Murder in a Minor Key (Part 1): “To Eternity by a Bullet”

She is one of those people more remembered for her death than for her life.

Margaret Tewmey was born in Ireland about 1842, just before the Great Potato Famine, and immigrated to Canada and then to Illinois. Maggie at some point in her youth lived in a convent, her sister, Mrs. Mary Lawrence, later recalled. In May 1892 Maggie moved to Fort Worth to live with her niece, Mrs. M. A. Dodd, on Main Street. Mrs. Dodd rented furnished rooms.

By 1893 Maggie Tewmey was a gray-haired, “rather tall, not fleshy” “maiden lady” of fifty-one. Maggie Tewmey, the Fort Worth Gazette would later write, was “highly cultured.” Indeed, Maggie was an accomplished artist and musician, Mrs. Lawrence said. In fact, after Maggie arrived in Fort Worth she supported herself by giving music lessons in homes.

But Maggie Tewmey would not live long enough even to be listed as a music teacher in the business directory of her adopted hometown. Because eight months after moving to Fort Worth, on January 20, 1893 Maggie left her room on Main Street to go to the home of the Louis Reiney family on West Weatherford Street (just west of today’s Henderson Street) to give a music lesson to the Reineys’ daughter. En route Maggie bought a bottle of brandy at the saloon of Horace O. Wood at the corner of West Weatherford and Houston streets. Maggie was a regular at that saloon and at the saloon of Anton Happy at 509 Weatherford Street. (See 1892 map below.)

Louis Reiney would later recall that Maggie was intoxicated when she arrived at his house that day. She offered him a drink; he declined. Her visit was brief, the Gazette would report, because of the “cool treatment” she received from the Reineys because of her inebriation. Maggie Tewmey, the Gazette would write, “unfortunately was addicted to the use of whiskey and at times was unable to restrain her appetite.”

Reiney and his wife watched Maggie stagger away into town about 1 p.m.

Neither Maggie’s relatives nor her music students saw her alive again.

Four days after Maggie left the Reiney home, in the afternoon of Tuesday, January 24, Sam Jones, a ragpicker, was cleaning up the lot of a vacant cottage at 714 West 1st Street at the corner of Florence Street—two blocks from the Reiney home, two blocks from Happy’s Saloon. In the back yard Jones noticed some fabric protruding from the closed door of an outdoor water closet (outhouse). He tugged on the fabric, but it would not yield. He could not open the door because a board had been nailed across it. Jones peered into the outhouse through a crack between two wall boards.

Terrified at what he saw, he turned and ran.

Jones ran until he came across officer Calvin C. McMichael of the police department’s sanitation department. Jones led McMichael back to the outhouse. McMichael removed the outhouse door. Therein was the body of Maggie Tewmey, bent double in that cramped space, her head on the floor in a pool of blood, a bullet wound in her head. Rats had begun to disfigure her body.

tewmey street signMaggie Tewmey’s body was found about 150 feet beyond the street sign. A parking lot covers that block today.

tewmey body found head gaz 1-25-93“To Eternity by a Bullet”: News of the ghastly discovery in the outhouse “spread over town like an electric current,” the Dallas Morning News wrote on January 25. “Crowds went down to the little cottage and stood around with their mouths open.”

Other investigators—both police and sheriff’s department—joined officer McMichael and began to “read” the crime scene to determine what it could tell them. But bear in mind the world of 1893: Forensic science was rudimentary; fingerprinting not yet common.

Investigators at the outhouse found a few chicken feathers and some corn silks stuck to Maggie’s flesh and on her clothing a red stain, “as if made by contact with red soil,” McMichael later testified.

tewmey face and wounds 1-25-93gaztewmey outhouse 1-25-93Investigators interviewing neighbors near the outhouse found no one who had seen or heard anything—no suspicious activity, no scream, no gunshot, no hammering. Some children had been in the outhouse on Monday, and the outhouse had been empty at that time. So, Maggie was killed after 1 p.m. Friday, and her body was deposited in the outhouse between 1 p.m. Friday and Tuesday afternoon.

