Posted By:Mary McIntosh
Subject:The Murder of Ellen Cullenne
Post Date:May 10, 2000 at 05:34:08
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Forum:Hancock County, IL Genealogy Forum
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Transcription of a clipping from the Warsaw Bulletin, Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, ca. 1905.

Ellen Cullenne Strangled and Home Burned
Leads to Arrest of Ward Stafford
Strange Recluse Dies the Death She Dreaded

Th home of Ellen Cullenne, located three and one half miles south of Warsaw on the Warsaw and Lima road, was destroyed by fire Sunday night, and she was burned to death with it. Was it murder and arson? Everything points to that conclusion, and public sentiment is one in the opinion, but positive evidence is lacking. If it is a crime as now seems certain, it is one of the most horrible, the most dastardly in the annals of Hancock county, and if it is within the possibility of human ingenuity to ferret it out, the guilty parties should be apprehended and punished in keeping with the deed.

About 10:45 Sunday Night Earl Harness, engineer at White’s planing mill, accompanied by a lady friend, was driving along the highway in front of Miss Cullenne’s place when he discovered flames bursting out of the north window of the house. He immediately notified Chas. Loudenslager, and he in turn notified R.B. Johnson, Mrs. Cullenne’s nearest neighbor, who lives about half a mile to the north, the word being passed to Fred Boon, R.E. Gillham, Herschel Gillham, and Wm. Van, all of whom hurried to the scene, D.W. Logal reaching there later. By this time the interior of the house was ablaze. An attempt was made to enter but all the doors and windows were barred, and soon the heat became so intense that the rescue of the woman, if she was in the house, was impossible. As the floor burned through it lighted up the cellar, and through the outside cellar way, one door of which was open, the witnesses thought they say Miss Cullen’s body lying on the floor. Subsequently this impression was confirmed, for after the house was burned and it was possible to approach the foundation, D.W. Logal glanced into the cellar and saw the trunk of her body, partially covered by debris.

Immediately there was suspicion of foul play. The peculiarities of the woman, the widespread belief that she had money secreted about the place, strengthened by her mode of living naturally led to this conclusion.

Monday morning effort was made to reach Dr. Barr, the coroner, and Clyde P. Johnson, states attorney, but it was almost noon before they could be located; but accompanied by Sheriff Elmer E. McAdams, they came to Warsaw Monday afternoon in an automobile and proceded to the scene, when a jury was impanneled (sic) consisting of C.E. Wallace, foreman, Wm. Sack, Wm. Oatman, Frank Paar, Jos. Huston, of Warsaw, and Stephen Tyler, of Fountain Green. Mr. Huston, with assistance, removed the body from the cellar, where it was lying in the northwest corner. All that remained was the trunk and one leg, both arms and one leg being burned off. The upper part of the head was gone and the top part of the skull missing. Around her neck were several layers of muslin cloth. That in front was but an ember but the back of the neck was protected by it. The presence of this cloth created the belief that it had been used to strangle her—first, perhaps, to extort from her the hiding place of her money, and then to kill her. The heart was exposed and examined by Dr. Young and Dr. Warner, both of whom gave it as their opinion that death was due to strangulation. Mr. Huston observed that the body was lying on the clay floor, partially covered by debris, which would indicate that she was in the cellar, doubtless dead, when the house burned; for had she fallen through the floor portions of the burned wood would have been under her.

Chas. Loedenslager testified that he had seen two strangers going south Monday morning; one between 6 and 7 o’clock and the other about 9.

R.B. Johnson said he last saw Miss Collenne Saturday, when she seemed to be in good health and spirits; that he had heard she had some money; he did not know of her having enemies. He also saw two strangers going south Monday morning, one carrying shoes and a grip and the other a violin.

R.E. Gillham, stated that had never known of Miss Cullenne having any enemies; that he met a young man about 25 or 30, on the highway, going south Monday morning, about 8 o’clock; that the young man asked for a job and stated that he had heard in Warsaw that a house near there had burned down Sunday night.

Fred Boone, who lives 1 ½ miles from the Cullenne place, testified that he had farmed Miss Cullenne’s land for three years; that he knew something of her habits and the location of her rooms; that she stayed at home closely, locking her doors every night, always locking the cellar door first; that she did not use coal oil, for fear of fire, but instead burned candles; that she slept in the northwest corner of the south room; that she said she had money in the bank, so as to have it should she become ill; that she never mentioned making a will that last summer a cousin, Lily Tift, of Palymra, Mo., aged about35, had visited Miss Cullenne,, that she lived alone; that she cooked one meal a day about 11 o’clock, which was her breakfast, and she lunched throughout the remainder of the day; that iron bars barricaded all the doors and windows, including the partition doors, because she said she was afraid of burglars; that he ahd seen her put money in a sack and place it in the north room; that she owned about 200 acres of land and it was supposed she had money. She told him that she was paying money into a home in Iowa for the benefit of invalids. He had seen a stranger passing a long toward town Monday morning and return in the evening. Tracks were discovered near the house, where some man or men had come and left, and they were those of a good sized shoe. Saw body and face in the burning ruins, but could see no signs of bruises or blood. Th face was that of Ellen Cullenne. Mr. Gillham, Mr. Van, Mr. Loudenslager, and D.W. Logal also saw her at that time. They were of the opinion that she was in the cellar before the floor fell, otherwise there would have been much material under her.

