The Murder of John Wishart, Near Frankfort
In 1885 an Italian named Frank Mondon was sentenced to hang for the murder of John Wishart, a German whose body was found in a ditch near Frankfort, New York the previous year. The case was widely reported in the New York press and the following extract was published during 1885 in a book of Herkimer County Murders. It seems likely John ‘Wishart’ was not of Scottish heritage, and that his surname (perhaps Witscher or Wichern) became anglicised when he arrived in America.
The Italian, Frank Mondon, and the Two Wisharts Held for the Crime.
The body of John Wishart was found, May 8th, 1884, on that portion of the Mohawk flats east of Frankfort, owned by Sanford Gretman. The corpse was discovered in a ditch by the murdered man’s son, Adam Wishart, who for some time had been engaged in searching for the remains. On the right side of the head was a long, deep cut, resembling a wound inflicted by some sharp instrument. Near by was found a broken club, bearing stains of blood, with shreds of skin and a few hairs attached.
John Wishart was a German, over 70 years of age, and lived about a quarter of a mile west of the JST. Y. Central depot-at Frankfort, and in the town of Schuyler. He was last seen alive in the village of East Schuyler, about three weeks before the finding of the remains. He had not lived happily with his family, consisting of his wife, two sons, two daughters, and their husbands. As he had a daughter in Utica and a son in Syracuse, it was supposed by some that he had gone to one of those cities, and nothing strange was thought of his absence. About a week before the finding of the corpse inquiries were made in Utica and Syracuse, when it was learned that he had not been seen in either place. The people of the town began to surmise that Wishart had been foully dealt with, and a search being instituted, the body was found, as already stated.
Three of Wishart’s daughters were married to Italians. The youngest, Louise, had recently married against her father’s wishes, and, as her husband, Frank Mondon, had been heard to utter threats against the old man’s life, suspicion very naturally pointed towards him as the criminal. It is reported that the mother favored the marriage, while the father did all in his power to prevent it.
John Wishart was looked upon by every one as a temperate, industrious, and kindly disposed man. He worked as a farm laborer whenever he could get work, and as soon as the job was finished and he had received his pay he would return home, and be kindly treated as long as the money lasted. Home, from being the dearest place on earth, became to him a perfect hell. At least such is the report. His son, Adam, who found the remains, is reported to have taken his father’s part, and treated him kindly. Immediately after the discovery of the body, district attorney A. B. Steele, and Coroner Robert Warner, of Ilion, were notified, and went to Frankfort that same evening. Soon after, Deputy Sheriff Delos V. Finster and Police Constable A. Frank Clark, of Frankfort, began a search for Mondon. The supposed murderer was found at the Wishart house, in bed, and owing to the peculiar reputation of other members of the family, it was deemed advisable to arrest Mondon’s wife, Louise, Mrs. Nancy Wishart, the widow, some 60 years of age, and a son, Frederick, and his wife. Officer Sylvester Wilson made the arrests, and on informing Mrs. Wishart that the Italian was wanted, she asked: “What for?” Officer Clark told her that her husband’s dead body had been found, and she thereupon burst into tears. Her daughter, Mondon’s wife, proceeded to comfort her by exclaiming: “What the hell are you crying about? You must be sick to cry over that old fool.” The officers took their prisoners to Frankfort, where they were arraigned before Justice Ingham and committed. Mondon was placed in the lockup and the others held in custody at the Central Hotel.
Coroner Warner impanneled the following jury, and proceeded to hold an inquest: Sanford Getman, foreman, J. L. Osgood, W. Durst, W. Campbell, Edward Haner, Eugene Klock, John Krick, and Jesse Kingsbury.
Drs. G. N. Lehr and W. H. H. Parkhurst, both of Frankfort, made a post mortem examination.
The inquest commenced at six o’clock, Thursday, and continued until Saturday afternoon, when it was adjourned until Monday. The prisoners remained in jail in Herkimer, under the care of Sheriff Brown, over Sunday.
