Albert Frantz's Application to Set Aside Execution


This is an excerpt from:








The Westbot Co., State Printers.





    Application for commutation. Committed at the October term, 1896, of the Common Pleas Court of Montgomery county, of the crime of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to be executed.

The applicant, Albert J. Frantz, stands convicted of the premeditated and deliberate murder of Bessie Little, on the evening of August 27, 1896. He asks for a commutation of the death penalty to life imprisonment, upon the two following grounds: First, because, under the evidence, there is a grave doubt that he did the killing; and secondly, if he did do the killing, he was mentally irresponsible at the time he committed the act. The facts in the case are as follows:

Albert J. Frantz lived with his aged father and elder sister, in the city of Dayton. Bessie Little resided in the tame neighborhood, with her foster parents, by whom she had been taken from a children's home when but an infant, and reared. About a year before the culmination of this tragedy, Albert sought an introduction to Bessie, and from that time on became her accepted and attentive suitor. It appears that after the elapse of some months, they became engaged to be married, and also that they became improperly intimate. On July 17, Mrs. Little discovered them together in the stable under compromising circumstances; and that night Frantz was detected in an attempt to gain her bed room, which had been on the ground floor, but from which, on that day, she had been removed to an upper room. After this, Mrs. Little told Bessie she must either give up seeing Frantz or she must leave their home. On the 19th, Bessie left; but returned after a day or two and remained a week, at the expiration of which, she took her final departure, going to the Cooper Hotel, where Frantz had provided for her accommodation. She remained at the Cooper Hotel until the 20th of August, during all of which time she pleaded with Albert to marry her, but he put her off on the ground that his father, and sister who was his guardian, refused their consent. At that time he was still several months under 21 years of age, and Bessie was probably three years his senior. On August 10, Frantz came to the hotel in great anger, and called for the bill, stating to the bookkeeper, Mrs. Bell, that Bessie had written to his father, an awful letter, and that he was done with her. He was persuaded, however, to go to Bessie's room and see her, and he returned in a better humor. During her stay at the Cooper Hotel, Bessie displayed great despondency, relieved at times by hopes ofa speedy marriage, or an arrangement by which she could return to her home without giving up Albert. On several occasions she hinted at suicide, and at one time told Mrs. Bell that she would have thrown herself into the river when crossing it that day had she not been in the street car. She wrote a pitiful letter to her foster mother, who came to see her twice, and brought her clothes ; and who urged her to give Albert up and return home. Shortly after the stable episode, Mrs. Little wrote to Albert's father informing him of the situation and stating that Bessie was not her child, and she was glad of it. The testimony indicates that Bessie was not, however, forced from home, nor treated unkindly by Mrs. Little. Albert's father testifies that during this time he received a letter from Bessie appealing to him to allow Albert to marry her, and threatening, if he did not, that she would commit suicide, and in such manner as would be dear to them all*. This letter was destroyed by his daughter.

On August 20, Albert moved Bessie from the Cooper Hotel to Mrs. Friese, who kept a lodging house which was cheaper. While at this house, Mrs. Freise heard crying one evening, and states that Bessie told her the next morning that it was Albert crying; that she would not cry for him; and that he was crying because she had told him she would not marry him. On the evening of August 27, about six o'clock, Bessie left the house, stating that she had an engagement with Albert; and she never returned. That night about 9:30, Albert Frantz came to the house of Rev. Teeter, a minister of his church and a relative by marriage, and in great excitement threw himself into a chair exclaiming, "My God, what will I do, what will I do. I just want to go to the river and drown myself." Upon being questioned, he said: "Oh, if she would just have done it on a public street, where some one could have seen her," and he then swooned away. Upon recovering, he exclaimed: "Bessie Little shot herself in my buggy ; Oh, what shall I do." He then told him that Bessie had planned a drive, and proposed going over the new bridge; that on approaching it, she told him to look down the river and she would look up, and see if they could locate a boat which had been capsized. That just as he did so, he heard a shot; that his horse became unmanageable, and before he could control him, another shot was fired; that he didn't think she spoke or made any none after the first shot; that the shots were close together. He said he got his horse under control beyond the bridge and turned to go back ; that while driving back over the bridge he thought of arrest and disgrace, and in his fear and excitement he threw her over into the river, and the revolver after her. Rev. Teeter then exclaimed emphatically that he had made a great mistake, and that he should have driven with her at once to a police office and. told the story. Thereupon Albert fell again to the floor and lay for a long time in a syncope. When he came to his senses, Mr. Teeter suggested that he write to his brother, Rev. Isaac Frantz, to come, and that he advise with him; this he agreed to, but said he could not collect his thoughts, so Mr. Teeter dictated a note to his brother, which Albert wrote and signed. The next morning Albert went to Mrs. Friese arid expressed surprise at Bessie's absence, insisted on paying a week’s board for her, in advance, as she would certainly be hack, and tried to persuade Mrs. Friese that she had misunderstood Bessie's statement that she was going out with him the night before. That evening, the 28ih, Frantz's barn burst into flames, not long after Albert had left it, and while he was in the house ; and his horse and buggy, and the coat and vest he had worn on the fatal previous night were destroyed. Some neighbors testified that he obstructed all efforts to save the contents, while others say he endeavored to assist. His brother now arrived, and insisted on his going with him to a lawyer. Albertfinally, on the same night, met his brother and the Rev. Teeter, at the law office of Judge Kreitzer. Here Albert again went over the story of the killing; and, upon deliberation, it was decided that he ought to give himself up, and Isaac said to him : " Now, Albert, take my advice, whether you are innocent or guilty, give yourself up and make a clean breast of it." To which Albert responded: "Why, Isaac, did you think I could be cruel enough to kill poor Bessie?" And he persistently refused to make public acknowledgment of the tragedy. Judge Kreitzer then advised them to await developments, and they parted.

