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 -


St. Louis Post-Dispatch December 20, 1881 page 1



No Solution Yet Offered of Sunday Night’s Murder.


Fred. Tompkyn’s Death at the Hospital Last Night


The dead body of Fred Tompkyns is now lying cold and stark on a slab out at the City Hospital, and conjecture loses itself in wondering by whose hand his death was inflicted. The shooting took place about midnight on Sunday, and the wounded man has since then been lying almost at the point of death. The history of the tragedy is so recent that merely a line will do to recall its full tenor. Tompkyns, a horse clipper by trade, and an amateur black-mailer, picked up a couple at the Wayman Crow Museum on Sunday night. He shadowed the pair into the church yard on Seventeenth and Lucas place, a notorious rendezvous, and then discovered himself. He was shot by the woman, who with her companion, escaped, leaving no clue but a black sealskin cap and plume. Tompkyns was shot in the abdomen. Almost at once he began dodging the truth about the story. He claimed at first that the man had shot him, but Mr. Turner saw the woman shoot. He told half a dozen different stories of the crime, varying so widely that it became evident he wished to conceal some part of the affair.

Valentine Sachs, a patient in the hospital, who was an old acquaintance of Tompkyns, asked him about the shooting when he was brought in. To him he represented the story that it was the man that did it. This man he described as being large and stout, with a big black moustache and no beard. He also said that he could recognize the woman, he was sure, if ever he saw her again. Ora Francis was arrested and brought to him, but he said she was not the woman. Since then Ora has been arrested again and the police evidently believe that she knows something of the matter. Birdie Donnelly, another well known woman, was also picked up, but the victim didn’t know her.

A man named Fey, who was Tompkyns’ oldest friend in the city, it is said, claims that he expected this thing to happen all the time, and that he knew when it did happen there would be a woman in the case. He will probably be called upon to explain himself more fully at the Coroner’s inquest to-day.

Tompkyns was evidently sinking at 6 o’clock yesterday evening. His aunt called on him, and, finding him so low, asked permission to send a Catholic priest to him, which Dr. Dean readily granted. When the priest came, however, Tompkyns declined to see him, saying he was not a Catholic and did not care to see any minister. His mind gradually became clearer as the end approached, but he gave no further clue to the mystery of his death. At half past 12 the agony came on, and at 12:35 he died peacefully. The time for holding the inquest had not been announced at 10 o’clock, but it will take place to-day.

The enigma is no nearer solution than it was. The police are absolutely at fault and unable to find out anything about the crime. Whether the woman who fired the fatal shot came from the upper or lower walks of life, whether she was a woman of the town or the upper ten, who her companion was – all of these questions remain to be answered.


All that is to be told of the story of the murder with any certainty is contained in the evidence of Wash Trimble, the negro janitor of the Manual Training School on Eighth and Washington avenue, and in that of Mr. Charles Turner, the only two persons who know anything about the crime. Trimble was seen this morning by a reporter at the school and asked what he knew of the tragedy. "I happened to be out Sunday night seeing about the boys who are always loafing about the steps of the school, when I saw a man and a woman coming down St. Charles street from the art school. I wanted to get a good view of them, but the woman kept dodging to the other side of the man, so I took a good look at him. He was a gentleman, nicely dressed, had heavy sidewhiskers, a felt hat, a long light-colored overcoat, and I know he wasn’t no common ordinary man."

"And the woman?"

"Well, I couldn’t make her out so well. From the way she was dodging me I supposed that she was somebody who lived in that neighborhood and knew I knew her. I don’t think she was a low woman at all; she was nicely dressed and had some sort of cap on. Well, they walked along and then I saw Tompkyns a shadowing them. They separated on Washington avenue, and Tompkyns asked me which way the woman had gone. I told him, and he followed after her. Pretty soon he caught up, and after a few words they locked arms and walked on. The first man had disappeared, but he had passed something – I suppose a pistol to the woman before he left her. I couldn’t follow them; so I thought no more about the woman till I heard about the murder next day."

"Could you recognize her again?"

"I don’t know that I could. She seemed to me to be a very nice lady with a very pretty shape. I couldn’t see her face."

