The Historic Trial of Ansel L. Robinson

Check out part one and part two of this story.

Ansel L. Robinson was arraigned Monday, September 12, 1870, for the murder of Mary Jane Lunsford.  He pleaded not guilty and the trial was set to begin September 26, 1870.  It took a day and a half to fill the jury.  120 potential jurors were examined before the required 12 were chosen.  The Jury consisted of Wm. McClellan, Abraham Bushey, Wm. M. Parcell, H. E. Gibson, John Deardorf, Wm. N. Rex, Samuel Bloom, Sr., Edgar Wilson, C. Beelman, Levi Griffith, John Myers, and Daniel Cole.  After the jury was selected, the court adjourned from noon until 4 so those present would be able to participate in the laying of the cornerstone for the new courthouse.  When court resumed, the prosecution, led by Andrew Stevenson, and defense, consisting of Hon. B. Burns, Moses R. Dickey, L. B. Matson, D. Dirlam, and Issac Gass made their opening statements before court adjourned for the day.  Witness testimony would begin on Wednesday, September 28th.


Hon. George Washington Geddes

Over 50 witnesses would testify over the next two weeks in this historic trial, which was the first in U. S. history where bite-mark evidence was submitted and dentists and other medical professionals testified to its validity.  Witnesses for the prosecution including Drs. DeCamp, Watts, J. Taft, C. R. Taft, Mowry, Maxwell, King, Loughridge, and Sutherland all of whom testified to how well the casts made of Robinson’s teeth matched the bite-marks on Lunsford’s arm.  All of the professionals for the prosecution noted how unique Robinson’s teeth were and that he “happened to only have five maxillary anterior teeth.”  The defense brought up many professionals from Cincinnati, where Robinson had friends.  A dentist, Dr. Edmund Osmond, from Cincinnati, stated the cast of Robinson’s teeth were taken incorrectly and the only proper way is to do it in plaster, not wax. He also said it is not possible for teeth to reprint accurately on human skin.  L. Sibbet examined the body and went with Dr. Whitney to see Robinson in jail and examine his teeth.  They had Robinson bite Dr. Whitney’s arm and said the bite on his arm made by Robinson was smaller than the mark on Lunsford’s arm.  He also examined Robinson and said there were no fresh wounds or cuts on his body, only one small bruise on his arm.  This was apparently made by John Underwood when he pinched him during an altercation at Klein’s Billiard Saloon a week before the murder.  This altercation was confirmed by Marshall McKinley.

The workers at Blymyer, Day, & Co. were split.  Those who testified for the prosecution stated that Robinson seemed agitated and nervous the day after the murder.  Others said he was shocked at the news of the murder.  There was a lot of interest in Robinson’s clothes and boots.  He appeared to be wearing the same suit he normally wore, the same one he wore at the saloon the night of the murder where he was playing cards until around 11 o’clock.  Deputy Sheriff Mansfield H. Gilkinson testified he received Robinson’s clothes and there was no trace of blood on them.  A few workers testified that Robinson’s boots were muddy and that he had them cleaned the day after the murder, which was unusual, as he usually had them cleaned and blackened on Monday.  Much of the evidence on Robinson, while convincing, seemed circumstantial.

Mrs. Sarah Roose was one of the last to take the stand for the defense.  Her statements were probably the most compelling of all.  She said her husband came home the night of the murder with blood on his shirt and it was ripped.  That night she smelled what she thought were clothes burning. The following morning she found bloody water in a washbasin and a 5-inch bloody butcher knife in the cellar.  She said her husband had left her and she was now living in Indiana.  She did not know where her husband was at that time.  The jury went into deliberation around 5 o’clock Friday, October 7.  Six hours later they arrived at a verdict.  The bell of the courthouse tolled at 11 o’clock that night to inform everyone that a verdict had been reached and, even with the late hour, citizens rushed to hear the news.  The doors were locked when they arrived, but shortly thereafter, Judge Geddes arrived and the doors were thrown open.  At half-past eleven the jury filed into the courtroom and everyone sat in silence while they waited another 15 minutes for the Clerk.  Robbinson appeared nervous, toying with his mustache and the jury very serious.  So much so that the crowd assembled thought it was a bad sign for Robinson.  Finally, the jury was called and the verdict read, “We the jury, in this case, being duly impaneled and sworn, affirmed and charged, do find and say the Ansel L. Robinson is not guilty.”  Cheers rang out in the crowd and they gathered around Robinson shaking his hand and embracing him.  Once order was restored, Robinson was freed left the courtroom with his friends.


Stereoscopic of the first courthouse with the new courthouse in background. (1873)


A few weeks later, a brief article appeared in the Mansfield Herald saying that the acquittal of Robinson was being wrongly associated with the testimony of Mrs. Roose.  The Herald reported that scarcely anyone in Mansfield gave credence to her story and many in the jury said it had no impact on their decision.  Mr. Roose, who was living in Wheeling, WV.,  also notified the police in Mansfield and said he would be in town within the week and fully cooperate in any investigation and said he could prove his whereabouts on the night of the murder.  It was not expected Mr. Roose would be arrested.

Shortly after his acquittal, Robinson moved with his family to St. Paul, Minnesota.  There is little information found about his life there.  There is no record of his death and the last city directory he appears in is from 1897.  In it, he is still working as a molder.  The memory of the unsolved murder stayed with Mansfield residents for a number of years.  In 1877 the house in which the murder occurred burned down, ridding the city of the one remaining memory from this horrific deed.

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