We love an unsolved mystery here at the Gimcrack and the Hall-Mills murder is a particularly interesting one. This is an excerpt from an original article by Katherine Ramsland found here
Eleanor Mills found here
On September 16, 1922 fifteen year old Pearl Bahmer had a date with Raymond Schneider, 23. They decided to go for a walk and turned onto De Russey’s Lane, an undeveloped road that would take them near an abandoned farm, in the hope of getting some privacy. In the tall grass Pearl noticed something odd. They walked closer and saw a couple on the ground, a man and a woman, both face up and fully clothed, not breathing.
Hall-Mills bodies found here
They ran to the nearby home of Edward Stryker, where the police were contacted. Both bodies had been shot in the head—the man once and the woman three times. His right hand was extended partly under the dead woman’s shoulder and neck, and their clothes were perfectly in order. Scattered pieces of torn paper, which turned out to be letters and cards, lay between them. A man’s wallet was lying open on the ground and inside was a driver’s license belonging to 41 year old Edward Wheeler Hall of New Brunswick. The torn papers turned out to be love letters that began to tell a sordid tale of secrecy and adultery.
Most of the people in Reverend Hall’s parish knew before it was made official who the unidentified woman was: Mrs. Eleanor Mills, 34, a choir singer and wife to James Mills. Their affair had been rather obvious over the past four years.
The reverend had grown up in Brooklyn, getting his theological degree in Manhattan. In 1911, he had married Frances Stevens, a wealthy woman who was seven years older than him. 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.
Frances Stevens Hall found here
James Mills, 45, was the acting sexton at St. John’s and a full-time janitor at an elementary School. Hard-working, but unambitious and of limited intelligence, he had married Eleanor when she was only seventeen. On the night of the murders he arrived home just after 6:00 pm. Later, he sat out on 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 11:00. 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.
James Mills and daughter found here
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 can’t come home.”
Mills heard on Saturday that his wife’s body had been found. He went directly to see Mrs Hall and her two brothers. One of them, Willie Stevens, 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.
No one rocks the walrus like Neitzsche
The older brother, Henry Stevens, 52, was a retired exhibition marksman. He lived fifty miles away on the Jersey shore. He claimed to have been fishing when the murders took place, and he was not close with his sister. However, a supposed eye witness to the crime put him at the scene. The prosecutor also claimed later that it would take an expert marksman to place the shots so closely in Mrs. Mill’s head, so he became a strong suspect.
Get your marksman speedloader here
On Sunday, October 8, four people were brought in for questioning: Pearl Bahmer and Roy Schneider (the couple who had found the bodies), and two friends of Schneider’s, Clifford Hayes and 16 year old Leon Kaufman.
Roy (NOT Ray) Sch(n)eider found here
On September 14th, Kaufman said he had met Schneider and Clifford Hayes on George Street at 10:30. Hayes had a gun. Pearl was with another man and they disappeared. After searching for them, the other boys walked around. Kaufman left them around eleven and went home.
Pearl said the “other man” was her father, walking off a drunk. They had been followed and abused by the three boys.
The Drunk Father by George Bellows found here
On October 9th, a statement was issued to the press that Clifford Hayes was being charged with the murders, based on a signed statement made by Schneider. It was a case of mistaken identity. He had thought the couple to be Pearl and her companion.
Shortly thereafter, Pearl Bahmer’s father, jailed for incest, claimed that Schneider was the killer. Then Pearl was jailed for incorrigibility. Soon Schneider confessed to having lied, and the first solid suspect was turned loose.
image of famous corsetier Mr Pearl found here
Meanwhile, two bloodstained handkerchiefs were turned in to the police. One had no identifying marks, but the other was initialed in one corner with the letter S. Another discovery, this one by Charlotte Mills, was a package of love letters from Hall to Eleanor, and Hall’s diary. Mills immediately sold these for $500 to the New York American.
embroidered handkerchief found here
Interrogations were set up for Mrs. Hall, her brothers, and Charlotte Mills. Henry Stevens, the older brother, admitted that the handkerchief with the S on it was his.
Dr. John Anderson released an analysis of the soil from beneath the bodies, concluding that Mrs. Mills had been shot before her throat was cut, and that they were murdered where they were found. A witness who claimed to have seen three men and one woman murder Hall and Mills came forward: Jane Gibson, better known as the Pig Woman.
Pig Woman found here
Jane Gibson raised hogs and lived with her son in a converted barn near De Russey’s Lane. She told police that her dogs were barking around nine o’clock that Thursday night and she had seen a man in her cornfield. Mounting Jenny, her mule, she went after him, toward Easton Avenue where she spotted four figures near a crab apple tree. Then she heard a sharp report and one of the figures fell to the ground.
baby mule found here
With reporters eager to hear her story, she provided further details: She had lost a moccasin and at 1:00 a.m., rode back to look for it. As she came near the crab apple tree, she heard a woman crying. She saw Mrs. Hall kneeling next to her husband’s body, sobbing. The Pig Woman vehemently defended her story to all who challenged her.
However, reporters soon dug up some information that put her credibility into doubt: she said that her deceased husband had been a minister, when in fact he was not dead and worked as a toolmaker. The man, William Easton, refused to talk, saying only that she had a brilliant mind. Gibson denied that Easton was her husband.