“It was about three weeks ago that I last saw the deceased alive; on Thursday last I saw Adam Wishart running down the flats; I asked him what the matter was ? He replied: “My father is down there in the ditch, dead”; I went there and found the body; Adam told me that the Italian, Mondon, had threatened to kill his father three or four times; I had let them have some land to work there; John Wishart at present had no home, as I understood that the family had turned him out of the house; Wishart told me so himself; I do not know where he stayed after he was turned out; the place where the body lay was not frequented by people; noticed a cut on the head ; a man standing in the ditch could not be seen from any of the houses near, because of bushes growing on the side ; Wishart at one time told me that his wife had threatened to kill him; she kicked him out doors ; that he slept on the floor and they did not give him any covering; never saw him drink or heard of his drinking.”
“Am a son of the deceased, and last saw him alive about three weeks ago, on the creek bridge, in the afternoon; don’t remember what he said; he had lived very unhappily at home; Mondon and my sister had been married about four months; father told me that the Italian had threatened his life; that Mondon said that he would catch him on the bridge some dark night and throw him into the river; I have been searching for him since Monday; I had my suspicions that he had been killed; I started for the village to procure hooks to drag the river ; my sister, Julia Coach, told me to go along by Getman’s and look there; I went and found the body; I did not say anything to the Italian about it, as I was afraid he would run away before the officers could arrest him; I have had trouble with my mother and I told her, if they would put that Italian out, that father would provide for the family; she ordered me to mind my own business; I saw part of an envelope near the body, picked it up and gave it to my wife; don’t know whether father had any money with him.”
At the request of the district attorney, witness asked his wife for the envelope, but she replied that she had burned it.
“I recognized the body by the pants and boots, before I saw the face; had no reason to believe that the body was there; did not hear my brothers and sisters, living at home, make any inquiry about father’s absence.”
Mrs. Nancy Hagen
Said that ” she last saw deceased coming: down the railroad track from his house; two men were with him, dressed in grayish clothes; don’t know them; don’t know the Italian who married Louise; the men stepped over Getman’s fence and went down the river; one had a black cap; did not notice the other one; about the same height; Adam Wishart was not one of them; did not see them come back; did not see an axe or anything with them; don’t know the day of the week; know it was not Sunday.”
The Italian accused of the murder, testified as follows: Have been in this country two years; lived at Frankfort ten or eleven months; worked on West Shore tracks; lived with Mr. Wishart two or three months; married his daughter, Louise; John Wishart was at home last time four or five weeks ago; one of the brothers said John had gone to Syracuse ; saw him go to Michael Coach’s; he did not come back; John had no trouble with me; Will and John had a fight one night when Louise and I were in bed; Will wanted to fight with me if I did not go down the river with John; don’t know where John went.
A club formed from the dried limb of a tree and broken in two pieces, was shown witness. Being asked if he killed John with that? he replied :
“Me stay nota in this place if me fixa John with that; me no go backa to Wishat’s.”
An Italian son-in-law of Wishart’s, testified: Been in this country nine and one-half years; work on railroad; saw Wishart last alive three weeks ago on bridge near the house; he stayed with me when he could not get in his own house; he said that his life had been threatened by Frank; about four months ago Frank said he would give old John a good licking; Wishart never liked Frank; I did not try to find body, as I have been out of town looking for work; have not been in Wishart’s house for three or four months; heard Mrs. Wishart say about four months ago that she did not want him around; have heard Louise tell him to get out of the house; haven’t spoken to Louise since she was married.
Another Italian son-in-law, was called as interpreter, and Frank again put on the stand: I saw John last three weeks ago, in front of house, on railroad bridge ; a German was with him; have seen the German since in Frankfort; don’t know his name; he wore a black cap and had a black moustache; never saw these clubs before; never did Wishart any harm; don’t know anything about who killed him; never threatened to lick the old man; never told Coach I would.
A son of deceased: Live at Coach’s ; saw father last three weeks ago; was at home one night during past two weeks; asked where father was; didn’t ask mother; didn’t ask Louise; have not much to say to her; heard about the finding of father’s body on Thursday afternoon ; did not tell them at the house; I didn’t help put my father in the ditch; heard my sister say the body must be there; it was talked over a couple of days; didn’t know why Michael did not go down with Adam; guess he was afraid.
