Characteristics: Parricide - Dismemberment
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December
Date of arrest:
January 16, 1885
Date of birth:
William Druse, 60 (her
Method of murder: Beating with an axe
Location: Herkimer County, New York, USA
hanging on February 28, 1887
Roxalana Druse (1847 – February 28,
1887) was the last woman hanged in the state of New York. Her
botched execution resulted in the decision to replace the gallows
with the electric chair in 1890.
Druse beat her husband William Druse to death
with a axe but shooting him first with a .22 caliber. The murder
continued with the help of her daughter Mary who supposedly
wrapped rope around her father's neck and pulled him to the floor
and her nephew Frank Gates who said that Roxalana forced him to
shoot William or she would shoot him. She then chopped up the body
with the assistance of her daughter and burned the pieces. Druse
alleged her motive was that her husband was abusive to her and was
not supporting the family for he left for a amount of days after
When Druse was sentenced to death, Herkimer
County, New York state used suspension hanging for executions.
The process jerked the prisoner upwards by a
weighted rope instead of the body dropping downwards through a
trap door. But as Druce was a small woman, the force failed to
break her neck leaving her to die agonizingly by strangulation.
The scene was so upsetting, officials decided
to switch the primary method of execution in the state to the
William Druse first met Roxalana Teftt in 1863 he was struck by
her attractive figure and completely lost his head to her;
twenty-one years later he was struck again, this time by the axe
she wielded – as she beheaded him!
Dominant by nature, Roxalana ruled the roost. With their teenaged
daughter Mary she entertained men after William had gone to bed,
giving rise to much gossip among the neighbours, as did the
commotion caused by the couple’s repeated rows.
came to a head, in more ways than one, when, during a furious
argument, Roxalana handed a revolver to her 14-yearold nephew,
Frank Gates, and told him to shoot his uncle.
too scared to disobey, or in order to protect her from being
attacked by her husband, he did so, both shots only inflicting
flesh wounds. William collapsed on the floor, but Roxalana, seeing
he was still alive, picked up the axe from where it lay by the
stove and struck him on the head. Not content with that, she then
aimed at his neck with such force that she severed his head
any other woman would have been aghast at what she had done, or
sought medical assistance, Roxalana calmly picked up the head and,
rolling it up in her apron, she put it to one side.
she and Mary proceeded to dismember the decapitated corpse, using
the axe and a kitchen knife, throwing the body parts and limbs
into the already lighted stove. Apparently loath to part with what
was left of her dearly beloved, she dumped the head in a sack of
wheat which was stored in the corner of the room, after which she
and nephew Frank disposed of the weapons in a nearby pond.
However, the young boy could not keep silent about what had
happened that awful night, and word reached the authorities.
Roxalana was arrested but, under questioning, remained silent, as
did Mary. The testimony submitted by Frank, the presence of ashes
and charred bones in the stove, and the discovery of William’s
head, were so overwhelming that defence in court was futile and
she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
following months went by, appeal after appeal was heard and
rejected. The media had a field day, some being against capital
punishment per se, others calling for the execution of the
perpetrator of such cold-blooded slaughter. Meanwhile, in the
condemned cell, Roxalana had outbursts of bad temper, even
ordering the priest, there to give her spiritual support, to leave
not until 28 February 1887 that the scaffold was made ready in the
grounds of the gaol and the executioner detailed to attend. Hardly
surprisingly the prisoner had slept but little, and on rising,
dressed herself in what was described in the newspapers as ‘a
narrow satin skirt, having a tight fitting basque.
of the skirt was ruffled, her sleeves having white ruching at the
cuffs, repeated at the neckline, where she had pinned a bunch of
was led out to the yard it became obvious to the official
witnesses and large number of reporters that her cold, almost
remote attitude had finally been overcome, for tears ran down her
cheeks and she trembled almost uncontrollably. Mounting the
scaffold steps she paused and, as the priest said his final words
of support, two deputies advanced, one of them swiftly slipping
the black hood over her head. Even as muffled shrieks commenced
beneath the tightly drawn fabric, the signal was given and as the
noose tightened its stranglehold ‘there was a rattle, a jar and a
strangled cry’, and Roxalana’s lifeless body swayed from side to
side in the cold winter’s wind.
Obsessed with jealousy, Mary Bolton suspected that her meek,
ordinary looking husband was having secret affairs with other
women, and she attacked him on several occasions, but eventually
her uncontrollable emotions got the better of her. Going into his
office one day in June 1936 she pointed a revolver at him, then
proceeded to fire every round into his body. Somehow he managed to
drag himself out into the corridor and exclaimed to horrified
colleagues: ‘Keep that woman away from me!’
unconcerned, his wife walked past him saying scornfully as she did
so, ‘Take no notice of him – he’s just putting on an act!’
guilty of murder, Mary Bolton was given a life sentence and
committed suicide in prison some years later.
Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott
On February 28th, 1887, forty year old Roxalana
Druse was hanged in New York for murder. (The last woman hanged in
New York State before the electric chair replaced the gallows in
Roxalana Druse and her retarded daughter Mary
beat her husband John (aged 72) to death and then chopped up his
body boiling down the remains. They lived in a frontier cabin in
Little Falls New York. They were caught because her 12 year old
son informed the police that his father was missing. The alleged
motive for the crime was that her husband worked her too hard. She
was hanged but her daughter was given a
At her execution, Roxalana was
jerked upwards by a weighted rope (instead of being dropped
through a trap door) and this failed to break her neck. She took
15 agonizing minutes to strangle to death on the noose. The scene
so upset the officials that it was decided to alter the method of
execution and this led to the introduction of the electric chair
in 1890. (She was the last woman hanged in New York State.)
TRIAL OF ROXALANA DRUSE IN HERKIMER
Roxalana Druse lived in the town of Warren, Herkimer County, New
York. Roxalana has gone down in the history of Herkimer County as
being the first woman to be hung from the old jail, on the second
floor of the old jail. On the back of the jail, people can still
observe the boarded up door from which the person being hanged
would come out at the time of the hanging. Over this door can
still be seen the hook from which the rope was attached for the
Roxalana was found guilty of killing her abusive husband with an
axe with the help of her 14 year-old nephew. She spent the next
day chopping him up with the help of her 19 year-old nephew, while
a nephew and her son played checkers. She then burned the chunks
in the kitchen stove, and poured his ashes in the pig sty. She
believed no one would ever know to what magnitude she went to
cover up her murder and hoped it would never be disclosed.
Roxalana was a frail, shivering woman as she stood on the scaffold
in the jail yard as the State Militia in high bearskin hats kept
back the crowd while her execution took place.
she was the first, the last, or only woman hanged in New York
State is still open to discussion. The old jail is still there on
Main Street at the Four Corners, jail tours being conducted by the
Herkimer County Historical Society.
accounts were compiled from various excerpts and writings at the
village of Herkimer library, the Herkimer County Historical
Society and from the internet.
