The Trial Of Aaron Goodfellow's Murderer

May 12, 1882 
Clinton Public
Clinton, Illinois


Be Sure Your Sin Will Find You Out.
Execution of Patsy Devine for the Murder of Aaron

A History of the Two Trials.
Patsy Dies Declaring His Innocence.

The last act in the tragedy that opened in Bloomington on the night of the 4th of August, 1879, when Aaron GOODFELLOW was murdered in the streets of Bloomington by Patsy DEVINE, closed today in Clinton by the execution of the murderer. The history of the case has become familiar to the readers of THE PUBLIC, so we will briefly review it. [see obituary of Aaron Goodfellow]

Picture of Aaron Goodfellow.

Aaron Goodfellow was an old and prominent citizen of Bloomington, and was esteemed and respected by all who knew him. He was an affable, pleasant gentleman, and if he had an enemy it was no fault of his. On the evening of the 14th [The first paragraph said the 4th. I’m not sure which is correct.] of August, 1879, he had been spending a pleasant hour or two at a neighbor’s, and about nine o’clock started for his home, which was but a short distance away. The night was warm and pleasant, and the summer moon made the streets almost as bright as daylight. Leisurely walking toward his home he was halted at an alley, within half a block of his home, by two men, one of whom jumped from behind a tree and said to Mr. Goodfellow, "Hold up your hands or I will shoot you!" Mr. Goodfellow, thinking it was some friend playing a practical joke upon him, laughingly responded, but the gleam of the pistol in the moonlight soon dispelled any idea of a joke. Being a man of powerful frame he quickly grappled with his assailant, but in a second there was a flash and the report of a pistol and a bullet went crashing through Mr. Goodfellow’s jaw. Wounded as he was, Mr. Goodfellow still held on to his would-be murderer, and would have overcome him, when another pistol shot was fired by the partner of the man he held. The ball struck Mr. Goodfellow in the side, six or eight inches above the thigh and produced a mortal wound. The sound of the two shots in rapid succession and hearing approaching footsteps, the murderers fled down the alley, without having time even to rifle the pockets of their victim.

Mr. Goodfellow was carried to his home, and the next morning died from his wounds. He was conscious almost to the hour of his death, and from him such a description was had of the size, appearance and the clothing worn by the murderers, that suspicion at once rested upon Patsy Devine and Harry Williams, two noted thugs who had been around Bloomington for several days and whose description tallied with that given by Mr. Goodfellow.

It was generally supposed at the time the murder was committed that Mr. Goodfellow was not the man the thugs were laying for. It was thought that the murderers intended to waylay a prominent railroad official who carried a costly gold watch and usually had a large amount of money with him. This opinion was strengthened from the fact that one of the murderers had previously talked about the watch to some of his ruffian acquaintances and expressed a desire to possess it. In size and appearance, Goodfellow might be mistaken for the railroad official in the night by parties who knew neither of them intimately. From these scattering threads the theory seems plausible that the fatal shot was not intended for Goodfellow, for a man of his careful habits would never carry much money with him when around home.

From the description of the men given by Goodfellow the night he was shot, it would seem that Williams was the man who fired the first shot and that it was Devine who fired the fatal shot. This will never be known for a certainty, for Devine has persistently insisted that he was not in Bloomington that night, but that he left for Alton that morning. He will carry this secret with him to the grave. Both the ruffians went out armed to commit highway robbery, and murder if it became necessary to secure their safety. This is evident from the conversations they had with their associates beforehand, for Devine told a prostitute to watch the Bloomington papers for a day or two and she would hear something that would turn the town upside down.

