The murder of James I. Wainwright in 1884 has often been cited as being the first homicide in Ocean County since it seceded from Monmouth County in 1850, and while that might be true in the category of first-degree murder, there were other incidents going back as far as 1792.
The first recorded case of murder was that of Daniel Wainwright, who was ambushed in Point Pleasant by the Bozie brothers while performing his duties as Monmouth County tax collector.Ironically, the victim was the great-grand uncle of James Wainwright.The story first surfaced during the sensationalized Wainwright murder trial in 1885, when Prosecutor Thomas Middleton received a letter from a relative of the victim informing him of Daniel Wainwright’s gruesome murder.
Wainwright had been going about his rounds collecting taxes and had been spotted by the Italian brothers, who had decided to relieve the collector the tax money.Getting ahead of him, the Bozie’s laid in wait for their mark, and when Wainwright came by, they attacked and killed him.In an effort to hide their deed, they staked the body down in a ditch along the road.
The method of the killing must have sent a chill down the spines of those who read that letter, for it closely mirrored the way in which James Wainwright was murdered and his body disposed of 92 years later.As for the perpetrators of Daniel’s murder, they were quickly tracked down, but did not give themselves up so easily.One brother, while trying to flee in a small boat, was shot and killed by his pursuers.His brother, perhaps not as fortunate, was captured and brought to trial at Freehold, where he was convicted and hanged at the Monmouth County Courthouse at a public execution.
The Murder of Thomas Williams
The second known cold-blooded murder was that of fourteen year-old, Thomas Williams at the hands of twenty-six year-old, Peter Stout, which took place in 1802 in the Good Luck section of what is now Lacey Township.Unlike the first Wainwright case, however, this story was well documented shortly after the murder took place, leaving us a grand record from which to draw accurate facts.
According to 19th
century historian, Edwin Salter, Stout was considered to be a
“half-witted, partially crazed man,” although general thought to be
harmless by those residents of Lacey Township who knew him.
The Williams boy had met Stout along the road and had called him an “eel head,”
something the local children were wont to do whenever they saw the man,
and it was that which set the man off on his murderous rant, causing him to raise a hatchet and hit the boy several times on the back of the neck and head.
Later in the day Williams' mother, wondering why her son had not returned home, went out looking for him, and found the boy laying in the road dead. Soon the village was abuzz with the murder, everyone wondering who could have committed such a crime. The body was soon laid out with the intention of finding the suspect by having each person touch the body. Superstition of that time dictated
that when a murderer touched his victim the wounds would “commence to
bleed afresh,” and knowing this, Stout refused to go near the body thus
making him the prime suspect in the murder.
Peter Stout was brought to Monmouth County courthouse where he was tried, convicted, and executed for the murder of Thomas Williams. The
exact place of his burial is unknown, but a 1909 newspaper account
stated that he was buried on the South side of
Stout’s Creek, he being denied interment on consecrated ground because
of his crime.Thomas Williams was buried in Good Luck cemetery.
A pamphlet documenting the affair was published by Sherman and Mershon in 1803, called, An
Account of the Murder of Thomas Williams, the Apprehension and
Conviction of Peter Stout, Who Committed the Murder: Together with the
Sentence of the Court, the Confession of the Criminal, his Behaviour
before and after Condemnation, and his Execution.
There have been numerous accounts of the murder of Thomas Williams over the years, but the text, transcribed from an original copy of the pamphlet located at Rutgers Special Collections library, tells the in great detail.
murder of Thomas Williams was the last to be recorded until the death of
an unnamed person in 1852 in Goshen (now Cassville), Jackson Township,
which we may consider to be the first homicide in Ocean County since it
took place after 1850.Not much was made of the homicide
at the time, probably because it involved the two African-Americans in
an era when racist attitudes were common across America, and when such
killings were not thought of as being a serious offense.
rule, African-Americans were rarely mentioned in Ocean County newspapers
until the late 1800s, and when they were, the content was generally
negative, either reporting on a crime, or telling of the misfortunate
social ills that often plagued the “colored colonies” that were common
in that time.It is likely then that because the people
involved in the murder were African-American, pre-Civil War attitudes
about blacks would have rendered the event un-newsworthy, even for those
slaves living in the north who had been freed before the war.
second and equally ambiguous death in Ocean County was that of a man
known only as “Miller,” whose demise in 1853 in Brick Township was
surrounded by “many suspicious circumstances,” according to the Emblem.