District attorney – Afraid that he would find the body ?
Witness, nodding his head and laughing – I guess so; never heard father say he didn’t want Louise to marry Frank; Louise said she wanted him and she got him ; don’t know how old I am; only went to school four weeks; don’t know whether father and the boys ever had trouble.
Mrs. Hattie Wishart
Wife of Adam: Last saw deceased three weeks ago; he brought flour to our house, and I baked bread for him next day; he talked of going to Syracuse; was at father’s house but once since Louise was married; heard Frank say once, ” G-d d – n him, we’ll fix him in one lick;” Mike and John were present at the time; the only time I ever heard him threaten father; don’t understand much that he says; Adam said Thursday morning, he didn’t see where father could be, and I suggested that he look for him, where he had been working.
The inquest then adjourned until Monday. On Monday it was resumed, and then adjourned until Friday. The knife of Wishart was found on the Italian; it was also proved that he and Wishart quarreled on the day he was missed, and that the Italian followed him down the railroad track.
Testified that: He lives about 20 rods from the Wishart house: saw deceased last about 4 or 5 weeks ago; while passing the house on the 17th of April, in the afternoon, heard the voice of a woman crying; it was the most agonizing cry I ever heard; I heard a voice crying, ” Oh they have killed”; don’t know whose voice it was; saw Alonzo Faulkner and his sister pass the house; asked them what the matter was; he replied, “Oh, they are having one of their spells at the Wishart house; when I looked back Mrs. Wishart was standing in the doorway; still heard the same voice crying; don’t think it was Louise; it was a woman’s voice; I had not seen John Wishart that day or since.
Mrs. Nancy Wishart
The widow, testified substantially as follows: “Last saw my husband about four weeks ago; do not remember of standing in the doorway on Thursday morning; was not at home at that time; Frank Mondon was crying in the barn several days before; he and his wife, Louise, had some words and he struck her with a stick; Mondon was jealous, and twitted her about an Italian she met last fall; he told her she could have the Italian if she wanted to; she replied that she didn’t have to; she then called him a ————–; he would not take that, and struck her across the back, twice, with a switch; I heard Mr. Clifford say that he heard crying; I did not hear it when at the house; Mondon often had crying spells in the barn, in fact he rarely did anything else but cry; Louise and Frank occasionally had words about men and women; the first time he struck her was before the old man went away; they often twitted one another, and afterwards she would go to the bedroom and he would follow her; they would remain half an hour, and after they came out she would be just as pleasant as ever; Frank would cry because of his jealousy; I did not see Mr. Clifford pass the house; I saw Mr. Faulkner and his sister pass the house; John stayed in the house that night; I saw the old man the next week after we gave the dance, on the Monday night following Easter Sunday; he was at the house in the morning ; started west on Thursday; the old man asked me to bake bread; the last morning I saw him we had a few words, and he then left and went west; I went out and milked; when I came back Bessie was the only one there; when Louise got up she wanted to know what the oid man wanted; I told her he wanted bread ; Frank had not come from the bedroom at the time; John had said that the Italian had a wife in Italy, and that he would be made to suffer some time; at no time during the morning did Frank see John; I was the first one up that morning; I saw him have a pocket-book last winter ; he lost his knife, but bought another; Louise was crying in the room when Faulkner and his sister passed by ; do not remember to have heard her say : ” Oh! they have killed”; she often had crying spells when Frank went away, and once said that she would kill herself; when Faulkner went by she said, “Oh, dear,” or something like that; I don’t know where Lon was; think John was home the night Faulkner went by; will not swear that Frank went away the day that John did; I remember that Frank went to look for work the week that John was found; John came to the house the night of the dance; I went in the room where the dancing was; I was dancing with the Italian; John said we ought to be ashamed; John took three chairs and a water pail and placed them near the door; he pounded around by the door, and took a window light out; Fred took hold of John by the collar, and put him out and locked the door after him; I told him to; no one touched John except Fred; Frank knew of the disturbance, but was not near John; Frank did not raise a club at him; Lon was full and foolish, and wanted to get at him, but was held back by the Italians; when Fred went at the old man the music stopped, but the row did not break up the dance; Lon had often threatened the old man, but I never saw him strike him; never heard Frank threaten to strike him; have known Louise to misuse and throw stones at her father; all the children have had words with their father; at the house one day, when Frank went after water, Louise followed him and John followed her; John struck at Frank with a club, but Louise caught the force of the blow; Frank wanted to get at the old man then, but Louise held him; no one held the old man; Frank said to Louise: ” Let me go”; Louise said: “Don’t you fix any fight for the old man,” and Frank said that he wouldn’t.”