The Notorious Roxana Druse/Druce
Murder Case, Part 1
The First Execution in Herkimer
the The Franklin Gazette, Malone, NY
Contributed by Joanne Murray
Mrs. Druce Sentenced
From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone,
Franklin Co., NY) Friday, October 9, 1885
Utica, Oct. 6 - Mrs. Druce,
who murdered her husband, with the aid of her son, daughter and
nephew, in Warren, Herkimer County, last December, and cut up and
burned the remains, was today sentenced by Judge Williams to be
executed Wednesday, November 25. No woman has been executed in
central New York for over forty years.
The courthouse was crowded
by people of both sexes and all ages. At nine o'clock Mrs. Druce
was escorted into the court room by officer Wilson. She looked
haggard and worn. On the opening of court, Counselor Luce made a
motion for a new trial, which was denied by Judge Williams.
The prisoner was told to
stand up. She arose and Judge Williams pronounced the sentence.
Mrs. Druce never flinched or
showed any emotion until she was passing out of the court room,
when she burst into tears.
Counselor Luce will secure a
stay of proceedings and appeal the case on a motion for a new
From: The Franklin
Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, July 9, 1886
At the general term of the
court held at Utica last week, the appeal of Mrs. Roxana Druce
convicted of the murder of her husband in Herkimer County was
decided adversely and she was sentenced to be hung August 19th.
Mrs. Druce Resentenced
From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone,
Franklin Co., NY) Friday, November 12, 1886
Utica, NY, Nov. 8 - In the
Court of Oyer and Terminer, at Herkimer, today, the case of Mrs.
Roxalana Druce, convicted of killing and afterwards burning and
boiling the body of her husband, came up before Justice Williams,
upon the motion of District Attorney Sheldon, the Court of Appeals
having confirmed the conviction by the lower courts. The news of
the motion soon spread and the court room was crowded. When the
condemned woman was brought into court by the sheriff, she looked
pale and nervous. After the motion by the district attorney, the
court recounted briefly the story of the revolting crime and the
The murder was committed in
the town of Warren, December 18, 1884. The trial began September
21, 1885, and sentence was pronounced October 6 that the murderess
be executed Nov. 25, 1885. An appeal was taken, first to the
Supreme Court and second to the Court of Appeals, both reviewing
and finding no error. The court asked the usual questions of Mrs.
Druce, as to why sentence of death should not be passed upon her,
to which she replied: "I have nothing to say". The court then
fixed the date of her execution for December 29, 1886. Mrs. Druce
then broke down and wept bitterly. Her counsel will appeal to the
governor to commute the sentence.
Mrs. Druce, The Murderess
From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone,
Franklin Co., NY) Friday, December 24, 1886
Herkimer, Dec. 18 - No case
in the history of New York State has attracted the same interest
as the cold-blooded murder of William Druce by his wife Roxalana
Druce, in Warren, Herkimer County, in December 1884, on account of
the horrible brutality of its details.
The murdered man was what
might be called a shiftless, lazy, good-for-nothing farmer, who
was possessed of some property. His slayer is a frail, little
woman of about forty years, who, from appearance would not hurt a
dove. Her companions in the crime were her daughter Mary, aged
nineteen, her son George, and a half-witted nephew, aged thirteen
years. The two boys turned State's evidence.
Mary on her own confession,
is confined in the penitentiary at Syracuse for the term of her
natural life, and the inhuman wife and mother is counting the
hours when the hempen rope will encircle her neck, with a faint
hope that the Governor may commute her sentence, and that hope
grows dimmer as the days pass by. At the trial a year ago the
counsel for the prisoner based their only hope on the plea of
self-defense, but owing to the brutal disposal of the remains of
the murdered man the jury did not for an instant take it into
The story of the crime, as
proven on the trial, is that the mother and daughter slept in the
parlor and the boys and the victim slept upstairs. On the morning
of the crime Druce came down and built the fire and went about
doing the chores at the barn while the women soon after arose and
began preparing breakfast.
The boys and the two women
sat down to eat as soon as it was ready and had finished their
meal when the father came in. In the mean time the mother had told
the boys not to go far from the house, as she might want them. A
quarrel arose between Druce and his wife about some groceries that
had not been paid for, and Mrs. Druce went into the pantry. When
she came out soon after she carried a loaded revolver beneath her
apron. Mary, her daughter, had procured a rope during the quarrel,
and at a signal from her mother she threw it around the body of
her father and tipping him backwards in his chair, tied him to the
Mrs. Druce immediately
placed the revolver close to his head and fired. After the first
shot was fired the boys came into the room and Mrs. Druce directed
Frank Gates to shoot, which he did twice, each shot taking effect.
Not satisfied with this, the wife procured an ax and began
chopping off her husband's head, her husband pleading for his
life, saying "Don't, Roxy, don't."
After the husband and father
was killed the two boys were instructed to close all the doors,
and then they were sent upstairs and told to remain quiet. Mrs.
Druce and Mary, with the help of a man who is free at this
writing, proceeded to cut up the body, part of which was burned in
the fire and part fed to the pigs. The part put in the stove was
afterwards taken and hid, some in a millpond and some in a sap
house a few miles distant.
Suspicion did not become
awakened until about a month after Druce disappeared, the
neighbors supposing he had gone away, as he was frequently in the
habit of doing. Frank Gates first told what had become of Druce
while on a visit to his father, who resided a few miles from the
Druce place. A Coroner's jury was immediately summoned and the
above facts elicited, whereupon the four were arrested and
confined in the Herkimer jail, where they were indicted by the
Grand Jury in May 1885.
The trial of Mrs. Druce
began Sept. 29, 1885, and lasted over two weeks. The jury, after
being out about two hours, returned with a verdict of guilty. Her
counsel immediately appealed to the Supreme Court and Court of
Oyer and Terminer, and the same judge before whom she was tried
again Nov. 8 this year, re-sentenced her to be hanged Dec. 29.
In her sleep she is
oppressed by the horror of her condition and is very restless,
beads of perspiration standing out on her forehead and her hands
clutching nervously. Her latest assertion and one that the
superstitious people of this community are afraid she will carry
into execution, is that if she is hanged she will return in spirit
and haunt all those who have had any part in the affair.
Only fifteen days yet remain
before the execution will take place and already Sheriff Cook is
making preparations. The death watch has already been placed over
the condemned woman. With as many murderers as has been convicted
and sentenced in this county, all of whom have thus far escaped,
this frail little woman will be the first to suffer the full
penalty of the law if the Governor does not interfere.
From: The Franklin
Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, February 25, 1887
It is understood that
Governor Hill will take no further action in Mrs. Druce's case,
and that she will be executed at Herkimer next Monday.
From: The Franklin
Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, July 9, 1886
At the general term of the
court held at Utica last week, the appeal of Mrs. Roxana Druce
convicted of the murder of her husband in Herkimer County was
decided adversely and she was sentenced to be hung August 19th.
From: The Franklin
Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, March 4, 1887
At noon on Monday the law
which calls for a life for a life was fulfilled at Herkimer, and
Mrs. Druce expiated upon the gallows the awful crime of which she
stood accused. As the first execution in Herkimer County, and
because of the fact that the criminal was a woman, the hanging has
created great excitement throughout the county and the state. The
ends of justice, the warning to evil doers, and the lesson of the
sacredness of life, were all the better subserved by the great
solemnity of the event. The spectators were strictly limited to
the number provided by the new statute, and the demeanor of the
officials, the victim, and her advisors, was free from any
semblance of sensationalism.