"Would you know the man again?"

"Yes, I think I would."

This was all of the important part of Trimble’s story, although he went on to bear testimony gainst the "goings on" in the neighborhood.


Mr. Turner was found at his Pine street office by a reporter, and questioned as to the tragedy, "To begin at the beginning," said he, "I have an idea that the woman who did the shooting was in the neighborhood before during the day. About noon on Sunday, as I came out of the house, I saw a woman very drunk leaning up against one of the posts of my father’s fence, she came over towards the tree-box, where I was standing waiting for a car, and she was in such a condition that I had a chance to observe her closely. She had a shawl wrapped round her head, was dressed in dark clothes and had gray stockings on. Now the woman of the murder was dressed very closely like that and the general shape and appearance as she was running away that night recalled the woman of the morning strongly to my mind."

"You could recognize that woman again?"

"Certainly; she had a peculiar mark on her cheek that I know. I would remember. Of course, she may not have been the same woman who was there at night."

"I wish you would repeat briefly what happened that night."

"There is very little to tell. I happened to be down in the yard and heard a noise twice like a cow stepping on a tin can. Then I saw a man run out of the church-yard, and immediately afterwards the flash and report of a pistol, which was not fired by the man. I thought at first it was fired at him, and I recollect thinking that bad shooting it was. Then the woman came running out of the churchs and she and the man made off. My attention was attracted away from them by the cries of the wounded man. I went to his assistance, and that is really all I know about the matter."

"How do you account for the discrepancies in the stories told by Tompkyns?"

"He was anxious to prevent us from knowing anything about the matter. He had worked for all of us and wanted to keep us in ignorance of the real cause of the trouble."

"And who do you think did the shooting?"

"I think it is ridiculous to say that the man was shot by a lady. On the other hand, I do not believe the murder was committed by a demi-mondaine. I think that in all probability it was a servant girl who did it."


This afternoon the wife of the deceased called on Coroner Frank to ask permission to take the body of her husband home, to 1733 Orange street. The woman was cast down with grief and wept copiously. With much difficulty Coroner Frank impressed upon her troubled mind the necessity of bringing the body to the Morgue. This sent a shudder though the poor woman’s frame. She said she had a horror to see her husband’s body in the dead house with the unknown. Coroner Frank informed her that he would accede to her desires as far as was consistent with his official duties. It was necessary to bring the body to the Morgue, but he had instructed the undertaker to furnish a private ice box and to place it in the postmortem room instead of the usual exhibition slabs. Mrs. Tompkyns is in a delicate state of health, and -- ---- insisted on going to the City Hospital to see her dead husband. Dr. Frank advised her, in view of her condition, to restrain herself as far as possible and to go home and rest quietly until to-morrow, when the inquest would, for her accommodation, be held at 1 o’clock. The widow was so overcome with grief that she was unable to answer any questions. She was accompanied by her aunt, who promised to attend her until after the inquest to-morrow, when the body would be brought back to the dead man’s home. She has two children and will shortly be a mother again. The inquest will be held at 1 p.m. to-morrow.


December 20, 1881 page 4 (Editorial page)

There died at the City Hospital this morning a man named Tompkyns – the regular Sunday night victim – whose sudden removal from the community will hardly be regarded as a calamity. He was shot in a mysterious way last Sunday night near the church at the corner of Seventeenth and Lucas place. It seems that this young man had a mania for shadowing the people of both sexes who loitered around Dr. Niccols’ church-yard, and who resorted there for immoral purposes. He was notorious in this line of business. His method was to surprise women in compromising situations and then blackmail them in one way or another. Last Sunday night he pushed his trade a little too far and he came to his death by "an uncertain bullet fired by a doubtful hand." It is not creditable to the city that we should have so much bloodshed, but we doubt whether any one will regret the taking off of this sneaking, shameless Paul Pry. There is no human being so despicable as the man or woman who seeks profit by a knowledge of the sins of others. Professional blackmailers, those who live on social peddadilloes, are but little better than murderers, because they become at times the assassins of character. The fate of Mr. Tompkyns should attract the attention of the scores of people in this city who are given to the practice which distinguished him.