An Eerie Murder-Suicide From 100 Years Ago


Just as old or older than the professions of prostitution and serial killing, murder-suicides are no different today than they were a hundred years ago. Let’s look at three cases. I will post one case per day. The first one is really pretty crazy. All three of these stories were actually covered extensively in the newspapers of the time (around 1915) in New York City. There are gory dead people in photos. This is your trigger warning, no pun intended.

George McAghon kills Bessie Cornelius and then himself.

George was a widower of two years and an assistant foreman at the Jersey City rail yards in 1915. A self-made man, he earned the equivalent then of $35,000 per year in today’s cash. George was also an army veteran of the Spanish-American war. The 5’7″ McAghon joined up in 1898 at the age of 21. His parents were from Ireland, he was from Jersey. He had been working as assistant yardmaster from as early as 1905.

The yards could be a dangerous place and George was required to carry a gun. Having met Bessie in Jersey City the year before, he fell in love but she married a rich, older man and moved to Brooklyn, and all this after wrecking her husband’s first marriage. The ex-wife even mentioned Bessie in the divorce papers. Bessie may have been so treacherous, but it pushed George over the edge. She had kept his love notes, and since he knew which window to climb in, there may have been secret trysts with George since her new husband worked the graveyard shift. Her husband, Carman, was mentioned in the papers as a “wealthy produce market owner”. And Bessie was often seen using the pay-telephone two blocks away at the drugstore. George was 35, Bessie was 20.

Bessie-Barb-Cornelius

Carman had injured his hand at work, so he took a few nights to recuperate at home. But on this hot June night, George was either peeved at Bessie for canceling on him after making the long journey to Bedford-Stuy, Brooklyn from Jersey City, which would have included two boat rides and numerous trolley cars, or maybe his extreme jealousy and love-sickness simply got the best of him. Luckily, he remembered to bring his gun – and climbing through this window, he shot at Carman first, but Carman escaped and ran for help. Then, he shot Bessie twice in the head and turned the revolver to his temple and went into eternity, dying in another man’s bed. He left behind four small children. Carman Cornelius was said to have suffered a nervous breakdown. In the 1930 census, Carman is shown at age 50, working as a office building superintendent and living with his elderly parents as a bachelor in Brooklyn. I guess he got on with his life the best he could. He was 35 when the murder-suicide occurred – same age as George. By happenstance, Carman worked as a railroad conductor back in 1900. Carman died at age 60 on April 11, 1940.

apt-cornelius

Their apartment was described as being “expensively furnished”. And George scraped his shin while making his quick entrance. The husband was off the hook after four hours of questioning, which may have included the “third degree” – this being an era of no-nonsense cops getting tough with suspects. But, after finding the love notes from George tucked away in Bessie’s personal wooden chest, they concluded the case as a clandestine affair which the husband did not know about.

Here’s what those apartments look like today. They are kind of rundown looking:

90-hopkins

And here are the crime scene photos. George’s fancy threads are mentioned by the newspapers as well as his panama hat and signet ring. Cops were able to ID him after about 14 hours of investigation. I will post murder-suicide case number two tomorrow. It is just as chilling!

And George’s house on Erie St. in Jersey City, second from the end:

106-erie-st

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