Killed and Burned Her
From: The Hunterdon County Democrat, 3
February 1885 (Flemington, New Jersey)
William Druse, a farmer in
moderate circumstances, living in the town of Warren, Herkimer
County, three miles from Richfield Spring, N.Y., has been missing
for a month. He had had frequent quarrels with his wife, and for
several days it was rumored that his wife had murdered him, cut
and burned the body and placed the bones in a swamp. An axe, owned
by Druse, was found rolled in paper at the bottom of Weatherbee's
pond, on Saturday last.
A nephew of Mrs. Druse,
named Gates, aged 18 was "squeezed" by the neighbors and confessed
that she had shot her husband while he (Gates) and her son were
out of the house. Upon Gates' return, Mrs. Druse put a rope around
his neck and compelled him to fire into the body. The remains of
the murdered man were then burned and the bones which remained
were buried. The odor of burning flesh was noticed in the vicinity
of Druse's house December 18. It is said that the woman has
admitted her guilt. Mrs. Druse has a brother in New York.
The Notorious Roxana Druce/Druse
Murder Case, Part 2
The First Execution in Herkimer County, NY
Various Out-of-County Newspapers
Contributed by Marie McDonald
The Druse Trial.
From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday
morning, October 9, 1885 (Clinton County)
Mrs. Druse Convicted of
Murder in the First Degree at Herkimer.
The trial of Mrs. Druse for
the murder of her husband December 18, 1884, closed at Herkimer at
12:30 a.m. Monday. The jury, after a trial lasting nearly two
weeks, brought in a verdict of murder in the first degree. Mrs.
Druse, who was sitting beside her counsel, heard the verdict
apparently unmoved, but afterward said a great wrong had been done
her, that she was not guilty of premeditated murder and had been
unjustly convicted. The murder was the most brutal known in that
part of the state and Mrs. Druse will probably be the first woman
ever hanged in Herkimer county.
TO BE HANGED NOVEMBER 25.
On Tuesday morning Judge
Williams sentenced Mrs. Druse to be hanged Wednesday, November 25,
1885. Mrs. Druse never flinched nor showed any emotion until she
was passing out of the court room when she burst into tears. Her
lawyer will secure a stay of proceedings and appeal the case on a
motion for a new trial.
William Druse, the murdered
man, lived near Richfield Springs and disappeared mysteriously
December 18, 1884. Stories of the unhappy domestic life of Druse
and his wife caused rumors of foul play, and these were given
foundation by the discovery in a pond of an ax which was
identified as having been sold to the missing man. Mrs. Druse
appeared as much mystified over her husband's disappearance as any
of the other residents, and frequently sent dispatches to New York
and other places inquiring for him. Frank Gates, eighteen years
old and a nephew of Mrs. Druse, lived with the family.
After persistent questioning
by neighbors Gates finally made a confession, and with Mrs. Druse
and Mary was arrested. Gates declared that at breakfast time
December 18 Mrs. Druse sent him and her seven-year old son out of
the house. A few moments later Gates heard a pistol shot, and Mrs.
Druse called him in. He saw blood on her husband's neck. The woman
told him to "finish him up" or she would shoot him. He shot the
man, and the wife seizing an ax, cut up the body.
Gates further asserted she
put the head into the fire, boiled the body and fed the flesh and
entrails to the hogs. Two stoves were kept going, burning the
bones and other parts of the body, Gates attending to the fire.
Neighbors noticing the offensive smoke called at the house and
were denied admission. Newspapers were tucked over the windows.
Temporary insanity was the defense made by Mrs. Druse at the
News of the Week
From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel,
Friday morning, October 16, 1885
Mary Druse, who helped her mother to
kill, cut and burn her father in Warren, Herkimer county, pleaded
guilty to murder in the second degree and was sentenced to the
Onondaga penitentiary for life. George Druse, the young son, and
Frankie Gates, the nephew of Druse who assisted in the murder,
Heading: News of the Week
From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday
morning, November 12, 1886
- Mrs. Druse, the murderess,
was Monday re-sentenced at Herkimer by Judge Williams to be hanged
Wednesday, December 29.
Heading: Local All Sorts
From: The Franklin Gazette, Friday,
December 17, 1886
Mrs. Druse, the Herkimer
county murderess, is said to be so confident that Governor Hill
will commute her sentence that she gives no thought to her
spiritual condition. She is reported as saying the other night to
her guard: "By -- -, if I'm hung I'll haunt you all in my night
Mrs. Druse Reprieved to
From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday
morning, December 24, 1886
Mrs. Druse, who was to have
been hanged the 29th for the murder of her husband,
William Druse, at Warren, has been reprieved by Gov. Hill till
From: The Franklin
Gazette, Friday, January 7, 1887
Governor Hill's action in
the Druse case is very highly commended by Republican papers. The
Utica Herald in commenting upon the case says: "What
criticism can be urged against the position taken by the
executive? If public opinion demands that sex shall be respected
by the hangman, let public opinion assert itself by demanding a
change in the statute. The commonwealth should not shrink from
legally what it requests the executive to do without justification
of law. This is Governor Hill's argument in brief, which is
unquestionably strong as well as adroit. More than a third of a
century has passed since a woman was executed in New York. A good
many murders have been committed by women in that period. The
tender hearts of jurors or the clemency of executives has
preserved the guilty from the gibbet. Capital punishment has
become a dead letter so far as women are concerned, and public
opinion approves. The question may as well be faced whether it is
worth while to retain on the statute books a law, general in its
application, whose execution public sentiment requires to be
decided by the sex of the offender."
From: The Franklin
Gazette, January 28, 1887
A bill has been introduced
into the Legislature abolishing capital punishment and
substituting imprisonment for life to the case of women found
guilty of murder in the first degree. Though this bill will not
apply to Mrs. Druse, it is assumed, that since the Governor
referred the petition for commutation to the Legislature, that
should the bill become a law, he would permit it to be operative
in saving the Herkimer county murderess from the gallows. Public
opinion is by no means agreed touching this point, whether or not
this pass. Doubtless an opportunity will be presented, that those
who care to will be allowed to present their argument in such a
shape as will reach the Legislature. The friends of the cause are
now furnished with an objective point for their activity.
- Utica Press.
Mrs. Druse to Hang.
From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday
morning, February 25, 1887
Mrs. Druse will undoubtedly
hang at Herkimer next Monday. Nothing can be learned of the report
of the experts who visited the murderess in jail last week, but it
can be stated that Governor Hill regards the case closed so far as
he is concerned. The defeat of the Hadley bill in the Assembly
last Friday settled the fate of the unfortunate woman.
From: The Elizabethtown
Post, March 3, 1887 (Essex County)
Mrs. Roxalana Druse, the
Herkimer murderess, was executed in the jail yard at Herkimer,
Herkimer Co., N. Y., at noon on Monday last. But few witnessed the
execution, as a recent statute limits the number to, we believe,
25 beside the officers.
