Transcribers note: The articles on the Tompkyns/Tonkin murder, change the spelling of names, without notice, for the first two days, Tonkin was spelt Tompkyns in the Post-Dispatch and 1 day in the Globe-Democrat, and then changed to Tonkin with no explanation, several other names are treated the same way. If at any point I have put a word description, or comment, it will be in these sort of parentheses { }. All spellings of words are how they were in the paper. Karen King - kleeking@mindspring.com

 

 

 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch December 19, 1881 page 6

SLAYING A SPY.

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Fred Tompkyns Shot at Night on a Church Step.

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His Paul Pry Propensities Bring Him to Death’s Door.

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To-Day’s Developments in the Midnight Tragedy in Lucas Place.

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Fred Tompkyns, a horse clipper, known among stablemen as "English Fred." Was shot and fatally wounded by unknown parties in front of the First Presbyterian Church, {should be Second Presbyterian Church} corner of Seventeenth street and Lucas Place, about 12 o’clock last night. He is now lying in the City Hospital under the influence of opiates. The doctors say he will die. His misfortune is the penalty of a morbid curiosity and the meddlesome disposition, both of which he has indulged of late to the extent that caused those who heard of the shooting to say it was just about what they expected. The story of the tragedy as told by the several people directly or indirectly interested is something like this: Tompkyns has been in the habit of loitering around in the lonesome western neighborhoods following and watching the actions of couples in the hope that he might witness something improper or criminal. Private Watchman Powers, who walks about near the First Presbyterian Church, says he frequently saw Tompkyns acting in the manner here indicated, and more than once told him he would get into trouble. When he found Tompkyns lying on the grass plot in front of the church at midnight, with a death wound in the abdomen Powers recalled these warnings to Tompkyns, and suggested that if the latter had heeded his words this would never have come about. The dying man whispered the regret that he had not listened to the watchman’s advice, but this regret came too late. Last night Tompkyns was loitering around the neighborhood, as usual, when he perceived a man and a woman entering the enclosure to the west of the First Presbyterian Church. He followed them, walking up the stone steps on the south side of the church, which adjoined the enclosure. He crept along until he got close to the fence where he could see all that was going on inside. The man and woman saw that they were being watched and almost as soon as Tompkyns reached the point of observation at which he intended to post himself the couple turned toward him and immediately there was a pistol shot. Tompkyns fell, and the man and woman took flight. The woman dropped a small, round sealskin cap with ear flaps. This was found when Private Watchman Powers and Patrolman Robinson reached the spot. Tompkyns could scarcely speak. He was bleeding freely from the abdomen. When asked what was the matter, he said, "I’m shot." "Who shot you?" Powers asked. "I don’t know," was the wounded man’s response. These questions and answers and the explanation that precedes them give the whole story in a nutshell.

The only eye-witness to the shooting was Mr. Charles Turner, who resides opposite the church on Lucas Place, and whose attention was drawn to the scene of the occurrence by hearing voices in the church enclosure. He was standing in his own front yard at the time, and had no more than looked across the street, when he saw a man come out of the shadow, followed by another man and a female. There was a flash, a pistol report, and the first man fell to the ground. Mr. Turner saw the pistol barrel shining in the gaslight. After the shot was fired the second man and the female ran away, going diagonally across Lucas Place and disappearing down Seventeenth street.

The police went carefully over the ground and found no other clue to the shooter than the seal-skin cap. Tompkyns was taken to the Dispensary in an ambulance, and after Dr. Dorsett had made and examination of the wound, he was sent to the City Hospital and pronounced in a dying condition. The bullet entered the abdomen at a point 2¼ inches to the left and 1½ inches below the navel, penetrating a vital. At the Dispensary Tompkyns made a statement to the effect that he was creeping along the steps of the church to see what the man and woman were about to do when they turned and shot him. He had no other motive than curiosity, in stopping and prying around the place. This morning Tompkyns was visited early by Dr. Frank, the Coroner, who desired to obtain his ante-mortem statement, but the wounded man could not speak.