From that time until his arrest, Albert denied to Bessie's acquaintances any knowledge of her absence, and endeavored to lull their rising suspicions. On the second day of September—six days after the killing—the body of Bessie Little was found in the river, and although in a very bad condition, it was finally identified. The chief of police immediately sent for Albert, and questioned him about her, but he denied all knowledge of her whereabouts, and, on being taken to view the dead body of the woman found, declared that it was not she. The coroner decided that Bessie Little had come to her death at her own hands, by drowning, and the body was interred; but it was afterwards taken up, and upon closer examination, two bullet wounds were found in the head near her right ear. The bullets were found in a shattered condition in the head and brain, and their weight indicated conclusively that they were fired from a 32caliber revolver. The autopsy proved that she was not pregnant at the time of the killing.

It is proven that Albert Frantz was courting Miss Mollie Cart, who lived in the country some miles from Dayton, for months previous to the killing of Bessie Little. Six love letter are in evidence, written by him to Mite Cart on dates from March 19 to July 16, inclusive.

In the last of these, he states that he will call soon to receive his answer as to "whether it shall be yea or nay." It appears that upon throwing Bessie over, into the river, he went immediately home, and after some conversation with his father and sister, sat down and wrote another love letter of upwards of a thousand words, to his other sweetheart, Mollie Cart. In it he quotes Holy Scripture, indulges in playful expressions, asserts that he is aggrieved that she should believe the reports that he was running with bad girls; and says he wishes her to appoint a time for him to see her and have a good talk. He closes this letter with the remark that it is now nine o'clock at night. The letter is postmarked the next morning, August 28, at 10:30 o'clock. It was upon closing this letter that he burst in upon Rev. Teeter with the story of Bessie's suicide.

     It appears that previous to their fall, the characters of both Bessie and Albert were excellent, so far as their friends were able to judge. It was fully established, in evidence, that Albert's ancestry on his mother's side was very badly tainted with insanity. That several brothers and a twin sister of his mother were all violently insane, and that a number of his cousins on the same side had been in asylums or had committed suicide; th-re was, however, no evidence adduced proving insanity in Albert himself. He was examined by several physicians selected by his own counsel and by the prosecution, and appointed by the court for the purpose, but their testimony was not called for in the defense of the case. He had been occupying a position of trust, requiring intelligence and physical and mental activity, as collector and stenographer for a factory, and he continued his duties in that position after the tragedy and until he was arrested. The State produced a clerk in a gun store, when testified positively to having sold Frantz a 32-caliber, self-acting revolver, sometime in August. But upon cross-examination the value of his testimony was very much diminished.

The above briefly detailed history covers the dominant features of this case as proven, and as substantially admitted by both the prosecution and the defense. As to the questions of specific error, I do not believe that our duty includes their consideration. They have been passed upon on motion by the trial court, and on review by the Circuit Court and also by the highest law tribunal in our State.

It is claimed before us that the jury were prejudiced, and also that the judge did not treat the prisoner fairly, in that he refused to continue the case over to another term for trial. It appears, however, that Frantz was not called before the bar for trial until more than three months after he had been formally committed to jail on the charge upon which he was afterwards found guilty. A longer delay could have served no purpose of justice, and would have only added to the claims of those who seek to justify mob law. Frantz had the benefit of able counsel in Messrs. Kreitzer and Van Shaik, and in addition to these, the court appointed to aid in his defense, Hon. Robert M. Nevin, probably the ablest criminal lawyer in the State. That all the means and opportunities for a successful defense were exhausted in his behalf, is beyond doubt.

