Every so often, I like to do a deep search of newspaper articles, in the hopes that some interesting tidbit about an ancestor will reveal itself. The other day, one did, though ultimately my ancestor would only play a small part in the drama that I found myself drawn into. By that point, I was completely hooked by the case of the alliteratively named Quincy Cramblett, accused murderer.
The article mentioning my 2nd great-grandfather, Ross P. Frederick, was the only article in which he appeared in relation to this case, but it served as an important introduction.
“Many are called, but few are chosen as jurors in the Cramblett trial” ran the headline of a Steubenville Herald-Star newspaper story from October 25, 1900. “The twelve good men and true who are to try Quincey Cramblett for his life, have not yet been secured. At 2:30 o’clock this afternoon, only eight jurors were in the box, but the prospects are that the jury will be secured either this afternoon or tomorrow.” My 2nd great grandfather was one of the men chosen.
I wanted to know more. What had Cramblett allegedly done to ensure that his fate was in my ancestor’s hands?
According to the State, it began with a love story gone wrong.
Saturday night, November 4, 1899, just after dark, James Hartly Gosnell was shot in his home on Perrin Run in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio. Gosnell was 57 years old, a well-to-do farmer married to Mary Brown Gosnell with whom he had 4 children: Charles, Clara, Elva, and Cora. Gosnell had been sitting by his kitchen window, relaxing and reading his newspaper after a long day of work, when he was shot in the back by an assassin from the outside. In a nearby sitting room, his wife and younger two daughters were startled by the gunshots and ran to the kitchen. Inside, they found their father, shot and sinking to the floor from his chair. He died instantly. Reports of the amount of times he was shot vary between 2 and 6 times. 2 of the bullets had passed through him and were found in a door on the opposite side of the kitchen. Upon realizing what had happened, the women locked the doors and ran upstairs where they called for help from a window.
Photo above care of The Steubenville Herald-Star
The countryside where Gosnell lived was farming country, what one newspaper described as “wild country,” not far from a Quaker community. Horseback was a preferred method of travel. The land was searched, but a killer was not found. Reports vary between which of two men was the first person at the scene was, but both of them would play parts in the story. According to most reports, the first person on the scene was a neighbor named Jefferson “Jeff” Rainbow who, by one account, arrived about 10 minutes after the murder, having heard the screams. He alerted other neighbors, including Quincy Cramblett, due to a special request from Gosnell’s youngest daughter, 17 year old Cora Gosnell. Cramblett was a friend of the family, though the degree of his affection and to whom in particular in the family it belonged to, would be up for debate later.
The initial investigation turned up an important clue about the assassin. Tracks outside of the kitchen window were found there the day after the murder. Powder burns found at the scene showed that the assassin had been in close proximity to Gosnell and had probably steadied his gun on a fence near the window. Whoever he was had ridden there on horseback. There was evidence that a horse had been hitched to a nearby fence and human footprints led from there to where the assassination took place. The horse tracks left outside appeared as though the horse was missing a shoe. As it turned out, someone known to the family had a horse who matched this description.
32 year old farmer and neighbor Quincy (sometimes spelled Quincey) Chance Cramblett was arrested for the murder of James H. Gosnell a couple weeks later. Cramblett was said to own an old-fashioned musket, but it could not be found. His home was searched thoroughly and a bullet, the same size and weight as the bullets that killed Gosnell, was found in a pouch hanging on one of the walls in his house. He was arrested shortly thereafter, though he claimed his innocence from the beginning. Cramblett was pushed further about the whereabouts of the gun, and he informed authorities that he had taken it to his brother’s house long before the murder took place. His brother was questioned, but his response was unsatisfactory, and to some, suspicious. He claimed that indeed it had been in his possession, but that he could not produce it because it had been stolen from his barn. Three men named Harvey Thompson, George Thompson, and Robert Nichols would later testify that they saw the loaded musket there two weeks before Gosnell’s murder.
