It was the dawn of the Jazz Age in the United States. And on September 14, 1922, in the town of Somerset, New Jersey, a strange and dramatic murder of two ill-fated lovers would soon attract the gaze of the entire nation.
Join Brianna as she delves into the murder case of Edward Wheeler Hall, an Episcopal priest, and a member of his choir, Eleanor Mills in what would be known as the Hall-Mills murder.
In this episode
Welcome back to the dark side. We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of the Hall-Mills murder case. If you’re tuning in for the first time, go back and listen to part 1. I’m sure the rest of you are dying to know what happens next, so let’s dive right in.
First, a quick recap: Choir singer Eleanor Mills and Reverend Edward Hall were having an affair, they were found brutally murdered on county lines which led to disputes over jurisdiction and a botched investigation, then there was an arrest, and Clifford Hayes was charged with their murders, but a grand jury voted to drop the charges, Pig Woman had some wild tales to tell so another grand jury convened to hear the case against Frances, Mustache, and Henry squared and how they all got together to murder the adulterous couple, but, no charges were laid and people moved on with their lives…
Our story picks up again 4 years later when the scandalous murder was brought back to life.
The husband of Louise Geist, one of the former maids in the Hall home, filed a petition for annulment of his marriage on the grounds that his wife had withheld information about the Hall-Mills murder. He claimed in the petition that Louise had told Frances on the day of the murder that Edward intended to elope with Eleanor. He also stated that Louise, Frances, and Moustache were driven out to the lovers’ lane by the chauffeur that evening to confront Edward and Eleanor, and she was paid $5,000 for “her part in the matter and for keeping quiet”. Louise said this whole story was a “pack of lies”.
The new Somerset prosecutor heard this and immediately arrested Frances, Mustache, and Henry squared and they were charged to stand trial for murder. The State’s prosecutor succeeded in a motion to try Cousin Henry separately since there was less evidence against him. They all pleaded not guilty to the charge. Frances was released on bail until trial, but bail was denied for the men.
The newspapers picked up the story and raced to outdo one another in tabloid sensationalism. As new evidence was being collected for the upcoming trial, Frances invited reporters to her home so she could sit for a portrait and complain about being made an “ogre” by the press.
Yes, you heard new evidence correctly. In the four years that had passed, evidence had disappeared from storage, including the autopsy reports, Mustaches gun, and the original grand jury testimonies. The previous Somerset prosecutor, who had been so eager to pin the murders on Clifford Hayes based on Raymond Schneider’s false confession, had “misplaced” vital evidence. It turned out his brother had the grand jury testimony in his possession and was caught trying to sell it anonymously to a newspaper.
Prior to the start of the trial, both bodies were exhumed again for autopsies. The same conclusion was made – Edward was shot once in the head and Eleanor was shot 3 times and had her throat slit. But something new was found in her case – her tongue and larynx had been cut out.
The trial began on November 3, 1926, at the Somerset County Courthouse in Somerville. The jury was selected in just over an hour and all members were married men.
Ogre, Moustache, and Brother Henry were tried first.
The prosecutor opened with the main evidence against the defendants such as was Mustache’s thumbprint on the calling card found at Edward’s foot, the anonymous call Ogre made to police asking if they found anyone dead or injured, and how Ogre hired a P. I. that bribed and supposedly threatened key witnesses.
There were over a hundred witnesses that testified at the trial, so only relevant witnesses are included.
Charlotte Mills. She was called to the stand to identify the letters between Eleanor and Edward. She also testified the last time she had seen her mother was when Eleanor had left the house to make that phone call to Edward.
Anna Hoag. She lived near the crime scene and had heard 4 shots on the night of the murders. She claimed that Brother Henry had come to her house sometime after the murders and asked about “a tragedy” that had taken place nearby and this frightened her. She watched him walk away in an “agitated state, nearly collapsing when he passed the spot where the bodies were found”. The defense challenged Anna and got her to admit she didn’t know Brother Henry very well and hadn’t seen him in a long time.
Ralph Gosline, a vestryman at St. Johns, testified he once had an affair with Eleanor. He admitted he had been near De Russey’s Lane the night of the murder around 10:20 pm with another woman from the church choir, and they heard a shot, a woman scream, and then 3 more shots. He added that Brother Henry saw him and fired 2 warning shots into the ground to scare him away. This contradicted the many witnesses who heard only 4 shots that night, but the woman he was with that night took the stand as well and gave the same story.
Three fingerprint experts testified that Moustache’s left index fingerprint was on the calling card found at the scene, but the third and “most impressive” expert was interrupted by news of the sudden declining state of the Pig Woman. Her doctor entered the courtroom and said her rising temperature and blood pressure would make any courtroom appearances detrimental to her health. The judges went to visit her in the hospital and stated that “she did not seem to be at death’s door”, so they resumed the trial and awaited further developments on her state.