Miller’s death was a homicide or not is not clear, although when his
body was found sometime in the winter months face-down in the brush
with, “black marks about the head and face,” rumors of murder abounded,
especially after it was reported that “the affair was hushed up at the
time, and the body buried.”
report went on to say that it was probable that there would be an arrest
of one or more people in the matter, but the paper refused to add any
other details, “as it might defeat the ends of justice.” Unfortunately, the story was not followed up on, and no other articles appeared in Emblem, that being the only newspaper in the county at that time.
Was it murder?
On January 26, 1854, the Emblem
reported on the death a month before of a man named John Bodine, whose
“map of intemperate habits…had been for some time past at work in the
adjoining township of Union.”While a resident of Ocean
County, his death took place in Burlington County after a night of
drinking heavily in an illegal drinking “den” owned by a man named
Rinear, where, “he was plied with liquor till he became helplessly
drunk, when, his money having all disappeared, he was conveyed to the
barn.The night was excessively cold, and his feet, legs and hands became so frozen that they subsequently burst open and he died.”
The case came at the beginning of the early Prohibition movement, and was revealed in an anonymous letter to the Emblem
as a means of pointing out the evils of alcohol use, where those who
plied its trade preyed on those who had fallen to its dark charms.The
letter questioned the law in this case, stating that there seemed to be
no legal recourse in which to bring Miller’s killers to justice,
although today our legal system may have charged those who left the
drunken man in the freezing weather to die with depraved indifference at
the very least, or perhaps even manslaughter or murder.
The Mysterious Death of Debby Platt
Debby Platt was the owner of Platt’s Tavern, sometimes known as Hilliard Tavern, she having purchased the property about 1839.Like
many inns of the day, Platt’s Tavern, located in what is now Whiting in
Manchester Township, served food and ale to its patrons, while also
providing rooms for the travel weary, and a stagecoach service where
they could put up their horses and wagons for the night, and when the
sun went down, the tavern turned into an entertainment paradise where
one could hear some of the best music around.
tavern maintained a good reputation under her ownership, an unusual
occupation for a woman of that era, but by 1875 she had had enough of
the life of a barkeep and sold the property.
The new owners kept the tavern for a time, but one night it mysteriously burned to the ground.A short time later, Platt’s small cabin in the woods was also destroyed by fire.When
at last the the flames died out, the remnants of the hovel were
searched, and there in the ashes was the horribly burned body of Debby
immediately rumors and stories of murder began to take root, the most
common of which claiming that Platt was killed because she had a lot of
money from the sale of her tavern stowed away somewhere in the house,
and that some unsavory character had taken notice of it.There
was never any evidence to support such a claim, although it was rumored
that a dying man from Whiting had confessed that it was he who had
murdered Debby Platt for her money, and had torched the place to cover
up the crime.
a story without verification amounts to little more than folklore, so
without proper historical documentation we will never truly know the
circumstances surrounding Miss Platt’s death, but her story lives on
nonetheless, and is given here in honor of her memory as an early
pioneer of Ocean County.
The Pharmacist’s Wife
of the most obscure and equally brutal murders to take place in Ocean
County was that of Amelia Porter, whose husband physically held her down
and forced an abortion upon her.Charles Porter was a
druggist in Bricksburg (now Lakewood), who apparently wanted no more
children to encumber his life and as such, “compelled [his wife to]
submit to brute force, in order to have the operation performed.”