The club found near the murdered man’s body was exhibited, but Mrs. Wishart denied that it was the one about to be used at the time.
“There was no fuss between me and my husband after he found me in the cellar with men; he twitted me about it, and I told him it was none of his business; John slept up stairs; I have not slept with him since New Year’s.”
District attorney Steele: “Mrs. Wishart, will you swear that your husband was not killed in the house ?”
“Yes, sir; I am as innocent of this crime as a child two years old; I did not say that the dirty old toad had gone off with his clothes on;” did not hear Louise say that she wished the old cuss was dead; at the time of my arrest, I did not slap Frank on the shoulder and say, “They have found old John;” Louise did not say, “Mother, don’t cry about the old fool;” I did not know what I was arrested for.”
This concluded her testimony. Several times during the examination she appeared worried and perspired so exceedingly, that she was kept busy wiping the perspiration from her face. The woman is very cunning, and undoubtedly knows more about the killing of her husband than she is willing to admit.
On Saturday evening the jury handed in the following verdict: “On the 17th day of April, 1884, at the town of Schuyler, in said county of Herkimer, one Frank Mondon did strike the said John Wishart with a club or other heavy instrument, which he then and there held in his hand, feloniously and with malice aforethought, and with intent to kill the said John Wishart, and that the said Frank Mondon, at the time and place aforesaid, willfully, feloniously, and of malice aforethought, the said John Wishart did kill and murder; and the jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths, do further say that Nancy Wishart and Louise Mondon abetted, aided and counseled the said Frank Mondon in the commission of the said offense, and in the killing and murdering of the said John Wishart, at the time and in the manner above set forth.”
Among other witnesses were Alonzo Wishart, Mike Coach, Harris Lewis, Alonzo M. Lintz, Fred Wishart, Louise Mondon, Sheriff Brown, E. H. Minott, Alonzo Faulkner, Horace L~igham, James H. J. Watkins.
The result of the post mortem and the finding of the clubs make the case beyond a doubt, one of murder. The head bore marks of a severe blow from behind, causing a fracture of the skull on the left side. On the club picked up near by, were found a few hairs, corresponding in color to that of the deceased. On one of the pieces is a sort of knot or place where a branch had been cut off, which exactly fitted an indentation in the back of the head.
The Wishart family, who were examined as witnesses, can neither read or write, and some of them did not understand the nature of an oath. The Italian speaks but very little English, and it was hard for the coroner to understand his testimony.
After the conclusion of the inquest the prisoners were taken to Herkimer jail, where they now remain in charge of Sheriff Brown
At a session of the grand jury, in the following November, that body found a true bill of murder in the first degree against the Italian, and indicted Nancy Wishart as accessory. The case went over the term, and will come up for trial this present term of court.
As Mondon had no counsel the court assigned ex-District Attorney J. J. Dudleston, Jr. Mr. Dudleston is a good lawyer, and will do everything in his power to secure a verdict of acquittal,
Mrs. Nancy Wishart retained the Hon. S. S. Morgan as counsel, but as that celebrated criminal lawyer is lately deceased, she his now secured the services of Dexter E. Pomeroy, of Utica, Mr. Pouieroy is a well known lawyer, and is possessed of a clear head, good legal knowledge and excellent judgment. District attorney Steele will conduct the case for the people, and as all are equally confident of success, the trial is sure to prove an interesting one.
No indictment was found against Louise, the Italian’s wife, but she is still retained as a witness, at the county jail.