The Story of the Bessie Little Bridge


 

Over a period of five weeks in 1990 Roz wrote several articles on
 the murder of Bessie Little. They have been collected here.


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on September 1, 1990

THE STORY OF THE BESSIE LITTLE BRIDGE

by Roz Young


            At the end of the bridge over the Stillwater at Ridge Avenue a plaque says that it is the 134th D Artillery Memorial Bridge, dedicated to D Battery, 134th Field Artillery, 37th Division of World War I.

            The name probably will never catch on. Very few World War I veterans are left, but that is not the reason. To old Daytonians it was always the Bessie Little bridge and in the minds of many and their descendants, it still is.

            It was Tuesday, Sept. 2, 1896. Dayton was parching from a heat wave. Cincinnatian E.L. Harper, Jr., visiting relatives in Riverdale, strolled down to the Stillwater, slipped off his clothes and waded in to get a little relief from the heat.

            Crouching in the shallows to immerse himself to his chin, he let his gaze wander over the surface of the water. He straightened. About 20 feet beyond him he saw a shoe sticking out of the water on what looked like a stick. Wading out into the stream, he approached it, bobbing on the surface.

            The shoe was not on a stick. It was on the decayed leg of a woman's body, floating face up in the river.

            He yelled, turned and floundered to shore. He jerked his clothes on and ran, shouting, to the nearest building, the boathouse of Charles L. Phillips.

            Phillips and a helper were painting a boat. They dropped their paintbrushes, jumped into the boat they were working on and rowed to midstream. The lad's story was true. The body was discolored and swollen.

            They towed it to shore. While Harper and the helper stayed with the body, Phillips ran into the boathouse to telephone Police Chief T.J. Farrell.

            As soon as Farrell took the call, he telephoned the coroner, Dr. Lee Corbin. "Bring the wagon and meet me at Phillips' boat house," he said. "We have a body."

            Farrell and the assistant police surgeon, Dr. Fred Weaver, hurried to the boathouse. By the time they arrived, a crowd had gathered. "What do you think?" Farrell asked Weaver. "Suicide?"

            "Maybe so, maybe not," Weaver replied. He gestured with his head, and the two men walked out of the hearing of the crowd. "Day before yesterday," Weaver said, "I was talking to a fellow who works for Judge Kreitzer. He said we might have another Pearl Bryan case on our hands at any time, and so I've been expecting a woman's body to turn up."

            Pearl Bryan's headless body had been found the year before in a lane at Ft. Thomas, Ky. Two Cincinnati dental students had been arrested for killing the pregnant girl and after a sensational trial had been executed only two months before.

            "How did this fellow you talked to know about a murder?"

            "He is a stenographer in Kreitzer's office. Two men came to see the judge last Friday and asked what the law would do to them if they knew something about the death of a woman whose body was in the river."

            Dr. Corbin, who had arrived and examined the body, approached. "I found no evidence of foul play," he said. "Where should I send the body? Potter's Field?"

            "No. She doesn't look like a charity case. Send the body to Boyer's undertaking parlor."

            By then two reporters had arrived and began to question Farrell.

            The Journal was lying on the desk Wednesday morning when Mrs. Ella Bell, day cashier at the Cooper Hotel, Second Street between Main and Ludlow, arrived for work. Before she started work, she picked up the paper.

            The body of a woman had been found floating in the Stillwater the previous afternoon. The deceased was thought to be between 25 and 30 years of age. She had dark brown hair put up with with celluloid pins. She had a high forehead, pug nose and a wide mouth. Her teeth were regular; one incisor had been filled with gold.

            Mrs. Bell read with increasing hurry. The woman wore a dark brown shirtwaist dress with self-covered buttons and a belt, a ribbed vest, a new corset, embroidered muslin undergarments, black stockings and new high-button shoes bearing the label of Diers and Tanner, Dayton.

            "It has been known to the police and this newspaper," the story concluded, "that a well-known attorney was called upon several days ago by two men who sought advice as to the degree of criminal responsibility that rested upon them in the fact they had guilty knowledge of the violent fate of a woman whose drowned body was in the river."

            Mrs. Bell rose, looked through the back pages of the hotel register, found a name and walked to the wall telephone. "Central," she said, "connect me to Police Chief Farrell."

            An hour after Mrs. Bell's call, Chief Farrell stepped up on the porch of 1637 W. Second St. and knocked on the door. A gray-haired women wearing a pink apron over a gray calico dress opened the door.

            "Mrs. Little?"

