Wells Family Genealogy

The study of my Family Tree

29 April 2016: I cleaned … and found a murderer lurking in my files! April 29, 2016

I’m hoping to be moving at some time in the near future. In preparation for said move, I’ve been poking in every nook and cranny of my apartment to find things I can toss out. This past weekend, I started to look through a jumbo plastic container with some random genealogy papers. Wondering what it was, I pulled out an article I’d printed out ages ago about Edward Geoghan. There not being too many Geoghans in Brooklyn, I suppose I’d printed it out to see if I’d be able to find out if we were related. What followed was an afternoon of slowly uncovering what is a truly sad and horrific story of one family.

Here’s the article:

Brooklyn Daily Standard Union, 8 February 1893


Edward GEOGHAN, a truck driver, 28 years of age, was placed on trial this morning in the Kings County Court of OYER & TERMINER, at which Judge CULLEN is presiding, for murder in the first degree, in having shot and killed his wife, Ellen GEOGHAN, at the residence of her sister, Mrs. Catherine BRENNAN, 103 Wyckoff street, on the 8th day of September last. The case is being prosecuted by District Attorney RIDGEWAY, while Counselor MCMAHON appears for the accused.

On the day in question, GEOGHAN went to the residence of his sister-in-law, where his wife was stopping, and emptied the five chambers of a 32 calibre revolver at her, two of the bullets took effect, one lodging in the woman’s head and the other in her stomach. One of the bullets, in glancing off after striking a piece of furniture, slightly wounded the six-months old child of the couple in the right thigh, the burning powder from the weapon setting fire to the child’s stocking. Another bullet shattered the index trigger finger of the murderer. GEOGHAN, after the shooting threw the revolver into a pail of water in the kitchen and fled from the house. Patrolman STEABOLD, who lives in the neighborhood, heard the shots, and on going into the street, and seeing GEOGHAN in the act of running away, started in pursuit, and captured him after a short chase. GEOGHAN on being taken back and being identified by his wife as her assailant coolly denied that he had done the shooting or had ever had a revolver; but a carving knife as sharp as a razor, with which it is supposed he intended to finish the job if the pistol failed, was found in his breast pocket. The couple had been married but eighteen months, but quarrels growing out of the husband’s jealousy became so frequent that Mrs. GEOGHAN resolved to leave her husband. The latter, she said, had also threatened to kill her and conceived a violent hatred of her mother.

Mrs. GEOGHAN was removed to the hospital, where she died soon after.

Quite a sad story. Yet I had to wonder if we were related somehow. The early 1890s generally are not an easy search when it comes to census records, but I lucked out as there was a New York State Census taken in 1892. When I looked it up on Ancestry.com, this is what I found:

1892 NY Census Brooklyn Edward Geoghan

It would appear that Edward and Ellen’s son was named Edward. I had to wonder what became of this child and also to his father.

Knowing there had to be newspaper accounts of the incident and subsequent trial, I turned to http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html , an excellent source for New York State newspaper archives. The website didn’t disappoint.

From this article in the New York Tribune, we find out that Edward was convicted of murder in the first degree, his defense of temporary insanity didn’t seem to help his case any.

1893 Jan Feb New York tTribune

From this article in Buffalo Evening News dated September 2, 1893, we see that the Governor commuted Edward sentence of death to life imprisonment.

1893 Sept 2 Buffalo Evening News

From this article in the New Rochelle Pioneer dated September 9, 1893, we see that the reason for the Governor to commute his sentence was that upon examination, Edward was found insane.

1893 Sept 9 New Rocelle Pioneer

I googled the main characters in the article and didn’t come up with much more on a simple Google search. I then switched to a look at Google books and found the following appeal. It differs from the accounts of the newspaper a little. It says that the incident happened not at his sister-in-law’s house, but at his mother-in-law’s house and that the sister-in-law was there.

The New York State Reporter

The New York State Reporter

Appeal page 2

Page 3 Appeal

While I was on Ancestry, I also found Edward’s prison intake record from Sing Sing prison. It notes that after his sentence was commuted by the Governor from death to life, he was sent to an asylum. It gives quite a bit of physical description of Edward and lists the names of two of his aunts, Mrs. Mary O’Connor and Mrs. Briget Mc T-something I can’t quite make out. McTearny maybe. No mention of the son, Edward Jr. or of Edward’s parents.  Here’s that intake record:

Edward Geoghan Sing Sing intake Record

So what happened to Edward Jr? I mean, poor thing, to have your mother killed by your father who was now in an asylum for who knows how long.

From here I decided to look for any info on Ellen and found her on findagrave.com as buried in Holy Cross Cemetery.  I know it’s her because of the date of death, the date of her murder.  Unfortunately, I looked at the bottom of the page and found out what happened to little Edward Jr.

Ellen on FAG

When I opened the link, I found Edward Jr.

Ed Jr on FAG

I can only wonder how little Edward died.  This really is a sad story.

So what happened to Edward Sr.?  Last we saw he was transferred from prison to an asylum.  On the 1900 US Federal Census I found him listed as a patient at the Matteawan State Hospital in Fishkill, New York.

1900 US Federal Census, Fishkill, New York, Matteawan State Hospital

1900 US Federal Census, Fishkill, New York, Matteawan State Hospital

He wasn’t at this hospital for more than a few years before I found him on the 1905 New York State Census as well as the 1910 Federal Census as a patient at Dannemora State Hospital for Insane Convicts in Dannemora, Clinton County, New York.

1905 New York State Census: Dannemora State Hospital for Insane Convicts

1905 New York State Census: Dannemora State Hospital for Insane Convicts

1910 US Federal Census: Dannemora State Hospital for Insane Convicts

1910 US Federal Census: Dannemora State Hospital for Insane Convicts

I found this bit of information online:

Dannemora State Hospital for Insane Convicts opened in 1900. Dannemora confined and cared for male inmates who were declared insane while serving sentences. Matteawan State Hospital transferred to Dannemora all male inmates who had at least six months left to serve on their sentences. Males serving sentences for felonies in State prisons, reformatories, or penitentiaries, and who were declared insane, were also transferred to Dannemora. In 1912, the name of the institution was changed to the Dannemora State Hospital. In 1972, Dannemora closed and all inmates were transferred to Matteawan.

When Dannemora State Hospital closed, the site became the Adirondack Correctional Treatment and Evaluation Center. This facility offered programs for the rehabilitation of persistent offenders and included a diagnostic team of specialists in psychiatry and psychology. In 1975, the Center closed and the site was converted into the Clinton Annex, a medium security facility for male inmates. Camp Adirondack, a medium security work camp, was also established at the site in 1975. The following year, Camp Adirondack was transferred to Ray Brook and was renamed the Adirondack Correctional Facility.

And this is where the trail ended.  I can’t find any death record for Edward or find him on any census record after 1910. Such a sad story, but an excellent case study in how to take a single article and find out the story behind the story.


Jennifer Geoghan, Genealogist and author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.


One Response to “29 April 2016: I cleaned … and found a murderer lurking in my files!”

  1. Julie Phelps Says:

    Some sad stories get sadder and sadder and just leave us with no satisfactory resolution. I found this out with a piece I wrote a few weeks ago called Six Sioux Indian Chiefs in the Jail Yard. It led me to places I never expected, but in the end, I learned so much. I love that you took the single story and followed the trail all the way through. Sometimes history is way more interesting than fiction! Thanks for a great story!

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