As soon as the last shot had been fired, the murderers heard the rapid approach of people from both directions on the street. The night was warm and beautiful; the place of the murder was in the populous part of the city, and many of the residents were sitting in the door yards enjoying the evening breeze. The quick succession of shots would naturally create an alarm and it seemed but a minute before dozens were gathered at the fatal spot. The murderers did not have time to search for the plunder they were after but beat a hasty retreat down the ally. The next morning they were seen in the town of Odell, but before the news of the murder reached there they had left. Devine got back to Alton by Wednesday morning, but did not stop there long. Large rewards for their capture was offered, and this set the detectives on their track. Pres. BUTLER, a Bloomington officer, got on Patsy’s trail and faithfully followed it up for months, till finally he secured his arrest in Port Jarvis, New York, where he was living with some of his relatives. At first he denied that his name was Devine, but when he was taken back to Bloomington, and there confronted by men and women who knew him, he admitted that his name was Devine. WILLIAMS has never been heard of, although two or three men, somewhat answering his description, have been arrested but afterwards liberated.


Picture of Patrick Devine.

During the day previous to the evening of the murder, Devine and Williams had been seen loitering around the neighborhood where the murder was committed. Some children who were at play saw him by daylight, and the oldest of these boys, when on the witness stand, positively identified him. To strengthen the chain of evidence that he was in Bloomington that night, one witness swore that while he was walking through the park early in the evening Devine and another man shouldered him roughly on the walk, and that he had a fair look at his face. To prove that he was in the neighborhood of the alley a few minutes before the murder, two ladies swore that they saw the two men together, and that they were frightened at their rough appearance. The ladies turned off the walk to avoid them, and by the aid of the gaslight and the brightness of the moon they could distinguish Devine’s face. Colonel Johnson also identified Devine. The Colonel was on his way home from his place of business, riding in his wagon, and seeing the men on the sidewalk, thinking they were friends of his, he stopped. When Devine looked up in his face, the Colonel saw his mistake and drove on. He had a fair look at Devine and could not be mistaken as to the man. Another strong link in the chain of evidence was the finding of a white handkerchief, spotted with blood, on the sidewalk where the murder was committed. This was given to Williams a day or so before by a prostitute at whose house Williams and Devine were stopping. The woman recognized Devine as one of the men who had been at her house that day, and while she did not want to swear positively to the handkerchief yet she thought she could identify it from the peculiarity that no matter how much it was washed yet it always looked dirty. The handkerchief answered the description. And one of the strongest links was Devine’s statement that he left Bloomington on that morning. Yet a number of witnesses who knew him swore that he was in the city late in the evening. Never was circumstantial evidence more convincing.

On Monday, the 21st day of December, 1880, Devine was placed on trial for his life at the bar of the circuit court of this county. Several hours were consumed in selecting a jury, for the case was so notorious, the murder having been committed in a neighboring city, that nearly every one had read of it in the papers of this city as well as in the Bloomington papers. Finally a jury of twelve as good men as can be found in the state was impaneled. The names of the jurors are: Lyman BARNETT, Absolom MILLER, James CLINE, S. M. ARGO, A. P. SMALLWOOD, Joel R. WILLIAMS, James COFFMAN, A. U. PARKER, George HARTSOCK, William CALLISON, George W. BATES and John SMOOT. Messrs. FIFER and PHILLIPS were the prosecuting attorneys, and Messrs. W. C. P. REMINE, of Bloomington, and J. W. JONES, of Danville, were Devine’s attorneys. Judge BURR presided. By noon of the Wednesday following, the evidence for both sides was concluded. Day and night during the trial the court room was crowded to its utmost capacity, and the verdict of the audience was that Devine was guilty for never was chain of evidence more complete from the hour Devine first landed in Bloomington, a few days before the murder, down almost to the moment when the fatal shot was fired. The arguments of counsel lasted till eleven o’clock on Thursday morning, when the case was given to the jury, and at seven o’clock in the evening they returned with a verdict of guilty. On the first vote taken by the jury seven were in favor of the death penalty, while the other five were in favor of imprisonment in the penitentiary ranging from fourteen years to a life sentence. Not one man on the jury doubted the prisoner’s guilt, but some were timid at the idea of voting to take the life of a human being, steeped as he might be in the crime of murder.