            The woman nodded.

            "I am Police Chief Farrell. May I come in, please?"

            The woman stepped aside. "Is there something wrong?" she asked. "My husband isn't home. He - nothing has happened to him, has it?" She indicated a chair for him.

            "Thank you." He sat down on the horsehair sofa and she sat in a chair facing him. "No, it isn't about your husband. Do you have a daughter named Bessie?"

            "Yes. She's adopted, that is."

            "When is the last time you saw her?"

            Mrs. Little's fingers began to pluck at her apron hem. "Not for several weeks. She left home then and I haven't heard from her since. She sent somebody to get her clothes. There was a - well, there has been trouble."

            "Trouble?"

            "Yes. Bessie has not been a good girl lately, and my husband told her to leave. Why are you asking? Has something happened to her?"

            NEXT WEEK: Autopsy reveals startling information.

 


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News
on September 8, 1990

HOW THE BESSIE LITTLE BRIDGE GOT ITS NAME

by Roz Young

 

            Part 2 of 5
            ‘I am sorry to tell you that yesterday afternoon the body of a woman was found in the Stillwater. I believe that the body is that of your daughter Bessie, said Police Chief Farrell. "Do you know of any reason why your daughter might have taken her life?"

            "Oh, dear. Now I suppose everybody will have to know," replied Mrs. Little. "Bessie was going to have a baby. That is why we quarreled and her father made her leave home." She dabbed at her eyes. "To think she would bring such a disgrace on our family. I suppose she just couldn't face it and decided to end it all. I am sorry, but when I think all we have done for that girl. . ." She burst into tears.

            "Her body is at Boyer's," Chief Farrell said. "In view of the advanced state of decomposition, it would be best to have the funeral as soon as possible."

            Mrs. Little's expression hardened. "Funeral? Don't expect us to bury her. So far as her father and I are concerned, she is no longer our daughter. You'll have to bury her in Potter's Field."

            The chief rose. "Thank you, Mrs. Little. By the way, who is your family dentist?"

            "Dr. Custer."

            Back at the office Farrell told Weaver to take the body to open air at Woodland Cemetery to perform an autopsy. He would arrange for burial immediately afterward on one of the city lots. When the autopsy was completed, Weaver reported to Farrell, "I found no mark of violence on the body, but I did find she was several months pregnant."

            "Where is the clothing?" asked Farrell.

            "We buried her in them. You didn't want them, did you?"

            "Fred, you have worked around here long enough to know better than that. I need them for identification. And while you're at it, get Dr. Custer to look at the girl's teeth."

            The men left just as a deputy came into the office. "We have him here," he said to Farrell through the open doorway.

            "Send him in."

            A young man with dark, wavy hair, dark eyes, smooth skin and strong jaws entered the office.

            "Sit down." He sat in a chair beside Farrell's desk. "State your name."

            "Albert H. Frantz."

            "Where do you live?"

            "West Second - 1609."

            "With your parents?"

            "With my father and a sister. My mother is dead."

            "Where do you work?"

            "I'm a stenographer at the Mathias Planing Mill Co."

            "You are acquainted with Bessie Little?"

            "Yes, sir."

            "Have you been keeping company with her?"

            "Yes, sir."

            "Do you know where Bessie Little is?"

            "No, sir."

            "You know she has been missing for some time?"

            "I knew she was not at her rooming house, but I didn't know she was missing. I thought maybe she had gone back to her parents."

            "You did not inquire?"

            "No, her parents and I do not get along."

            "Because Bessie is pregnant with your child?"

            "Yes, sir."

            "How long have you known about the child?"

            "About two months."

            "Did you visit Judge Kreitzer any time during the past two weeks?"

            "No, sir."

            "Do you deny you and another man consulted Judge Kreitzer about the body of a woman you knew was in the river?"

            "I deny it."

            "Mr. Frantz," said Farrell, "I believe you are not telling the truth. I believe you have some knowledge of how Bessie Little met her death. I am going to hold you for further investigation."

            Few spectators came to the Friday inquest. Ella Bell identified the clothing as Bessie Little's. She had learned to know her when she stayed at the Cooper Hotel. The bills had been paid by Albert Frantz. She said the girl had seemed to be despondent.

            Dr. Luzern E. Custer testified that the gold filling in the deceased woman's tooth was his work, performed on Bessie Little.

