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The Abduction of Angeline Stewart

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, December 3, 1933

The Abduction of Angeline Stewart

By Howard Burba


     Kidnaping was not a “racket” in this country 50 years ago.  But it was far from being an unheard of crime.  In fact, as far back as 1867 the city of Dayton furnished the country with a kidnaping thrill, a Civil War time news story which quickly found its way to the front page of practically every daily newspaper in the country.

     Angeline Steward, 12 year-old daughter of a widow residing at the time on Montgomery st., was the victim of the tragedy of which local police records contain little, and local histories less.  Boarding at the Stewart home for several months in the summer 1867 was one Joseph Barney, a painter by trade, and of whom little or nothing was known in these parts.  Barney, as developments later showed, took advantage of the widow Stewart’s unhappy financial condition, and by lavishing small presents on the girl succeeded in winning her confidence and affection.  Then one morning early in September neighbors of the Stewarts on Montgomery st. were startled to learn that the boarder had decamped, and Angeline Stewart had been carried away with him.

     Appeal was made to local police under Capt. E. C. Ellis to institute a search for the girl, but while this was in progress Mrs. Stewart, it is related, received word from Barney that the child was safe and happy with him and his wife, and that she would be given a good home.  Realizing her own inability to give the child all the comforts she desired, and deprived of financial income other than the few dollars received as a washerwoman, Mrs. Stewart ceased to view the affair in the light of an abduction and accepted it as a stroke of good fortune in having apparently found a way to rear and educate the child in a way she would not herself have been able to accomplish.  So the police, quite naturally, dropped the case and no longer prosecuted their search for Barney on a kidnapping charge.

     Local papers had barely mentioned the affair, since there was at no time a disposition on the part of the mother to accept the abduction seriously, so favorable was her appraisement of the boarder in her home whose generosity during his stay had won her warmest friendship.  Dayton scarcely had an opportunity to become acquainted with the case until there came over the lone Western Union wire on the night of Dec. 18, 1867, this news bulletin to one of the local newspapers:

    “HUDSON, N.Y. Dec. 18—The body of a girl, aged 12 years, who was burnt to death by the destruction of a tenement house at Canaan, N. Y., last week, has been exhumed and found to contain marks of violence.  She is supposed to have been murdered by her reputed parents, named Brown, to obtain a policy of $5000 on her life in the Travelers Insurance Co., of Hartford Conn.  The Browns have been arrested.  Reports say the child was an adopted daughter from Dayton, O.”

     Close on the heels of this came a telegram to the police from Hon. J. G. Batterson, of Hartford, to the effect that one Joseph Brown, formerly of Dayton, had been arrested there charged with the murder of the little girl, who it was believed, he had abducted from Dayton.  Investigation revealed that Brown was the man who had been in Dayton during the summer months and who went under the name of Joseph Barney, and that the child must be Angeline Stewart.  He transmitted his records and surmises to the Hartford man, and in return received this telegram:

     “HARTFORD, Conn., Dec. 18—

Angeline Stewart is dead.  Brown and his wife are under arrest for the murder.  He admits he took the child from Dayton, but says it was with the mother’s full knowledge and consent.  There is no doubt of his guilt.”

     That message from Batterson was followed within a few hours by one to the effect that Brown had confessed that he had gone under the name of Barney while in Dayton; he had admitted the girl’s name was Stewart and that her mother was a washerwoman residing on Montgomery st.  He also stated in the confession that he had been engaged while in Dayton in helping paint the high school building.  Batterson urged the police to send Mrs. Stewart at once, but local paper announced the trip would not be made by the mother “since she is a poor woman, and without funds.”

     Two days later the Dayton paper carried additional particulars of the crime in the form of a telegram from Hudson, N.Y.:

     “The policy insurance on her life was for $5000 for three months, and at the time of her death it had 12 days to run.  Brown and his wife applied to the company for the amount of the policy, when circumstances aroused the suspicion of the officers that all was not right.  They caused the body to be disinterred, and an examination was instituted, when marks of violence were plainly traced on the back of the child’s head.

