The Hall-Mills Murders
The Second Trial
Prior to the start of the trial, both bodies were exhumed once more and autopsies performed. Two enigmatic statements issued were that Eleanor Mills tongue might have been cut out and that Hall was shot while either bending over or kneeling. The Pig Woman was taken to a safe place out of town. Mrs. Hall sat for a portrait to distribute to the press, "to correct the injustice done to me." She expected an acquittal.
The trial became a major media sensation of international proportions. Reporters flocked to Somerville, New Jersey, and Western Union hired additional telegraphers.
Mrs. Hall and her brothers were to be tried first. Justice Charles Parker presided with Somerset County judge, Frank Cleary. The jury, all members of which were male and married, was selected in just over an hour. The three defendants were on trial for the murder of Mrs. Eleanor Mills. The evidence included Willie's fingerprint on the calling card found at Halls feet; Mrs. Halls anonymous call to the police to inquire about "casualties," her brown coat that had been dyed black after the murders; and the fact that one of her private detectives was said to have tried to bribe a key witness.
The first witness, an accountant named John Dickson, claimed that at 8:30 on September 14th, a disoriented Willie Stevens, had stopped by his house to get directions to the Parker house, an institution for the elderly near the Phillips farm. He and his wife had helped him to the trolley. (Willies own doctor refuted this, saying that Willie was never epileptic, as this mysterious person had said of himself.)
Charlotte Mills, now twenty, was next. She identified the letters her mother had written to Hall, and noted that the last time she had seen her mother was when she had gone to make a phone call to Hall. She also identified letters from Hall to her mother that she had found.
Anna Hoag, the next witness, said she lived near the crime scene and had heard four pistol shots on the night of the homicides. She also said Henry Stevens had visited her after she moved to the Phillips farm in 1923. He inquired about a tragedy that had taken place near there, frightening her, and she had watched him walk away in an agitated state, nearly collapsing when he passed the spot where the bodies had lain.
Ralph Gosline repeated what he had heard, and the woman who had been with himalso a singer in the choir affirmed his testimony. He also said that Henry Stevens had recognized him and had fired two shots into the ground to warn him away. (This contradicted the many witnesses who heard only four shots that night.)
Three fingerprint experts testified that the left index finger print of Willie Stevens was on the calling card found at the scene, but the third and most impressive expert was interrupted by news of the sudden failing state of the Pig Woman. Her physician came in and stated that her blood pressure and rising temperature would make any courtroom appearances detrimental to her health. The judges went to visit her in the hospital and stated that she did not seem to be at deaths door, so they would resume the trail and await further developments.
Jim Mills was called as the next witness. He went through his story once again, and the defenses strategy was to make it appear that he himself might have been the murderer. McCarter uncovered the fact that Mills had not made any inquiries about his missing wife among her relatives in town, nor to hospitals or police stations. The mans answer was that his wife sometimes left for a day or two without saying where she was going. He didnt bother about it.
Then McCarter challenged the witness who placed Henry Stevens in New Brunswick the day after the murders by getting her to admit she did not know him that well and had not seen him in a long time. Her testimony seemed a bit tenuous.
After that, a woman named Anna Bearman testified that she had seen the coat that Mrs. Hall had sent out to be dyed and there had not been a spot on it, removing the suspicion that it was dyed to cover any bloodstains. (Mrs. Hall was to testify that she had not worn this coat that night, but a gray coat.)
Henry Dickman was next, causing a flurry of anticipation, since he once had completely disappeared. He described how he had interviewed Henry Stevens in early 1923 and the man had been evasive, although he had gotten all of his questions answered. Then he said that he had left the state because he had been paid $2500 by Beekman to do so. (He later said Henry Carpender paid him in Beekmans presence, suggesting that Beekman was playing politics instead of doing his job.) But Dickman was shown to be a deserter and drunk. He was hardly a credible witness.
In the meantime, the Pig Woman was still ailing, so Simpson had her moved to a hospital in Jersey City, where the diagnosis was remarkably different. She was not dying, the physician said, but ought not to leave the hospital for several weeks. Simpson had other plans for her. However, her own mother was busy undermining her credibility to anyone who would listen, saying that her name was not Jane and that she was a liar.