            Mrs. Minnie Freese, keeper of a rooming house on Jefferson Street, said that Bessie Little had come to her place to room and board Aug. 20 and remained until Aug. 28, when she disappeared. Albert Frantz, who paid Bessie's bills, called on her often during the week she was there. Bessie had told her she had ruined her life and was thinking of ending it all.

            Charles Kumler, prosecuting attorney, called Judge Kreitzer to the stand. He attempted to find out the names of the men who had visited his office on Friday, but Kreitzer refused to answer on grounds of confidentiality. He did admit the visit took place on Friday, the day after Bessie disappeared.

            Kumler brought Frantz to the stand, but Kreitzer, acting as defense attorney, raised violent objection to the questioning of Frantz. His objection was sustained.

            Charles Phillips testified to the finding of the body, and Farrell stated he believed Frantz had guilty knowledge of the girl's death. The hearing was continued until the following Tuesday.

 

NEXT WEEK: Fishing trip uncovers important evidence.

 

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on September 15, 1990

HOW THE BESSIE LITTLE BRIDGE GOT ITS NAME

by Roz Young

 

            Part 3 of 5

            When the accounts of the inquest appeared in the newspapers, the townsfolk began to take interest in the case. Will Sigler, 19, Frank Shepley, 16, and Frank Ross, 16, came to Farrell's office and stated they had gone the previous Friday to fish in the river. About 6:30 a.m. they walked across the Ridge Avenue bridge. Near the middle of the bridge they found a puddle of something red, which they thought was blood. In the center of the puddle was a tortoise shell side comb. Red spots led about 20 feet to a big splotch on the railing, where they found the mate to the side comb. A buggy had driven through the puddle and left tracks on the new wooden flooring. The boys took the side combs and went about their fishing. They thought there had probably been a fight on the bridge. Not until they read the story of the inquest did they even think about the incident again.

            Within the hour Farrell had the side combs identified by the mother and the jeweler who had sold them. He called Fred Weaver into the office. "Fred, you said you found no evidence of bullet holes on that body?"

            "I found none."

            "Then you'll have to dig her up and check again. Look for bullet holes, probably in the head. If you find any, bring that part of the body here to me."

            Fred left. When he returned a few hours later, he brought with him Bessie's skull. He had found two bullet holes in the right ear.

            When the morning paper with the story of the blood on the bridge reached the people, Mrs. Freese called Chief Farrell. "I just know that Albert Frantz murdered Bessie Little," she stated. "I'm as sure of it as I am talking to you."

            "What makes you think so?"

            "Bessie hurried with her supper Thursday evening because she was to go for a ride with Albert at 6 o'clock."

            "Did she tell you that?"

            "Yes, she did. She was to meet him at 6 but it was 6:20 before she left the house."

            "Did he pick her up at the house?"j

            "No. Last I saw her, she was walking toward Fifth Street. The next day, Friday, he came around to pay her board for another week. I told him she had not come in Thursday night and asked him where she was."

            "What did he say?"

            "He said he didn't know where she was. I asked him if he took her for a ride that night and he said no, he hadn't seen her at all. I thought that was strange but I didn't say any more, and he left. He came back the next day and offered to pay her room and board, but I didn't take the money."

            "Why didn't you mention this at the inquest, Mrs. Freese?"

            "Because after the body turned up in the river, I supposed she had jumped in."

            Chief Farrell telephoned Ed Phillips, son of the boathouse owner, and asked him to meet him at the bridge next morning to look for the gun. He sent men out to knock on houses on each side of the river to ask whether anyone had heard pistol shots or cries on the evening of the murder. He then went to the Frantz home to look at the buggy Albert Frantz drove.

            Albert's father was sitting in a wheel chair on the porch. "Where does Albert keep his rig?" asked Farrell.

            "He did keep it in a stable right next door," replied Frantz. "But last Friday they had a fire and the rig burned. Albert's horse, too."

            "Hmmmm. Tell me, Mr. Frantz, has Albert ever been in trouble with the police before?"

            "No. He has always been a good boy. Well, there was that one time so long ago I almost forgot it. One time when we were visiting a relative of mine, John Frantz, his barn caught fire and burned. The sheriff thought it was arson, and he came to see Albert about it. But Albert said he had't done it, and nothing ever came of it."

            Farrell walked to wreckage of the stable. Where the buggy had stood, he found four metal hoops that had once rimmed the wheels. It looked to him that the hottest part of the fire had been between the rims. He would ask the fire chief to look into the possibility of arson.

            Before breakfast the next morning Farrell had a call from his deputy. "Chief, every street car in town going north is jammed with people going to the bridge. Don't you think we'd better rope it off?"