Around January 9, 1900, the barrel of Cramblett’s missing musket was found in a deep well near his barn. Cramblett’s brother-in-law, William Miller, and another relative named Milton Hall, led authorities to the well and confessed that they were the ones who put it there. The musket was found in pieces. The barrel was twisted up in the well, while other metal parts were found buried under logs in the woods 3 miles from Cramblett’s home. All of the wooden parts of the musket had been burned. Authorities were confident that the gun was indeed Cramblett’s. The barrel of Cramblett’s musket was an unusual length, 45 inches long, which matched the one that they found. It was described to have had a piece of tin around the stock, which was also found. The men claimed that they acted without Cramblett’s knowledge, though why they did so is unclear. Strangely, though the bullet found in Cramblett’s home did match the bullets which killed Gosnell, it was not a fit for Cramblett’s gun.
The state, led by A.C. Lewis and the Hon. John M. Cook (who planned to be the next Republican nominee for circuit judge in the district), started forming their case against Cramblett. To defend him, Cramblett had lawyers P.P. Lewis and Henry Gregg (an ex-prosecuting attorney) in his corner.
Photos above care of The Steubenville Herald-Star
A couple of weeks after the musket was found, it was announced that the trial would be postponed as Cramblett’s alibi, his mother Mary, had been examined by a physician and declared temporarily insane. By March 1900, this had not changed, but eager to get the show on the road, she was questioned at home so that she would not have to appear in court. She answered about 60 questions for the defense and 25 for the state.
Finding a jury proved tricky. Cramblett was accused of 1st degree murder, the punishment for this being death by electrocution. However, there was a large Quaker community in Jefferson County who actively opposed the death penalty. It also did not sit easily with the community that the basis of Cramblett’s arrest and trial was solely on circumstantial evidence. Many were not interested in participating in what they believed to be an unfair trial and were eliminated from jury selection because of their strong beliefs. Finally, a jury was found and trial began the morning of April 2, 1900 with Judge John A. Mansfield presiding.
Quincy Cramblett arrived to court in a new appearing dark suit and black tie. He was a mustachioed, handsome young man. News articles made reference to his “charming” appearance and entrancing dark eyes. It was noted that the trial was well attended by female spectators. Women were also especially singled out as vocal proponents of his innocence. It was said that part of the reason for this was because he, like any proper gentleman, would not discuss his love affairs, a difficult thing to do considering that the State’s proposed motive for murder centered around a love affair gone wrong.
Photo above care of The Steubenville Herald-Star
The State’s theory of his motive was that 32 year old Quincy Cramblett had an eye for pretty, 17 year old Cora Gosnell, youngest daughter of the murder victim (Cora would later testify that, from her perspective, at least this part was true). They suggested that, though Cora reciprocated his feelings, she refused his marriage proposals because she thought her father would object. In anger, Cramblett murdered James Gosnell, the paternal thorn in his side.
The Gosnell/Cramblett saga had made major newspaper headlines for the past few months. It drew large crowds. In addition to those who came to spectate, 200 witnesses were summoned with around 60 of those eventually testifying. Sympathy generally went to Cramblett. Many believed he was not being given a fair trial regardless of whether he did it or not, others felt strongly that he had been wrongly accused and that the Sheriff should be focusing on finding another potential suspect. In fact, there would be two others who the Defense would try to shift attention to.
Alternative Suspect #1: The morning after the murder, a mystery man passed through Martin’s Ferry on his way to Wheeling. Several people testified that he relayed to them knowledge of the murder which varied from simply knowing that it happened to an outright confession that he was the perpetrator. Either way, it was deemed suspicious that he knew of the murder before it became public knowledge. This man was never identified.
Alternative Suspect #2: The Defense’s main suspect was the first person on the scene, Jefferson “Jeff” Rainbow. At the time of the trial, Rainbow was a married, 43 year old farmer and father of about 6. The Defense would call witnesses to testify to the longstanding grudge between Gosnell and Rainbow, including threats to kill Gosnell made by Rainbow. Rainbow would become a strong witness for the prosecution, having been present at the Gosnell home when Cramblett arrived. Rainbow was described as small in stature and visibly embarrassed to be under scrutiny.
