The Murder of Mrs. Jones

Posted: December 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

The Murder of Mrs Jones USE

In September of 1908, local newspapers buzzed with reports of murder and mayhem on Long Island. It had been only forty years, since slavery was abolished in this country, and a diverse nation set upon on a new journey. African Americans, along with other cultures and ethnicities, worked hard to build lives and prosper together.

It seems crime is one of those subjects that crosses all boundaries, and as was customary in 1908, articles written on the subject specify the ethnicity of the people involved. Today, unless it is part of a description used to inform or enlist the help of the public, the race or ethnicity of the victim or the perpetrator, is not a major part of the story.

It was this atmosphere, that produced the headlines of September 19th, detailing crimes in the news that day. The headlines and by-lines read: “Two Poles Indicted for Extortion” and “Filipinos Kill Three.” Another item told the story of an “Italian Detective” who was on a mission to apprehend “Polish Blackmailers.”

Nestled among the accounts, was the announcement that a “Riverhead Negro” had been arrested for the murder of his wife. The newspaper article spoke in glowing terms of the defendant, James Jones, describing him in print as “an outstanding negro.” What might seem glaringly inappropriate at first glance, when taken in context, becomes quite extraordinary.

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James Jones must have been an outstanding individual indeed, judging from the descriptions provided by reporters. What happened on the afternoon of September 15th, 1908, was tragic for everyone involved,  but the press was clearly sympathetic to James Jones.  Later, the system would prove less compassionate.

There would never be a first name provided in any newspaper report, for “Mrs. Jones”, the victim in this case. She is described in one article as “…a strikingly handsome mulatto…” who was “…prepared to leave her husband and family…”, and “…had her belongings packed…” on September 15th.

James Jones had taken on two roomers that fall, Charles Johnson and G. F. Edwards. The pair traveled to Riverhead from Brooklyn, to conduct a shooting gallery at a popular local fair. Mr. Jones returned from work the afternoon of the 15th, and found Charles Johnson in the house with Mrs. Jones, who was  “dressed for the street” with suitcases ready. When Jones discovered the affair, he became “insane with jealousy” and slit his wife’s throat with a pen knife.

Ethnic Headlines USE

Only forty years earlier, slavery was alive and well in America and yet, at the time of his arrest, James Jones had owned and operated a large ice business in Riverhead for years. It was reported that he did the work of three or four men, was frugal, industrious and both mentally and physically “exceptional.”

In spite of the evidence against him, Mr. Jones would deny his guilt and change his story over time. The father of seven children, his eleven year old daughter Virginia, would be a strong witness for the prosecution. Virginia testified that she heard her mother holler from the basement, that her father was cutting her throat. The prosecution claimed that James Jones used a pen knife to kill his wife, cut himself in the neck, and then he threw the blade into a cook stove to burn, where it was later recovered.

James Jones took the stand in his own defense and claimed that he came home and found Mr. Johnson in his house. He testified that Mr. Johnson went downstairs with his wife, and he heard Mrs. Jones tell Johnson that she would not go with him.  He then described hearing a scuffle and a shout, before he ran downstairs to find his wife dead.

A parade of prominent witnesses testified in James Jones’ defense and attested to his excellent reputation, however Mr. Jones was still found guilty of second degree murder.

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Mr. Jones later secreted a blade from a pencil sharpener, inside of his mouth, while being transported to his cell, and attempted suicide in jail. In a second suicide attempt, jailers confiscated a bottle of poison hidden in a pie, that was sent to James Jones by his sister.

After arriving at Sing Sing prison, Mr. Jones threatened a hunger strike and eventually came up with one last story, telling the guards that he was finally ready to confess.

Referring to Mrs. Jones as “the woman”, Mr. Jones told authorities that they had quarreled that evening because his wife was going to leave him. When he told her how much this hurt him, James Jones stated that she laid down on the floor and said “cut my throat”, so he did. That would be the final word on the subject from James Jones.

Everyone has a name in this story except the victim, something that would never happen today, unless the victim was unknown. The story of Mrs. Jones, besides being one that is as old as time, is also a fascinating look at change, and how that change has manifested itself, in print, throughout the years.

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