When asked about the murder on Murder Hill the most common response is: “Inquiries result in more questions than answers.”
The facts that we do know: Charles T. Wimple born December 14, 1844 died on the 19th of March 1875. He is buried in the Sugartown Cemetery in a grave marked with a tombstone. Living on a small farm of about 2 acres, in the Town of Mansfield area known as Fish Hill, Wimple had come to this area from Mexico, NY in Oswego County after the war. He had an injury to his right arm. His death was caused by poison: traces of strychnine and arsenic were found in his tissue.
Age is one of the unanswered questions in this whole story. From the various accounts that can be found Wimple became “taken” with a neighbor’s daughter, Emma Marsh. Emma was much younger than Charles. At the time of his death it is said she has two children, a five year old and a two year old as well as references to her being about five months pregnant. During the murder trial and investigation Emma’s age is listed from 10, 17, or 18 as well as many ages in between. The most accurate account of her age seems to be the report at the time of her release in 1903 found in an article in the New York Times. Emma is listed as having spent 27 years in prison stating she was only seventeen years old when the crime was committed. She was imprisoned the following year which would have her age at 45 years in 1903. Therefore, if Emma was 17 at the time of her husband’s death; she was pregnant at age 11 or 12 if the ages of her children have been accurately reported. Charles would have been about age 24 or 25 at the birth of the first child.
Nelson Cool age 21 was the “hired man” who boarded with the Wimples doing odd jobs around the farm for board. He was paid for chopping wood at a neighboring residence. As noted Charles had a difficult time with manual labor due to his war injury. He was receiving a small pension.
In January 1875 Charles became very ill with vomiting followed by convulsions. This lasted a day or two. In February Charles had a similar attack and again in March. This attack was much more severe and continued. Charles did send Nelson to the doctor for medication for “stomach worms”. The attack continued in March until his death on the 19th. No doctor had been summoned.
Concern that a doctor had not been called as well as the rigidity of the body although the corpse was warm prompted Emma’s father to take his concerns to the authorities. It seemed he had thought Nelson may have poisoned Charles. The doctor did do an autopsy on the man at the home and samples were sent to Buffalo for analysis. The result was that Nelson Cool and Emma Wimple were both arrested at the farm.
Further investigation revealed that the Wimples had an infestation of rats in their home. Charles had sent Nelson to buy strychnine and arsenic which was then put in tins with corn. The tins were set in the pantry alongside the corn Emma used to make “corn coffee” for Charles that he drank frequently.
The jury heard testimony that a relationship had developed between Nelson and Emma and that they had conspired to kill her husband. In October 1875 Nelson was found guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to hang on November 20, 1875. However, Governor Samuel J. Tilden commuted Nelson’s sentence to life in prison. Nelson died in Auburn Prison in about 1884 from tuberculosis.
Emma Wimple was tried in 1876. She was convicted of murder in the second degree. On February 26th she was sentenced to imprisonment in Sing Sing for the term of her natural life. Many accounts give varying locations as to her imprisonment: one she was sentenced to Ward’s Island, another Blackwell’s Island or she was in Auburn and finally, Emma Wimple was released from the Matteawan Hospital for the Insane where she had resided for the last 15 months. She was pardoned by Governor Benjamin B. Odell in 1903 after 27 years of confinement. In June 1903 according to the New York Times, Emma was on her way to her husband’s sister’s home in Syracuse, NY.
Some of the questions:
One story indicated Charles’s sister raised the children. Were there two children or three? Where were the children when their mother is released from prison?
Women did not have the right to vote or many other rights in 1875. Women did not serve on juries during this period in history. Was there an adequate defense for Emma?
Was there an adequate defense for Nelson? Was he her paramour as rumored? Were they just friends? Did Charles ask him to get the poison and place it in the pantry? Was this a terrible accident? Why did no one else get sick? Or did they?
Did gossip and rumors influence the jury? Where is Emma buried?
With a folklore element, so many questions surround this tragedy. Will an investigation ever be done to sort truth from fiction, rumor/ gossip from fact in this matter?
The lore that the truth is still waiting to be told hangs over this saga, yet, the true tragedy is: the Wimple children lost both parents on March 19, 1875.
Sue M. Cross
Town of Mansfield Historian