A young man named Robert Erling was a stubborn witness, testifying that he had seen the Pig Woman on Easton Avenue that night. He had also seen a sedan and a touring car. McCarter produced a friend of his, Willie Staub, who claimed that Erling had told him that if hed say he was with him that night, hed get money out of it. Then they found the girl who had been with Erling, Jenny Lemford, and she denied key aspects of his story.
The main piece of physical evidence, the calling card with the fingerprint, came under much fire. Experts on both sides claimed that they could conclusively say it was Willies print or was not, and yet there was the glaring fact that the card had been exposed to the elements for thirty-six hours, had been passed from hand to hand, and had not been carefully handled as evidence. By the time of this trial, it would have been easy enough to have faked the print, but even so, to say that such a print was definitive either way defied the state of the art of fingerprinting at the time and ignored all the problems with its handling.
Dr. Otto Schultz, who had performed the latest autopsies, described what he believed had happened that night, claiming the likelihood that Hall had been struggling to get the gun when it went off, and then announcing that Mrs. Mills tongue had indeed been cut out, along with the larynx. He also mentioned that there was a cut in her abdomen, which pointed back to the two undertakers who, without authority, admittedly had opened her womb to see if she was pregnant. (First one cut into her, and then the other re-opened the incision to see for himself.)
Other witnesses gave statements about what they had seen that night, or about being bribed, and some were discredited.
Then the Pig Woman was brought in on a stretcher as the prosecutions star witness. The defense seated her mother in front, to see if this might rattle her. As Gibson was brought in, her mother shouted, She is a liar! Liar, liar, liar! Nevertheless, Gibson told her story, claiming that Mrs. Hall, Willie Stevens, and Henry Stevens were there on De Russeys Lane that night. (She seemed to have forgotten that in her earlier statements, she had seen only two people out there with the victims.) She had seen Henry Stevens and another man wrestling with a gun when it went off. Then she told how Mrs. Halls detective had warned her to keep her mouth shut.
With Henry fairly well cleared, Willie was next. He surprised and delighted most of the audience by holding his own with the prosecutor through simple logic and by keeping steadfastly to his story. Simpson could not break him and was made to look a fool.
Then it came out that the first time Jane Gibson had seen the defendants and had been asked to identify them, she was unable to do so. Then a farmer, George Sipel, claimed that Gibson had offered him money to say he had seen her that night on De Russeys Lane, and that he had seen two men and two women by the cars parked there.
Mrs. Hall was next to take the stand. Simpson went after her for the statements she had made to James Mills that she believed the two missing spouses to be dead. She could only respond that this had seemed obvious to her when they did not return home by that time. Simpson also wondered why she had not mentioned her nocturnal trip to the church and to Mrs. Mills' house until after a night watchman had reported seeing her enter her house, but he could not turn this into a telling issue.
When the defense rested, and after several rebuttal witnesses were called, there had been 157 persons brought to the stand, 87 for the prosecution, 70 for the defense. Oddly, the people who had actually discovered the bodies were never called as witnesses, and McCarter found that to be suspicious. Yet Simpson found it equally suspicious that McCarter had not called witnesses who reputedly could have contradicted Jane Gibson.
It was a record-breaking trial, and even the New York Times devoted some ninety front page articles to it, compared to only sixty-two in 1922.
Simpson immediately moved for a mistrial on the grounds of jury misconductthey had not paid attention, they were openly hostile, and they had not been properly guarded. He got nowhere with this, so he gave his closing remarks, listened to the defensewho attempted to make Jim Mills into a suspectand while the jury deliberated, he returned to Jersey City, leaving the Somerset prosecutor to hear the decision in his place.
The jury took three separate votes (10-2, 11-1, then unanimous) over the five hours and eight minutes during which they weighed the evidence, before they reached a verdict. They had decided to acquit all three defendants. None had believed the Pig Womans story, but they had worried over the fingerprint evidence. Soon the other charges were dismissed and the men were released from custody.
The Pig Woman heard this news in her hospital bed and stated, "Well, can you beat that?" Within five minutes she was fast asleep.
Eventually, Mrs. Hall, Henry Carpender, and Willie Stevens sued the New York Daily Mirrorthe leading tabloidfor libel, and it was settled out of court.
No one else was ever accused of these crimes. No murder weapon was ever found, and the evidence never led anywhere.