Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Murder of Nettie Garner


     My great-great-grandmother Aurilla Garner was born in 1844 in Wolcott, NY.,the fourth child of Jeremiah Garner and his wife Clarinda Wood.  Aurilla had an older brother named Alfred, who was the father of Bernettia Garner, called Nettie by her family and friends. Nettie is the subject of today's blog. 

     In 1884, Nettie married a local man, Jacob Livingston  whose father was one of the wealthiest men in Wayne County.  No doubt she and her family considered him a real catch.  As it would turn out, Jacob was anything but. Not long after their marriage rumors began circulating through the small town they lived in, of frequent fights and even beatings.  In one instance, as Nettie fled the house she fell, her husband upon catching her smashed an earthenware platter over her skull in front of passersby.  Jacob was arrested, but nothing came of it, and his mistreatment of Nettie continued.  Jacob was arrested again in 1890 for beating his wife but as before, the case was not pursued and things returned to usual -- until June 5th of 1891.  

     Nettie kept a flock of turkeys and that morning as she stood in her yard feeding them she accidentally stepped on a young bird, killing it.  Upon seeing this Jacob flew into a rage and attacked his wife, hitting her in the head and kicking her in her abdomen.  Typical behavior for him, but this time Nettie happened to be pregnant.  Within a few hours she began experiencing severe pains in her stomach and a doctor was summoned, the next day she miscarried.  Nettie's suffering did not end with the miscarriage, she began to hemorrhage and developed an infection.  She lingered three days before losing consciousness and dying.

     The doctor Jacob had sent for refused to issue a death certificate believing, and rightly so, that this was no ordinary miscarriage and notified the county coroner.  He could have saved himself the trouble, the coroner didn't even do a post- mortem. Instead he empaneled a jury to review the facts, then adjourned the inquest until the following Tuesday, five days after Nettie's death.  You can imagine the condition of a body after five June days, the local paper described it thus, "The body commenced to bloat and turn black in spots and at the time the coroner's jury viewed the remains they emitted a horrible stench."  The jury decided no cause could be determined and the OK was given for burial.  

     Word was sent to the family's minister, but he was nowhere to be found.  Given the state of the corpse, burial could not be delayed any longer and so to add insult to injury Nettie was buried without a funeral; her mother and sister along with her murderer and his father following behind the hearse.  Nettie's father Alfred was too upset to attend, telling a reporter his daughter was, "better off dead than living with such a brute", and that he had begged her to come home many times.

     Neighbors the reporters spoke with all agreed; Jacob Livingston was a violent, abusive and ignorant man and they were dismayed no action was taken against him.  He remarried not long after Nettie's death, but as genealogists know, history has a way of repeating its self.  Three years after killing Nettie, Jacob announced to his new wife that it was necessary for him to kill her and then he  attacked.  The new wife was stronger than Jacob and threw him out of the house, but a few hours later she found him in the yard, this time with a shotgun.  He fired directly at her, just missing.  Rushing back into the house she armed herself with a hand gun and as Jacob came through the door with the gun leveled at her, she pulled the trigger, wounding him in the shoulder.  This time even his father's money couldn't stay justice, Jacob was judged insane and sent to the asylum.

     I was unable to find any follow up articles on this case, or locate Jacob in the 1900 census.  It's quite possible he was sent to Willard State Hospital, whose district included Wayne County.  As I mentioned, he's not shown there in the1900 census so perhaps he passed away.  His name is not on the family monument but with both parents now dead who would have paid to have it inscribed there?  Surely not the wife he tried to kill.  I'm not sure when, if ever Jacob was released from the asylum, a large percentage of Willard's patients never left that facility.  Hopefully that number included Jacob.



  1. It is possible he was moved to a different facility. Maybe he would show up at a different institution. Especially considering that Willard was fairly "free". If he had a horrible temper, it seems possible he was moved to a more restricted facility.
    But if he did die there, he will have an unmarked grave.
    I always thought it cruel, that the Willard patients are prohibited by law to have grave markers, but with this man, for the first time, I feel it is a good thing.
    Weird thing is ... his name and possible left behind belongings might be documented in the brilliant art project "Willard Suitcases".
    I'm sure you have come across Jon Crispin's project, right? I love it!
    (Be sure to check out Jon Crispin's blog, which is linked on the website.)

  2. I did a search of all New York state on Ancestry, so I really think he was deceased by 1900, but the indexers certainly could have missed him. I will have to take another look at the suitcase project, I find it very interesting and somewhat eerie, perfect for October. Thanks for the comments.

  3. My 'favorite' part is that wife #2 not only got a gun herself & shot back, but that she was apparently a better shot than her husband!

  4. Yes, and she physically threw him out of the house. I'd still like to know how she met her death? Thanks for reading and commenting.