Archive for the ‘Murder in Palm Beach’ Category

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Published in the Southampton Press, 2013 Memorial Day Issue.

Horace Wells was not a gambling man by anyone’s definition, yet many who knew him were not surprised to learn, that on the evening of February 24th 1929, Horace took a risk that would end up costing him his life.

Horace Wells was enjoying a life of success. He was born in “Good Ground”, in April of 1886, his father Horace Wells Sr., ran his own farm on Springville Road and his mother Mary took care of their 7 children.

The Wells home bubbled with activity as each of the children flourished, built careers for themselves and went off to have families of their own. For Horace Wells Jr., it was obvious early on, that his life was going to  revolve around engines and cars.

The automobile industry enjoyed tremendous changes in production during the 1920s. Henry Ford developed a concept called the “assembly line”, and before long there would be an automobile parked outside of every home.  Considered a luxury item in the past and reserved for those with hefty incomes, automobiles soon became attainable to the average man and the entire country would want one. For every car, there was a reliable  mechanic to service it.

Twenty four year old Horace Wells had been working at the Southampton Buick Dealership as a mechanic, for nearly 4 years, by 1910. He was now married with 2 children of his own and his outgoing nature and knowledge of cars, landed him a sales position there. It wouldn’t be long before he and his wife Jessie would own a home. By the summer of 1928, Horace had worked his way up to manager of Southampton Buick. His children were attending college and he was a respected and successful member of the community.

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While 1910 was a good year for Horace Wells, six year old Harry McConardy’s circumstances were not so optimistic. Harry was growing up in Norfolk Massachusetts, under the management of his father, Peter McConardy. Peter was a 66 year old  milk man, who consistently struggled to pay the family’s bills. Peter had six children altogether and suffered from declining health himself.

Peter McConardy would not live to see 1920, and it was his wife Barbara, 26 years his junior, who would be left to provide for the family. It was a task that far exceeded Barbara’s abilities and her children would end up scattered across the country, leaving home and taking bad attitudes  with them.

In February of 1929, Horace Wells reportedly suffered from physical ailments and was prescribed rest and relaxation, by his physician. It was with his health in mind that Horace and his wife Jesse planned an escape to West Palm Beach, Florida. Their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Raynor of Patchogue, would accompany them. The foursome planned to rent a home that was owned by another Southampton resident, Mrs. Vincent Hall. Laughter, and recreation would be their only agenda. Charles Raynor was not only a close friend of Horace Wells, but he was also the manager of the Buick Dealership in Patchogue.

And so it was that on Saturday February 23rd of 1929, a dinner party was in the works. The group was expecting Mrs Vincent Hall, the Southampton resident who had rented them the Palm Beach vacation home, along with a male friend. The women prepared a lovely meal and everyone enjoyed it. After dinner, all of the guests retired to the library. There, the energy was high and the lively conversation continued.

Suddenly, the door flew open and the group of friends froze, confused by what they saw. A strange man pointed a gun at them, his voice booming as he ordered the party to move towards the wall. The intruder forced the women to remove their jewelry and then proceeded to search the men individually, collecting money and credit cards from the now terrified dinner guests.

Exactly what happened next varies, depending on who is telling the story. Most news items claim that Horace Wells was a member of the volunteer police department in Hampton Bays at the time, and he made a move to grab the intruder’s weapon. This alarmed the burglar, who then shot Horace in the abdomen. Panicking, the gunman seized the male guest who had accompanied Mrs. Hall and forced him to drive to the “Pointsetta Hotel”, the gun pointed directly at him the entire time. The gunman changed his clothes at the hotel and continued to make his escape, with the frightened dinner guest in tow. To his credit, the robber would leave his hostage by the side of the road and spare his life.

The police later arrested a man who was calling himself “T Southworth”, in Stuart Florida, some 40 miles away from West Palm Beach. “T Southworth” would later be identified as Harry McConardy, Peter and Barbara McConardy’s wayward son. The newspapers described Harry as a “career crook” and claimed he had confessed to both the theft and the shooting. McConardy  plead guilty to 2 counts of robbery and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, however on March 1, 1929 all of that would change.

Horace Wells had been taken to the emergency room after the shooting and was doing quite well after his initial surgery. In fact, he received visitors the Thursday after the incident and was making plans to go back home. Hours after that visit, Horace’s condition would inexplicably take a turn for the worst. One week from the night of the robbery, Horace Wells would die hundreds of miles from home. The charges against Harry McConardy were upgraded to first degree murder.

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Harry McConardy had evolved into a fellow with many bees residing inside of  his bonnet. As he sat in jail awaiting his trial his mind must have raced. At one point McConardy confided in a fellow inmate, that they would not need to execute him because he was planning to kill himself. When the guard was informed of this, he searched Harry’s cell and found a razor blade concealed inside of some folded clothing. In addition, a note was discovered, addressed to his mother. The letter stated in part:

“…Dear Mother, I should have done this job on myself long ago…”

Not insignificant, was the fact that Harry wanted the letter published in newspapers around the Boston area where he grew up. Perhaps being on death row was more rewarding for Harry McConardy then he would care to admit, since it was the only time in his life that he would feel important? For a man who lived a life, void of any positive contributions and with no real accomplishments, it would be his last chance to shine. In December of 1930, when  McConardy issued a statement to the press, demanding that the state execute him and that all efforts to save his life be disregarded, it didn’t surprise anyone who had come to know him.

On February 12 1931, 27 year old Harry McConardy got his wish. His death warrant was signed and when given the news McConardy reportedly replied:

“Well ain’t that swell.”

Harry McConardy was electrocuted at the state prison in Railford, Florida. He was reportedly “relaxed and very calm” as he walked from his death cell, down the hallway and towards the electric chair. As the story was reported, Harry glanced up at the 20 witnesses and just as the metal head piece was adjusted, he uttered but one word:

“Goodbye.”

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