In November, Jane Gibson identified Henry Carpender as the actual murderer of Hall and Mills. He lived two doors from the Halls, and was their first cousin.
A Grand Jury was convened. After five days and sixty-seven witnesses, no action was taken and the matter was laid over. Although there were assurances from the authorities that the case would still get attention, few believed it. For the next four years, people got on with their lives. Mrs. Hall even went to Europe.
Then, on July 3, 1926, Arthur S. Riehl, who had married Louise Geist, the maid who had worked for the Hall family, filed for annulment. He discovered that she had withheld knowledge about the activities of the family. He claimed she had told Mrs. Hall on September 14th, four years earlier, that Hall had plans to elope with Mrs. Mills. She went with Mrs. Hall and Willie Stevens that night, driven by the chauffeur, and received five thousand dollars for keeping quiet about what she knew. Louise claimed that his tale was a pack of lies.
Arrest warrants were issued for Willie Stevens and Henry Carpender. A hearing was scheduled that took four days; bail was denied for both men as they were committed to go before a Grand Jury. Another investigation was launched, which sought to break down Henry Stevens’ alibi, and which brought forth the testimony of St. John’s vestryman, Ralph Gorsline (rumored to have once had an affair with Mrs. Mills). This man admitted that he had been in De Russey’s Lane the night of the murder around 10:20 p.m. and had heard one shot, a woman’s scream, and then three shots.
There was also a report from the ranks of the choir that Gorsline had threatened Mrs. Mills to get her to give up the rector, and that he’d been spying on her, along with a woman who wanted the rector for herself.
cup size choir found here
The Grand Jury indicted Mrs. Hall, her two brothers, and Henry Carpender for the murders of Reverend Hall and Mrs. Mills. Stevens was arrested and the four defendants were arraigned.
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.
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 expert was interrupted by news of the sudden failing state of the Pig Woman. Her physician stated that her blood pressure and rising temperature would make any courtroom appearances detrimental to her health.
She was not dying, her physician said, but ought not to leave the hospital for several weeks. Meanwhile 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.
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, had opened her womb to see if she was pregnant. (First one cut into her, and the other had re-opened the incision to see for himself.)
Then the Pig Woman was brought in on a stretcher as the prosecution’s 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 Russey’s 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. Hall’s detective had warned her to keep her mouth shut.
Simpson immediately moved for a mistrial on the grounds of jury misconduct—they 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, and 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 decided to acquit all three defendants.
Eventually, Mrs. Hall, Henry Carpender, and Willie Stevens sued the New York Daily Mirror for libel, and it was settled out of court. No one else was ever accused of the crimes. No murder weapon was ever found, and the evidence never led anywhere.
Although this 1922 double homicide is still unsolved, there are numerous theories as to who the killer was:
1) The Ku Klux Klan did it as vigilante justice, because they frowned on loose morals and because they might have posed the bodies in the way they were found.
Ku Klux Clan on ferris wheel found here
2) Mrs. Hall did it by herself, out of revenge.
3) James Mills did it, because he knew his wife was unfaithful
4) Mrs. Hall and Willie did it, with Willie being the killer. It was an accident, using the rector’s .32 caliber pistol, which Mrs. Hall quickly disposed of. Willie also posed the bodies and cut Eleanor’s throat, because when rage overtook him, he didn’t know what he was doing.
5) Ralph Gorsline did it. He was angry with Mrs. Mills for coming on to the rector, and also jealous, since they were said once to have had an affair. He and a woman who wanted the minister for herself often spied on the two, and though he originally denied it, he finally admitted to having been near the crime scene that night when the murder was going down. The day after the police, who suspected he had played a part, questioned him his expensive touring car caught fire and burned to a shell. There seems to be no doubt he knew more than he ever admitted.
6) A jealous rival of Eleanor Mills who wanted the rector’s attention did it. There were others in the choir and in the church who hated Mills for being favored by Hall. A few days after the murders, someone tore out of several hymnals the page on which Hall and Mills’ favorite hymn was printed. The favorite suspect is Minnie Clark, a plump schoolteacher, but there is no evidence against her.
7) Mrs. Hall hired an assassin. A one-time friend of Willie’s, Julius Bolyog, claimed some forty-eight years later that on the day after the murders, Willie hired him to carry two envelopes, each filled with $6000 to two young men in a New Brunswick alley.
8. Some thug did it to rob them. But why would they cut out Mrs. Mills’ tongue and slice her throat so badly? There was some speculation, a la Lizzie Borden, that a wandering lunatic did it, but such people are generally not organized enough to pose bodies to the point of leaning a calling card against a foot. There is a remote possibility, but it’s very remote.
Lizzie Borden found here
9) Ray Schneider did it. He thought the couple in the dark lane were his girlfriend and the man he had seen her with, which turned out to have been her own father. However, whoever killed them did so at close range, not more than three feet away and probably closer. There was little chance of mistaken identity. He may well have stolen the rector’s watch and money.
10) The Pig Woman did it. The defense made this suggestion as within the realm of possibility, given the many inconsistencies in her story. But she had no motive, no pistol, and no awareness of who the couple was.
The murder remains a provocative mystery.