Devine’s attorney made the best legal fight possible for their guilty client, and after the verdict had been rendered Mr. Remine made a motion for a new trial, setting up as a reason that the bailiff in charge of the jury was in the jury room while the verdict was being considered. To this the bailiff made prompt denial under oath. Then Mr. Remine made a motion in arrest of judgment. Judge Burr overruled both motions and proceeded at once to pronounce sentence.

Devine was a calm looker-on during the discussion. Apparently he was the least affected of any person in the court-room. Judge Burr was nervous, and Sheriff WEEDMAN, who sat beside the Judge, was the picture of despair. They felt the terrible reality of the situation; the one was to say the words that would send a human being out of the world and the other to execute the dread sentence. While the Judge was delivering the sentence there was a solemn hush in the court-room, and when he pronounced the fatal words, that on Friday, the 14th day of January, 1881, between the hours of nine and twelve o’clock, the prisoner should be hanged by the neck in a room in the jail till he was dead, dead, dead, one could almost feel that an immortal soul was passing from time to eternity.

At the conclusion of the sentence Devine asked permission to make a statement. He denied being the murderer of Aaron Goodfellow, but boastingly proclaimed that he had been a thief all his life. One to look at him would never dream that he was condemned to the gallows, for he seemed to be the least excited man in the court-room.

When the supreme court met in the first week in January, 1881, a supersedeas was applied for by Devine’s attorneys and a showing being made that there was an irregularity in making up the bill of exceptions and the signing of the same by Judge Burr outside of his judicial district, the court granted the delay. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the action of the court, not only in Bloomington but by the press of the State. Devine had had a fair and impartial trial, his guilt was unchallenged, and yet for a mere technicality the court interposed its power and cheated the gallows of its victim. This new lease gave Devine hope, and when the court, in the month of June, rendered its decision, on the record, a new trial was ordered.

When the March term of 1882 convened, the prisoner expected to interpose new delays, but the prosecution was determined to force the case to a final issue. One or two of the witnesses for the prosecution had died since the first trial, another had removed to some point unknown, yet the prosecution felt confident that they could make a case strong enough to convict and insisted on a trial. The main points of evidence on the first trial were fully sustained, and if anything the circumstances were more closely connected. The case was called on Tuesday morning, April 4, Judge LACEY presiding. It took the entire day and late into that night to select the following jurors: John McDONALD, B. S. LANTERMAN, Jacob S. ZORGER, James M. ROTH, J. H. BRICKEY, C. L. OWENS, G. D. FINCH, Wm. H. JOHNSON, J. B. F. BROWN, Warren S. WINSLOW, Henry WILLIAMS, and Joseph NEAL. On Wednesday morning the case opened. Notwithstanding that twenty months had intervened between the night of the murder and the second trial, the incidents of that terrible night were still fresh in their minds. The trial and closing arguments of counsel lasted till nearly noon of the following Friday, when the case was given to the jurors. About three o’clock on Saturday morning the jury decided on its verdict. On the first ballot after the jury retired, a unanimous verdict of guilty was arrived at. There was not a dissenting voice. The evidence was too plain, pointing to Devine as the murderer of Aaron Goodfellow. But when it came to voting on the penalty, six voted for death while the other six skirmished on different terms of imprisonment in the penitentiary. After a few ballots eleven voted for the death penalty and one for imprisonment for life. Finally about three o’clock in the morning the jury became unanimous and death was decided upon. At eight o’clock on Saturday morning the jury formally rendered the verdict in court, and on a demand for a poll, every man answered in the affirmative.

Motions for delay and for a new trial were entered by the prisoner’s attorneys and in order to give time for preparation the court adjourned till seven o’clock on the following Monday evening. At that time the decks were cleared for action and the prisoner’s attorneys entered all the necessary motions, which were overruled by the court. Before pronouncing sentence, Judge Lacey asked the prisoner if he had anything to say why the death penalty should not be passed upon him, Devine quite flippantly answered that he supposed the Judge could say all that was necessary. Judge Lacey then, in a solemn manner, pronounced the sentence, which was that on the 12th day of May 1882, between the hours of nine and twelve o’clock in the forenoon, that he, Patsy Devine, should be hanged by the neck in the corridor of the DeWitt county jail.