     “An officer of the company immediately proceeded to Canaan, and made a thorough examination of the premises where the disaster occurred, and the developments served to strengthen the suspicion that foul play had been used, and that Mr. and Mrs. Brown had been guilty of a terrible crime.  The officer telegraphed to Connecticut to have the suspected parties arrested, and yesterday he came to this city, and took out the requisite papers to obtain a requisition from Gov. Fenton for the custody of the prisoners.  There is a deep-seated suspicion that she was sacrificed by the Browns, in order that they might obtain the amount of life insurance, and that their brief residence in Canaan was merely to carry out this nefarious purpose.”

     The police, now recognizing the mystery as one requiring their cooperation in the solving, kept in close touch with officials of the insurance company, of which Batterson was president.  From him they received copies of Hartford papers, dated Dec. 18.  The Post contained this information:

     “The insurance company was not satisfied with the action of the coroner’s jury in exonerating the parties, and the remains, which were buried in West Granby, were exhumed the other day, and a post-mortem examination was made by Drs.. Hunt and Stearns of this city, resulting in the discovery of certain marks upon the head, which indicated death from blows, rather than from fire.  It was determined to arrest the Browns if they could be found.  Search was made for them, and finally Officer Corwin found them in Granby, and brought them to this city Monday night. Yesterday morning Lieut. Packard, S. T. Jones, Esq., and J. G. Batterson, Esq., visited the prisoners at the police station.  The man was inclined to stand on his dignity, and would not answer questions.  He is a hard specimen, about 34 years of age.  When he heard the party going to his wife’s cell, he called out to her to keep her mouth shut. The woman was more communicative, but we are requested not to report what she said.  She said she was Brown’s second wife.  She is the divorced wife of one Vaeder, who lives in this city (Hartford).  It is believed that Brown killed the girl and set the house on fire.”

    “The Hartford Press says: Neither of the parties have a good reputation.  Brown used to keep a low house of prostitution on Kilbourne st., in this city, and the woman was with him here under the name of Josephine Fox. She was at one time the wife of one Vaeder in Hartland.  She is well-known in Granby, Hartland, and this city.  They are to be held in custody until the arrival of officers from New York.”

     From the Hartford Times of the same date this extract is taken:

     “When the body of the child was found in the closet, after the fire, the closet door was found locked, and it was discovered that the child had been wrapped up in combustible materials, in order that she might surely be burned to death—if she was not dead already from the effects of laudanum.

     “The woman has made a full statement of her connection with the affair.  She says that before the house was burned her husband told her she could go to the hotel and he would meet her there.  The hotel was about two miles distant.  He then did the business, the firing of the building and what followed.  She admits that the child was not Brown’s but was obtained in Dayton, Ohio.”

     By this time Dayton was thoroughly aroused over what appeared to be a most brutal crime, and for the time being it was the chief topic of conversation here. It was not until Christmas day, 1867, however, that either of the local papers was able to give a detailed story of the mystery.  In its issue of that date appeared the information Dayton citizens had in all probability been awaiting.  It reads:

     “Joseph and Josephine Brown, the child murderers, were taken to Hudson, N. Y., Friday afternoon, to await trial on the charge of murdering their adopted child.  Mrs. Brown confesses that the girl was not Brown’s child, but that they got her at Dayton, O.  She says that on the night of the fire Brown sent her (Mrs. Brown) away to await him at a place a short distance from their house, and that when she left the child was sitting at the table, on which was a tallow candle burning.

     “Brown tries to have it appear that there was a kerosene lamp burning there, with but little oil in it, and that the fire and death of the child was caused by her attempting to replenish the oil in the lamp.  The authorities have evidence tending to show the falsity of this theory.  There is little doubt that Brown committed the murder after he sent his wife away, and set the house on fire to conceal his crime and give the appearance of accidental death.  Mrs. Brown no doubt had a full knowledge of his plan.

     “On Monday night Lieut. Packard conversed with the murderess and then returned to the office.  They supposed that he had gone home, and being in separate cells held a conversation in which the woman told Brown what she had told Mr. Packard and he advised her to keep still till after they saw a lawyer.  Mrs. Brown replied, ‘Jeffrey Phelps will be in in the morning.  I told the officer I first saw the child at Dayton—now, remember that and that you was in the country at that time; that you was father to two children, and one had died, and that you was a kind father.  I told him you kept those policies in your coat pocket, that coat you had on at Westfield—the one you bought in Ohio.’

