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.

A Demon’s Deed: The Clara Hough Murder

Clara Melissa Hough was a domestic working for the family of Joseph W. Dougal, an agricultural implement dealer.  Dougal’s home was located at 175 West Fourth, about where 454 West Fourth would be located today, near Penn Avenue.  Clara came to Mansfield from the small town of Madisonburg, outside of Wooster, Ohio.  In the 1880 U.S. Census, she is living with her grandmother, Magdalen, and working as a teacher.  Clara had no plans to marry and, according to her family, was content to live her life as an old maid.


Mansfield Herald, Oct. 8, 1885

Saturday afternoon, September 19, 1885, between 2 and 4, the 24 year-old Clara left the Dougal residence and made her way to visit Gaylord Terman, who lived north of the city.  She made this journey often and not much was thought of it.  She usually returned on Sunday evening or Monday morning.  Sunday evening passed, as did Monday morning, with no word from Clara.  On Tuesday, Clara was still absent and, when she failed to return to the Dougal residence by Wednesday morning, J. W. Dougal went to the Terman farm to check on her whereabouts.  The Terman family said Clara had arrived Saturday evening and that one of the family members had given her a ride Sunday evening, around 4 or 5, back to town and dropped her off near the water works.  It was then her custom to walk back to the Dougal residence along the B & O tracks.  Dougal next made his way to the B & O and Union depots to see if anyone had seen Clara, which no one had.  A few tickets were sold to Wooster.  Some weekends she would visit her family, but no one could say if she boarded the train.  Dougal then returned to his office and met with James T. Jolley, Robert M. Garrett and Levitt Crider and the men began a search following the tracks.

The Grisly Discovery

It didn’t take long for the search party to make the discovery.  First, about 140 yards from the railroad, Dougal and Crider discovered a pair of gloves, a young ladies gossamer, hat and bouquet within a few feet of each other.  Then about 100 feet up the ravine, the body of Clara Hough was discovered.  She had nearly made it to her destination before an unknown attacker attempted to assault the young woman.  Her body was considerably bloated and bruises were found on her wrists and neck.  When the body was turned over blood spilled out from the head and a bullet hole was discovered about two inches from the right ear.  Crider was immediately sent to notify the authorities and Marshal James Weil and Prosecutor Jacob Seward arrived and placed the body in a wagon and moved it to the wood shed of the Dougal’s house.


Mansfield Herald, Oct. 1, 1885

The Examination

The body showed clear signs of a struggle.  The Mansfield Herald describes Clara as 5 foot 7 with a massive build and she surely put up a fight.  It was believed the attack took place where her items were found and, upon her attempt to escape, she was shot with the bullet striking the back of her head.  Doctors Ireland and Anderson and Coroner Mecklam, from Lucas, examined the body and determined the bullet had entered the head on an upward trajectory, suggesting the assailant was on the ground when the shot was fired and that he did not accomplish his primary purpose, as there were no physical signs of rape.  There was some disagreement on how long Clara suffered after being shot.  Some believing she died immediately, while others feel she languished for days.  It appeared the weapon was a .32 caliber revolver.  It also appeared robbery wasn’t a motive as a pocketbook was found on Clara, which contained .35 cents and a pocket knife.  Also found were three plugs of tobacco and one which was partially used.  The tobacco has been purchased at Jackson Grocery and the bitten off piece was found in her mouth during the corners examination.


Map of area where murder occurred,  Mansfield Herald, Oct. 1, 1885

After the examination, the body was taken by Undertaker James A. Niman.  Isaac N. Hugh, Clara’s brother, and her brother-in-law, Edmund Keyser, arrived from Wooster Wednesday evening to retrieve the body.  They made an examination of the area where the tragedy occurred and were surprised that such an event could happen in an open space during the day.  Clara Hough is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Wooster, Ohio.

Next week: Rumors and the arrest of two young men.

Infamous murders: Ohio’s first serial killer?

In 1837 the village of Richland was laid out in Cass Township.  John Long was the first settler there and his was one of the only houses for some time.  However, it didn’t take long for the village to grow and, in a short time, there were about 200 residents.  The village had taverns, stores, and shops to meet the demand of the residents and those traveling through the area.  John Plank, who had laid out the village, owned the main tavern and the village became known as Planktown.  The village grew rapidly, but in 1850 the Cleveland and Columbus Railroad was built about a mile north-west and the city of Shiloh, formally Salem, was developed at the crossing.  Richland, or Planktown, began to decline and little was left of the village by 1900.  Though its history was brief, it is still remembered for two murders that happened there in the early 1850s.