            "Yes. Get some men out there right away. I'll get there as soon as I can."

            By the time he arrived an hour later, more than 1,000 sightseers stood jostling one another at each end of the bridge and edging the river bank on both sides.

            The chief had brought a plank and rope with him. At the spot where the blood stains were, he tossed the plank over the side and anchored it with the rope. Ed Phillips rowed to the spot. "Water's 10 feet deep here," he called to Farrell.

            "All right. Now see if you can find the gun."

            Phillips began diving. Each time his head surfaced, the crowd gave a cheer. After Ed made 50 dives with no success, Farrell called off the search. "We'll try again tomorrow," he said. "I'm going to get a magnet."

            Back at the office he learned that a Dayton View couple driving home from Vandalia had heard a cry and a shot about 7:30 as they neared the bridge, and a Journal reporter had found two Idlewyld residents who had heard shots.

            The following week the whole town seemed to have become involved in the case, overshadowing the city's centennial celebration, which was scheduled for the following week. The papers fed every scrap of information to the public, even to stories about Frantz praying and singing hymns in his cell, using a booklet called Winnowed Songs from Sunday School. He had been brought up in the German Baptist church and was a member of the College Street Church of the Brethren.

            All week long the bridge, now called the Bessie Little Bridge by the townfolk, was crowded with sightseers and souvenir hunters. Farrell's magnet brought up many metal objects frpom the river bed, but not the gun.

NEXT SATURDAY: The trial begins.

 

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on September 22, 1990

HOW THE BESSIE LITTLE BRIDGE GOT ITS NAME

by Roz Young

 

            Part 4 of 5

            On Wednesday after Bessie's death Judge Kreitzer revealed the names of the two men who had consulted him in his office to Farrell and the prosecutor, but they were not revealed to the press. All that Farrell would say was that their disclosures pointed to Frantz as the murderer.

            The inquest was also continued on Wednesday. At the conclusion, Lee Corbin, the coroner, stated, "After having heard the evidence and examined the body, I do find the deceased, Bessie Little, came to her death by a pistol shot in the head. The testimony points so strongly to Albert Frantz as being the murderer that I am warranted in holding him over to examination before higher courts."

            Frantz, wearing a dark cutaway coat, dark vest and light trousers, was arraigned on Saturday morning before Judge C.W. Dale. He pleaded not guilty to the affidavit of murder.

            Preliminary examination was set for the following Tuesday. He was denied bail.

            Farrell testified at the preliminary hearing that Frantz told him he had taken Bessie for a ride in his rig and that as they approached the bridge, she shot herself twice in the head. He panicked when he realized he might be blamed for her death and threw her body into the river. He was bound over to the common pleas court and on Oct. 19, the grand jury indicted him for first-degree murder.

            The trial began on Monday, Dec. 14, in the superior court room on the second floor of the new courthouse. It lasted three weeks and became the most spectacular case ever tried in Montgomery County.

            Crowds jammed the courtroom every day and hundreds were turned away. Reporters and artists from three Dayton newspapers and three Cincinnati newspapers attended every session.

            Attorneys for the state were Charles H. Kumler, B.F. McCann, Charles Patterson and Henry Murphy. Appearing for the defense were John H. Kreitzer, Dorsey E. Kreitzer, Robert M. Nevin, William Van Skaik and C.L. McIlheny.

            It took four days to seat a jury.

            On the second day of the trial the head of the victim was brought into the courtroom in a glass jar, and Dr. Corbin removed it to show the jury the path of the bullet. Several spectators fainted and had to be carried from the room.

            The prosecution tried to prove that the first bullet killed Bessie or else made it impossible for her to pull the trigger a second time.

            Mrs. Little testified that Albert Frantz had been calling on Bessie for more than a year with no objection by her parents. He was personable and came from a fine family. But on the morning of August 17, Bessie walked down the backyard to the barn. Mrs. Little was getting ready to bake an apple pie and wanted Bessie to peel the apples. When Bessie did not return, she went ahead with the pie and put it into the oven. Then she went down to the barn to see what had become of Bessie.

            She stepped into the barn, but Bessie was not there. When she called, she heard a rustling from the haymow. "Bessie," she called, "are you up there?"

            "I'll be right down," Bessie answered, and backed down the ladder that led to the loft.

            "What were you doing up there?" asked Mrs. Little.

            "Nothing."

            Mrs. Little glanced up. Albert, who had been peering over the edge, ducked back, but not in time.

