really want to listen and brushed her off. Her story is that she heard what she thought was an intruder on her property so she got on her mule to follow them. She cuts through a field to try and head them off and stumbles upon an argument near a crab apple tree. She says she can see them silhouetted by the moon. She hears a sharp sound and sees a man go down. She gets scared and tries to back away when she hears another round of gunshots and another person falls, and then she hears a woman say, “Henry.” When she read about the discovery of the bodies it was then that she realized what she saw, but was scared to get involved. However when she learned about Hayes’ arrest she felt she had to come forward because she couldn’t let an innocent person go to jail. She was pretty explicit that she thought the couple got what they deserved, but that she still thought murder was wrong and the real killers should be brought to justice.

K: I mean, what a point of view. People are really skeptical that Jane Gibson’s story is true. In fact there are a couple people who live nearby, including a neighbor with a longstanding feud with Gibson, who come forward to try and discredit her. She doesn’t do herself any favors either by constantly embellishing her story for the press. Also, after some investigation into her personal backstory, it comes out that Gibson may not be her name at all. She may be married to a man named Easton. So is she Mrs. Gibson? Is she Mrs. Easton? Who is this woman really? All this to say it throws even more confusion on an already opaque situation and no one is really sure what to believe from her. Despite all this, the special prosecutor is still inclined to believe her story because, “Why would any woman tell a story like that unless she had some real foundation for it?” Gibson does catch some credibility points when a meteorological report confirmed the exact conditions that Gibson described on the night of the 14th down to even the time the moon rose that night.

J: Now we’re getting into November and the grand jury is getting ready to gear up. Frances Hall calls a press conference after not appearing in public for several weeks basically to just go on record that she denies Jane Gibson’s story and continue to deny the affair between Eleanor and Edward, though she does stipulate that if his letters are proven to be authentic then maybe she can admit they might have been in love. More weird details also keep coming to the press at this time. One story about Willie Stevens a few days after the bodies were discovered. A man sees him in a store and after commenting he hoped the killers would be caught soon Willie said, “My heart is almost coming through my clothes, George. I don’t know how I can stand it.” Then Willie asked the man to deny any knowledge of the Hall-Stevens-Carpender family and the murders.

K: And even more on the nose, one of Edward’s friends comes forward to say that several months before the murders Edward had confided in him that he was being threatened by one of Frances’ family members and that he planned to leave her for Eleanor. This friend alleged that someone had told him that he better keep his mouth shut. The special prosecutor is not interested in this story for some reason.

J: But now it is November 20th and finally after over u weeks the grand jury is convened. It lasts five days and 67 witnesses are called in all from Pearl Bahmer, to Ralph Gorsaline, Louise Geist, James Mills, and of course Jane Gibson. However, after all that testimony the grand jury declined to bring any action and laid the case over, stating that did not mean that a future grand jury couldn’t decide to pick it up later on. But no charges were brought and that was the end of that.

K: In the months and years following this initial investigation that ended with no action or closure for either of the families, Raymond Schneider is convicted of perjury. His statutory rape charges are dropped, however. In January of 1923 a new Somerset grand jury declines to take up the Hall-Mills case again. James Mills resigns as sexton of St. John’s not long after the new year in 1923 when the new rector arrives. Frances Hall leaves the country and goes to Italy. She doesn’t return until the spring of 1924 and she leaves for Europe again in December of that year and doesn’t return until 1925. DeRussey’s Lane goes from being a murder circus back to being a secluded lover’s lane and by 1926 the Hall-Mills case is all but forgotten, even in New Brunswick.

J: That is until July 3, 1926. On this day, a man named Arthur Riehl files for an annulment from his wife of 10 months. That wife turns out to be Louise Geist, the former maid of the Hall family. Arthur has learned some things about Louise that not only make him want to end his new marriage, but also will reignite the investigation into the Hall-Mills case.