Despite the focus being moved towards other men, the Defense had an uphill battle in a few key areas.
1). The Tracks:
One of the two most damning pieces of evidence (albeit circumstantial) that the State had was that of the horse tracks. The State drew witnesses to testify that Cramblett’s horse had 1 unshod foot, matching the tracks outside the Gosnell home. The matching tracks had been a key component to his arrest. Though a few witnesses would be unsure of or give conflicting information about the amount of unshod feet Cramblett’s horse had compared to the tracks, generally most agreed that they matched.
I did not see this argument mentioned in any articles or documents, but considering that Cramblett was there the night of the murder and the horse tracks were found the next morning, it is possible that the tracks could have still belonged to Cramblett’s horse without the assassin and Cramblett being one and the same.
One of the witnesses who identified the tracks as belonging to Cramblett’s horse would also admit under cross-examination that he hadn’t checked anyone else’s horses to see how they compared.
2). The Gun:
The broken up gun found in the well and elsewhere was positively identified as Cramblett’s by more than one person, including the man who had sold it to Cramblett, a Dr. Barkhurst. It was unusual enough that, even though dismantled, it was easy to identify as his. WHY it ended up in the well was where it got gray. The two men who had confessed to hiding it, William Miller and Milton Hall, were never suspects themselves, but always stated that they did so without Cramblett’s knowledge. However, their testimony did indicate that Cramblett may have been involved by some degree of separation. Miller, Quincy’s brother-in-law, stated that he and Hall had been at the home of John Cramblett, Quincy’s father, one evening after the murder. According to Miller, John had instructed Miller to find the musket and directed him to the barn where, after some searching, Miller found it under some corn husks. Hall found a sledgehammer and broke it into pieces which Miller placed into a sack and took home with him. He used his stove to burn the wooden pieces then hid the metal parts in the woods. In late December, having heard that officers were looking for the gun and may be closing in, Miller became nervous and gave the gun barrel to Hall who strapped it to his body under his coat where it could not be seen, returned home, then hid it inside the well. The two men’s secretive and very elaborate subterfuge, apparently initiated by the accused murderer’s father, was suspicious at best.
The Love Story Gone Wrong Angle:
The State’s sole basis for motive hinged on what they implied was a love story gone wrong. A few days into the trial, the witness spectators had been waiting for took the stand: Cora Gosnell. Cora had just turned 17 a few months prior to her father’s murder. A photo I found of teenage Cora shows an attractive girl with thin shoulders, dark hair, and a flat upper lip which curved downwards in a hesitant expression. She strongly resembled her mother, who was a beauty, if photos hold any truth.
Cora testified that Cramblett had proposed marriage to her and she refused, thinking that her father would object and not wanting a problem within the family. After he realized she was in earnest, he then proposed they enter into a double suicide pact, which she also refused. Complicating matters, her 22 year old older sister Elva took the stand claiming that Cramblett had also proposed to her, but that she had refused him because her father did not treat their eldest sister Clara’s husband right and that marriage had caused friction within the family. Probably to the State’s chagrin, both sisters would testify that the relations between Gosnell and Cramblett were good and the latter had never made threats against the former. Cora testified to asking for him the night of the murder and, when he arrived, both girls had thrown their arms around him. He stayed and helped around the house. Because Cramblett had been noted as quiet (by Cora and other witnesses) the night of the murder, the State tried to prove that this was evidence of his guilt. However, quiet was one of the main adjectives that witnesses for the Defense would use to describe his character at all times. Since this behavior seemed innate to him, that he was quiet the night of the murder probably did not carry much weight. Gosnell’s widow Mary would also testify that Gosnell and Cramblett got along well and her late husband had even helped tend to a wound on Cramblett’s hand a week before the murder.
