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Lillian Ellsworth Trial for Murder of Henry Wilson - 1903


Posted By: Reid R. Johnson (email)
Date: 11/7/2016 at 10:40:39

The following news articles from 1902 & 1903 detailing the death/murder of Henry Wilson and the trial of Lillian Ellsworth were transcribed by Reid R. Johnson & S. Ferrall. The original transcription by Reid Johnson of a 4/9/1903 article, has been updated with additional transcriptions and extended notes by S. Ferrall on 2/17/2017.


Murder at McGregor - Mysterious Death of Henry Wilson
Yesterday morning the painful news was spread abroad of a startling accident which took place on the railroad track about 2 1/2 miles south of McGregor, in which Henry Wilson, a young man of our city received injuries which it is feared will prove fatal. The full facts are not yet satisfactorily revealed and will not be until Thursday afternoon, when a hearing of the case will take place before Justice Sullivan.

Thus far ascertained the facts, as stated by Miss Ellsworth, who was arrested and brought before Justice Sullivan yesterday, are as follows:
The young man was down the track during the evening visiting this young woman, Miss Ellsworth. Some time during the evening the couple sat down beside the railroad track to visit. Miss Ellsworth cautioned the young man about sitting so close to the track. He replied "I guess I can hear the train," but changed his position, laying on his back, his head in his hands on the end of a tie. They both accidently fell asleep and the next thing the young woman knew, she heard the engine's distress whistle and found that the train due at midnight, had passed and was backing up. She called to her companion, trying to arouse him. Going to him and endeavoring to raise him, she found that he was unconscious and the tie upon which his head rested were bloody. By this time the train had backed to where they were, and the young man was brought to this city and taken to Clark's Hospital.

An investigation of his injuries revealed three distinct wounds on the right side of the head, like those that would be made with a sharp pointed instrument. One hole opened to the brain while the other two did not penetrate to such a depth. An operation was performed yesterday afternoon, relieving the brain of the pieces of bone that were pressing it, but up to this time, Thursday morning, the young man is still unconscious, with little hopes entertained for his recovery. The affair is shrouded in mystery to many who do not understand how the engine could have produced such injuries.

The engineer and other trainmen having knowledge of the affair, will be at the hearing this afternoon and testimony will be taken. The engineer claims that his train could not have struck the young man. Whatever the verdict may be, the unfortunate sufferer will probably never know, nor will his evidence ever get given toward proving a solution. - from the North Iowa Times

Wilson died Thursday night and the young woman has since been confined in the county jail. A preliminary examination was held at McGregor Monday and on the strength of the woman's evidence a man named Pressberry has been confined in jail, a preliminary hearing to be given him Monday. The woman's story seems to lack truth and it is likely that she is withholding information that would throw light on the mysterious affair which was undoubtedly a murder. Pressberry is a cousin of the murdered man.

~Elkader Argus, Wednesday, July 9, 1902

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Lillie Ellsworth, who was with Henry Wilson the night he was assaulted, was arrested and has been bound over to appear before the grand jury. She says Will Pressberry was the man who committed the deed, and he has also been taken to Elkader for trial.

~Elkader Register, Thursday, July 10, 1902. McGregor news column

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The preliminary hearing of Pressberry, the man charged with having some connection with the Wilson murder case, was held before Justice Sullivan at McGregor Friday. Pressberry was ordered discharged from custody. Miss Ellsworth is still in jail.

~Elkader Argus, Wednesday, August 6, 1902

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The grand jury this morning returned an indictment against Lillian Ellsworth, charging her with the murder of Henry Wilson at McGregor, July 2nd. She is held for trial without bail. She was arraigned before court this morning and took time to plead. The court appointed M.X. Geske as her attorney.

~Elkader Argus, Wednesday, September 3, 1902

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A daughter was born to Miss Lillie Ellsworth, an inmate of the jail, who is under indictment for murder, on Monday.

~Elkader Register, Thursday, February 5, 1903

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Court will convene on April 8th. The case of the State vs Lillian Ellsworth will come up for trial. It is said that the girl child shows unmistakable signs of negro parentage.

~Elkader Argus, Wednesday, March 11, 1903

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Trial of Lillian Ellsworth for the Murder of Henry Wilson.

This morning the case of the State vs Lillie Ellsworth was called. T. M. Davidson, county attorney, and Robt. Quigley, of McGregor, prosecuting attorney, with M. X. Geske, of McGregor, and D. D. Murphy of Elkader, appearing for the defendant. The circumstances of the case may be stated as follows:

On the night of July 2nd, 1902, the train crew of the Milwaukee midnight passenger saw the body of a man Lying beside the track about a mile and a half below McGregor. Stopping the train they discovered the man to be suffering from three wounds in the head, which were apparently made by a heavy blunt instrument. This man was Henry Wilson. He was picked up and the train backed to McGregor where he was placed in the Clark hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds 40 hours later. With him at the time was Lillie Ellsworth who is now charged with his murder. Miss Ellsworth is only about 17 years. She has been in the county jail since July.

The following jury was drawn in the case:
L. A. Wing, Cass.
G. W. Pixler, Grand Meadow.
Ed Rademacher, Garnavillo.
C. S. Hines, Cass.
Fred Galer, Lodomillo.
Orrin Denning, Mendon.
R. P. Henry, Cass.
B. Meder, Cox Creek.
J. J. Kuehl, Boardman.
R. D. Wheeler, Cass.
Wm. Meyer, Giard.
J. F. Davis, Cass.