When they resumed, James Mills was called as the next witness. He discussed his movements on the evening and night of the murder and the defense’s strategy was to make it appear that he was the murderer by mentioning how James didn’t reach out to his missing wife’s relatives, the hospitals, or police stations in town. James defended this by saying Eleanor sometimes left for a day or two without saying where she was going.
Anna Bearman testified that she had seen the coat that Ogre sent out to be dyed and there were no spots or stains on it, removing the suspicion that it was dyed to cover bloodstains. Ogre later testified that she didn’t even wear that coat on the night of the murders.
Henry Dickman was next, causing a “flurry of anticipation” since he had disappeared for years after being a part of the case. He described how he had interviewed Brother Henry in early 1923 who was evasive when questioned. He added that he left the state because he had been paid $2,500 by Beekman (one of the previous prosecutors) to do so. He contradicted himself later when he said Brother Henry paid him, but in Beekman’s presence. His testimony wasn’t received well because on the stand he was proven to be a deserter and a drunk.
In the meantime, Pig Woman was still “ailing”, so the defense had her moved to a hospital in Jersey City to be assessed by different doctors and they were told she wasn’t dying, she was just unhealthy. Pig Woman’s mother was busy in the courtroom, undermining her daughter’s credibility to anyone who would listen, saying that her daughter’s name wasn’t even Jane, and she lied about everything.
A young man named Robert Erling testified he was at lover’s lane that night with a girl named Jenny Lemford, and he saw the Pig Woman on Easton Avenue. He also claimed to have seen a sedan and a touring car. The defense produced a friend of his, Willie Staub, who claimed that Robert had told him he’d get money for saying he was with him that night. Then they produced Jenny Lemford, the girl who had actually been with Robert that night, and she denied everything about his story except that they had been at lover’s lane.
The main piece of physical evidence, the calling card with the fingerprint, came under fire. Experts on both sides could “conclusively” argue in favour and against the print belonging to Moustache. There was also the fact that the card had been exposed to the elements for roughly 36 hours, had been passed around by nosey nellies, and was never carefully handled as evidence.
Dr. Otto Schultz, who had performed the latest autopsies, said that Eleanor’s tongue and larynx had been cut out. He also mentioned that there was a cut in her abdomen and two undertakers admitted to opening her womb to see if she was pregnant. One did this, reported on it, and the other re-opened the incision to see for himself.
A milkman claimed that he had found the back door to the Hall house open on Friday morning.
A delivery boy said Willie gave him a stained suit on Friday to be dry-cleaned. He had turned the clothing over to the police, but no one knows what happened to it.
Then the Pig Woman was brought in on a stretcher as the prosecution’s star witness and the whole time her mother shouted about how much of a liar she was. The defense seated her mother in the front row, to see if this would rattle her daughter. Pig Woman told a story, omitting and changing details, and adding how Frances’s P. I.’s had warned her to keep her mouth shut.
Now it was the defense’s turn. They presented enough witnesses to make Brother Henry’s alibi credible. It appeared that he’d only been named as a suspect because the prosecution 4 years earlier had decided that it would have required an expert marksman to shoot the victims. Since Pig Woman had heard the name “Henry,” and Brother Henry was a marksman and a relative, he had been dragged into the messy case. It was later learned that relatives called Brother Henry “Harry”, so Frances wouldn’t have yelled “Henry” when addressing him. Two witnesses, a mother, and her daughter, also insisted that he was not the man who had stopped by Anna Hoag’s house and asked about the murders.
With Brother Henry pretty much cleared, Moustache was next. He surprised the audience by holding his own with the prosecutor and staying true to his story.
It came out that the first time Pig Woman was asked to identify the defendants, she was unable to. Then a farmer, George Sipel, claimed that Pig Woman had offered him money to say he had seen her and the two men and two women that night on De Russey’s Lane.
Ogre’s turn to take the stand. The prosecution went after her for the statements she had made to James Mills that she believed the two missing spouses to be dead. She responded that at the time it seemed obvious they were dead when they didn’t return home.
When the defense eventually rested, in total there had been 157 people called to the stand – 87 for the prosecution and 70 for the defense. Pearl and Raymond, the 2 people who discovered the bodies, were never called as witnesses. The trial lasted 30 days.
The prosecution moved for a mistrial on the grounds of jury misconduct alleging “they hadn’t paid attention and they were openly hostile”. He was ignored and proceeded to give his closing remarks.
The jury deliberated for 5 hours and 8 minutes. In that time, they took 3 separate votes before they reached a verdict (10-2, 11-1, then unanimous). They decided to acquit all 3 defendants. The main reasons for acquittal were no one had believed the star witness; Pig Woman’s story was inconsistent and rebuttal witnesses easily dismantled it. The only thing they had been torn on was the fingerprint evidence.