The description furnished by the Police Department was that the man was tall and heavily dressed and the woman small in size and of stout build and wore dark clothing. With this description and the sealskin cap the Chief of Detectives sent out his men bright and early this morning to work the thing up and if possible unravel the mystery surrounding the persons who are responsible for the shooting. The quality of the cap leads to the inference that it was worn and was the property of some wealthy person, and, indeed, the general appearance of the man and woman seen in the enclosure indicated they did not belong to the common class. One of the morning papers published a report to the effect that a woman answering the description of Orra Francis, wife No. 2 of Martin the bigamist, lately locked up in the City Jail, was seen standing bare-headed in the company of a big man at the corner of Twelfth and Olive streets about 1 o’clock this morning and the suggestion was made that probably Orra was a party to the tragedy. The police went to her house on Pine street early this morning and asked her to walk over to the Four Courts. When there she was questioned concerning her whereabouts at the time of the tragedy and answered that she was at home. Her assertion in this particular was corroborated by the people in the house in which she rooms, who said she was home all last night. Sergeant Campbell was sent wither her down to the City Hospital, where she was taken to Tompkyns’ bedside. The Sergeant asked Tompkyns if that was the woman he saw in the enclosure and Tompkyns said positively it was not. On returning to the Four Courts she was released. Not other arrest has since been made.

Tompkyns said at the Dispensary that the man had fired the shot. To Private Watchman Powers he said the woman did the shooting. The police theory is that Tompkyns, seeing the man and woman in the inclosure, gathered up some bits of macadam {gravel or rocks} and began throwing at them to tease them, when the woman drew a revolver and shot him. Still there is nothing but theory to the whole thing so far.

Tompkyns is about 35 years old and has a wife and two children living at 1723 Orange street. His wife is in a delicate condition and the news of the tragedy has almost prostrated her. Tompkyns does not bear the very best character. He is an expert horseclipper and earned plenty of money at his business. He was employed as a clipper by Arnot, Edward Henry, on Ninth and Pine, by the Union Railway Company, the Mound City Company, and this morning was to have begun clipping the horses of the Citizens’ Railway. Yesterday he worked up at the City Hall from 9 o’clock in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, during which time he clipped seven horses and Mayor Ewing’s Scoten terrier, "Jack." He received from $1 to $8 for every horse he clipped and could get through with eight or ten each day with the assistance of a boy. As he was employed all the time his income must have been quite large.

THE DYING MAN’S STATEMENT

Fred Tompkyns, the victim of last night’s shooting affray, was in a precarious condition this morning. A POST-DISPATCH reporter saw him shortly before noon at the City Hospital, and to him the murdered man mad the following important statement: "I went home last night at 6 o’clock, had my supper, and at 9 o’clock went down to the stable on Ninth and Pine streets, where I am in the habit of getting my orders for horse-clipping. I staid there until a little before 11 o’clock, when I went to Tenth and Olive and took a west-bound street car. I must have been drowsy, for I didn’t notice where I was until the car had reached Twentieth street. Here I got off the car and walked over to Lucas Place. I walked down on the north side of Lucas place and was walking pretty slowly. Just as I passed the yard in the rear of Dr. Niccol’s church, which is just west of the church, I saw a man and a woman in an improper position in the yard. I did not say anything to them nor did they speak to me. They saw me, though, and the man at once got up and shot me. I don’t know the man at all, but am positive it was the man who done the shooting. I cannot describe the man. Early this morning, shortly after I was removed to the hospital, a woman was brought to my bedside and I was asked to identify her as the woman in the case. My mind was not at all clear at this time; I was excited and nervous, and I stated that the woman I saw was not the one concerned; since then I have been thinking over the matter, and I am sure that my first statement was a mistake, for I distinctly recognize the woman as the one I saw last night. I did not throw any rocks at the couple and I did not say anything at all to them."

It must be understood that the above lengthy statement was drawn from Tompkyns at considerable trouble, and that it came from his lips bit by bit, but it is exactly his own statement, and the same which he made to Dr. Dean and to some of the other patients in the same ward.

At the hospital it was also learned that Tompkyns had been visited a 9 o’clock this morning by the Coroner and a member of the municipal detective force, who cautioned him to be careful in the matter of his statements, and these bear all the sincerity and apparent truthfulness of an anti-mortem statement.

Dr. Dean entertains no hope of Tompkyns’ recovery.