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.”
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.