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Henry Stevens Frances Hall and William Stevens Trial: 1926

"i Have The Greatest Of All Blessings"

It was known almost instantly who the murdered woman was, for it was common knowledge that Reverend Hall was deeply involved with a member of the St. John's choir, Eleanor Mills. Her quiet and unambitious husband James served as sexton of the church. The country was titillated when the newspapers, hot on the trail of a story of torrid love, revealed that the papers scattered over the bodies were love letters such as this:

There isn't a man who could make me smile as you did today. I know there are girls with more shapely bodies, but I do not care what they have. I have the greatest of all blessings, a noble man, deep, true, and eternal love. My heart is his, my life is his, all I have is his, poor as my body is, scrawny as they say my skin may be, but I am his forever.

The autopsies reported that the minister had been shot once and the 32-year-old choir singer three times—both in the head. Her throat had been slit from ear to ear and her voice box nearly removed.

Middlesex and Somerset county detectives and prosecutors vied for authority, for the bodies had been found almost on the line between the two counties. Soon Middlesex County prosecutor Joseph Stricker charged one Clifford Hayes with the murders. He believed a young man who said Hayes had mistaken the victims for a girlfriend and her father, whom Hayes had threatened. But Hayes was jailed in Somerset County, where its prosecutor was unable to make the mistaken-identity theory explain the slit throat or the love letters. Two days later, Hayes' accuser admitted he had lied.

Meantime, in four weeks, the police and the prosecutors had found no reason to suspect the choir singer's husband, James Mills, whom columnist Damon Runyon later described as "a harmless, dull little fellow." As for Frances Hall, she had spent the evening of the murders with her husband's visiting niece after Reverend Hall had gone out in response to a call from Eleanor Mills. At 2:30 in the morning, Frances Hall had discovered that her husband had not returned. With her brother Willie Stevens, who had been at home the entire evening, she had gone to the church to search for her husband.

The police questioned Frances Hall and her brothers extensively on October 17, even forcing her to don the gray coat she had worn on her middle-of-the-night search and submit to inspection by an unidentified woman who peered at her intently.

By now, countless eager curiosity-seekers, propelled by daily sensational newspaper stories, had traipsed through the lovers' lane property. The weekends brought hundreds of cars, police to handle traffic, and vendors to hawk peanuts, popcorn, and soft drinks.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Henry Stevens Frances Hall and William Stevens Trial: 1926 - "i Have The Greatest Of All Blessings", A Mule-riding Pig Woman, "a Sort Of Genius"