Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mr. Whiskers, or Not?

Copyright 2012, CABS for Reflections From the Fence

From the April 22, 1896 issue of the Michigan Messenger, published in Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan:


Cooley is Very Much Alive in Jackson


Brown Palmed Himself off on Mrs. McConnell, of Hudson.

HUDSON, April 18 - - Wm. Cooley, supposed to be the dead convict, Tom Brown, was yesterday afternoon discovered to be very much alive in Jackson prison.

The whole preceeding of sending the remains of Tom Brown alias Quinn to Hudson, upon the supposition that he was 'Whiskers' Cooley, brother of Mrs. Mary E. McConnell, of this city, came about from letters which Quinn or Brown wrote to Mrs. McConnell, addressing her as dear sister.  She responded to the letters, thinking they were from her brother. Quinn's number was 6175.  She now learns that her brother's number is 6195.

When Mrs. Cooley reached Jackson she told the prison authorities that the dead man did not resemble her brother, but befogged by the correspondence, they insisted that he must have changed.  She desired to see the other prisoner who attempted to escape, or to search the prison for her brother, but they would not listen to her.  They now find that the woman was right.  She was persuaded to bring the body home, but no one here could recognize it as 'Whiskers,' and the family disclaimed it.

The discovery came about this afternoon through Cooley's reading in a paper that his sister had been over there after his body.  He went to the warden and told him who he was; that he had a father and two sisters, in Hudson, and a mother and one sister, Fanny Cooley, in Cadillac.  The warden at once phoned to Mrs. McConnell, of Hudson, and she was overjoyed.

The undertakers here have been ordered to ship the body of Quinn or Brown to Ann Arbor. Why Quinn wrote to Mrs. McConnell or how he learned her name remains a mystery.  'Whiskers' does not know anything about the correspondence, and has not received any letters from his sister since he was sent up last fall.  He number being so similar to her brother's, Mrs. McConnell thinks Quinn was working her to intercede for a pardon for him.  She learned at Jackson that Quinn or Brown also corresponded with Sarah W. Quinn, 617 Mullett street, Detroit, and John Quinn, of Detroit, as mother and brother.  When Mrs. McConnell was in doubt about the matter at Jackson prison, she tried to get the warden and clerk to telegraph to them, but they put her off, saying he was her brother."

* * * * * * *

And, as, they say in journalism, here is the rest of the story, the back story.  Note that both of these articles were found in the same newspaper, the same page, in fact, the first directly above the second in the same column.  The back story gives us some additional facts and insight.  What a difference 5 days makes.

* * * * * * *

 From the April 17, 1896 issue of the Jackson Citizen Patriot, Jackson, Jackson County, Michigan:


Convict Brown's Record Was a Very Bad One.

A dispatch from Pontiac says:  Thomas Brown, who was killed Wednesday while attempting to escape from state prison at Jackson, was about the toughest customer the authorities of Oakland county ever had to deal with.  He was arrested August 28 at Ball Mountain, near Pontiac, for burglarizing the house of Truman Decker.  On his way to Pontiac he attempted to escape, but Under Sherriff Belt was too quick for him and succeded in locking him up.  He was ugly while confined here, and needed constant watching.

His trail on the above charge began on September 15, and he was convicted on the 17th.  While in jail awaiting sentence, he, with one Henry Commer, convicted of larceny at Oxford, and William Wesley, convicted of pocket picking at Orion, and both awaiting sentence, conceived the idea of escape, but were caught at it.  The jail authorities discovered on the morning of Septmember 24 a bar in one of the west windows nearly sawed in twain.  A search revealed two saws, 10 inches long and half an inch wide, one in Brown's bed, and one over his cell door.  They also found a bottle of acqua fortis, the stains of which were on the fingers of all three of the above named.

He was sentenced by Judge Joseph B. Moore to seven years at Jackson, despite his plea to be sent to Detroit, where he claimed his mother lived.  The authorities here look upon his attempted escape, and consequent death as natural consequences."

* * * * * * *

"A dispatch from Hudson says:  The convict shot at Jackson Wedneday was William Cooley, otherwise 'Whiskers' Cooley, of Hudson.  Tom Brown and William Quinn were aliases by which he was known in prison.  His father and two married sisters live in Hudson, and his sister, Mrs. Ben McConnell, went over to Jackson Wednesday evening, upon notification of the prison authorities, and returned with the remains Thursday night.

'Whiskers' has long been off his mental balance and of a wandering character.  He was sent to Pontiac 17 years ago for a sensational shooting scrape in the family, and did time in the Adrian jail for stealing a mortgaged horse and buggy.  He was sent up to Jackson.  He was in possession of another stolen rig.  He was generally considered harmless.  His presence in Jackon prison was not known here.  It was concealed by his alias and family."

* * * * * * *

The first article I located while formatting a book for the Lenawee County Family Researchers, the second set of articles, from the Jackson paper, I found online.  Jackson County lies north (and a bit west) of Lenawee County, however, they do have a common border.  Hudson is about 30 miles south of Jackson.

I have not done any additional research to discover the fate of our Mr. Whiskers, William Cooley.

* You can read all about aqua fortis, err nitric acid, on this Encyclopedia Brittannica page.


Kathy Reed said...

Since this is the day after so many news networks got their "story" wrong, I find this series particularly interesting. I LOVE this post! Great research and the laugh I needed this morning. Who would ever take the word of a woman anyway?

Joan said...

Ahh, Carol, my friend, I am glad I am not very close to you --- for fear I would accompany you on these little quizzical jaunts of yours. I would never get anything done ---but o, what fun. Thanks for sharing -- this was a hoot.

Linda Jenkins-Wensel said...

Carol, just a wonderful piece. Do you plan on making time to research this family and Whiskers any further?...I love what Joan said, indeed, "this was a hoot" Thank you.

Your Host said...

Great post! Enjoyed it much, as usual! :)

Hummer said...

This is too funny. What a mix up. I have loved the Jackson Patriot because it goes back so far I have been able to trace my family with it.
Is this the convict you were talking about?