Bill Powers, aged 19, lives with his father on the Dill Gash place, testifies that he worked for Miss Cullenne a month this fall, quitting last Thursday; that he stayed at home at night; that it was her custom to pay her help every night, and when she paid him she took money from what appeared to be a shot sack about one third full of silver. Thursday was the last time he saw her; that when he passed the house Sunday evening, in company with his cousin, he saw nothing unusual about the place.

Drs. Warner and Young testified that they knew the body to be that of a female, and the latter stated that he could find no bullet wound in the body but found a cloth of white muslin of seven or eight thicknesses and 2 ½ inches wide around her neck, and creases in the back of the neck, which was burned very little.

D.W. Logal testified that he had never heard her say anything about the disposing of her property, but had heard her say she had never made aa will and never would; that a cousin of Miss Cullenne who lives in Missouri rode down with him some time ago and requested him to ask Miss Cullennne to make a will.

On strength of the evidence that the jury returned a verdict finding “Ellen Cullenne had come to her death by strangulation by hands unknown to the jury.”

After the inquest it was learned that Miss Cullennne was seen Sunday afternoon, about 3 o’clock sitting at a window.

Excitement became intense and large numbers of people visited the scene. Sheriff McAdams sent to Springfield for dogs that tracked young Pfanschmidt, now held at Quincy for the murder of his parents and family, and they arrived Monday night about 10 o’clock in charge of their owner, H.G. Strumpfer, who was also accompanied by Deputy Fire Marshal H.S. Lovejoy, of Springfield. They went to the scene immediately, several autos going along, and at the Collenne place a great number was assembled. It was concluded to attempt nothing that night because of the crowd, and the party returned to the city. In the meantime guard was established over the tracks first discovered on the premises. Tuesday morning on the blood hounds were set on the trail and twice went to the home of William Griffin, who resides a mile to the north of the Cullenne place. Griffin was placed under arrest but subsequently released, it being established that the trail was that of Ward Stafford, aged 32, who is a brother in-law of Griffin and had been staying with him. Stafford was subsequently met in the highway while on his way home from Warsaw, was placed under arrest, brought to Warsaw, and placed in jail. Stafford worked for Miss Cullenne Saturday and was also on the place Monday after the fire; so it is far from conclusive, because the dogs trailed him, he knows anything about the tragedy. He insists he is innocent. However, he will be held for examination, which is set for next week.

The coroner’s jury was reconvened Tuesday night but elicited no new evidence, save what was confirmatory of the cause of death—strangulation, an examination of the trachea showing it to be compressed.

A.H. Bogardus, deputy fire marshal, joined H.S. Lovejoy Wednesday and they went to the Collenne place, where they found some one had obliterated the tracks in the wheat field, heretofore guarded, by walking in them in the reverse direction. This may have been done by a party interested in destroying evidence, and it would seem that here was a place to use the dogs, but it was not done They, as well as the owner of the dogs, are very confident Stafford knows something about the tragedy.

Undertaker Huston brought what remained of the body to Warsaw and held it until Wednesday afternoon when it was taken to the Cullenne farm and interned beside the remains of Miss Cullenne’s mother. Rev. J.M. Thompson, Holding a brief service.

Relatives attending the funeral were Miss Lily Tift, Miss Laura Dennis and Henry McElwee, of Philadelphia, Mo., Abner McElwee, of Canton, Mo., and Miss Maggie Crawford, Miss Mary Chronic, and Christopher Crawford, of Memphis, Mo.

Joseph Huston was yesterday appointed administrator of the estate.

Ellen Cullenne was 74 years old and had spent her entire life on the farm where she met a tragic end. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Cullenne, both long since deceased, who gave her what was considered at the time a good education. She attended the Warsaw public schools and subsequently taught a country school. Some forty years ago, she was married to G.W. Parker but separation soon followed, and since the death of her mother about 35 years ago she has lived alone in the old family homestead. Her eccentricities of dress and manner of living naturally attracted attention, and many are the stories told illustrating her peculiarities. Her home and the outbuildings would arouse curiosity by the very colors in which they were painted—blue, yellow, and red, and the heavy bars across the windows emphasized her oddity. She was a large, ungainly woman, and dressed in a style, or rather want of style, that awakened curiosity and occasioned remark. There was the same inharmonious blending of colors as marked the painting of her house. Personally she was a woman of the highest integrity, and while she exacted her due in business transactions, she was just as scrupulous in rendering his due to every one with whom she had dealings. Fearful that someone might produce a spurious will after her death, several years ago, she published a card in the BULLETIN stating she never had and never would make one and should such a document be offered, it would be a forgery. Twice a year she would make a trip to Quincy, and occasionally to Keokuk. She attended the world’s fair at St. Louis, which was the farthest she was ever away from home. She was decidedly suspicious, especially of men, and in addition to her heavily barred doors and windows, she had a regular armory of weapons in the house. Yet despite all these precautions, she met the very death she dreaded. She was likewise apprehensive of fire. She would not have coal oil in the house, deeming it dangerous, instead using the old sperm candle for artificial light, and denied herself telephone service because she feared it would be a conductor of lightning. Her nearest relatives were cousins, none of whom resided in this vicinity,. It is said she had some money in a Quincy bank, but so far no proof of this can be found, and it is doubtful if there was much about the house, despite the exaggerated stories of her miserly wealth. Whatever there may have been it is probable her murderers got it.