In reviewing this case on the weight of the evidence we must assume that the jury were possibly led astray by unjust prejudice or popular excitement; otherwise, it would be presumptuous in us to reconsider, under our restricted opportunities, the finding of those 12 men, for there has been nothing substantially new presented in this application.

Let us first consider the question of who did the killing.

   Eliminating from our information everything subsequent to the first shot that was fired on that night, and we would undoubtedly conclude that Bessie Little, tired of her shame and disappointments, had carried out her oft-repeated intimations and threats, and had taken her own life. But it seems that the hand of God will not rest, when innocent blood has been cruelly taken, it follows the murderer unceasingly and impels him to disclose his crime, by the follies of his subsequent actions. It is established by the testimony of physicians and by the logic of the fact, that Bessie Little, holding a revolver in a strained position so as to point it at her right ear, could never have pulled the heavy acting, spring bound, trigger a second time, after the first bullet had crashed into her brain or skull. Again, is it to be believed that an honest man, bound by the ties of affection and honor, to the woman of his betrothment, unexpectedly seeing that woman shoot herself, would thereupon, without even the knowledge that she is actually dead or mortally wounded, throw her into a river, because of the fear that he might have for the consequences to himself? Such a man could also commit a cowardly murder. Without basing a judgment on the two above circumstances, let us pass to the third folly which possessed Frantz in the madness of his guilt. He asks us to believe that, while innocent in heart and mind, he was suddenly confronted with the horrible death, by her own hand and at his side, of the woman who was to be his wife, and whom he loved; that, impelled by a frenzy of fear, he cast her still quivering body into the river; and that, with that anguish-racking, mind-numbing, scene burning in his very soul, he went directly home and wrote a frivolous letter of many pages to another woman whom he was courting, in which he denies the rumors about himself and Bessie, and asks that he may be permitted to call and receive her answer as to their marriage. Is not this letter written in the blood of Bessie Little? And does it not proclaim his motive for the deed? And, as a fitting and spectacular climax to all these follies, heburns down his barn, which contains the bloody vehicle and clothing of that night, 24:hours after committing the crime.

It is argued that all this indicates either innocence or insanity. It indicates the madness of a man who has the blood of his victim before his eyes, and who has become blinded to the correlation of things. Older and more astute murderers than Albert Frantz have, in all ages, displayed greater want of good judgment at such times.

I believe that we have now but to consider the question of mental irresponsibility at the time of the killing.

While the defense proved the insanity of many of Frantz's relatives, there was not an iota of evidence in the trial indicating that he himself was insane. On the contrary, there is a whole line of witnesses, many of intimate acquaintance with him, and his habits and disposition from boyhood up, who attest his quiet, good and peaceable disposition. Great numbers of letters are filed in this application, including those from his former teachers, professors at college, pastors and friends, all bearing witness to the above, arid not one indicating any development of that vein of insanity which has been so disastrous among his maternal relatives. Affidavits have been filed with the Board from Albert's father, his sister and his cousin, Mrs. W. C. Teeter, deposing to the fitful insanity of Albert's deceased mother, and to the fact that Albert was inclined to be morose, and had on several occasions been violent; atone time attempting to make away with himself. They state, as their reason for not producing this important item of defense during the trial, when it could have been combatted by the prosecution, that family pride induced them to withhold it from their lawyers and from public knowledge. There is also an affidavit by one E. S. Williams, to the effect that on two occasions, Albert's mother came to his law office about some financial matters, and that on both occasions she indicated undoubted mental derangement.

This is the extent of the new matter in support of the plea of insanity. Giving these affidavits the full credit to which they would be entitled, if properly produced in the trial, I still cannot see that they satisfactorily establish, by the weight of the evidence, the contention that Albert was demented at the time he killed Bessie Little; that is, that at that time be was incapable of appreciating that to kill Bessie Little was wrong; or, if so appreciating, that he was impelled to the crime by an absolutely ungovernable impulse. The six physicians, who were appointed by the court to examine Albert Frantz, file statements to the effect that after careful and repeated examinations of him, they conclude that he is not insane, and that he is fully up to the average mentally. Two, however, suggested that because of his family history, they would consider him a degenerate.

Many ministers of the Dunkard church, of which he was a member, appeal for a commutation to life imprisonment, asking that their religious convictions (which are opposed to capital punishment), be respected. The Dunkards are an exceptionally sincere and law-abiding people; but they can hardly be entitled to any exemption from the general laws of this Stale.

In conclusion, after an exhaustive study of the testimony and letters in this case, upon full deliberation and with a deep appreciation of the responsibility which lies upon me, I am convinced that Albert J. Frantz deliberately and with premeditation, killed Bessie Little; that he knew the wrongfulness of his act, and that he was not impelled thereto by an uncontrollable impulse. I therefore respectfully recommend that the application for commutation to life imprisonment be rejected.

George Ewing