Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Murder and Mayhem in the Messuages Next Door

If a property has been around for long enough, someone is going to die on it. Given enough human habitation, the chances that someone has been murdered on the premises are pretty decent, because humans are shitty creatures that murder each other a lot. Some locations, though, seem to attract violent crime more than others. While I was researching the history of 103 Callowhill Street (a.k.a. 21 Callowhill Street before the Ordinance of 1856), I noticed something odd: in the Philadelphia newspapers of the late 19th Century, there was a disproportionate number of mentions of the houses next door, 105 Callowhill Street and 400 Front Street (the corner of Front and Callowhill Streets). As it turns out, during this period my poor building was sandwiched between a flophouse and a saloon in one of the worst parts of Philadelphia.

As an aficionado of true crime since puberty, I want to bookend this history with two contemporary Philadelphia-related incidents which became media sensations, one that you probably haven't heard of and one that you probably have (or at least, will probably hear of soon). Public fascination with murder and true crime was really coming into its own in America around this time.

Engraving of Antoine Probst, from The Life, Confession and Atrocious Crimes of Antoine Probst

In 1866, a German immigrant conman and itinerant laborer named Antoine Probst brutally murdered eight members of a farming household just south of Philadelphia, luring them one by one into a barn where he attacked each with an axe, hatchet, and hammer. His victims included four children, aged eight, six, four, and fourteen months. He stole the Deering family's cash, which came to less than $20, and fled north to our neighborhood, an area he frequented which at the time was populated by a fair number of German-speaking immigrants. He sold some items at the saloon on the corner of Front and Callowhill Streets (almost certainly 400 Front Street), got drunk, and had sex with local prostitutes, before he was eventually caught some days later at 23rd and Market by a policeman who with "praiseworthy zeal" had been obsessively questioning everyone who looked German in an effort to find the murderer.

(Well, you know what they say: when Germany sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing crime. They're thieves. They’re murderers. They have foreign names like Probst and, say, Drumpf. But I digress.)

In the days that followed the publicization of the mass murder in the press, citizens of Philadelphia went mad for details. The newspapers were full of lurid accounts of the crime, arrest, confession, and trial. Sightseers rushed to visit and gawk at the crime scene. A 110-page pamphlet was produced, which you can read in its entirety online for the full story and more.

Probst was found guilty and hanged in Moyamensing Prison, and despite his flash of fame, he has been all but forgotten.

1838 engraving of Moyamensing Prison. by J. C. Wild, found on Wikipedia

All right, you say, but Probst didn't actually kill anyone near Front and Callowhill Streets. He just preferred to carouse there when he wasn't busy slaughtering entire families. Never fear, onsite murders are coming. Let me introduce you to someone who facilitated them: William Entwistle, the owner of 105 Callowhill Street between 1870 and 1884, and a man that I hold responsible for taking an already pretty bad block and really fucking it up.

Who was this guy? In 1869, Entwistle, an Englishman, owned and operated a boarding house at 537 N. Front Street (across the road from what is now the strip club Delilah's); one of his tenants was "an English thief" Alfred Scarborough. According to the August 4th Philadelphia Inquirer:
Entwistle, being under the influence of liquor, was lying asleep in his room, when his son, a little boy, saw [Scarborough] go up to him and put his hand into his pocket and walk away, though he could not see whether he took anything. [Scarborough] was then known to go into the cellar, and shortly afterwards went to bed. The child apprized his mother of what he had seen, and she repeated it to her husband, receiving therefore a cruel beating: but upon search Entwistle learned that he had been robbed, and, therefore, caused [Scarborough] to be arrested ... At the preliminary hearing before the magistrate the prisoner denied his guilt in this matter point blank, but acknowledged that be had previously been a thief in the service of the Prosecutors, stealing goods and selling to them. 1
So Entwistle was (a) an alcoholic, (b) a wife-beater, and (c) a fence. And the following August he purchased 105 Callowhill Street after some very strange deed-swapping involving two couples called Ehrenpfort and Wildmayer that I don't quite understand, but which is probably irrelevant. Now, I'm not suggesting that the neighborhood was perfect before Entwistle showed up. There were good reasons Probst chose to hang out here; being by the docks, there were a lot of shady characters passing through, and the clientele and lodgers at 400 Front Street, which had been in operation as a tavern for a hundred years, were no angels. Here are some sample reports from 1870 and 1871:
Yesterday afternoon, before Alderman Becker, at the Central Station, a young man named John Gallop had a hearing upon the charge of the larceny of a watch and chain. He was arrested on Monday night, at Front and Callowhill streets for the offence, and locked up. 2

Peter Hogan residing at No. 400 N. Front street, had so forgotten his manhood as to cruelly beat his wife. 3

Mary Jones, for stealing a petticoat from a house at Front and Callowhill streets, has been sent by Alderman Toland to Moyamensing for thirty days. 4