All charges were dismissed, and everyone was released from custody. Even if Ogre, Moustache, and Brother Henry had the motive and means for the murders, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them.
Eventually, Ogre, Moustache, and Henry squared sued the New York Daily Mirror for libel, and it was settled out of court.
No one else was ever accused of these crimes.
The New York Times devoted about 90 front-page articles to the trial. The case was so high profile it took the cake for sensationalism until 10 years later when baby Lindbergh was kidnapped.
Although the murders are still unsolved, there are theories as to who murdered Edward and Eleanor:
Raymond Schneider and Clifford Hayes really did commit the murders in a case of mistaken identity. He thought Eleanor and Edward were his girlfriend Pearl and her father, who they had seen earlier, and the 2 men suspected incest was happening. However, whoever killed them did so at close range, so there was little chance of mistaken identity.
Ogre did it by herself, out of revenge. She was the only person the night watchman saw go into her house at 2:30 am (important to remember the time of death isn’t definitive), witnesses saw a car like hers out near the crime scene, she anonymously called the police, she asked James for updates, she hired a PI to “investigate” but people said the PI was threatening and bribing witnesses, not investigating what happened that night.
Ogre and Moustache were in on it together. Moustache shot them with his .32 caliber pistol, posed the bodies, and mutilated Eleanor’s neck. Moustache had sent clothes to be dry-cleaned the following day, and they were handed over to the police because they had suspicious stains on them, but the suit was lost and never examined. He was agitated the next morning and made several suspicious comments about being up all night, there was trouble, and people would hear about it soon. Plus, Moustache and Frances were each other’s alibi.
James Mills did it because he knew his wife was unfaithful and she had challenged him that night to follow her. However, several people saw and heard him working on his porch. He did leave a couple of times that evening to go to the church.
Vestryman Ralph did it. He admitted to being near the crime scene that night with another woman from the church. He did it out of jealousy since he once had an affair with Eleanor and the woman helped because she was a jealous rival of Eleanor’s and wanted the minister’s attention for herself. She was also known to often spy on the adulterous pair. There was also gossip that church members were jealous of Eleanor because of her status in the choir. Eleanor’s throat was slashed, and her tongue and larynx were removed.
Someone else from the church did it. There were many people in the choir who hated Eleanor for being favoured by Edward, and this theory still accounts for the mutilation of Eleanor.
Pig Woman did it and came forward as a witness instead to insert herself into the investigation but ended up looking guilty given the many inconsistencies in her story. But she had no motive, no pistol, and no awareness of who the couple was.
Someone did it to rob them. But why would they mutilate Eleanor so badly?
A random killer did it.
What do you think?
In his 1931 essay “Echoes of the Jazz Age,” Fitzgerald described 1922 as “…an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire.” This offers a partial explanation as to why he set the novel in 1922 when it wasn’t published until 1925.
At the beginning of Part 1, I mentioned that it’s widely believed this case inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was writing The Great Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby was inspired by the Fitzgerald’s 18 months in Great Neck, New York, beginning in late 1922, and they arrived in Great Neck the day after the story broke that Eleanor Mills and Edward Hall were murdered, and scandalous headlines were impossible to miss, plus it’s known that Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, followed the case.
Tom Buchanan, wealthy and handsome, is having a pretty obvious affair with Myrtle Wilson, who is unsatisfied with her marriage to George and craves finer things and attention. They live in a crappy house and have little money, and George is portrayed as “simple”.
Edward Hall, wealthy and handsome, is having an obvious affair with Eleanor Mills, who is unsatisfied with her marriage to James and craves romance and a better life. They live in a crappy house and have little money, and James is described as “simple”.
The significance of Gatsby’s car in the murder of Myrtle.
Fitzgerald was always influenced by real-life – his volatile marriage, Zelda’s breakdowns, the rise and fall of the couple’s fortunes, their parties, their friends, the quirky people they met, everything. It wouldn’t be surprising if he got some inspiration from this case. Especially the scandalous affair, which is an entire plot point in The Great Gatsby.
At the end of the day, The Great Gatsby is a timeless novel and F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the greats. Let’s not focus on what he was inspired by, and instead appreciate what he gave us. As Zelda once said of her husband, “he was the key-note and prophet of his generation and deserves remembrance as such.”
Thank you everyone for tuning in to the conclusion episode of the Hall-Mills Murder. If you like the show please rate, review, subscribe, follow, all that jazz. Be sure to visit our website, darkadaptationpodcast.ca where you can further support the show by buying us a coffee if your lovely little heart desires, follow us on Instagram @darkadaptationpodcast, share the show with the spooky bitches in your life, Spotify, wherever. Thank you for the support and kind words. Thank you for joining us, Steph, and we’ll catch you on the dark side.