As we go to press the attorneys are arguing the case to the jury. The evidence connecting the plaintiff with the killing is mainly circumstantial, and we are of the opinion that there will either be an acquittal or a disagreement of the jury.

~Elkader Register, Thur., 9 April 1903. District Court column.

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Lillie Ellsworth Goes Free

The trial of Lillian Ellsworth for the murder of Henry Wilson began on Wednesday morning, the testimony for the state was all in by Thursday noon and the defense having no witnesses to produce argument was at one begun. Robt. Quigly opend for the state, followed by M.X. Geske who made an excellent plea for the defendant. Martin was enthusiastic in his efforts and made a good impression in this, his first plea in an important case. He was followed by D.D. Murphy, also for the defense, and T.M. Davidson, county attorney, closed for the state. Mr. Davidson made a strong argument, considering the nature of the evidence which he had to draw on. The case went to jury Friday morning and after remaining out about 4 1/2 hours, returned, bringing in a verdict of not guilty, and the girl was discharged from custody.

The verdict was generally expected by all who watched the progress of the trial. The state's inability to produce a motive was the weak point. The fact that the girl had confessed to the crime does not count for much in view of the many conflicting stories she has told. A very general impression is that she is shielding the real perpetrator of the murder and it is extremely doubtful that the truth of the matter will ever be known.
On complaint of Bailiff E.R. Munger, Wm. Wandell, of Edgewood, was fined $25 and costs and sentenced to one day in jail for contempt of court. His offense lay in telling one of the jurors to stand out for the acquittal of Lillian Ellsworth.

~Elkader Argus, Wednesday, April 15, 1903

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Yesterday Miss Clara Lunbeck, division superintendent for the Iowa Children's Home Society, came to take to the home at Des Moines, the little daughter of Lillian Ellsworth, the county paying the customary charge of $50 to the society for taking the child. At the same time Miss Ellsworth left for Nebraska where she has found a home with an aunt.

~Elkader Argus, Wednesday, April 29, 1903

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The county authorities sent Lillian Ellsworth to her relatives in Nebraska on Tuesday, and her child was taken by the Orphans' Home Association.

~Elkader Register, Thur., April 30, 1903. Local News column


Extended notes, compiled by S. Ferrall. "This family drew my interest and I got very side-tracked looking for more about Lillian. Below are my notes (all should be independently verified by interested reseachers):

Despite her rocky and troubled early life, Lillian 'Lillie' M. Ellsworth survived to live a long and seemingly normal life. She married at least once & possibly twice (possibly a first marriage to Mr. Perry, later to Mr. Dickson); and had at least 4 children in addition to the daughter she had while awaiting trial. She died in California in 1965.

A family tree posted on Ancestry gives Lillie's parents as Earl Henry 'Err' Ellsworth (1855-1941) and Mary Etta Hill (1863-1908).

The 1900 U.S. census, Clayton twp., Clayton co. IA:
Mary Elsworth, HOH, married, age 36, b. Feb. 1864 in Iowa, occupation Dressmaker
Lillie Elsworth, daughter, age 15, b. Sept. 1884 in Iowa
Ire R. Elsworth, son, age 13, b. Jan 1887 in Iowa
Emily Elsworth, daughter, age 11, b. Dec. 1888 in Iowa
Edna V. Elsworth, daughter, age 6, b. Mar. 1894 in Iowa
Cora Elsworth, daughter, age 3, b. Aug. 1896 in Iowa

The 1900 U.S. census, Boardman twp., Clayton County Jail, Clayton co. IA:
Err H. Ellsworth, married, prisoner, age 43, b. Jan. 1857 in Iowa

From the Elkader Register, Sep. 13, 1900: Sheriff Benton left Monday taking the following prisoners to Anamosa ... Err Ellsworth, 2 years and 3 months for adultery ...

From the Elkader Register, Sep. 11, 1902: District Court news: Mary Etta Ellsworth vs Err Ellsworth, Default. Decree of divorce granted and plaintiff granted custody of minor children.

Mary E. (Hill) Elsworth, age 37, was married to William Hayes, age 21, at Elkader on Jan 23, 1903, by Frank Hofer, JP. (Iowa Marriages 1880-1937)

From the Elkader Argus, Wed. Jan. 28, 1903: On Friday, Jan. 23rd, at the furniture store occurred the wedding of Mrs. Mary Ellsworth, a blushing bride of 37 to Wm. Hayes, aged 20. Justice Frank Hofer in his usual graceful style performed the ceremony which was enlivened by L.F. Gossman who with the assistance of the Pianola rendered the beautiful waltz, "Wedding of the Winds." The bride was accompanied by her mother, Mrs. Hill and John Powell and the ceremony was witnessed by many of our leading citizens. He happy couple departed soon after for their peaceful home on the banks of Sni Ma Gill.

From the Elkader Argus, April 29, 1903: At McGregor Monday occurred the marriage of Err Elsworth to Mrs. Lizzie Schmidt. the bride is one of our most highly esteemed ladies. The groom is a successful trapper. They will make their future home "On the Banks of the Mississippi".

The 1910 U.S. census, Guttenberg, Clayton co. IA:
Err Ellsworth, HOH, age 54, marriage 2, b. Iowa
Louise E. Ellsworth, wife, age 35, marriage 1, b. Iowa

Earl 'Err' Ellsworth died 5/15/1941 and is believed to be buried in the County (Poor Farm) cemetery.

Lillian (Ellsworth) Dickson Obituary

Clayton Documents maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen


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