"Black Sheep" of Fulton Co.
------ --- APRIL 26th, 1915 --- -----
J. H. DAY IS MURDERED
SHOT IN SMITHFIELD STORE
WITHOUT WARNING, BEN PIERSON FIRES TWO BULLETS INTO VICTIM
WOUNDED MAN STAGGERS AND FALLS LIFELESS;
MURDERER BROODS OVER FANCIED WRONGS
Tragedy Alleged Outgrowth Wagging Tongues In Village; Slayer Cousin Of Dr. W. I. Newberry Whose Wife Clerked In Day Store; Captured After Chase; - Returned To Fulton County Jail.
Four shots rang out in the general store of Day Brothers, at Smithfield, about 6:25 o'clock Saturday evening, April 24th, 1915 -Joseph H. Day, one of the partners, and the manager of the Smithfield store of the firm, staggered about 10 feet and fell lifeless, with two bullets in his back in the region of the heart, Ben Pierson dashed from the rear of the store, flourishing a smoking .38 caliber revolver, and another murder was recorded in the annals of Fulton County.
With the reports of the revolver, Frank Jones, a clerk fled from a side door of the store, into a vacant lot, and Mrs. Iva Newberry, another clerk, wife of W. I. Newberry, ran in terror from the front door. One of the four shots crashed through the glass of the rear door and buried itself in Sutherland's chicken house, several feet distant, while another whizzed past the terror-stricken fleeing woman and sped a half-block striking the house of Joseph Brill.
With the barking of the revolver, the dash of the slayer, and the flight of the clerks, a rush was made for the scene of the shooting. From all sides they came, and in a twinkling the village was thrown into an uproar. Many sought the store while others noting the flight of the crazed slayer, started in pursuit, the crowd swelling every moment. Northward, around some buildings, ran the murderer, and across the lot owned by Dr. Newberg and into a large pasture. Here he turned at bay and waving his still smoking pistol warned all to keep their distance or suffer death.
For a few moments Pierson defied the crowd and as it increased and weapons procured, for what was believed to be a battle to the death, he broke and ran.
Around in a south-westerly course he fled, the crowd at his heels like a pack of hounds. Someone fired two shots from a shotgun. Revolvers, guns and improvised weapons were hastily secured, in the mad scramble after the fleeing slayer.
Across fences he leaped like a bound, down on an embankment about a quarter of a mile northeast of the village, across a small creek, and took refuge beneath a steep embankment on one side of the stream, sitting with his feet in mud and water.
There he sat, facing his pursuers. Circling around and across the creek dashed some of the braver spirits. Constable Milt Miller in the van. Close to him was the Rev. W. T. Kessinger, another fearless man. Others were with them and they gained access to the spot where Pierson was sitting.
Practically together, Constable Miller and the Rev. Mr. Kessinger jumped off the bank and landed on the fugitive. C. A. Bartell, Charles Irwin, and John Brill were there but a moment apart. Pierson made a show as if to resist, but it was quickly discovered that he was unarmed. What had become of the pistol was unknown and it was believed he had thrown it into the marsh-like surroundings.
Escorted by a mob, the captive was taken back to the village in custody of Constable Miller, the Rev. Mr. Kessinger and the others forming a guard. As they neared the home of the victim of the shooting a motley mob of men and women had gathered.
Mutterings were heard and shouts of "Hang him!" - "Lynch Him" - "Kill Him!" etc., etc., were heard. The prisoner heeded not a thing. With a big crowd trailing, the prisoner was led through the main street and past the store wherein was enacted the tragedy.
"I had to do it," he exclaimed as he passed the place of his crime, " I was justified. "
To the small town jail he was taken and the structure was surrounded with massed humanity. Many women were in the throng, mutterings and threats grew in volume but a leader was lacking.
Behind the iron-grated door of his dingy cell, Pierson talked disconnectedly. Expressing such as "I had to kill him!" "He'll l keep away now!" "Yes, I guess I did wrong," emanated from the gloom. An hour's wait and up dashed an automobile containing Deputy Sheriff C. C. Palmer, Deputy Sheriff Stephen Johnson, ex-chief of Police Watts of Canton and various reporters.
With the arrival of the officers threats against the life of the prisoner renewed, this time with more vehemence, and the officers deemed it advisable to get the prisoner out of the village as soon as possible. Handcuffs were produced, the slayer led from the dingy lock-up to the chugging car and with a swish and roar the officers and their prisoner sped away in the moonlight - for Canton, leaving the throng in earnest discussion and comment. Throughout the evening and far into the night groups were discussing the tragedy each member explaining his part or what he had seen and heard.
A short distance from the store in which Day met his death, another scene was being enacted - at the home of the murdered man, to which the corpse had been carried. Lying on a cot, an open bay window, lay the victim of the tragedy, still dressed as he was when he fell. Inside the house had gathered friends and neighbors, while on the outside were groups of neighbors.
