Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Deaths at Duffy's Cut: Cholera or Cover-up?

Signs of Violence

University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Janet Monge identified the bones. And she discovered that the Duffy's Cut deaths didn't seem to be due to cholera. One skull showed a bullet hole, and another seems to have been crushed by an ax. In fact, every skeleton she's looked at shows evidence of having suffered blunt trauma at the time of death.

A human skull prior to extraction from the surrounding soil
A human skull prior to extraction from the surrounding soil
The Watson brothers believe that the first few cases of cholera led to a wave of panic among the Duffy's Cut workers, who tried to escape. The Watsons hypothesize that complete evidence will show a layer of cholera victims in the bottom of the mass grave, and, on top, a layer of men who were murdered, probably to prevent them from leaving the camp and potentially spreading cholera to the surrounding areas.

Neighborsor railroad managersmay have been angry at the workers for bringing cholera to the area, and many of them simply didn't like Irish Catholic immigrants. The Watsons suggest that a handful of men may have fled the quarantined camp, either out of fear of catching cholera or in search of help for themselves or their sick and dying fellow workers.

An extracted skull with a mysterious hole
An extracted skull with a mysterious hole
Leaders of the East Whiteland Horse Company, the area's vigilante justice organization, owned some of the properties abutting this stretch of the railroad. The vigilantes may have tracked down the fleeing Irish workers and confronted them. Then, the Watsons speculate, things may have become violent. They believe the vigilantes may have killed the Irishmen and brought them back to the camp as a lesson to anyone else thinking of refusing the quarantine, then blocked off the camp and either left its residents to die. . . or even have killed them.

The railroad's blacksmith buried the men and burned down their shanty, which could have potentially yielded clues to the enduring mystery of Duffy's Cut. The Duffy's Cut Project is still gathering evidence, but it's possible that the remaining men were murdered, and even buried alive.

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