The following is a brief
history of the case:
On the 18th of December,
1884, William Druse, a farmer, residing in the town of Warren,
near Richfield Springs, Herkimer county, mysteriously disappeared,
and suspicions of foul play began to be whispered about the
neighborhood. The family consisted of William Druse and Mrs.
Druse, the daughter Mary, aged nineteen years, the son, George,
aged ten years, and a nephew, Frank Gates, aged fourteen years.
Mrs. Roxalana Druse, the wife, was apparently as anxious as any
one to find her husband, and the murder story was considered by
some as a cruel slander; but there were hints of the sudden death
of a former husband, and an ax being found in a pond near the
village, wrapped in paper, and identified as one of a make known
to have been sold to William Druse, started the story afresh,
although Mrs. Druse was all the time searching for him, several
times sending dispatches to New York and elsewhere. As the
excitement grew, the neighbors plied Frank Gates with questions,
until he finally, on January 16, 1885, confessed the crime. Gates
and Mrs. Druse were arrested and taken to a neighbor's, where the
woman also confessed.
HOW THE MURDER WAS
She said a
quarrel had occurred at the breakfast table on the morning of the
homicide between Druse and herself. The deceased was still at the
table, and during the quarrel of words she went into another room
and took a loaded revolver which was there, and putting it under
her apron, returned and whispered to the boys to go out of doors,
which they did, leaving herself, the daughter Mary, and Druse in
the room. Mary then placed a rope around her father's neck while
he was at the table, and Mrs. Druse fired the revolver once or
twice at him, wounding him, and he fell over sideways in his chair
while she, being unable to make the revolver go off again called
to the nephew Frank, who came into the house, together with the
boy George, when she gave the revolver to the nephew, and, under a
threat of killing him, compelled him to fire it off two or three
times, and the deceased, being hit by the shots, rolled off the
chair upon the floor, and then she seized an ax and hit her
husband on the head with it, he exclaiming: "Oh, Roxy don't," and
she continued hitting him on the neck until she chopped his head
off—severing it completely from his body. Mrs. Druse then caused
the head, as well as the body, to be taken into the parlor, and
during that day and evening
Was Cut Up With An Axe
and burned in the stove. She
threatened to kill the boys if they told what had occurred, burned
all her husband's clothes and made every possible effort to
conceal the crime, causing the ashes in the stove where the body
had been burned to be taken up and thrown, into a swamp, and the
revolver and ax to be thrown in a pond, and had telegrams sent to
friends in other places making false and misleading inquiries as
to her husband and compelled the boys to tell everyone that her
husband had gone away from home, she herself telling her neighbors
falsehoods of every description as to her husband's whereabouts.
During the evening, while Mrs. Druse and Mary were burning the
body, in the parlor, the two boys were amusing themselves by
playing checkers in the adjoining room, where the murder had been
committed, thus showing the unconcerned and utter lack of feeling
of the whole family. Mrs. Druse had previously made threats
against her husband and boasted that she would be rid of him
someday. The revolver had been procured and brought into the house
under peculiar and suspicious circumstances, indicating felonious
purposes. These and other facts, almost too horrible for
description, marked the case as a plain one of deliberate and
premeditated. There was scarcely a single mitigating circumstance
Found Guilty of Murder
Mrs. Druse was indicted for murder
in the first degree and her trial began before Judge Williams at
Herkimer, September 21, 1885 and lasted nearly two weeks. The
defense attempted to prove that Druse abused his wife and had
threatened to kill her and Mrs. Druse was temporarily insane when
she committed the crime. The jury returned a verdict of guilty at
twelve o'clock on Saturday night, October 3, 1885. Judge Williams
sentenced Mrs. Druse the following Tuesday, October 6, to be
hanged November 25, 1885. The conviction was appealed, both to the
General Term of the Supreme Court and to the Court of Appeals, and
was affirmed by both courts. Both courts held that the verdict
fully justified the evidence, and refused to interfere with the
sentence of the law. Mrs. Druse was again sentenced to be hung
December 20, 1885. An appeal was made to Governor Hill as a last
resort to commute Mrs. Druse's sentence, which he refused to do,
but on December 22, the executive granted a reprieve until the
28th of February, in order that the legislature, if it felt
disposed, could change the law regarding capital punishment as far
as it affected women. The bill was introduced in the last assembly
by Mr. Hadley, but was defeated Friday, February 18.
Hanging of Roxalana
From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday
morning, March 4, 1887
Her Terror Shown at the
Mrs. Roxalana Druse was
hanged at Herkimer, N. Y., on Monday, for the murder of her
husband. After sleeping an hour about midnight, Mrs. Druse wrote
letters of thanks to Sheriff Cook and Deputy Sheriff Bartley
Manion. She also wrote out a request to the Sheriff that he would
give her body, after death, in to the charge the Rev G. W. Powell
for Christian burial. Again she lay down and fell into troubled
sleep from which she awoke in hysterics. A visit from Irving
Terry, superintendent of Onondaga Penitentiary who brought the
farewell message of Mary Druse, proved very exciting to the
condemned woman. She wept most of the forenoon until the time for
the hanging. She went to the gallows leaning on the arm the Rev.
Mr. Powell and knelt under the rope while Mr. Powell offered
Mrs. Druse maintained her
composure until the black cap was drawn over her head, when she
shrieked so loudly that her voice could be heard in the street
outside of the jail yard. The trap was sprung at 11:48 a.m. and
the woman was pronounced dead at 12:03 p.m. The body remained
hanging for twenty six minutes and was then taken down. The
physicians stated that the neck was not broken and that death was
due to strangulation. Only twenty-five persons witnessed the
hanging. The streets in the neighborhood of the jail were crowded,
however, with people, who had come from far and near, drawn by a
morbid curiosity. The approaches to the jail were guarded by the
31st Separate Company, National Guards, and by the sheriff's
deputies. The body of the dead woman was placed in the vault at
Oak Hill Cemetery.
Before her death Mrs. Druse,
in compliance with the request from her daughter that she should
not leave a blot on her name, made the following affidavit:
I, Roxalana Druse, in my
last moments, do hereby solemnly swear and affirm that my
daughter, Mary Druse, who is now confined in the Onondaga
Penitentiary, had nothing whatever to do with the killing of her
father, William Druse, or with the disposition of his body. This
statement I have repeatedly made and always adhered to at the
inquest, and since my confinement. My daughter, Mary Druse, is
absolutely innocent, and was in no way connected with her father's
(William Druse's) death.
VIOLENT GRIEF OF MARY
Mary Druse, who is serving a
life sentence in the penitentiary at Syracuse, for complicity in
the murder of her father, when told that her mother was hanged,
broke down and the feelings which she had up to that time held
under more or less restraint, were manifested in a frantic
outburst of grief. Within the last week her sufferings have been
terrible, and fears are entertained that she may lose her reason
as the result of the fearful strain under which she has been
laboring. She said that she had neither "hand, act, nor part" in
her father's death, and that she was as innocent of it as a child
unborn. Her story in most respects was similar to that obtained in
her mother's confession, except that she denied all knowledge of
the burning of the body. She called heaven to witness that she
knew nothing about the burning of any part of it, and she denied
with equal emphasis that she had, as charged, held the rope around
her father's neck. The authorities are a unit in the belief that
she had no part in the murder, and it is thought that a petition
for her pardon will soon be sent to the Governor.