     “She had told Lieut. Packard that she married Brown in New Haven two years ago, having made his acquaintance in Hartford, where he kept a house of ill fame in Kilbourn st.  She further said: ‘We had a little girl with us by the name of Angeline Brown.  I supposed she was his, and she called him ‘father.’  I never saw any of his friends but one brother and his wife.  We all lived in one house together in Dayton.  He first told me about the child in New York.  I first saw her in the depot in Xenia or Dayton, I cannot tell which. I wrote to his brother or his sister in Canada East to send us the girl.’

     “She also told the officer that on the night of the fire she went over to the hotel at 6 o’clock, and that Joe and the little girl were eating supper when she left. ‘It was two and a half hours before the alarm of fire was given.  The hotel is about quarter of a mile away.  A man came running upstairs and said ‘Joe, your house is all burnt up.’  We then ran as fast as we could for the house and Joe got there before me.’

     “Brown was taken to jail on Tuesday, his wife meantime being kept at the station house, where, on Wednesday, she made another statement, crossing the track of her first statement by saying that the child, on the night of the fire, when she left the house, was learning a chapter in the Bible, and also said that ‘Brown first spoke to her about having a child when he lived in Kilbourn st. in this city.  Her statement Monday was that he told her first in New York.  After one or two approaches to the truth, she said: ‘This girl was my washerwoman’s child, and I took her to live with me.  I thought I should go back to Dayton again. Her mother’s name is Stewart, and she is a poor widow woman.  She went with me to the depot when we came away to come east.  She gave me the child to come to Granby with me and live.  After the child was burnt, he (Joe) said to me, ‘Now if they find out that this child is not mine they will hang me for murdering her!’  The next day he told me not to tell anyone that it was not his child.  He told me this in the parlor at the hotel.’

     “After their arrival at Granby, she says that ‘Joe said that he was willing to have the child taken up, because they won’t find anything wrong; but, he said, don’t for God’s sake, say anything about it’s not being my child, for they will hang me if you do.  Joe came up on Friday, all of a fluttering way, and greatly excited. I said ‘What is the matter?’  He said, ‘Mr. Batterson has been saying they are going to take the child up.  I often asked him to write or telegraph to her mother, but he said it would do no good.  The day when Mr. Batterson was there I said to Joe, when he came in so frightened, ‘Joe, is it possible that you could have burnt or murdered that child—so horrible a deed?’  He replied, “Why, do you think I did it?  If I did your life may be in danger sometime.’  Joe was as white as he could be and scared about something.’

     “On Thursday Mrs. Brown made a further confession, as follows: “Mrs. Stewart, the mother of Angeline, lives at 26 Montgomery st., Dayton.  She lived in the same house with us. When we took Angeline away she and her child went down to the depot to see us off.  I had a small vial of turpentine in the house, but there was not more than a teaspoonful of it.’  She also said that a the coroner’s inquest at Canaan, one Beales brought the papers giving the verdict of ‘not guilty’ found by the jury, and gave them to Brown saying, ‘Here are the papers; put them in your pocket and keep them there, and if anyone insults you about this fire put them through.  The papers will protect you anywhere unless you make a confession or something is found out.

     “She says that Brown gave Beales $100 at that time.  She concluded her review of the case by saying: ‘Joe has never by any word said that he was going to kill the child, or that he did do it. I have told you all that led me to think he did do it, and it is true every word of it.’

     “Brown was visited by the officers on Thursday at the jail, but could be induced to say nothing which would implicate him in any way.  According to Mrs. Brown’s own statement, policies of insurance were taken on both her own and the life of Angeline Stewart, in Cleveland, in October last.”

     The Hudson (N. Y.) Star of Dec. 24 contained the following additional statements touching Joseph Brown, herself, and Angeline Stewart:

     “Mrs. Brown pleads innocence, and intimates that she has been a better woman than she is represented.  But her several stories about the poor little murdered girl differ materially.