Atlas of Richland, County, 1856


Atlas of Richland, County, 1873

In March of 1851 the small village awoke to the gruesome murder of Noah Hill.  Hill was a merchant in the village and often boarded at the Eagle House, a tavern run by Return J. M. Ward.  Hill was about to make a trip to New York to purchase supplies, as at that time deliveries were not made to shops.  Hill often slept in the rear of his shop and was brutally murdered and robbed that night in March.  Two men were accused of the crime, Daniel Myers and Thomas McGravy, who were later acquitted for lack of evidence and the fact that the testimony of the main witness, Ward, was unreliable.  People in the village began to suspect Ward and the disappearance of another lodger by the name of Lovejoy, a short time later, threw more suspicion on him.  It is believed that even Ward’s wife thought him guilty and this drove her to insanity.  She was placed in an asylum and stayed there until her death.


Return Ward

With the growing suspicion, Ward left the village and went to Shelby where he met Susan Rice, whom he married in 1853.  In 1854 they moved to Sylvania, Ohio in Lucas County.  About a year later, Susan became sick and Ward brought her back to her father’s home in Shelby where she died in 1856.  There was one child from this marriage, which died at the age of two months.  Later that year, Ward married Olive Davis, who had two children and hoped that Ward would be a good provider.  In January of the following year, Susan returned to her family in Adrian, Michigan.  Ward begged her to come back, which she did, and in November of 1857 he was arrested for her murder.  After killing her in a jealous rage, Ward dismembered her body and burnt it in the oven.  Ward was found guilty and two weeks before he was sentenced to hang, gave a confession to the murders committed in the village of Richland.

Ward went into gruesome details about the murders, saying he had entered Hill’s shop earlier in the day and unlocked the back door.  He later snuck in that night and, finding Hill asleep, hit him over the head with a heavy iron poker and smothered him with a pillow.  He then ransacked the shop looking for the money Hill was saving for his trip to New York.  Ward found $800, equivalent to $24,000 today, and buried it in his back yard until the excitement of the murder had died down.  Ward then admitted to charging the crime to Myers and McGravy.

Ward also confessed to the murder of a weary peddler by the name of Lovejoy.  While Ward’s business partner, Thomas Griffith, was away for several days, a traveler showed up caring two trunks.  The traveler ate and spent some hours speaking with Ward in the bar-room before he retired to bed.  Ward walked him to his room with no intention of harming the man.  Later that night, Ward, believing the traveler may have some money on him, returned to the room with an ax.  Ward stated that Lovejoy was asleep, in a favorable position, and struck him on the head with the ax.  The strike barely made a sound.  Ward then dismembered the body, placed it in a dry-goods box, and slid it under his bed.  The next morning Ward rummaged through the travelers things finding $50. Ward then had breakfast with his family and stated the traveler had left early in the morning.  Deciding he needed to get rid of the body, Ward made a trip to his father’s farm in Milan, Ohio and dumped the box, weighed down with irons, in the Huron River about a mile and a half above Abbott’s bridge.  Ward then returned home.  This confession also made others question the death of his second wife, Susan Rice.


On June 12, 1857 Ward was hanged in Toledo.  He denied the confession of the two men on that day and called upon a Mr. Fuller, who had taken the confession, to come forward, but Fuller was not present.  His final words, addressed to the spectators, were: “You might all shut your eyes when I go down don’t laugh.”  Long before the crimes of H.H. Holmes and his famous “murder castle”, there were the crimes of Return J.M. Ward.  Could it be that the murders committed by Ward were the acts of Ohio’s, or even America’s, first serial killer?

To find out more look at Gaye E Gindy’s Book, Murder in Sylvania, Ohio: As Told in 1857.  This title is available through Search Ohio.

Baughman, A. J. History of Richland County, Ohio, from 1808 to 1908 : also biographical sketches of prominent citizens of the county.
Graham, A. A. History of Richland County, Ohio.
Schechter, H. Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of.
The Mansfield Herald, 17 JUN 1857 pg. 2.
The Tragic Story of Return Ward. Retrieved from