From Cuba was rushed Benjamin Day, brother of the victim and business partner, manager of the Cuba store of the firm. He was nearly bereft of his senses with grief and close friends feared for the effects. The aged mother of the dead son sat at the head of the cot where the face of her son was exposed to the flickering lights of the house and her silver head and body shook as she sobbed out her tender regard for her slain boy and extolled his many virtues, as only mother love can, to the unresponsive lips and immobile countenance of the blanketed corpse.
Mrs. Day, the widow of a few hours, mingled abstractedly with her friends and neighbors, at times unable to restrain herself from giving away. The three small children in wonderment watched the effects of the affair, unable to comprehend its full meaning and that their papa was gone.
It was growing late when a somber wagon drawn by two horses stopped at the house, two strong arms lifted the crimson-stained body into a plain black box, and bore it to the waiting vehicle. The horses wheeled and the corpse was on its way to a Cuba morgue for preparation for burial. The lights gleamed fitfully for a while longer in the house, neighbors silently left for their homes. One by one the lights were extinguished, and last looks taken by the press, near the midnight hour revealed nothing but a darkened house surrounded by swaying, budding trees, silhouetted against the brilliant moonlight.
Frank Jones, a clerk in the Day store, had gone after gasoline across the street from the store of N. J. Judd, returning to the store, and met Pierson. In passing Pierson, he spoke to Jones, and stating "Jones, you're square. Don't say you ain't." Jones was filling the can and Pierson drew near. A few steps away was Mr. Day, he turned presumably to fill a store lamp, when the shooting began. Four shots were fired....two of the bullets struck Mr. Day, under the left shoulder blade, about inches apart and one went clear to his front, puncturing the breast. He staggered a few feet and fell face down.
At the sounds of the first shots Jones jumped into a small room where wallpaper was kept and slammed the door. Mrs. Iva Newberry, a saleslady, was also in the store, and she made a rush out the front door. As the slayer fled Jones emerged from a side door of the building and made his way to the street through the vacant lot near the store.
It was presumed Pierson had been drinking, as later when he was holding off the populace with his revolver, Pierson made several moves as if he was drinking from a bottle. Later a bottle that had contained what was said to be carbolic acid, was found in the field where Pierson was standing. The Rev. Kessinger gave it as his opinion that Pierson had been drinking whiskey and taking chloral or some such drug.
Pierson was a native of Astoria, a painter, 32 years of age, and a cousin of Dr, Newberry, and made his home with the Newberry's. Pierson was a tourist or tramp painter and had worked all over the United States, and was formerly with Ringling's Circus. Since being in Smithfield, doing odd painting jobs. He had at 4:30 - been in Newberry's drug store, and appeared rational. Dr. Newberry says he is of the impression that Pierson went suddenly insane!"
Joseph H. Day was born January 11th, 1876 near Fairview, and moved into Galesburg at an early age. He moved to Smithfield some Twenty-five years ago. On Feb. 2lst, 1905, he married Miss Bertha Quillen, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. M. Quillen. They had four children, Thelma, Howard, Richard, and one daughter died in infancy.
Dr. Day conducted a general store in Smithfield, for several years and was a successful business-man and highly esteemed not only in Smithfield, but through-out the entire county. He was a staunch Republican, and was a member of the County Central Republican Committee from Cass Township.
Pierson was taken to Canton, and from there to the county Jail in Lewistown by way of the inter-urban. He seemed to want to go to sleep, and did nap a while. He told why he committed the murder, but his reason, it was not aired until the trial.
He believed he was justified in the committing of the crime.
Pierson was interviewed after the murder of M. Day, in Lewistown, he gave no sign of recognition, though he was showing great friendliness Saturday night. He seemed as one coming out of a long sleep. He gave the appearance of one addicted to drugs and had been deprived of his daily dosages.
When asked to be photographed, he complied, and allowed the reporter to adjust his clothing, and his neck-tie. He uttered not a word. His eyes seemed as a dog, which had done something it should not have. When asked of the crime - Pierson refused to utter a sound. He simply gazed at the questioner like a small child who is bewildered. He did not ask for tobacco as he had Saturday night, and refused ft, and held only an unlit pipe in his mouth. The one a reporter had purchased for him Saturday night in Canton. His eyes speak of volumes - for his character - or lack of it. They shine, with more animalism than that of a human.
Pierson was imprisoned for his deed. Many tries to get him paroled were nixed by Benjamin Day, his family, and friends many times over the ensuing years. In later years it is said; Pierson was let go. What happened to him - is unknown in local history! But he did make it! At least into the history books of Fulton County!
This being the first case of it actually being recorded as such!
Submitted by C. O. Parkinson/Historian
Any contributions, corrections, or suggestions would be deeply appreciated!
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