The Ocean County Compendium of  History
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Iron Cranmer

A Murder in West Creek

Victim: Iron Cranmer
Accused: Giovanni Cayaldi (25)
Date of Incident: October 7, 1905
Offense: Murder
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Twenty years at hard labor in Trenton State Prison

West Creek Hotel
(Photo courtesy of the Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission)

Drunken brawls in any era all too often lead to tragedy, as was the case in the shooting death of Iron Cranmer of Spraguetown on the Main shore road in West Creek.  The incident began in the barroom of the West Creek Hotel, where two Italians, Giovanni Cayaldi, a short, twenty-four year old cranberry picker from Philadelphia, and Charley Baker, who worked as a sub-foreman on John W. Holman’s cranberry bog at Stafford Forge.  The two where entertaining the rowdy crowd in the bar, Cayaldi playing his accordion, and among the patrons was Iron Cranmer and his two sons, William and Barton, who left the hotel about 11:30 and headed up Main Street.  The Italians left right behind them intending on heading back to their sleeping quarters in the forge.

Cranberry Pickers in Ocean County
(Photo courtesy of the Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission)

Although all those present at the incident later denied being drunk, it appears that both parties had imbibed just enough alcohol to put them in a fighting mood.  At some point angry words were exchanged between Baker and William Cranmer that quickly escalated into a physical confrontation when Baker broke a beer bottle over Cranmer’s head and challenged him to a fight, to which the wounded man readily agreed.  Before engaging Cranmer, Baker handed his jacket over to Cayaldi that happened to have a five-shooter pistol in the pocket, and then jumped into a full-on fist fight with his opponent.

Will Cranmer immediately took the upper hand and decked Baker with the first punch, thoroughly surprising the drunken scrapper, but not deterring him in the least as he bounced right back up and began to wrestle Cranmer.  Three times the men rolled on the ground, but each time Cranmer got the best of Baker.  Seeing that his friend was in trouble, Cayaldi made a move towards the brawlers shouting, “Kill the son of a bitch!”  Seeing that Cayaldi meant to hurt Cranmer, Hugh Bird, who had happened upon the fight, blocked him from getting involved, but was quite surprised when the Italian pulled out a pistol and shot him in the wrist.  Bird did not immediately realize that he had been shot, but once he saw blood running down his hand he yelled, “He’s shot me, but it’s all right.”

Iron Cranmer, having seen that Bird had been shot, stepped towards Cayaldi and told him that he “hadn’t ought not to have done that,” but the shooter would not be deterred and warned, “God dam you, I kill you, you son of a bitch.  I mean business,” and punctuated his threat by shooting a round directly into Cranmer’s stomach.  Cranmer reeled backward and shouted, “Oh, I’m shot!  He shot me!” and then, taking a few steps, he fell to the ground.

Seeing what he had done, Cayaldi dropped his accordion and fled into the swamp followed by Baker, who used the confusion to break away from Cranmer.  During the fight a crowd had gathered and hearing the crack of the gun, the men scattered to avoid getting shot themselves.  Once the shock dissipated, some of them ran off to find the constable and others went into the woods after the two men, but upon catching up to them, Cayaldi turned and shouted, “Here I am!  Come on you sons of bitches, I kill you all!” at which point the men backed off.

Back at on the street, Iron Cranmer lay bleeding, the round having entered his abdomen and traveled through his liver.  A cart was gathered for him and he was quickly taken to Dr. Lane’s house in West Creek, who then called Dr. Joshua Hilliard to assist, but the doctors did not have the facilities need to treat such a fatalistic wound and ordered the patient to the hospital. For some reason, Cranmer was not taken to Cooper Hospital at Camden until Monday morning, a full thirty hours later, and by the time he arrived he was at death’s door.  Realizing he was going to die, Cranmer asked to speak to a lawman, which came in the form of Camden County Prosecutor Frank Lloyd.  Barely able to speak, the dying man related the events that led up to the shooting and immediately upon reaching the end the story he slipped into unconsciousness, dying the next morning.

Meanwhile, the fleeing men had foolishly headed straight back to Stafford Forge where Constable Cox caught up with them a short time later.  Upon searching the suspects, Cox found the gun used in the crime and a knife that Cayaldi had on him during the fight.  After relieving the men of their weapons, he brought them back to West Creek to see Justice of the Peace Richard Wood for an arrest warrant, but for some reason Wood said it would have to wait until morning, forcing Cox to stay up all night with the prisoners.  After hearing the case the next day, Wood released Baker and ordered Cayaldi arrested, after which Cox transported the prisoner up to the Ocean County Jail.  Prosecutor Brown was informed of the shooting about nine o’clock Monday morning and immediately headed out to Camden, but having learned that the Camden prosecutor had taken a proper statement he went down to West Creek to investigate.

Giovanni Cayaldi was indicted for murder by a Grand Jury on December 12, 1905, but pleaded guilty to second degree murder a week later, avoiding a death sentence for premeditated first degree murder for which he would have been hanged.  After sentencing him to 20 years at hard labor in Trenton State prison, the judge then turned to Prosecutor Brown and advised him investigate how the fight came to be in the first place, suggesting that the reputation of the bar was the impetus and denouncing the abuse of alcohol and unruly drunkenness when left unchecked.  In 1913 Cayaldi made and application for parole, but he was refused by the Court of Pardons.
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