The affair was considered so heinous that the editor of the New Jersey Courier refused to print any of the details of the case.In
1906, however, a mariticidal trial against Dr. Frank Brouwer evoked the
Porter case in an article that summed up the events of 1875 so
succinctly that it was worth republishing here as a means of relating
the full impact of the murder:
Doctor Tried for Killing his Wife Back in 1875 - The Brouwer case
recalls to the old timer a bit of now ancient history, that the younger
generation probably never heard of – and that is the trial of another
physician on a charge of wife murder in the Ocean county courts. If
there is anything in history repeating itself, this should be comforting
to the friends of the indicted man now in jail, for this accused man in
1875 was acquitted.
physician in question, Charles Porter, lived in Bricksburg, and his
wife died under suspicious circumstances in the summer of 1874. He was
arraigned on April 6, 1875, and plead not guilty. The present county
Judge, A.C. Martin, with William H. Vredenourgh of Freehold, was his
counsel, and the trial was set for the following Tuesday, lasting four
W. Middleton was Prosecutor of the Pleas at that time, having been
appointed in 1872; and I.W. Carmichael was associated with him in the
trial of the case. Porter was not indicted for murder for but
Court news or any kind of news in those days got scant attention in weekly papers, unless it was news from a good ways off.Local
news never seemed to be appreciated by the might quill-driving editors
of that period. The account of Porter’s arraignment took up nine lines
in the Courier.The next issue, in still small space, said the trial was in progress.The issue of April 22 told of his acquittal, in an eight line item.Not one of these items was deemed worthy of a headline.It
said that the trial cost $1500, the evidence was unfit to print, and
the editor (George M. Joy) expressed the opinion that he was ‘Glad the
dirty case was settled at last.’
After the death of Mrs. Porter, an autopsy was held, and her husband disappeared.He
was afterward located in Kansas City, and the late Emanuel H. Wilkes
went west after him with extradition papers and brought him here for
trial.Porter was a brother-in-law of Rev. Mr. Taylor, the Episcopal rector at Toms River in those days.After his acquittal he married a Miss Beatty, a member of one of the leading families of this village.The late Judge Edward Scudder presided at the trial; and Clayton Robbins was Sheriff at the time of the trial.”
social outrage expressed in the original news reporting of the case
focused mostly on the moral aspects of abortion, and less on the killing
of Mrs. Porter, while Dr. Porter was only charged with performing an
largely Protestant contingent of the county focused on the religious
repercussions of killing the unborn, and while the spiritually guided
rarely felt the need to look to other religions for moral guidance, the
Porter case forced them to look outside their mores to the Jewish
community where, it was said that, “child murder is unknown among that
Amelia Porter would not be the last woman in Ocean County to die at the
hands of an inept doctor attempting to perform an abortion, but her
death would be the last homicide to be reported in the county for the
next ten years, when Ida Grant shared the same fate at the hands of Dr.
Charles Woodward of New Egypt, just three months before James Wainwright
was slain on his way to work in Toms River.
A History of Homicide
County, like any other place in the modern world, has not been immune
to murder, especially since the rise of street gangs over the past
decade or so.Not counting manslaughter or death-by-auto
cases, there have been over 500 homicides in the county since 1792,
including the execution of Lakewood police officer, Christopher Matlosz,
who was shot to death by an alleged gang member in January of this
year.As tragic as his death was, he is the only law
enforcement officer known to have been murdered in the line of duty in
the history of the county, and considering the spike in criminal
offenses over the decades, that is quite an amazing statistic.
Lakewood Police Officer Christopher Matlosz
causes of homicidal death in Ocean County range from abductions, armed
robberies, and altercations gone awry, to sexual assault, arson, mercy
killings, and premeditated murder, all of which run parallel
statistically to other areas of the United States for the most part.
date, there have been approximately 20 mob hits, 9 gang-related
slayings, 51 incidents of murder-suicide, 23 murders of wives by their
husbands, 16 murders of husbands by their wives, 25 killings of parents
by their children, and at least 33 deaths of children at the hands of
their parents, including that of Christopher Drexler in 1997, whose
mother was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for the strangulation of
her newborn son at her high school prom in Monmouth County.
place has its dark side, and Ocean County is no exception, and the more
our county grows and moves towards urbanization, the more we will see
the unfortunate side-effects of that growth.Since the
murder of James Wainwright, the first truly sensationalized case of
homicide in the county, the floodgates have been opened, as evidenced by
the murder of Eliza Brown in Jackson Township just days after the
conclusion of Wainwright trial.
But that’s a story for another time.
Content copyright . Steven J. Baeli. All rights reserved
Please note that the Ocean County Compendium of History is not
affiliated with the Ocean County Historical Society