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

In October 1893—nine months after the body of music teacher Maggie Tewmey had been found in an outhouse on West 1st Street (see Part 1)—Annie Edmonds stepped out of the shadows. Edmonds, twenty-two, a prostitute (the Gazette called her “the most dissolute of scarlet women” and a “cocaine fiend”), lived with another prostitute, Lola Heinzman, in a house behind Anton Happy’s saloon on West Weatherford Street.

tewmey edmonds police statement 10-13Edmonds, the Dallas Morning News wrote on October 13, told police that in January 1893 four men had brought Maggie Tewmey to a room in the rear of Happy’s Saloon and had held her captive there. Maggie, Edmonds said, “remained . . . under the influence of liquor much of the time and debauched while in that condition” by the men. One night Edmonds “heard sounds as of quarreling and physical disturbance. Miss Tewmey ran out into the yard followed by a man. He said: ‘I told you I’d kill you — — you if you did it and I’ll do it now.’ The fleeing woman threw up her hands exclaiming: ‘May the God Almighty save my soul. May God Almighty save —.’ The shot was fired and she fell to the ground a corpse. The body was then taken by the shooter and the other three men implicated, placed on a little two-wheel hand cart, wheeled down the alley that is between Weatherford and West First Street and placed where it was found.”

The Gazette wrote that Edmonds told police “that she was present when Maggie Tewmey was killed; that she saw the shot fired and that the pistol was in the hands of old man Happy.”

Police had questioned Edmonds about the murder in January, but she had provided little information. Now, in October, she admitted to police that she initially had been afraid to talk because roommate Lola Heinzman, who was “the mistress of one of the accused,” had told Edmonds that “death within ten hours would follow any disclosure” by Edmonds.

tewmey happy the man 4 suspects named head gaz 10-13-93Circumstantial evidence had already led investigators to suspect Anton Happy of the murder, but with the statement of Edmonds they felt they had enough evidence to act. Police arrested Anton Happy, Jack Gunnells (Happy’s stepson), John Witcher, and Bob Miller. The four men denied any guilt. Happy denied knowing Maggie Tewmey. He denied knowing even his own stepson. The Gazette reported that John Witcher was the brother of Deputy Sheriff Joe Witcher.

The Dallas Morning News noted that “very soon” after the murder Anton Happy and his wife had sold their saloon and moved to another part of town.

tewmey happy lot map 5-2-94dmnThis Dallas Morning News map of May 2, 1894 shows the layout of the Happy’s Saloon property.

Annie Edmonds said she and Lola Heinzman had been in their house (3) when Edmonds saw Anton Happy chasing Maggie Tewmey in a room at the rear of the saloon (10), heard gunshots from a vacant lot (16), and then saw four men pushing a cart in the alley (14) that led west to the outhouse where Maggie’s body was found (see DMN map in Part 1).

tewmey happy ship 1The prime suspect, Anton Happy (originally “Happe”), had come to the States from Germany in 1845 at age twenty-eight. He had listed his occupation then as joiner (carpenter). Although by 1893 he had been in America almost half a century, the Gazette wrote, his command of English remained rudimentary.

tewmey happy 80 censusIf Anton Happy was twenty-eight in 1845 and sixty-three in 1880, he was seventy-six years old when he allegedly killed Maggie Tewmey. In fact, he was known as “old man Happy.”

tewmey dynamite gaz 11-29-93Just as every classic murder case needs a red herring, a period of stagnation, and a reluctant but dramatic witness (see Part 1), every classic murder case needs death threats to witnesses. By November star witness Annie Edmonds was living, the Gazette reported, “in a state of filth and squalor” in a two-room house on West 15th Street in Hell’s Half Acre. One day she found fastened to her back door a note threatening to blow up her house if she didn’t leave town. She also said a stranger had approached her and “offered her $300 or $400 if she would leave town.” Police offered Annie protection, but she declined, instead accepting from police a pistol for self-defense.

tewmey 2 lawyers threatened 10-26-94gazIn October 1894, as the Tewmey investigation and judicial process dragged on, Lola Heinzman, who had been Annie Edmonds’s roommate behind Happy’s Saloon, was in jail, accused of an unrelated theft. Now she, too, stepped out of the shadows with a story to tell. She agreed to tell what she knew of the murder if given assurance that she would not be prosecuted for the unrelated theft. Heinzman was represented by lawyers A. H. Jackson and C. M. Brown. Someone sent Jackson and Brown a note saying that they would “wake up some morning with some cold lead in you” if they continued “hunting up parties” on “a hot trail.”