Heading: Note and Comment
From: The Fort Covington Sun, July 7,
1887 (Franklin County)
A HERKIMER correspondent
claims that the ghost of Mrs. Druse now haunts the cell in the
Herkimer jail in which she was last confined, and tells of moans
and murmurs and cries of "Oh! Oh!" such as Mrs. Druse uttered when
the black cap-was drawn over her head.
From: The Plattsburgh
Sentinel, July 3, 1891
Governor Hill has denied the
petition for a pardon for Mary Druse, sent to prison for life at
the time her mother, Mrs. Roxana Druse, was sentenced to death for
the murder of William Druse, the husband and father. The petition
was made on the grounds that there was no distinct proof that the
prisoner was implicated, and that furthermore she was not given an
opportunity to say a word in her own behalf.
THE DRUSE BUTCHERY
The Most Horrible Murder, on Record.
William Druse, of Warren, Killed, Butchered, and the Body Burned
in Stoves. The Wife Daughter, Son and Nephew Arrested for the
Herkimer county, during the past few
years, has been gradually coming into prominence as the scene of
horrible murders. The annals of criminal history contain many]
terrible grimes, but it was thought that every known method of
committing a homicide had long since been exhausted. It remained
for the little to town of Warren to produce another feature and
she has responded in a way that leaves nothing to be desired by
people of a morbid turn of mind or lovers of the horrible.
The details of the crime are almost
too terrible for contemplation, but that the ends of justice may
be attained, and a full knowledge of the facts placed before the
public, I deem it best to present a true and unvarnished statement
of the affair.
In an old dingy yellow farm house,
about a quarter of a mile from the main road, and near the village
of Little Lakes, on the 18th day of last December, was committed
one of the most horrible murders known to the annals of crime.
Wm. Druse, a farmer 60 years of age,
was shot, and his body hacked to pieces by an infuriated wife and
her children. Wm. Druse disappeared from home on the 18th day of
December. The day following his house was locked up, none of the
family seen about, and forth from the chimney poured a dense black
smoke, filling the air around the place with a very offensive
odor. A number of the neighbors noticed the smoke at the time, and
as days rolled by, and Druse's absence became manifest, curious
surmises were made in regard to his whereabouts. Surmises became
rumors, rumors finally became facts, and at last it was openly
asserted that Druse had been murdered.
At this stage of the proceedings,
district attorney A. B. Steele, of Herkimer, was sent for, and on
his arrival made acquainted with such facts as the neighbors had
gleaned. Mr. Steele immediately caused the arrest of Frank Gates,
nephew of the deceased, and by dint of severe cross-questioning,
succeeded in compelling the youth to confess his participation in
The district attorney at once
telephoned to Dr. L.O. Nellie, one of the three coroners of this
county; that gentleman arriving on the scene early Friday morning,
January the 16th. As the boy's confession implicated others,
orders were given for the arrest of Roxy Druse, the wife, Mary
Druse, a daughter, George Druse, a son, and on Saturday, Roxy
Druse's brother-in-law, Chas. Gates.
The boy's confession is
substantially as follows: he states, that Roxy after the old
gentleman was through the morning chores, sent the two boys, Frank
and George out of the room, and coming up behind Druse while he
was seated at the breakfast table, fired one shot from a revolver
into the back of his neck; two more shots were also fired by her,
but their location at present is uncertain; she then called Frank
in and placing the pistol at his head ordered him to complete the
deed, threatening at the same time should he refuse, to kill him
at once, he took the revolver and fired one shot into Druse's
The supposition is, that Mary, the
daughter, was at this time holding a rope that was fastened around
her father's neck, and that she was the one that dragged him from
the chair to the floor. After the last shot was fired Frank
brought Mrs. Druse an ax, with which she struck her husband twice
on the head, he exclaiming at the same time, "Oh, Roxy, don't! "
The second blow probably killed him. as he never spoke again. The
woman then severed the head from the body, and, as she said, threw
it into the kitchen stove.
After the murder Frank brought from
up stairs a large tick filled with straw, and assisted Mrs. Druse
in placing the body of her dead husband upon it, and together they
carried the corpse into the parlor. Frank and George were then
sent down to the brush lot after a sharp ax. They returned with
the article and gave it to the woman. The boys were kept busy
bringing shingles with which hot fires were built in both the
parlor and kitchen stoves. The murderess then took the sharp ax, a
razor, a jack knife, a board and a chopping block. She carried
these into the parlor, and there proceeded to dismember the body.
The arms were first cut off, and
then the legs; she chopped the limbs into small pieces and .threw
them into the parlor stove. The body was then placed on the block
and hacked and cut until she was enabled to get all the pieces
into the kitchen stove. Frank says the ashes and pieces of burned
bone were carried by his aunt and himself the next day to Ball's
swamp, distant about half a mile from the house.
The Druse family now under arrest,
consist of Roxy Druse, about 45 years of age: The woman has black
hair and eyes, pinched features, sallow complexion, and sharp
hooked nose. She is about five feet four inches in height. Mary
Druse, the daughter, is about 20 years old; George Druse, 10
years, and Frank Gates, a whole family in crime. They were first
taken to the residence of Jeremiah Eckler, about one-quarter of a
mile distant from the scene of the murder. By the boy'sconfession
Coroner Nellis was able to discover the nearly destroyed remains
in Ball's swamp. He then impanneled the following coroner's jury:
Chas. McRorie, foreman; Charles
Pett, Chas. Bond, Geo. L. Rathburn, Alonzo Filkins, Rozelle
Warren, James Hall, Frank Springer, and Chester Armstrong, all of
the town of Warren. Coroner Nellis summoned Drs. A. D. Getman and
W. P. Borland, of Richfield Springs, to examine the remains. These
consisted. of the contents of a small box, a mass of dirt, wood
ashes and small pieces of bone, all frozen together in a solid
mass. There were about 18 to 20 small pieces of bone, from one
inch to two inches long. The two patellae or knee caps, were
found, as also the upper end of the left tibia or lower leg bone,
showing two articular surfaces, thereby proving conclusively that
the bones were human.
Mrs. Druse's brother-in-law, Chas.
Gates, is claimed by some to be implicated, as she asserts that he
assisted in the killing, firing several shots from his own
revolver, and that the officers would find two kinds of bullets in
the ashes, apparently forgetting she fact that lead would not long
exist in a bullet form where there was a very hot fire. Drs.
Getman and Borland were examined in regard to the ashes and bones
being human. They testified that in their judgment the remains
were those of a human body:
The coroner's inquest was until
Saturday noon, the 17th, held in the Eckler cheese house. At that
hour the coroner adjourned to the town hall at Little Lakes, in
order to accommodate the large crowd that the proceedings had
brought into town. District attorney A. B. Steels assisted the
coroner in the examination of the witnesses. As the testimony is
voluminous, and would take up more space than a work of this kind
would warrant, I will condense the evidence into
A GENERAL STATEMENT.
