Mary Jane Lunsford: The Discovery of the Body

Nearly fifty people had visited the crime scene before Marshal John F. McKinley arrived at 8 o’clock on the morning of March 12, 1870.  Earlier in the morning, Mrs. Thomas Casey and Mrs. Charity Harris knocked again on Mrs. Lunsford’s door and again there was no answer.  They put a ladder against the house and attempted to ask a stranger to go up and investigate.  He refused and Tom Caton agreed to enter the home.  Caton climbed the ladder and, finding the window nailed shut, pried it open with a hatchet.  Caton went in through the window and confirmed their fears.  The scene frightened Caton and he went downstairs and unbolted the back door.  According to James Barton, Mr. Casey came to him and said he believed something terrible had happened to Mrs. Lunsford.  Barton retrieved Ansel L. Robinson from the Blymyer, Day & Co. foundry and the two went to the house.  They first noticed the blood on the table downstairs.  They then went upstairs and saw the horrible scene.  Lunsford’s body lay dead diagonally across the bed, in her nightclothes, with her head lying off the edge of the bed.  Her throat was cut to her spine, her head was bruised, and she had a ghastly cut on the left side of her mouth.  There was also a large cut on her abdomen and five bite marks on her arm.  The bed had broken and her head was pushed down through broken slats.  There were signs of a struggle and the floor was covered with blood.  Robinson, Barton, Casey, and Caton lifted her up onto the bed, covered her, and Robinson left to retrieve Marshal McKinley.

When Marshal John F. Mckinley arrived, he examined the body then went downstairs and someone called his attention to the blood-stained letters sitting on a table next to the stairs.  Two were addressed to M.J. Lunsford and the other to Mr. Ebersole of Shelby from Lunsford.  He took possession of the letters, a pocketbook containing .35 cents, a lead pencil, a trunk, and an umbrella with the name “Wm. Larabee” on it. The investigation showed that the murderer made their way downstairs and escaped through the window leaving bloody fingerprints on the window sill.  Unfortunately, it would be 30 or 40 years until fingerprint evidence would start to be used in criminal investigations.  Mr. A. M. Hackett, a detective from 1852 to 1869 was asked by Councilman Mr. McCoy to examine the body and house.  Mr. Hackett learned from Charity Harris that Mr. Robinson had been at the house earlier in the day and, after examining the letters, made Robinson the prime suspect.  Robinson testified that Mrs. Lunsfoed had called him to the House to ask his advice on whether she should tell her fiance, Mr. Ebersole, that she was a “grass widow,” a woman who has been left by her husband.but not officially divorced.  He said she should tell him, as the truth would come out eventually.

Hackett first saw Robinson at Lunsford’s funeral on Sunday, March 13, and looking at his mouth believed that Robinson’s teeth matched the bite marks on Lunsford’s arm.  After later examining Robinson’s teeth more closely, he was convinced Robinson was the murderer.  Robinson was arrested the next day for the murder of Mary Jane Lunsford.  Casts were made of Robinson’s teeth and the body of Lunsford was exhumed.  Dr. James R Bristor, a dentist, took an impression of Robinson’s teeth in beeswax, then made a cast in plaster of Paris.   He tried to make a cast of the impressions on Lunsford’s arm but did not succeed.  Dr. Wm. Loughridge and Dr. W. N. King also examined the exhumed body and agreed the teeth matched the bite marks.  On Tuesday, March 22, evidence was submitted against Robinson in Miller’s Hall, on the corner of Third and North Main St., to accommodate the large crowd.   Robinson’s lawyers were Messrs. Burns, Dickey, Gass, Matson, and Dirlam.  The prosecution was Messrs. J. W. Jenner and Cowen.  To save time, testimony taken previously was read and new testimonies from dentists Dr. DeCamp and Dr. C. R. Taft were submitted.  DeCamp took another cast of Robinson’s teeth and both agreed they relatively matched the bite marks.  Mayor Cummins, after hearing the testimony, decided there was enough evidence to commit Robinson to jail and hold a trial in a higher court.


Mansfield Atlas, 1882

While Robinson sat in jail, his wife and family stood by his side.  Many in the community, though not happy with his intimate relationship with Mrs. Lunsford, felt he was incapable of such a crime.  A reporter from the Cincinnati Daily Commercial newspaper interviewed Robinson and workers at Blymyer, Day, & Co. works.  The reporter agreed with Mansfield Herald reporters that if Robinson was lying he was a good actor.  Many at his work were split on his guilt or innocence, but many agreed he could be quick to temper.  Robinson was jailed nearly six months awaiting trial which was set to begin September 26, 1870.

There were other suspects that were investigated.  In the beginning, many believed John Ebersole to be the murderer, but he was easily able to prove he was in Shelby the night of the murder.  David Evans, whose mother was believed to have Mrs. Lunsford’s daughter, was also suspected, but he was lying sick in Lima the night of the murder.  There was Abram Newsam, the overnight guest of the Harris family, who many believed he could, at least, clear up some mysteries since there was only a thin wall between him and the murder.  Hugh J. Wiley of Cincinnati was also mixed up in the affair.  Ebersole said a man at the Pacific Hotel recognized him as a man asking where Lunsford’s house was shortly before the murder.  Charles Rogers, an African-American working at Thorntons’s Hotel, was also arrested, but released after the cast of his teeth did not match the bite marks on the victim.  Later it was also believed by many that Edward Webb, who was executed in 1878 for the murder of William Finney, was the murderer.  Webb was known to visit the Harris family next door.

Next Week: The Historic Trial


3 thoughts on “Mary Jane Lunsford: The Discovery of the Body

  1. Pingback: The Historic Trial of Ansel L. Robinson | The Sherman Room at MRCPL

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