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Henry Stevens Frances Hall and William Stevens Trial: 1926

A Mule-riding Pig Woman

At the end of October, a 50-year-old widow named Jane Gibson, who raised hogs near the murder site, disclosed that she had mounted a mule on the night of September 14 to follow a suspected thief. In the lovers' lane, she had seen two men and two women silhouetted against the night sky, then heard screams and shots and the shouted name "Henry."

Dubbing her "The Pig Wooman," the press thronged Gibson's dilapidated living room. She told them she had always wanted to talk to the police, but they wouldn't listen. When Hayes was arrested, she had forced them to pay attention. It was she who had peered intently at Frances Hall at police headquarters.

The grand jury spent five days hearing 67 witnesses, including The Pig Woman. It took no action.

Three and a half years later, a piano tuner named Arthur S. Richl filed a petition for annulment of his 10-month marriage. His wife, he said, had withheld from him "knowledge of the doings in the well-known Hall-Mills case." He said his wife, who at the time was a maid in the Hall household, told Mrs. Hall on September 14, 1922,

… that she knew Dr. Hall intended to elope with Mrs. Mills. About ten o'clock that night respondent [Mrs. Riehl], Mrs. Hall, and Willie Stevens were driven to Phillips farm.…Respondent told your petitioner that she got five thousand dollars for her part in the matter and for keeping quiet about it.… Respondent told your petitioner Willie Stevens was a good shot and that there was always a pistol in the Hall library drawer.

Mrs. Richl denounced her husband's statement as "a pack of lies." But for the next three weeks, the New York Daily Mirror, a new Hearst paper eager to win a circulation war with the established Daily News, led the press in demanding the reopening of the Hall-Mills case. At midnight on July 28, Frances Hall was arrested and arraigned. Over the next month, several hearings, each with more than 50 witnesses, produced enough testimony to convince the grand jury to indict not only her but her brothers Willie and Henry Stevens and their cousin, Henry Carpender, for each murder. Special Prosecutor Alexander Simpson asked for a separate trial for Carpender.

The trial turned Somerville's Main Street into what one wag called "a country fair," with dozens of souvenir and refreshment stands. In the courthouse, some 300 reporters pumped their stories into 60 leased wires while 28 special operators handled a 129-position switchboard moved in from the recent Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney prizefight in Philadelphia. In view of the intense interest, Somerset County Judge Frank L. Cleary invited New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Charles W. Parker, who had presided over some of the hearings, to help him run the trial in the murder of Eleanor Mills.

For the prosecution, a fingerprint expert testified that Reverend Hall's business card bore Willie Stevens' fingerprint, despite the fact that it had been handled by police and reporters and the curious, had developed "flyspecks," and after three years had languished in the possession of the editor of the Daily Mirror.

The Pig Woman provided the ultimate drama. Severely ill, she was brought by ambulance to the courthouse, where she lay flat in a bed before judges and jury and told again her story of riding her mule into the night and hearing voices. She said she had heard a woman shout, "Explain those letters." Then, she went on, "I could hear somebody's wind going out, and somebody said, 'Ugh!' "A flashlight shone, and she saw Henry Stevens. Then a woman said, "Oh, Henry," and another screamed "Oh, my; oh, my!" She heard a shot, then three shots, and she rode away.

Defense attorney Clarence Case worked to destroy The Pig Woman's credibility. Known as Mrs. Gibson, she said she was really married to a Mr. Easton—except that she couldn't remember in which church or city she married him, and at the hearings four years earlier, she had denied that marriage. Hadn't she been married in 1890 to a man who divorced her in 1898 for adultery? Had she lived with Harry Ray? Had she known "Stumpy" Gillan? She couldn't remember.

The defense produced witnesses to prove that Henry Stevens spent the night of the murders bluefishing on the Jersey shore. Three fingerprint experts could find no resemblance between the smudge on the card and Willie Stevens' prints. The detective who received the card in 1922 said he had put his initials on it then, but the card in evidence showed no initials.

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"