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.

George_W._Geddes

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.

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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.

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.

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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

The Murder of Mary Jane Lunsford

In the early morning hours of March 12, 1870, William Braby had just finished playing for the night at the Philharmonic Hall.  Around 1 o’clock in the morning, Mr. Braby noticed a man rush out from the corner where the Atlantic Hotel stood.  The unknown stranger, dressed in dark clothes, hurriedly made his way up the street and crossed the street about a block in front of Braby.  This was an odd occurrence to Braby since it had been raining and the streets were muddy.  The following morning, the mutilated body of 28-year-old Mrs. Mary Jane Lunsford was found in the upstairs bedroom of her home behind the Atlantic.  The house was a one and a half story, unpainted, wooden structure inhabited by two families.  The victim, Mrs. Lunsford, lived alone in the west end.  In the east end of the building lived an African-American family named Harris.

Mrs. Lunsford had only been in Mansfield a short time, having arrived the previous August.  She was most likely born in Kentucky, the daughter of Jefferson Hall, a Captain in the Kentucky Cavalry during the Civil War, and Nancy Alexander.  In the 1850 Census, Jefferson Hall is listed as a shoemaker and living in Estill County, Kentucky with his wife Nancy and children John (14), Allen (12), Mary J (8), and W. O. B. Hall (2).  On June 3, 1852, Mrs. Nancy Hall died of measles in Estill County, Kentucky.  Mary’s father, Jefferson, remarried less than a year later to 27-year-old Rebeca Kirby.  It’s difficult to determine when Mary Jane left her home, but she was married at the age of 16 to John Lunsford on October 1, 1858.  It was rumored John left Mary when the war broke out and never returned to her.  She made her way to Cincinnati, Ohio and on November 19, 1862, placed an ad in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial newspaper looking for her brother William O. Butler Hall.  The ad asked him to meet her in the Manchester Building and, if he did, he would “hear something to his advantage.”

Hall Lunsford Marriage01OCT1858

Marriage Record of John Lunsford to Mary Jane Hall, 01 OCT 1858

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From the Cincinnati Daily Commercial, 19 NOV 1862

It was around this time that Mrs. Lunsford first met Ansel L. Robinson.  Robinson was an iron molder, had an interest in politics, and was popular with the working-class man.  In 1861 Robinson, unsuccessfully, ran for mayor in Cincinnati and helped to get Samuel Fenton Cary elected to Congress in 1867.  Robinson arrived in Mansfield around 1868 and became superintendent of the Blymyer, Day, & Co. works.  Letters found in Mrs. Lunsfords home would show she had an intimate relationship with Robinson and was being “kept” as his mistress.  The relationship was believed to have been going on for 6 or 7 years and was one of the reasons for her coming to Mansfield.  It was also suggested that Mrs. Lunsford had a 7-year-old daughter living in Lima, Ohio.  The daughter was reportedly living with the mother of David Evans, another man who had fallen for Mrs. Lunsford.  There is no indication of who the father was.  In addition to Robinson and Evans, another man in Cincinnati was interested in Mrs. Lunsford.  Hugh J. Wiley had reportedly wanted her to marry her.  It was rumored that when she left for Mansfield he said if she didn’t return to him within the year, he would come after her.

The last man Mrs. Lunsford was known to associate with was her fiance, John Ebersole, though it was suspected she had other visitors.  The Mansfield Herold reported that upon her life rested  “a dark shadow of sin,” but “no one had sufficient cause to take her life.”  Ebersole had arrived in Mansfield from Upper Sandusky and had first met Mrs. Lunsford about 5-months before her death.  Ebersole testified he had last seen her about four weeks before and he was in Shelby caring for a man with a broken leg when he heard of her death.  The couple was supposed to be married the following Wednesday.  Multiple sources reported Mr. Robinson was going to buy Mrs. Lunsford’s wedding dress.  Ebersole intended to take his new wife to Upper Sandusky or Dayton after the marriage to give her the opportunity to “change her life.”

On the night of the murder, Mrs. Lunsford’s neighbor, Charity Harris, reported hearing screams and groans through the paper-thin walls.  The screams were also heard by her husband, Phillip; Abram Newsam, who was boarding with the Harris family; and a watchman at the Aultman Works.  Charity asked her husband to check on Mrs. Lunsford.  Phillip went next door and knocked, calling out “Mary” several times.  When he didn’t get an answer, Phillip went to Casey’s Grocery and awoke them, reporting what he heard.  They informed him that if there were any other cries to let them know.  No further cries were heard and Phillip returned to bed for the night.  In the morning, there was no sign of Mrs. Lunsford and a ladder was placed against the house to gain access to the second floor.  A grisly scene met those who entered the home.

Next week: The discovery of the body and suspects.