No powder burns were found at the outhouse. No identification. No evidence of a struggle. A search of the vacant cottage revealed no evidence. Maggie evidently was killed elsewhere and her body brought to the outhouse.

tewmey enwrapped in mystery body found gaz 1-25-93On January 25 the Gazette was of the opinion that the “foul murder” seemed “so enwrapped in mystery that it will probably tax in the utmost the skill of the sheriff, with the help the city police can give him to unravel the network of secrecy that now hides the perpetrators of the crime.”

Ah, but in the outhouse with the body investigators did find one clue: a bottle of brandy bearing the house label of the saloon of Horace O. Wood.

tewmey 1892 map woodMap locates five major sites in the final days of Maggie Tewmey. (The school was the Second Ward School.) (1892 map from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

After undertakers Wilkes and Gause moved the body to the morgue, saloon operator Wood was brought in. He identified the body: Maggie, one of his regulars. In fact, Wood said he had sold her a bottle of brandy on the preceding Thursday or Friday (January 19 or 20). Maggie may have been in Wood’s saloon before or after or both before and after being at the Reiney home at 1 p.m. on January 20.

tewmey dmn outhouse lot map 1-26-93On January 26 the Dallas Morning News published a map of 714 West 1st Street. At night an electric streetlight on the corner of West 1st and Florence streets cast some light on the back yard of the vacant cottage (B). The fence (F) around the yard was low. But the outhouse (A) was partially obscured by shrubs (E). The News concluded that the persons who deposited the body in the outhouse had to be familiar with the area to know that the outhouse was there and that the property was uninhabited. Note how close the outhouse was to the alley that ran east and west parallel with Weatherford Street.

tewmey calendarOn January 25 Justice of the Peace E. B. Randle held an inquest and ruled that Margaret Tewmey had died at the hands of person or persons unknown. The Gazette reported that upon examining the body, County Physician Hoit C. Stevens found scratches and bruises, indicating a scuffle. Dr. Stevens also concluded that Maggie Tewmey had been subjected to “repeated outrages” before being killed within forty-eight hours of discovery of the body.

On the day of the inquest Maggie Tewmey was buried in Calvary Cemetery, the Catholic section of Oakwood Cemetery.

tewmey anonymous letter head gaz 1-29-93Every classic murder case needs at least one red herring. In the Maggie Tewmey case one red herring was an anonymous letter. The letter was found in a yard at the corner of East 6th and Pecan streets, addressed to a Fort Worth newspaper. The rambling, handwritten letter was “the work of an illiterate,” the Gazette wrote on January 29. In essence, the writer claimed that he had heard the fatal gunshot and had been bribed by the killer—whom the writer named in the letter—to keep his mouth shut. But the letter writer wrote that he would testify in court against the killer after the killer was arrested.

tewmey anonymous letter text gaz 1-29-93The newspaper printed the text of the letter, redacting the names used and “one or two objectionable words that do not look well in print.”

But the Dallas Morning News reported that City Marshal James Maddox “believes the man who wrote the letter is about as apt to be the murderer as the man whose name is given. The chief thinks the real murderer has a fine sense of humor and wants to see how much fun he can have with the police by throwing them on the wrong trail.”

A cryptic letter addressed to authorities in a lurid murder case no doubt caused the public to recall—with a shudder—the Jack the Ripper murders of women in London only five years earlier.

And just as every classic murder case needs a red herring, every classic murder case needs a period of stagnation, a period during which the investigation is stymied, and the case cools from hot case to cold case, falls out of the headlines and out of the public mind.

That period of stagnation began with the dismissal of the anonymous letter in January.

Likewise, every classic murder case needs a witness who comes forth reluctantly but dramatically to end the period of stagnation and crack the case wide open. The period of stagnation in the Maggie Tewmey murder case ended in October when a witness came forth in the person of Annie Edmonds.

Murder in a Minor Key (Part 2): “I Told You I’d Kill You”

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