Saturday, April 13, 2013

Black Sheep Sunday / The End of "Big Ed" McCabe

Christmas Lights circa 1914
     The year was 1914.  While the pretty lakeside village of Canandaigua, New York was strung with garlands and lights twinkled in shop windows enticing Christmas shoppers, Edward McCabe and his roommate Thomas Burns were busily downing drinks in a local bar.  Later the two men caught a train to the small hamlet where they resided.  Edward, son of my g.g. grandfather James O’Hora’s sister, was born in Auburn, New York to Irish immigrants Patrick and Mary O’Hora McCabe.  Now at 55, Edward was a large man, over 200 pounds, and in top shape from the physical labor he performed on area farms.  He had a long arrest record, begun in his teenage years for petty robberies and assaults.  His friend Thomas Burns was himself an immigrant from Ireland, and at age 33 a younger and smaller man than Edward.   Both were farm laborers and bachelors who enjoyed their drink, and they brought with them on the train a jug of whiskey.

      Witnesses at the arraignment would later testify that after disembarking at the station in Holcomb, the men were overheard arguing loudly over who contributed more to their living expenses.  The two eventually returned to their shanty a short distance away and resumed drinking.  The argument continued off and on throughout the evening as the liquor flowed.  No doubt weary after the day’s exertions, Edward McCabe stretched out on his bed. Burns, still angry, took that opportunity to attack, unexpectedly striking Edward with a shovel using such force that the blow cut Edward’s nose and lips in two vertically, and left a jagged wound down his forehead.  He fell from his bed and lay helpless on the floor as Burns continued the assault, stomping and kicking him, breaking his ribs and inflicting internal injuries.
     Early the next morning, December 10th, Edward was found by two hunters, who upon hearing moans emanating from the shanty entered and found his bloodied form still lying on the floor next to the shovel.  He was rushed to Canandaigua and admitted to the hospital there where he made a deathbed statement detailing the attack and naming Thomas Burns as his assailant.  Edward died of his injuries in the early morning hours of December 11th. His death certificate gave the cause of death as,”Hemorrhage and shock due to lacerations of head, fracture of ribs and other injuries, probably homicidal”.
      Burns, still in an inebriated state and seemingly unaware of his roommate’s demise, was apprehended at the Webster House in Canandaigua where he had rented a room.  Charged with murder, he would later be allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to, “at least six years and six months and no more than nineteen years at Auburn Prison”.  Edwards’s brothers from Auburn came for his body and accompanied him on his final trip home.

     Thomas Burns’ future is not clear.  In the 1930 census, the Utica State Hospital for the Insane had in their care a patient named Thomas Burns of the right age.  I can’t be certain it’s him, it’s a quite common name, but it well may be the right man.  The patient named Thomas was born in Ireland as was the killer Thomas, who at one time had lived in the Syracuse area.  He could have returned there after his release on the manslaughter charges; Utica is only an hour away from Syracuse. 

     Six and a half years seems a very short time for such a brutal murder, I can only wonder why he was allowed to plea bargain such a straightforward case and given the light sentence he was? 

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