Thus ended the second trial. No one who heard the evidence, or who read it, seems disposed to question the justice of the sentence. It was a foul murder, and its atrocity could only be atoned for by the life of the murderer.

Devine’s attorneys again appealed to the supreme court. But this time every technical point was carefully guarded by the prosecution, so that there was not a loophole for escape. The court after examining the record on last Friday, denied the writ of supersedeas prayed for, and Devine’s doom was irrevocably sealed. There was no hope for executive clemency, as the prisoner had been tried twice, by juries who were not residents of the county in which the murder was committed, and not one of whom either knew or ever saw Mr. Goodfellow. The jurors therefore were not influenced by passion, but calmly reviewed the evidence presented and arrived at a verdict after careful deliberation. The death warrant was signed by the governor and forwarded a few days ago to Sheriff Weedman to execute. Indeed we doubt if the prisoner’s attorneys made any great effort to secure a commutation of the sentence, as they knew it was useless.

DEVINE RECEIVED THE NEWS OF HIS FATE on Friday evening with raving and cursing. Put yourself in his place and see if you would not swear a little under similar circumstances. After a few hours he became more resigned. There was still a latent hope in his breast that something would intervene that would save his neck from the noose. He swore that he would never die on the gallows, but that at the last moment he would end his own life.

To guard against any effort on Devine’s part to commit suicide, on last Friday afternoon the sheriff removed him from his cell and put him in the east corridor. Devine was stripped naked and his old clothing replaced by new ones. In the cell the sheriff found a chair leg which had been fashioned into a billy. Around one end of it a piece of an old iron poker had been tightly bound by a piece of blanket. This Devine intended to use on his jailer if opportunity offered. One well-directed blow would have killed the man struck. Besides this he had torn the brass from a harmonica, and this he had fashioned into another implement of destruction. In addition he had a piece of glass bottle, and the inference from this is that when everything else failed he would use the glass to open an artery in his body and thus bleed to death. The removal of these implements of destruction took away Patsy’s last hope of escape or self destruction.

Sheriff Weedman then detailed four men for duty as special guards. Two of these guards were with the prisoner in his cell day and night.

One who visited the jail and saw the prisoner in his cell would never suspect from his bearing that his hours were numbered. Patsy was determined to die game. He had been trained in the school of vice, and like the gambler, risked everything on the turn of the card. He had been an outlaw from his youth up, his reading had been the criminal literature of the day; he was determined to emulate the example of other murderers and die game. To his guards he told funny stories, sang comic songs, and occasionally gave exhibitions of his skill as a jig dancer. All he wanted was plenty to eat, cigars to smoke, and occasional drinks of whiskey. With the two first he was plentifully supplied. Mrs. WEEDMAN’s motherly heart opened in sympathy for the wretch who was so soon to end his days on the gallows. She supplied him bountifully with delicate dishes, and when Patsy craved for a drink of whiskey she gave him some that she had mixed with camphor. The sheriff was opposed to furnishing any kind of stimulus, but Mrs. Weedman could not withstand his appeals. Patsy’s last hours were made as comfortable as it was possible to make them under the circumstances.