Martin Oliver, Irish, drunk and impudent, amused himself, on Monday afternoon, by beating his wife, at their residence, Front and Callowhill streets. 5, 6

Margaret Culp was arrested on Thursday night for the larceny of a watch from a man named John Burton, at Front and Callowhill streets. When arraigned before Alderman Cahill she positively denied having stolen the watch, but as it dropped on the floor just as she was speaking she was compelled to confess her guilt. 7

A German named Weiss, from Bucks county, recently arrived in this city on a visit. Having a great deal of money in bis possession he thought he would have a good time, and going into several saloons imbibed quite freely until he had become very drunk. In his wanderings, having reached Front and Callowhill streets, he was there met by some men who relieved him of the sum of sixteen dollars in money and a silver watch. 8

But after Entwistle converted 105 Callowhill, once a respectable home and shop for a family of sailmakers, into a cheap boarding house, it didn't take long for that address to start making itself known in the news. It started small: a man named Neal Nugent, aged 30 years, fell from a third-story window and was severely injured in July of 1871 9. Hey, maybe it was just an accident, right? Or maybe not. Two months later:
A man named William Entwistle takes lodgers for fifteen cents per night at the home No. 105 Callowhill street, of which he is proprietor. On Sunday, one of his boarders was unwilling to pay for something. Entwistle beat the man on the head with a base-ball bat he had in his hand at the time, injuring him seriously. 10
Two months after that, 105 Callowhill Street had become a "thieves' den."
John Harrison, Frank Thompson and Robert Jones were charged with several robberies at Chestnut Hill. They were captured yesterday morning while leaving an  alleged thieves' den at No. 105 Callowhill street. They had been seen together with several bundles, which contained stolen articles. Mary Morris, a woman residing in the house, was sent to a pawnbrokers near by before they left, and she pawned a number of the articles. 11
And the following July of 1872, Entwistle and his wife Susan were arrested on the charge of "keeping a disorderly house," which does not mean that they just needed to tidy up a bit. They were pimps. 12

For the next decade, the papers are littered with stories of crimes involving either 105 Callowhill or 400 Front every few months, mostly thefts, robberies, and assaults, or combinations thereof. 400 Front is named as "Hetig's Saloon" in 1874 when its windows were smashed by a man named Albert Souder (gosh, these Germans, I just don't know) 13. If I were to list all the press mentions, I would be here all day, so let me just skip to the deaths.

  • Guydo Haug, aged 56 years, died at his residence at 400 Front Street from injuries received by falling down stairs, on December 8, 1873. 14
  • Leonard F. Dunn, a.k.a. Joshua Leonard, of Delaware, was found dead with wounds on his head and hands on one of the upper floors of 105 Callowhill Street on March 20, 1875. A six foot tall man with black, curly hair, a full set of whiskers, and fair complexion, he had been staying at the boarding house for two weeks. A post-mortem examination gave COD as a fracture of the skull and profuse inter-cranial hemorrage. Eight fellow boarders at the house were arrested, though four were later released. It was reported that he might have been involved in a fight at a tavern in the neighborhood (400 Front?) the night before. 15
  • Mrs. Guinnivan (no first name given), about 40 years old, was murdered by her husband on the second story of 105 Callowhill Street on 21 July 1875. John Guinnivan, who was somewhat older than his wife, was a longshoreman who arrived home from work at noon to find his wife drunk, as was her frequent habit. They got into an argument which ended when he beat her to death with a cedar shingle, hitting her so hard that it broke in two. A roommate, Annie Ackley, witnessed the murder and raised the alarm. Neighbors reported that both Guinnivans were frequently in trouble with the law. 16
  • Isaac Seely, aged 64, died suddenly at 105 Callowhill Street, 3 May 1877. No further details given. 17
  • An unidentified female skeleton was found in a well at 400 Front Street on January 22, 1880, along with a pistol, a knife, and a hatchet. Theories included that the woman was a tramp who disappeared after reporting being threatened by a well-known ruffian, or alternatively that the remains were portions of a body dissected by two medical student brothers who had previously occupied the house, although this does not explain the accompanying weapons. 18
  • Alice Tierney, a 45-year-old prostitute living at 105 Callowhill Street, was found dead hanging on a fence in the rear of 103 Callowhill Street on 27 January, 1880. She had been drinking with a number of women in one of the rooms at 103 Callowhill and had gone out to get more liquor. It was supposed she attempted to climb the fence between the two properties when her clothing became tangled and she was accidentally strangled. 19, 20
  • An unidentified man, aged 65 years, was found dead in bed at 105 Callowhill Street on 6 April, 1881. 21
  • Tom King, a baby only 10 days old, was accidentally smothered by his mother while she was intoxicated at Entwistle's lodging house, 105 Callowhill Street, on September 11, 1882. The coroner found a "remarkable spectacle" upon investigation: thirty lodgers were passed out drunk in twelve rooms and a cellar. "It was found impossible to rouse the unfortunate mother sufficiently to make her comprehend anything more than that her child was dead. She merely muttered, 'I want its death warrant,' and to inquiries where she lived and who was her husband she replied that she did not know. The 'death warrant' was refused, and the mother was told to attend the inquest." 22