     “Detective James H. Kelley of Albany brought the husband of Mrs. Brown to this city this morning on the 7:20 train and lodged him in jail.  We paid the prisoner a visit and found him very reticent.  He is a Frenchman, about five feet six or seven inches high, and has a sneaking look, which impresses one with the notion that he is capable of just such a deed as he is accused of committing.  We visited Mrs. Brown next and found her directly the opposite of her liege lord, being ready and willing to converse, and possessing double his intelligence.

     “She informed us that after the alleged murder she went from Canaan to West Granby, Conn., and thence to Hartford, where she and her husband were arrested.  An examination was held there and she denied to us having made a confession implicating her husband as the murderer of the little girl.  ‘I would not answer any question,’ said she, ‘that was asked me at first, but finally I told about matters relating to our domestic affairs—where we came from, etc. Sidney Cole of Hartford brought me to Albany and I did not know that my husband was on the train, although he was.’

     “In answer to a question as to the marks of violence said to have been found upon the body of the girl, Mrs. Brown said: ‘I’d like to know how they can tell anything about that; Dr. Kearney, traveling agent of the Hartford Life Insurance Co., examined the body and he said that the head of Angeline (the dead child) was burned to a crisp, the eyes burned out, and the flesh on her legs and arms literally dropped off from her bones. I have lived in Canaan about three months, and came from Dayton, Ohio.  I was married to Brown in New York and knew him four years previous to our marriage.  He is a painter by trade, and had a good disposition.  He was married once before I married him, but got a divorce from his wife, she cohabitating with other men; and I was married once before Brown married to Henry W. Bailey, but got a divorce from him on account of inhuman cruelty.  After Brown married me we boarded for a while at the Union-Place Hotel in Fourteenth street, New York, and afterward went to housekeeping.  My maiden name was Josephine Fox, and I have rich relatives in Hartford.  My father was at one time worth over $1,000,000.’

     “Mrs. Brown said that her husband had agreed to purchase a farm for $4500, and we asked her if he was a man of means, to which she replied, ‘Some; what he hasn’t I have.’

     When we questioned her about the deceased girl she said that her mother, one Mrs. Stewart, lived in Dayton, O., at the time she resided there, and having a large family, and becoming interested in Angeline, as she was a bright girl, she consented to adopt her, and they came to Canaan with her.  It was the intention of Brown and herself to go back to Dayton next spring, but if they did not, little Angeline was to be their own child still.  Mr. Brown said that Angeline’s sisters were loose characters, and she thought it a pity.  Coming back to the burning of the house at Canaan, Mrs. Brown said: “Neither myself nor my husband was in the house at the time it burned. I had been to Chatham Four Corners that day to buy some books and papers, and my husband met me at the depot and escorted me home. Angeline was getting supper when we arrived, and I helped her get the meal.   After supper I said to Mr. Brown that I was going to Mr. Williams’ to spend the evening, and about six o’clock he came over to the house where I was visiting, leaving ‘Angie’ at home.  At about 9 o’clock the house took fire, and that is all I know about the affair.

     “Referring to the statement made that the little girl was found in the closet, the prisoner said that ‘the closet has a latch on the door, but there is no catch to it, and it could easily be opened.’  This is the substance of Mrs. Brown’s story, and as our readers will observe, differs materially from her version previously published.”
     There you have the story of a crime which thrilled Daytonians 66 years ago—but you will have to hunt elsewhere for the final chapter.  If there is any record at police headquarters in Dayton of what disposition was finally made of the case, it cannot be found.  Naturally it is not on the court records here, since the alleged crime was not committed in this county—not even in this state.  And in answer to inquiries made of court officials in Canaan, N. Y., and Hartford, Conn., comes the polite reply that, in the former city, fire long ago destroyed all records; in Hartford there are no records on file covering the case.

     The mystery of 66 years ago must remain a mystery still insofar as what punishment, if any, was meted out to Brown, and his mate.  But the story itself serves to show that kidnapping, was not unknown in Dayton a half-century ago, nor was the city a stranger to man’s cruelty in seeking earthly gain.