Thomas COYNE, alias Patrick Devine, was born in Ireland, although he claims his nativity in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father’s name was Thomas COYNE. He died in Ireland when Patsy was but six months old. His mother then emigrated to this country, where, three years afterward, she was married to Patrick DEVINE. Three children were the result of the second marriage, one girl and two boys. Her second husband died in Pennsylvania. When Patsy was a boy he attended school in Baltimore, Md. From Mr. Allen S. ELLIOT, a merchant who did business in a little town called Fountain Green, Chester county, Pennsylvania, we gathered facts in Patsy Devine’s history which the condemned man never gave himself, although his manner on an interview sustained the story of Mr. Elliot. The Devine family lived near this point, and Mr. Elliot was well-acquainted with them for he had sold them hundreds of dollars worth of goods. When Patsy was a full-grown boy he had an altercation with a young man named Bernard WINGER one day while they were working together. The breach seemed to be healed, but that night when they were both returning home the trouble was renewed when Patsy struck Winger on the back of the head with a boulder, and then pounded him after he was down. Patsy went home and left Winger laying unconscious by the roadside. About four o’clock the next morning Winger revived and was able to get home. He told of the difficulty and who his assailant was. Two days after, Winger died. Devine made his escape and was never heard of afterward till his arrest for the murder of Aaron Goodfellow. Mr. John KILLOUGH, of this city, was formerly a resident of the same town in Pennsylvania where the Devine family lived, and knowing something of the history of Winger’s murder, he sent back to his old home all the papers containing any account of the Devine trial. Mr. Elliot was on his way to Colorado this week for the benefit of his health. So much were the people in that little town in Pennsylvania interested in knowing whether or not this was the same Patsy Devine that they enjoined upon Mr. Elliot to call here and see him. Mr. Elliot and the editor of THE PUBLIC went to the jail last Tuesday morning. Mr. Elliot could not recognize Patsy except by his eyes. Patsy at first denied every having been in Pennsylvania, but after some adroit questioning he acknowledged that he had been in that neighborhood and evinced a knowledge of the location and the people of the place that would satisfy anyone of his identity. After the murder of Winger, Patsy cleared out and in a few months afterward the mother, sister and two brothers came west. Their arrival in Illinois about fourteen years ago tallies with the time the Devine family left Pennsylvania.

Patsy claimed to be only twenty-five years old. His mother’s testimony on the first trial in December, 1879, would make Patsy over thirty years old when he died. His life was one of crime. From the time he was eight years old he began the life of a petty thief. As years went by he became bolder and was connected with many burglaries. Probably more than half his time since he was eighteen years old was spent in prison. He served a two-year term in the Reform School in this State, served a term of years in the Indiana penitentiary, and also nearly three years in the Missouri penitentiary for robbing a man in a saloon in St. Louis. But a few months after his discharge from the Missouri penitentiary he committed the murder for which today he paid the forfeit with his life. He boasted of his crimes as if they were virtues. The world is better that such a man is removed from it.

Patsy claimed to have four wives, and all living. The last one is a young woman in Muncie, Ind., whom Patsy met when he was escaping from the officers after the Goodfellow murder.

On Wednesday Father WELDON, of Bloomington, visited the condemned man in his cell to prepare him for the terrible fate that awaited him. Devine was not inclined to hear the Rev. Father, but toward the close of the interview rather softened. When the priest left, Devine did not invite him to return, and the next day he told the sheriff that he did not want to see him anymore. Yesterday afternoon Fathers Weldon and GROGAN again came from Bloomington. Devine received them kindly, and expressed his desire to make his peace and die a true Catholic. He then made a confession to Father Weldon, and the good priest remained several hours in the cell with him. This morning he again made his confession, and the priests administered to him the Holy Eucharist. If Devine made any confession of the crime for which he was executed, this is only known to the priest. He made no confession for the public, but to the last moment declared his innocence.

