"Do you know about the murders?"

Posted by Jeff Markowitz on Saturday, October 30, 2010
And then, one of the women leaned across the table and asked, Do you know about the murders?

It was September 16, 1922.  A young couple strolled down Easton Avenue, along the border of New Brunswick and Somerset.  Even today, as I drive the road, if I look past the strip malls and the housing, the hospital, the Dunkin Donuts, the massage parlors, I can find brief glimpses of the countryside.  Eighty-eight years ago, the young couple turned off Easton, down DeRussey Lane,  heading toward an abandoned farmhouse when they were stopped short by a gruesome discovery, a man and a woman, each shot in the head.


He was a distinguished looking man, even in death.  She, a pretty woman, or would have been were it not for her throat, "a mass of maggots, from ear to ear."  A bloody calling card identified the man as an Episcopal priest, The Reverend Edward W. Hall.


Once the Reverend had been identified, it took no great detective work to identify the woman.  It was not the Reverend's wife.  Everyone in the congregation knew the Reverend's poorly-kept secret, his affair with a married member of the church choir, Mrs. Eleanor Mills.

The initial police investigation focused on three suspects, the Reverend's wife, Mrs. Frances Hall, who allegedly planned the murder and her two brothers, Henry Hewgill Stevens and Willie Carpender Stevens, who allegedly carried out the crime.  But the investigation in 1922 led to no indictments.  In response to growing media attention, the Governor ordered a new investigation in 1926.  As a result of this new investigation, a fourth suspect, a cousin, Henry de la Bruyere Carpender was added, but never charged.  Mrs. Hall and the two Stevens brothers, however, were indicted.  The trial which began November 3, 1926 immediately captured the attention of the American public. 


The media coverage of the trial was extensive. Notable among the court reporters were Damon Runyon and the mystery novelist, Mary Roberts Rinehart.  After a contentious and very public trial, marked by conflicting testimony, missing and compromised evidence, the defendants were found not guilty.

Did Mrs. Hall and her brothers get away with murder?  The murders have been the subject of numerous  books and movies.  But the case has never been solved.  Sitting in the Reverend's dining room yesterday, with the Dean and her guests, the emeritus professor, the 90 year-old twin alumnae and of course, the beauty queen, it was easy to imagine the Reverend, with a gunshot wound just above his right ear and an exit wound at the back of his neck and his mistress, with her multiple gunshot wounds and the string of maggots, like pearls across her throat, trapped somewhere between judgment and justice, locked in an eternal embrace, in the Reverend's upstairs bedroom.

(Some of the details in today's blog post comes from an accounting of the Hall Mills murder case at  TruTV.  Additional information can be found on Wikipedia.  The photos come from the Franklin Photo Archive, at the Franklin Township Library.)

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