            "So that's it! Albert, come down here."

            "I was just walking along the alley when I saw Bessie go into the barn," he explained. "I just followed her to talk a little. That's all."

            "Albert Frantz, you leave this property immediately and don't you ever set foot on it again," ordered Mrs. Little. "Bessie, get up to the house."

            She also testified that not long before Bessie had started to sleep nights on a dining room lounge because it was so hot in her room. A dining room door opened onto the porch. One night Mr. Little found Albert at the back of the house.

            "What are you doing here?" he asked.

            "I wanted to see Bessie a minute," Albert said. "I rapped at the side door, but there wasn't any answer. So I came around here."

            "We have a front door with a bell on it," Little told him. "When you come here, use it."

            After the barn incident the Littles refused to let Albert come to the house and told Bessie she could no longer see him. Bessie thereupon left home.

NEXT SATURDAY: The jury reaches its verdict.

 

 

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on September 29, 1990

HOW THE BESSIE LITTLE BRIDGE GOT ITS NAME

by Roz Young

 

            Part 5 of 5

            The court heard the testimony of two persons who had heard the shots on the night of the death. John W. Poince testified he had sold Albert a pistol, and Frank McBride testified that the cause of the stable fire was arson.

            Rev. William C. Teeter, pastor of the College Street Church of the Brethren, testified that Albert came to their home on the night of the death.

            "What am I going to do?" he asked them. "Bessie Little killed herself in my rig, and people are going to think I did it." He told how the shooting had happened and that he had thrown her body into the river. Teeter asked why he had not gone directly to the police with the body.

            "How could I?" Albert wailed. "How could I bring such a disgrace on my father and family?"

            Teeter advised him to go to the police, but he refused, saying there must be some way the whole thing could be resolved without his father's having to know. Teeter then suggested they send for Isaac Frantz, Albert's brother, who lived in Pleasant Hill. Albert agreed, and the three met the next night to discuss the situation. The two insisted that Albert should go to the police, but he refused. Finally Teeter and Isaac went to Judge Kreitzer's office for advice, and Albert was to wait for an hour and then come to the office.

            It was in that hour that the stable fire broke out. Albert turned in the alarm. A neighbor who tried to save the horse testified he had found the door locked, which was most unusual. Nobody ever locked stable doors in their neighborhood.

            For the defense, witnesses testified that Albert was quiet, peaceable and industrious and not the kind of man to murder a girl whose condition was his own doing. Isabel Fowler, a friend of Bessie, testified that she had told her many times she was going to shoot herself. Mrs. Freese testified that once she had heard the two quarreling and found Albert crying. He told her that Bessie had refused to marry him. Other testimony was offered that Albert could not afford to marry Bessie until he was 21, when he would inherit money from the estate of Elizabeth Studebaker Frantz, his mother. A physician testified that it was possible if Bessie had held the gun to her ear, she could have fired two shots before her hand fell. On cross examination he admitted that it was not very likely.

            The jury deliberated for two hours and found him guilty of murder in the first degree.

            Albert's father wept and his brother fainted and had to be carried from the courtroom. Albert himself sobbed and had to be supported on both sides as he was taken from the room.

            Attorneys filed for a new trial, but it was denied. Albert was sentenced to die in the electric chair on Friday, May 13, 1897.

            The execution was postponed because of appeals to the Circuit Court and finally to the Supreme Court of Ohio, but each time the appeal was denied.

            Finally on November 19 Albert wrote to Governor Asa B. Bushnell, denying his guilt and asking for mercy. The letter concluded, "I hope and pray you will spare my life for I am innocent. If you do not, I thank you for the attention you gave my people and may the God of heaven and earth forgive my enemies and persecutors and may we all meet in heaven."

            Albert's two brothers and two sisters visited him on his last day in the penitentiary. They ate a final meal together in the prison annex. While they were at dinner, the warden came to report that Bushnell had denied Albert's appeal.

            At 12:15 he was brought into the execution chamber in the presence of 120 spectators. Three applications of the current were necessary.

            He was buried in the Studebaker cemetery five miles from New Carlisle.

            In December following Albert's execution, Peter Little and his wife came to Woodland Cemetery and selected a grave in section 111 near Wyoming Street. Bessie's remains were taken up from Potter's Field and reburied and a small stone was placed at the grave head.

            The old steel trestle bridge was replaced by a more modern span at the close of World War I, but even today the span is known to many as the Bessie Little Bridge.