At an early hour this morning hundreds were attracted to the city. The execution was to take place in the debtor’s room, and only about one hundred persons were admitted. The death warrant was read to Devine in his cell by Deputy Sheriff McHENRY. Patsy never quailed, but looked as though he was taking part in something in which he was in no wise interested. A few minutes before eleven o’clock he was taken from his cell to the debtor’s room upstairs, where the gallows had been erected. In the west end of the room a platform was built, and near the center was the gallows. This was a trap held by a small gook in the front part. The trap worked on hinges. Directly under the trap on of the flagstones had been taken up so as to allow the body to fall a sufficient length into the corridor below to insure quick strangulation. Patsy was dressed in a new suit of black clothes. Sheriff Weedman was assisted by the Sheriff from Pontiac in adjusting the rope around the neck of the condemned man and binding his arms and legs. Patsy bravely held up during this ordeal, and indeed showed less indifference to his fate than was exhibited by the bystanders. When the last moment arrived, and Patsy was asked if he had anything to say, without the quiver of a nerve or the least shaking of his voice he boldly asserted his innocence. The black cap was drawn over his face and the rope adjusted, when he made a motion of his head. He asked that the black cap be removed so that he could spit out the tobacco that was in his mouth. After bidding the sheriff and priests good-by and thanking the sheriff and his family and officers for kindness to him, the cap was again drawn down, the trap was sprung, and Patsy Devine was launched into eternity. The trap was sprung at eleven o’clock, and in twenty-five minutes afterward the body was cut down, the physicians declaring that life was extinct. He died without a struggle, save the natural twitching of his nerves.

The body was put in a coffin and brought up to the public square, where it was exhibited to the gaze of the curious. The face looked as natural as though death had come to him in the ordinary way. It was Patsy’s request that his body be sent to Alton to his mother, but this morning the sheriff received a telegram from Patsy’s sister not to send it there but bury him here. He will be buried in Potter’s field this afternoon.

Thus ends the career of one whose whole life has been in open violation of the life and property of others.

(Composed while in Bloomington jail)

While sitting in this silent chamber,
And nothing else to do,
I thought I would compose a song
And write it, friends, for you.

I am not much of a poet,
Though I’ll do the best I can
To try to keep my courage up
And bear it like a man.

I was born in Cincinnati
And in Ohio State—
Little did I think, my friends
I would ever meet such a fate.

I was brought up by honest parents,
Who thought the world of me.
And this is the first time I’ve been
Deprived of liberty.

It was on the fourth of August, in 1879,
From house to house the news was spread
That Aaron Goodfellow had been shot,
And soon he would be dead.

Suspicion pointed toward me;
They rushed upon their prey,
And I was forced to prison
To await my trial day.

They took me to the station-house;
From there to the county jail,
Where iron bars surrounded me,
There my troubles to bewail.

I never did the cruel deed—
God knows I’m not to blame,
Although I have been convicted
And must suffer all the shame.

A word to my old mother,
And my sisters kind and true:
Remember I’m innocent
Though I must part from you.

Any you my kind relations,
I know you wish me well;
But my feelings at this moment
No human tongue can tell.

Before I close this rhyme
I’ll not forget to mention
My good jailer,
Mr. Franks.

And now, my kind friends,
‘Tis all that I can do
In sending this, my song,
To bid you all adieu.

Yesterday morning Patsy consented to have his photograph taken, and Mr. PEASE went down to the jail and got a very fine picture. Patsy was taken from his cell to the debtor’s room, where he for the first time saw the gallows. This was at his request, as he expressed a desire to see the arrangements made for his final exit. The pictures were to be sold and one half the profits were to be sent to his mother. The pictures were sold today on the street. Only a few could be made as the weather has been bad since the negative was taken.

But little interest was manifested in this city in the execution, but around the jail from eight o’clock this morning, hundreds of people from the surrounding country were gathered. They did not expect to see the execution, but they were drawn here by curiosity. And then the day was rainy and no work could be done on the farm, so this probably helped to draw the crowd. The sheriff had a special posse sworn in to assist him if necessary in preserving order, but the services of the officers were not required as every thing passed off quietly. The body, after the execution, was taken to the court-room, where it will lie till the hour for burial.

Sheriff Weedman and his deputy have managed this unpleasant business with great care, and every thing was so arranged as to avoid any jar. Mrs. Weedman will be glad that the affair is over. No mother could have dealt more kindly with a son than she has with Patsy. Every little comfort that could smooth his few remaining hours was promptly furnished by her. She will never forget her experience in the jail.

Submitted by Judy Simpson