Has lived in Warren 28 years; knew
the deceased; knew that he was missing, and on December 18th saw
black smoke pouring out of the chimney, and perceived a very bad
odor. The forepart of January he asked Mrs. Druse where William
was? She said; in New York; they quarreled frequently.
Live near; knew that Druse was
missing; saw dense black smoke on December 18th pouring out of
chimney; went there first last Saturday; saw stoves; went there
again asked where Druse, and told her of the reports that he had
been murdered; she said they were false; saw new paper on walls;
asked Gates boy where William was; he said, gone away; told Mrs.
Druse a boy had found an ax; she said she supposed that the other
tools were under the snow; on Thursday went to Herkimer and
.brought the district attorney, A. B. Steele, to my house.
Son of Jeremiah Eckler: Remembers
smoke; color dark, bad smell, like burned meat; have heard no
threats made by Mrs. Druse against her husband.
Found an ax in mill pond, near the
bridge, (ax shown); it is the same ax; it was wrapped in a copy of
the N. Y. weekly Tribune; no name on paper; got it out next day.
Knew Druse; went to house. Thursday
afternoon, after a hay knife he borrowed; knocked at the door, but
could not got in; newspapers up at windows; heard talking inside;
could not see in; went last evening about 9 o'clock, and found
burned remains in Ball's swamp; carried them to Chas. Pett's. The
party who informed us went direct to place and pointed out the
substance we brought away; it was lightly covered with snow. Frank
Gates worked at Druse's for his board.
The district attorney then asked
Frank Gates if he was willing to tell all that he knew in
reference to the murder, without any promise on the part of the
people. He answered, " Yes, sir," and was told to proceed, which
he did as follows, substantially.
Last summer Mrs. Druse and Mary
wanted to hire me to shoot Druse; they said they would give me a
good many dollars for doing it; I told them I would not; there was
nothing more said, but this winter Mrs. Druse and William had a
good many words. On Thursday before Christmas, in the morning,
William asked me to get up and build the fire; I did so. Mrs.
Druse and Mary then got up. William went out and did the chores;
asked if I should help; said he would do them himself; when he
came in to breakfast, he sat down to the table; I was nearly
through; Mrs. Druse told me to hurry up; I did so; I asked her
what she wanted; she told me and George to go out doors and not go
far from the house; heard a noise three or four times, and then
she came and called me; she had a revolver, and she handed it to
me and told me to shoot William or she would shoot me; she put the
revolver against my nose as she told me this; I did so; he was
sitting in a chair or on the floor; I was excited, could not tell
which, and then she took the revolver and shot until the loads
were all out; then she took the ax and pounded William on the
head; William said, "Oh, Roxy, don't!" then she chopped his head
off, and sent me and George up stairs after a straw tick; she
dragged him on to it, and she told me I should help drag him in
the parlor, and she asked me to come in there; I told her I
couldn't; then she sent me and George down to the brush lot after
the sharp ax; we came back, she took it in the other room and shut
the door; told me and George to go up stairs, then she called us
down again, and sent us after some shingles to the hog pen; she
built up a hot fire in both stoves, then had me look out the north
window, and Mary out of south window; then she took a block in the
parlor and a board and chopped him up, as I suppose she did, and
put him in the fire. Then afterwards told me to put some shingles
in the kitchen stove. I saw a large bone, and the next day she
took the ashes up and put them into a tin spit box which Rudolph
Van Evra had used, and put some of the ashes in a bag; then she
told me to hitch up the horse, as she was going to Mr. Gates; we
all went. When we got into Mr. Ball's swamp, about two rods from
the track, she told me to carry the ashes; I did so, then went to
my house, taken sick and stayed there until Sunday, when I came
back. Mrs. Druse told me to get the new ax and saw the handle off;
I did so, and Mary burned the handle; then I went to Richfield
Springs with Mrs. Druse; when we got back to Weatherbee's mill
pond, she threw the ax in; when we got up a little farther, she
told me to take the revolver and throw it intothe pond; also the
jack knife, or I would be sorry if I didn't; she threw the razor
blade side of the fence. I did throw the revolver and knife in the
pond. Last night I went with Mr. Filkins, district attorney,
Clarence Marshal and Daniel McDonald to Ball's swamp where I left
the ashes; I showed the ashes to the men; they put them in a box
and brought them to Mr. Pett's ; I saw the box on table to-day in
this room; I went again to-day with Marshall, McDonald and two
strangers, said to be Doctors; they got all the ashes we could not
find last night; I then went to the pond and showed them as near
as I could where the revolver was, then came home; the revolver
was found in the pond; I did not see the revolver only as Mr.
Marshall put it in his pocket; there was a newspaper around them
when it was thrown into the pond; I saw it when it went in; I
would know the axe; it was a new ax with small nicks in it, when I
brought it from the woods; sawed the handle off next to the ax,
about an inch from the ax; the handle was wedged in; think he
bought the ax at Richfield Springs; think Druse put the wedge in
at Mr. Pett's; don't know what paper was around the ax; examining
the ax, I think that is Druse’s ax.
District attorney - What makes you
" Because it looks like the ax I
sawed the handle off from. All axes do not look alike. I know this
ax by the nicks in the blade, and the handle being sawed off.
Think the ax had no rust or stains on it when I brought it; it has
spots on it now.”
Was shown a revolver; "That is the
one, sir; I know the revolver by the stamped handle and cylinder.
The revolver was loaded when thrown into thepond; don't know who
loaded it; I know it was loaded, because I saw It. Mrs. Druse told
me she got the revolver last fall; she did not say what she got it
When I went out of the room at the
time Mrs. Druse called me back I left in the room Mrs. Druse, Mary
and William; he was eating his breakfastwhen I went back; his back
was towards the outside door. No one else had been there that
morning that I know of. Mary was in the kitchen, walking backward
and forward between the buttery and parlor door. When I came back
in the house, I noticed blood on the back of William's neck, and
on the floor; I saw the blood before I fired the revolver. When
Mrs. Druse called me, I think he was sitting in the chair, his
head was leaning over; I think Mary had the rope around his neck
when I came in and was holding him; when I shot the revolver off
William made no noise.
By district attorney - Supposing Mr.
Pett to be William, show us how you pointed the revolver? Witness
points at Mr. Pett with left hand. District attorney-Were you
frightened? Ans. "I was when I shot the revolver off; don't know
what Mary was doing; Mrs. Druse was behind me; she talked fast
when she told me to shoot; but not much faster than usual. George
was in the door,;I think. After I shot the revolver off; Mrs.
Druse took it.
When I went out of the house I did
not know they were going to kill Druse. I did not know what to
think when she told me to go out and not go faraway. When Mrs.
Druse took the revolver I don't know how many times she shot him;
she shot him after I did; I think it hit him.
District attorney - What makes you
think she hit him? “Because I could find no holes in the floor or
District attorney - O, then you must
have hit him? “Yes sir."