tewmey heinzman story 10-25-94gazLola Heinzman claimed that one night in January 1893 two men came to the house where Heinzman and Edmonds lived behind Happy’s Saloon and borrowed a hatchet and pulled some nails from walls of the house. In the Gazette account, Heinzman said the two men said to her and Edmonds: “We have got our foot in it; we have killed a woman, and we are going to nail her up in a house. We have a d–n good notion to kill you, too, and nail you up.” “They were drinking,” Heinzman said. “They made I and Annie get down and pray.” The Gazette redacted the names of the men mentioned in Heinzman’s statement. She said that about twenty minutes after the two men left with the hatchet, she looked out the door and saw those two men and a third man pushing a cart containing “what I took to be a woman—something was spread over her. Her feet hung over at the back of the cart.” The men pushed the cart out of sight down the alley behind Happy’s Saloon. Heinzman said that after the men returned to the Happy lot, she heard one of them ask another: “Did you wash the blood off the wagon?” “I did; I used a broom and a hose.” The men then “went toward the saloon” and invited Edmonds and Heinzman to “Come up and get something to drink—it won’t cost you anything.”

tewmey mcmichael preliminary 10-19-93October 1894 also brought the examining trial of Anton Happy and the other three defendants in the murder of Maggie Tewmey. On October 19 the Dallas Morning News wrote that police department sanitation officer Calvin C. McMichael testified that in January 1893 he had “found feathers” on the body of Maggie Tewmey in the outhouse and “a stain on the clothing as if made from contact with red soil. He saw light wagon tracks from the back of Happy’s Saloon to the place where the body was found, and, in a barn at the back of the saloon lot, red soil and indications that a chicken recently had been killed there.”

tewmey in the toils edmonds preliminary 10-20-93gazBut the star witness at the examining trial, of course, was Annie Edmonds. The Gazette noted the reaction of chief defendant Happy when he saw Edmonds led into the courtroom: “Happy was almost transfixed with horror. A deathly pallor spread over his countenance.”

The Gazette printed verbatim Edmonds’s testimony—six full columns.

Annie Edmonds testified that on a night in January 1893 from a window at the rear of her house behind Happy’s Saloon she saw Anton Happy chasing Maggie Tewmey and heard two gunshots. She later saw four men in the alley in front of her house. One of the men was pushing a hand cart containing the body of “a white woman” in the direction of the outhouse. Edmonds said she could not see the men or the woman’s body well enough to identify them.

Nonetheless, after her testimony the four defendants were indicted for first-degree murder and remanded to jail.

As the year 1894 began so began the trial of the four men charged with murdering Maggie Tewmey in January 1893: Anton Happy, Jack Gunnells, John Witcher, and Bob Miller.

But soon after the trial began in Seventeenth District Court the prosecution dropped the murder charge against Bob Miller.

And then there were three.

The prosecution also dropped the murder charge against John Witcher.

And then there were two.

In late April the murder trial of Anton Happy—by then seventy-seven and “getting feeble,” the Dallas Morning News wrote—and stepson Jack Gunnells began.

City Marshal James Maddox testified that “Around the [water] closet where the body was found was a narrow-wheel cart track from the east to the west, which I traced to within . . . half a block of Happy’s [Saloon]. The tracks going were heavy and cut deep and returning light as though unloaded.”

Deputy Sheriff H. D. Gunnells (apparently no relation to the co-defendant) testified that he had examined a stable in the rear of Happy’s lot. “I looked into it and saw [corn] shucks, as in any ordinary stable. The garments on the body [of Maggie Tewmey] were bloody. They had corn silks on them, as though they had been lying in shucks.”

Police officer McMichael reiterated the testimony he had given at the examining trial in October 1893. The Dallas Morning News on May 2 quoted McMichael: “There was a veil under the head of the deceased. [Here witness unwrapped it and exhibited it.] It has a white feather, a few corn silks and gray hairs about two inches long and clotted blood on it. . . . Defendant Happy has gray hair and beard, the latter about two inches long.”

After Maggie’s body had been found in the outhouse, McMichael had examined Happy’s stable behind the saloon and had found red soil “and indications that a chicken had recently been killed there.” Maggie’s body, remember, had been found with a red stain on her clothing, “as if made by contact with red soil.”

