Hearsay: Why he was found guilty
In this issue's cover story, writer Paul Forrest Jones makes a persuasive case for Sam McCue's innocence in the 1904 murder of his wife, Fannie McCue. Why, then, did the husband swing for the crime?
It all starts with the weaponry– and their curiously careful placement after the crime. Sam McCue's Winchester pump shotgun was found leaning beside the bathroom door– an unusual spot for an interloper to leave a murder weapon. Ditto for the bat which had bludgeoned her: It was found propped by the tub.
There were other curiosities about the Park Street murder scene, according to The McCue Murder, a book mixing out-of-court interviews with trial testimony and released by the Daily Progress shortly after the trial.
For one, Sam McCue– in the earliest moments after the double whammy of his wife's murder and a blow to the cheek that allegedly rendered him unconscious– had the wherewithal to toss his bloody, torn undershirt into a hamper and put on a fresh one. For another, the bloody t-shirt had most of its blood washed off– eight specific "washed spots," according to testimony from Dr. Charles S. Venable.
That's mighty fussy housekeeping amid such larger calamities.
There were other discrepancies. McCue told investigators he tried to place three post-crime phone calls: to his brother, to a friend, and to the police.
And yet a telephone operator testified she routed just one call from the McCue house. It was Sam calling a friend. Upon being informed that the line was busy, McCue allegedly told operator Virginia Bragg, "Oh, don't tell me that; I think someone has shot and killed Fannie and is in my house now."
He "thinks" someone has killed his wife? Some husbands might try to find out for sure.
Operator Bragg said she called the police. She and colleague Lillian Busic said there was no call to McCue's brother, Dr. Frank McCue, who lived two blocks away.
Odder still, according to the prosecution, was the behavior of that doctor sibling on his way to the scene of the alleged intruder-caused crime. Dr. McCue, the lawyer charged, traveled "quietly" and "without once raising an alarm."
Dr. McCue described his brother's wound as bloody and significant. But three other doctors– including one who didn't even notice the wound at first glance– disagreed.
Sam McCue had written scads of love letters to his wife as recently as 1901. However, in court, his late wife's brother described the household as "the most unhappy home I ever saw. I never saw him kick or strike her, but have heard him curse her in the most violent manner repeatedly. The quarrels were always about other women."
A tileman who once worked in the house testified that McCue spoke very "roughly" to his wife, "as if he could have killed her in a second."
That sounds like hearsay. But what about the about-face of the couple's 17-year-old son, Willie, testified to by members of the Baldwin detective agency? Two weeks after the murder, Willie was allegedly telling detectives that his father once chased Mrs. McCue with a revolver, and that his parents "fought like cats and dogs." The boy even penned a letter to an aunt in Georgia indicating that he was planning on sticking with the truth against "all my father's people."
At trial, however, he "emphatically" disavowed all those unpleasant claims.
Another person whose story allegedly changed under McCuvian pressure was John Perry. Perry was what contemporary parlance called the "colored houseboy." He lived in a room at rear of the mansion, just behind the bathroom murder scene. He had been awakened from sleep by the sound of a woman begging for her life during a lengthy struggle.
Perry allegedly told two servants working for a neighboring judge that he heard this: "Oh, Sam, don't kill me!" On the witness stand, however, Perry quoted Fannie as calling out this: "Sam! Sam! He is killing me."
If Perry were pressured to tell a tale favorable to his employer, his supposedly exonerating trial testimony reveals that Sam had curious priorities in relating the news.
"Oh, John, I am in the worst trouble of my life," Perry quoted McCue. "A burglar has knocked me senseless and probably killed my wife."
There's that death uncertainty again. McCue's story remained consistent on that point: until the authorities arrived that night, he never saw, touched, or otherwise had contact with the body of his wife.