" Did you look to see ? "
" Yes, I looked in the wall."
" What made you do that?"
" Because I wanted to know if he was
Druse fell on the floor; I did not
see him fall, I saw him afterwards; his head was near the stove
leg; he fell over to the left, his face was towards the stove leg;
I saw the top of his head from where I stood. She cut his head off
before I went after the sharp ax; she cut it off with an old ax.
She said she put his head in the stove first. I don't know where
Mary was when she cut the head off; George was up stairs; George
did not cry; Mary did on the
start. Don't know where the rope came from; I think it was used as
a clothesline; Mrs. Druse said she burned the rope up; she said
she burned up his vest, inside coat, black overcoat; hat, pants
and boots. The bone I saw was in the kitchen stove; it measured
about three inches thick, and about fourteen inches long; Mary had
the bone; there was some flesh on the ends. I heard them cutting
in the parlor; Mrs. Druse was there alone. There were brass
buttons on the under coat. Mrs. Druse said she saw Mr. Filkins
pass; there were newspapers at the windows. I have only heard
Jerry Eckler testify. No one has told me what any one else has
sworn to to-day. My father told me William Elwood came to the
house and rapped; no one answered. They did not want any one to
come in and see what they were doing (evidently not). They were
cleaning up the floor. They had big fires to burn Druse up. They
had the big boiler on the stove to heat water; I don't know who
filled the boiler, think Mrs. Druse did. I saw water only in the
boiler, nothing else. They did not boil any part of the body that
I know of. I smelled a bad smell, like meat burning. Mrs. Druse
quarreled that morning. I heard Bill say there would be some
arrangements made before night. Mary talked low to her mother;
Mrs. Druse blowed too; I could hear what they said; I don't know
what Mrs. Druse wanted to get rid of Bill for; I heard her say
once, " I wish he was gone, because he's so ugly." He was ugly
sometimes; she was ugly too; sometimes. I heard them blow each
other at times--I mean scold. They did not sleep together; she
said she had not slept with him in ten years. Rudolph Van Evera
has also slept there; he slept in the farther room up stairs, and
they in the front room. George and I slept together. Mary slept
with her mother.
Never saw Van Evera carry Mrs. Druse
up stairs, nor Mary either; don't know of their being up stairs
together. My uncle was here from New York one night. My mother and
Mrs. Druse are sisters. The knife handle Mrs. Druse burned; Mrs.
Druse knew they would know it was his knife; there was blood on
it, but she washed it off; she burned up the razor handle; I think
it was all right before; don't know why she burned it; she had no
saw, she cut him up with the ax, jack-knife and razor.. I think I
saw blood on her hands; she washed her hands in the kitchen, and
then threw the water in the swill pail. The hogs fed themselves
that day, in the barn. I could not see the barn from the window I
watched at; Mary could from her window. My father came there that
night at dark, or a little after; Mrs. Druse let him in; I was
there, don't know where he came from; he came in at front door,
that opens into the kitchen; the door was not locked, it had been
locked nearly all day; father rapped, Mrs. Druse went to the door,
she told him to come in; he most always rapped when he came; he
sat down and asked for William, if he was at home; she said that
he had gone to Mose Elwood's. Father said Will Elwood was down
there to-day and rapped but could not get In. He (Elwood) said
that he thought Bill had killed them all, and locked himself in,
or ran away. My sister said I was not at school, and father came
to see where I was. I did not tell him what had happened; I was
afraid of Mrs. Druse; she said the first one that told would get
shot, and that was the reason I did not tell father. Father was
not in the parlor that night; the boiler had been put away; no
paint had been put on the floor; water was got from the cistern; I
drew it at Mrs. Druse's request; that was after I got the ax.
I told Mr. Pett that William had
gone to New York; I told Mr. Filkins also-Mrs. Druse told me to; I
told them he went on Sunday. Mary and Mrs. Druse had not
breakfasted when Bill was killed; the revolver was not shot off
after I came back with the ax; did not know father's revolver was
there that day, he had one; Mrs. Druse did not want me to go home;
my brother said his orders were to get me; he said some men at Mr.
Pett's wanted tosee me; Mrs. Druse did not hear this, she had the
door locked I think. William had a model of a steamer, which they
burned up; they burned it so no one would find it; they said he
took it to New York with him.
Last summer they asked me to shoot
William, but I saw no revolver; they did not tell where the
revolver was bought; I don't know whether the carpeton the parlor
floor was taken up or not; I saw no blood on the carpet; carried
the ashes away next day; a new piece of oilcloth has been put in
theparlor. I was at Jerry Eckler's the day of the murder, to buy a
bunch of matches to make the fire with; I got them; I went over
after Mr. Filkins and Elwood was there; Mr. Eekler did not ask me
about the smell; I gave the matches to Mrs. Druae; Mr. Eakler
would take no pay for them. I went to Mr. Pett's too, before that,
for matches; there was no one at home; Irving Eckler came there on
the morning of the murder for an augur; he did not get it; Mr.
Druse said it was over to Mr. Eckler's. Never told of the matter,
was afraid Mrs. Druse would shoot me; no other reason.
The room casing and wood work in the
room have been painted, and the side walls papered, since the
murder, and paint put on the floor to hide the blood stains. There
had been no talk of painting before. Father noticed the smell and
asked me what it was; I told him nothing. We had two lights that
night; they were notbright lights. They got the paint in Richfield
Springs and the paper at Little Lakes.
Knew Druse, knew he was missing;
called at the Druse house on that Thursday; could not get in;
windows covered with newspapers; noticed heavy smoke. I saw
Filkins about twenty rods from the house; I saw Charles Gates and
told him that I had called at Druse's, and that either Bill had
killed them all, or they were all dead asleep. The rest of his
testimony corroborates earlier statements.
George William Stewart Druse
The nature of an oath, was explained
to him, by the district attorney, he said he was ten years of age.
George described his various relatives and then told the story of
the murder as follows: On the morning when the pistol was used,
Frank and I went to the corner of the house; Ma told us to go out;
Pa was sitting at the table eating his breakfast; Pa did not hear
Ma tell us to go out, because she whispered; Ma had a revolver in
her hand; there was no one in the house only Ma, Mary, Pa and
Frank; don't know where Uncle Charley was, did not see him; we
went out; I heard the revolver go off; Ma called Frank in; when
the revolver went off I knew what was being done; Ma said she
would hurt Pa; Uncle Charley bought the revolver for her; Frank
went in and Ma handed the revolver to him and told Frank to shoot
Pa or she would shoot him; Frank shot three times. There was a
rope around Pa's neck, and blood on the floor; don't know what
Mary was doing, think she was in the kitchen; Ma hit Pa on the
head with an ax; he said, "oh, don't."
The rest of George Druse's testimony
is nearly the same as Frank's, and corroborates his evidence in
nearly all particulars. Elisha W. Stannard, Wm. R. Wall, Dr. A. D.
Getman, Dr. W. P. Booland, Albert Bowen and Chester Crim were
sworn, and their testimony taken down by the clerk.