It's sort of horrifically amusing to me that in the middle of all of this, Entwistle's boarding house is listed in a visitors' hotel guide issued by Samuel Smirke during the 1876 Centennial Exposition, America's first World's Fair. Unless the list was completely uncurated, Entwistle surely must have paid a fee to be included in the tourist guide, as no editor worth his salt could have recommended the establishment. I can only imagine what out-of-town guests must have faced giving Entwistle's a try, but I suspect Entwistle and his neighbors had a field day with them.

I'm foreshadowing, of course. Seventeen years later, the 1893 World's Fair created a similar tourist situation in Chicago, leading to the creation of the notorious "Murder Castle" hotel, for the efficient killing, robbing, and insuring of unsuspecting out-of-towners, by H. H. Holmes, America's first serial killer (Leonardo DiCaprio recently optioned the film rights to his biography, The Devil in the White City, so he's about to get some more exposure). Although the bulk of Holmes's known murders took place in Chicago, it was Philadelphia that ended him: in 1894 the remains of his nefarious business partner Benjamin Pitezel were discovered at 1316 Callowhill Street, one mile down the road from our building, which set a Philadelphian Pinkerton detective on his trail.

1895 mugshot of H.H. Holmes, found on Weekendowo.

After his capture, he was tried in Philadelphia and hanged in Moyamensing Prison in 1896, in the same place where Antoine Probst twitched at the end of a rope thirty years earlier. Incidentally, the site of Moyamensing Prison is now an Acme Supermarket. I've shopped there.

William Entwistle sold 105 Callowhill Street ten years before H.H. Holmes was executed, and when he left, the frequent violent deaths almost immediately stopped, although the neighborhood took a very long time to recover. With increasing industrialization, the area became a produce warehouse and market district by the 1890s, but for decades it languished at the dilapidated far end of the Tenderloin until large swathes of it were razed for a (failed) redevelopment initiative or to make way for I-95 in the 1960s and 1970s. 105 Callowhill was finally demolished in 1977 and is now an empty lot. 400 Front is currently an apartment building and a scaffolding business, although the scaffolding business is leaving now that property values are going up and their storage yard is being sold to developers. The days of 103 Callowhill Street being sandwiched between a brothel and a bar are long gone, for now.

Only one thing is certain: this is gonna make one hell of a Halloween performance at the Hannah Callowhill Stage in the near future.

"Legal Intelligence: Court of Quarter Sessions—Judge Brewster." Philadelphia Inquirer 4 Aug. 1869: 2.
2 "No Charge Brought." Philadelphia Inquirer 27 Apr. 1870: 2.
3 "Minor Locals." Philadelphia Inquirer 22 Oct. 1870: 2.
4 "Crime." Philadelphia Inquirer 15 Apr. 1871: 2.
5 "Rum." The Evening Telegraph 30 May 1871: 4th Ed, 8.
6 "Inhuman." Philadelphia Inquirer 31 May 1871: 2.
7 "A Female in Trouble." Philadelphia Inquirer 4 Nov. 1871: 2.
8 "A Countryman Robbed." Philadelphia Inquirer 10 Nov. 1871: 2.
9 "Hospital Cases." Philadelphia Inquirer 14 Jul. 1871: 2.
10 "A Boarder Beaten." Philadelphia Inquirer 12 Sep. 1871: 2.
11 "At the Central." Philadelphia Inquirer 24 Nov. 1871: 3.
12 "Police Matters."  Philadelphia Inquirer
23 Jul. 872.
13 "Around Town: Items of Local Interest Briefly Told." Philadelphia Inquirer 18 Apr. 1874.
14 "Coroner's Inquests." Philadelphia Inquirer 11 Dec. 1873: 8.
15 "Supposed Case of Violence: A Delawarean Found Dead in a Callowhill Street Lodging House." Philadelphia Inquirer 22 Mar. 1875: 2.
16 "Beaten to Death: A Woman Killed by her Husband—the Crime and its Cause." Philadelphia Inquirer 22 Jul. 1875: 2.
17 "Sudden Death" Philadelphia Inquirer 4 May 1877: 8.
18 "Mystery of a Skeleton: A Discovery in a Well in Philadelphia—The Police Puzzled." New York Times 23 Jan. 1880:1.
19 "Coroner's Inquests." Philadelphia Inquirer 29 Jan. 1880: 3.
20 "State Items." Lancaster Daily Intelligencer 28 Jan. 1880.
21 "Items of Interest: Local Notes Collated and Put Into Small Space." Philadelphia Inquirer 7 Apr. 1881.
22 "Result of Drink." Philadelphia Inquirer 11 Sep. 1882.

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