E. W. Provine, living at the corner of West Weatherford and Florence streets at the time of the murder, testified that he heard “one or two gunshots” about midnight of the night before Maggie’s body was found. “I thought they were to the east. . . . Happy’s Saloon was two blocks east of my residence.”

Also giving testimony was County Physician Hoit C. Stevens, who had examined the body after Maggie was found dead in the outhouse. He lived only two hundred feet away at 712 West Weatherford Street and said he could see the outhouse from his porch. He said that he and his wife had been up late the night before the body was found. He said that about 2 a.m. he heard three or four baying dogs and looked out a window. “The dogs I saw came up Florence Street from the alley where the body was found.” Dr. Stevens said he heard no gunshot.

tewmey edmonds testimony 5-2-94dmnBut, of course, the prosecution’s star witness again was Annie Edmonds. She largely reiterated her testimony of the examining trial: On the night before Maggie Tewmey’s body was found in January 1893 she had watched from her rear window as Anton Happy chased Maggie Tewmey behind his saloon, cursing her. Edmonds heard a gunshot, then heard Tewmey plead for mercy, then heard a second shot. Later she saw four men with a small two-wheel hand cart with “a woman in it.” “I watched them go about a block and a half to where the body was found.”

But the credibility of witnesses Edmonds and Heinzman was in doubt 1. because the two women, “having lost their priceless jewel of womanhood,” the Dallas Morning News wrote, were “less conscientious of the truth,” 2. because the two women might be saying only what prosecutors wanted to hear (or had coached the women to say) in order to receive better treatment from the law, and 3. because on the witness stand, the more Annie Edmonds told her story as she was ping-ponged between direct examination and cross-examination, the more she contradicted herself.

In fact, the defense attorneys of Happy and Gunnells were so unimpressed with the case made by the prosecution that they called no witnesses. The defense attorneys dismissed the testimony of the prosecution’s star witness as “almost worthless.”

tewmey gunnells acquitted 5-3-94dmnAs if to agree with the defense attorneys’ assessment, on May 1 County Attorney Oscar Gillespie asked the jury to acquit murder co-defendant Jack Gunnells. The jury had been instructed by the judge to consider a charge of first-degree murder—nothing less—for Gunnells, and Gillespie said that he could not “maintain” a first-degree conviction on appeal.

And then there was one: “old man Happy.”

But jurors were deadlocked in their deliberations of Anton Happy and asked to be dismissed. The judge complied. The prosecution would have to decide whether to retry Happy for the murder of Maggie Tewmey.

tewmey case dropped 2-6-95In August 1894 Anton Happy raised $4,000 for his bond and was freed. In February 1895—more than two years after Maggie Tewmey was killed—the prosecution reported that it would drop the murder charge against the fourth and final defendant in the case, citing “the character of the testimony for the prosecution.”

And then there was none.

tewmey happy 95 cdBy 1895 Anton Happy had moved his business to the Acre.

The law enforcement/legal system, with its star witness, had built a case against four men in the murder of Maggie Tewmey but could convict none of them.

The murder of Maggie Tewmey remains unsolved. And Maggie remains more remembered for her death than for her life. And as a final affront, when history has remembered her death, on occasion history has misremembered it.

tewmey roberts versiontewmey strangling sketch telegram 2-10-07For example, in 1907 the Telegram printed a roundup of unsolved murders in Fort Worth. Incorrect in this account are the name of the victim, the name of the main suspect, the year of the crime, the location of the outhouse, and the method of murder.

tewmey knight versionLikewise, in Oliver Knight’s 1953 history Fort Worth: Outpost on the Trinity, Maggie was a Hell’s Half Acre dance-hall girl named “Sally” who was nailed to an outhouse.

(Thanks to retired Fort Worth police sergeant and historian Kevin Foster for his help. For a more detailed account of the case of Maggie Tewmey, see historian Richard F. Selcer’s Fort Worth Characters.)

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

  1. earl belcher says:

    Great work, Mike. This reminds me of the book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. Were any of these suspects Free Masons? Any cryptic messages to be found? The fact that a two-wheeled cart was used? The tracks going from east to west and east again. And finally the outhouse used to dispose of the deceased. Don’t forget the barking dogs.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Earl. The Maggie Tewmey murder definitely has a Sherlock Holmes/Ripper feel to it. Anton Happy reminds me of the defrocked clergyman in The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist because of his age and appearance. Maggie Tewmey reminded me of any of several damsels in distress in Holmes. I read The Final Solution and found it fascinating.

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