Mrs. Roxy Druse was called to the
stand. She said that she did not wish to make any statements, but
declared afterward that Chas. Gates was present when her husband
James Miller, Chas. Gates, James
Hall, Walter Buckman, Geo. L. Rathbun, Mrs. Lucy Gates, Mrs.
Elfeha M. Rathbnrn, Cheater Gates, Mrs. Louise Elwood, Moses
Elwood, Idella Gates, Irving Eckler, Wm. Elwood, Albert Bowen,
Henry Ostrander, Alonzo Filkins, Moses Elwood, Rudolph Vanevry,
Frank Gates, Chas. O'Brien; Daniel McDonald, Chas. Bond, and
Charles Gates were the other witnesses examined. Their testimony
appears in the Coroner's inquest in the order named.
The verdict of the jury was as
follows: " That Wm. Druse came to his death on the 18th day of
December, 1884, at the town of Warren, and that one Roxana Druse
did on the 18th day of December, 1884, between the hours of seven
and eleven o'clock of the forenoon of that day, in the town of
Warren, in said county, feloniously and of malice aforethought
made an assault upon the body of William Druse then and there
present, that the said Roxana Druse did shoot William Druse, and
also strike him on the head with an ax, and did sever his head
from his body; of which wounds the said William Druse died ; that
Roxana Druse did cut and burn the body in the stove, and the
jurors aforesaid say that the said Roxana Druse did murder her
husband. That Mary Druse the daughter, George Druse the son, and
Frank Gates were present, and that Frank Gates did fire one or
more shots at William Druse, and that Mary, George and Frank did
comfort, aid and abet Roxana Druse in committing the felony and
At the conclusion of the inquest
sheriff Valentine Brown, who was present during the entire
proceedings before the coroner, placed his four prisoners in a
close-covered sleigh and drove rapidly over the snowy hills for
the county seat.
The sheriff left Little Lakes about
half-past three o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, arriving at the
Herkimer jail about seven in the evening. During the trip the
murderess evinced a remarkable degree of nerve, and appeared to be
totally unconcerned over the situation of affairs. She remarked
that “whether it turned out state prison for life, or hanging, she
would never live with Wm. Druse again," meaning probably, that she
would prefer either, rather than live with her dead husband.
Undoubtedly the wish so coolly uttered, will be granted. The other
prisoners exhibited no care, the two boys especially, amusing
themselves by making jovial comments on objects that elicited
their interest along the road.
On arriving at the jail they were
met by a curious crowd, but were hurried at once to the general
waiting room. After a few moments rest, they were informed that
their quarters were ready, and as Mrs. Druse arose to accompany
the jailer she remarked in an offhand manner: "Well, I hope I may
be able to procure to-night what I have not had before in two
years, a good night's rest." The two women were placed in a warm
and comfortable room in the upper portion of the building, and the
two boys on the upper tier, in the general quarters assigned to
A day or two after the arrival of
the prisoners, the writer visited the jail at Herkimer, and
accompanied by Henry Brown, was shown to the room of Mrs. Druse
and Mary. On entering, we found the mother and daughter seated
near the heavily barred window, engaged in close conversation,
which was interrupted as we crossed the threshold. After the usual
preliminary introduction, we seated ourselves and at once plunged
into the object of our visit. Throughout our conversation with her
mother, Mary kept her eyes bent on the floor, only raising them at
intervals to watch her mother's face. She said nothing during the
interview. We asked her if Charles Gates was present when the deed
was committed. She replied that he was.
In response to a question in
relation to Charles Gates' knowledge of the disposition of the
body, she said that he knew more about that than any one else, as
he was present and afterwards assisted in disposing of the
remains. She also stated that in her opinion Chas. Gates should
have been held, as by so doing certain things would have been
brought out that could not be gained, otherwise. She was firm in
her statement that Gates was present, and reiterated the remark
two or three times over.
She appeared cool and unconcerned,
and it was evident to the most casual observer that very little
love existed between herself and husband. She appeared to consider
that in ridding the world of William Druse, she had performed an
action that was in the highest degree commendable, and that all
right minded persons would sympathize with her as the victim of
circumstances and not as a heartless and cold-blooded murderess.
After leaving the cell of this female fiend, we turned down
stairs, and amid the clanging of innumerable bolts and bars, and
the clicking of locks, found ourselves on the south tier in the
ground department. From the midst of the throng of prisoners our
conductor picked out the two boys, and we called them toward us
for a talk.
George Druse is about ten years of
age, is short in stature, round, full form, and at the time of our
visit was clad in a blue cloth suit and rubber boots. He had a
round, full face, indicative of fun and good nature, and taken
altogether appeared as a bright, intelligent boy, who little
realized the terrible curse which had fallen on the family. He did
not have much to say in relation to the affair, the sum of his
remarks being about the same as already presented heretofore.
Frank Gates was questioned closely
in regard to his connection with the crime. We asked him if his
father, Charles Gates, was present when the murder was committed.
He replied emphatically, " No." We asked him at what time his
father visited the house, he said, "the same evening," and also
stated that his father did not learn of the murder of Druse when
he called. Frank also said that Mrs. Druse had "scared the life
out of him," that he was afraid that she would kill him if he did
not do as she ordered; that during the time that Mrs. Druse was
cutting up the body she repeatedly threatened to kill him if he
breathed a word in relation to the murder.
He said that the terrible scene made
him so deathly sick to his stomach that he was forced to go
outdoors, where he fainted dead away from fright and horror.
On the 29th day of January the
Druses were brought before Judge T. C. Murray, when they waived
examination, and were again remanded to jail. Judge Amos A.
Prescott of Herkimer, for sixteen years county judge of this
county; has been retained by attorney Luce, of Richfield Springs,
as associate counsel in the case.
Considerable excitement was
manifested on or about March 20th, by the reported finding of the
missing head of Wm Druse, in a sap bush located in the town of
Warren. The rumor, on investigation, proved to be without
foundation. But as suspicious circumstances tended to prove that
something had been hidden in the sap house, and then removed,
constables Sylvester Wilson and Joseph W. Smith, of Herkimer,
visited the place, and on a warrant sworn out before Judge Helmer
by district attorney Steels, arrested William Elwood. Elwood
protested his innocence, but was brought to Herkimer and placed in
jail. During his incarceration Elwood's friends succeeded in
securing the services of Judge George W. Smith and J. A. Steele as
counsel: Elwood was finally brought before Judge Wm. Helmer, and
after a short examination was released on bail of $2,000.
[Editor’s note: See Hearn, Daniel
Allen (1997) Legal Executions in New York State: A Comprehensive
Reference, 1639-1963. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and
Company: 77. According to Hearn, Roxalana Druse (age 40) and her
daughter Mary Druse (age 18) were found guilty of the murder of
William Druse. The other Druse children were not prosecuted
because of their age. Mary Druse was sentenced to life in prison.
Roxalana Druse was hanged at Herkimer on February 28, 1887.
Hearn’s sources are: New York Herald, 1 March 1887, and Master
Detective, July 1938.]
HERKIMER COUNTY MURDERS by W. H.