Part of the backbone of Quincy’s defense was based on how he shot a gun. From the evidence at the scene, the assassin was described as being right handed. However, Quincy was said to have always shot cross-fire (left-handed). Several witnesses would testify to this.
Quincy’s Character and Alibi:
Cramblett’s mother Mary would testify that her son was home with her in the hours before and after the murder. According to Cora, Cramblett would not arrive at the Gosnell home until between 1:00 and 2:00 A.M. (the murder having been between 7:00 and 8:00 P.M.). It was implied that Rainbow had called for him earlier, but he did not arrive until that late hour. Whether that is an implication of his guilt or innocence is hard to say. Was he hiding the musket at his brother or father’s property during that? Or was he simply spending an evening at home with his mother? Fragile from past illnesses and temporary insanity from the stress of her son’s arrest, the State wisely didn’t try to attack Mary’s testimony, but rather pondered that if this were true, why didn’t Quincy’s father John Cramblett appear on the stand to back it up?
In addition to the Gosnell girls, 35 character witnesses would testify for the Defense, including ministers, Cramblett family members, and Quaker farmers. They would describe Cramblett as a pleasant person with a good reputation.
Against Cramblett, one witness testified that Quincy had previously been arrested. However, further inquiry from the Defense revealed that this was because he had shot a squirrel for his sick mother. The man who had Cramblett arrested would later have his barn burned to the ground by an unknown person. Though he was never arrested or charged for this, the State implied that the pyro was probably Cramblett.
By the end of it, the trial had made news not only across Ohio, but in states like Pennyslvania and West Virginia, as well.
On April 7, 1900, the Defense and State had both rested and the Jury would be left to decide Cramblett’s fate. After two hours, they came back with a verdict: Guilty of murder in the first degree. The courtroom erupted into surprised commotion, except for Cramblett himself, who was described as calm and unemotional.
The general feeling among the public was surprise. Many felt that, guilty or not, he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Making them especially ill at ease was that the guilty verdict came about by way of circumstantial evidence. Ministers would dedicate sermons about the perceived injustice in the following days and weeks. One would tell his congregation that suspicion does not constitute guilt and offered his own money to pay for a new trial.
Cramblett’s attorneys would file motions for a new trial almost immediately, stating errors in admitting the gun and other evidence, misconduct of the jury, etc.
Three weeks after the verdict, on April 28, 1900, Cramblett was granted a new trial by Judge Mansfield, who had presided over his first trial. Mansfield did not elaborate further, but said that ultimately he decided this based on the grounds that the verdict was not justified by evidence.
Cramblett would sit in jail over the long summer, waiting for his new trial, set to begin on October 15, 1900…
Part 2 of the Quincy Cramblett trial will continue in a following post. Stay tuned!
“Many Are Called but Few Are Chosen as Jurors in the Cramblett Trial.” The Steubenville Herald-Star , 25 Oct. 1900, p. 5.
“Cramblett on Trial for the Murder of James Gosnell.” The Steubenville Herald-Star, 2 Apr. 1900, pp. 5–8.
“Cramblett’s Love Affairs.” The Steubenville Herald-Star , 29 Oct. 1900, p. 5.
“Horse Tracks Near the Gosnell House Are Described by Defendant’s Witnesses.” The Steubenville Herald-Star , 1 Nov. 1900, p. 5.
“The Evidence Submitted in the Cramblett Murder Trial.” The Steubenville Herald-Star , 30 Oct. 1900, pp. 4–5.
“State Rests in the Cramblett Murder Trial This Morning.” The Steubenville Herald-Star , 31 Oct. 1900, pp. 2–5.
“Unsatisfactory Verdict.” The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, 10 Apr. 1900, p. 1.
“The Jurymen in Cramblett Murder Trial Will Lose Their Votes.” The Steubenville Herald-Star , 5 Nov. 1900, pp. 2–5.