Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Hall-Mills Murders

The Initial Investigation

The public interest in this case, as well as its scandalous nature, drew a legion of journalists to New Brunswick, the county seat. The obvious chief suspects were the spouses of the slain couple.

Frances Hall
Frances Hall
Prior to her marriage to Hall, Frances Noel Stevens had lived with her mother and brother on 23 Nichols Avenue in New Brunswick, the home into which she and Hall moved after her mother died. She was related to the Johnson & Johnson medical supply founders, and several years into the marriage, she and her brothers inherited around two million dollars. She claimed that she trusted her husband and did not know of the affair. No one noticed any bad blood between the two womenexcept for a few reportsand Mrs. Hall visited Mrs. Mills frequently during her convalescence from surgery, and even drove her home from the hospital. That was just eight months before the murder.

Rev. Hall's home
Rev. Hall's home
On Thursday afternoon, September 14th, Frances had made preserves in her kitchen. She took a call from Eleanor Mills to leave a message for Dr. Hall. She told him at 6:30 that evening. Another call came at 7, and around twenty to eight, Hall said he was going out to check on Mrs. Mills medical bill. Frances played solitaire for the next two hours. Her brother Willie, 50, who could not live on his own, came out of his room to say good night, and then she went to bed. At two-thirty a.m., she dressed and went to the church in search of her missing husband, accompanied by Willie. The church was dark, so they walked past the Mills apartment, also dark. In the morning, Frances called the police and learned that no casualties had been reported. She did not leave her name, an act which would have serious repercussions. Then she continued to search for her missing husband.

A reporter called on Saturday, which eventually led to the news of the discovery of the bodies. She believed that robbery was the motive, since Halls gold watch was missing, and he had carried about $50 in his wallet.

James Mills and daughter
James Mills and daughter
James Mills, 45, was the acting sexton at St. Johns and a full-time janitor at the Lord Stirling Elementary School. He was hard-working, but unambitious and of limited intelligence. He had married Eleanor when she was only seventeen. Their ramshackle home was located five blocks from the Hall household, at 49 Carman Street. Hall was a frequent visitor, and Mills was flattered by the attention. He untruthfully claimed ignorance of the affair, stating that Reverend Hall was "too good a friend of mine." Hall had once even paid for some major surgery for Mrs. Mills when James was unable to do it. Mills cooperated completely with the initial interrogation. He believed robbery had been the motive.

His own movements during the time of the crime were as follows: He had been sweeping up at St. Johns at 5:45 on Thursday. He was late for dinner, arriving home at 6:15. Afterward, he went out to the porch while his wife left the house to make a phone call to Reverend Hall. She came back, and left again, challenging him to "follow her and find out" when he inquired as to her destination. He kept working on the porch until 9:45, then read the paper. At ten thirty, he went to the church to look for his wife, stopping for some soda, and arriving around eleven. She was not there, so he went home and went to bed. At 2 a.m., he went back to the church and failed to find her.

The next morning, without reporting his wife as missing, he went to work. At 8:30, he went to the church and encountered Mrs. Hall, who mentioned that her husband had not come home the night before. He asked her whether she thought that they eloped. He claims that she replied, "God knows. I think they are dead and cant come home." She contacted him several more times that dayFridayand he replied that his wife had not yet returned. He says that she repeated again that they must be dead. He did notice a page of newspaper on the rectors desk, which had been missing from his own paper, and contained an article on a prominent ministers views on divorce. (Mills daughter, Christine, confirmed that her mother had clipped the article from the newspaper and had said she was taking it to Reverend Hall.)

He heard on Saturday, after lunch, that his wifes body had been found. He went directly to the Hall residence.

Two other suspects were the brothers of Mrs. Hall:

William Stevens, known as Willie. He suffered from a mental disorder that prevented him from managing on his own, so he lived with his sister and her husband. He was impulsive, explosive, and somewhat reckless, but usually had a sunny disposition. He wore thick glasses and had a heavy walrus mustache. Most of his free time was spent at the fire station, playing cards and running errands, since he could not fulfill his ambition of being a fireman. He claimed to have been in his room on Thursday evening, going to bed between 8:30 and 9, but was later awakened. He walked his sister to the church at 2:30 a.m., and past the Mills house, then went back home with her and returned to his room. He admitted to owning a .32-caliber revolver, which he had not shot in over ten years.

The older brother, Henry Stevens, 52, was a retired exhibition marksman. He lived fifty miles away in Lavallette, on the Jersey shore. He claimed to have been out fishing when the murders took place, and he was not close with his sister. However, there turned out later to have been an eye witness to the crime who placed him at the scene. The prosecutor also claimed later that it would take an expert marksman to place the shots so closely in Mrs. Mills head, so he became a strong suspect.

Other witnesses saw Eleanor Mills during the missing hours. John Meany was the motorman on the trolley that she had boarded on Thursday night. She was the last passenger off and she walked toward De Russeys Lane.

Agnes Blust and her children also saw her on Easton Avenue. She had been carrying a small parcel. Mrs. Blust had also passed Hall, who was going in the same direction as Mills. No one had been following either of them.

A student saw the church windows lit up at 1:15 a.m. on Thursday night.

The night watchman of the New Jersey State College for Women saw the lights on in the Hall house all night. He also saw a woman go in at 2:30.

The Halls' maid remembered the call from Mrs. Mills at 7, and had seen the reverend leave the house. She also saw Mrs. Hall playing Solitaire. In the morning, she saw Willie, and he told her that "something terrible happened last night, and Mrs. Hall and I have been up most of the night." He would not elaborate.

Millie Opie, a neighbor of the Millses, said that Eleanor and Hall were meeting regularly at the Mills apartment, nearly every afternoon.

Pearl Bahmer had said she had seen a gold watch near the rectors body, but then had withdrawn her statement, making her a suspect. She knew the man, and yet had not recognized him. Still, the police had nothing with which to charge her.

On September 17th, the day after the bodies were discovered, Prosecutor Beekman said he had a solid lead. He figured the two victims had been killed by a jealous couple in the lovers lane area.

Then on Monday, the investigation was transferred to Joseph E. Strickers office in New Brunswick, since it was theorized that the couple had been killed over the county line in New Brunswick, and then dumped in De Russeys Lane, in Somerset.

Grand Juries were convened in both Middlesex and Somerset counties, to cover all bases.

Nearly two weeks went by without a break, so Beekman decided to take a more active role. He wanted to exhume Mrs. Mills body for the autopsy that had never been performed. He also disposed of rumors of Ku Klux Klan involvement.

The Middlesex County Board of Freeholders offered a reward of $1000 for information, but only if the crime was shown to have taken place inside Middlesex.

Mrs. Hall hired Timothy N. Pfeiffer to investigate her husbands death.

Both bodies were disinterred and autopsies performed. Hall had been killed with a single bullet, and some abrasions were found on his hands, particularly on the back of the right index finger and left little finger. There was a small bruise on the tip of the left ear, and a perforating wound five inches below the right kneecap on the calf of the leg.

Mrs. Mills was more decomposed than Hall, although they surmised that he had been killed first. The three bullet wounds were examined, and attention was paid to the extreme degree of violence to the throat. The windpipe was severed, as was the esophagus, but they failed to look inside her mouth, which was to reveal something else of interest.

Finally, in October, an arrest was made.

 

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