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Killing Cousins:
The Murder of Mary Jones

by Christopher Doty

illustrative photo"I don't dread this rest, a bit, for I have no guilt to feel. I never did have. May God have mercy on me now."

Thomas Jones' lust for money was only surpassed by his complete lack of ethics.

By the 1860s the Delaware farmer had earned a reputation as a man who would double cross anyone for a dollar. During the American Civil War he would travel down to Detroit and sign on as a mercenary soldier in the Union Army. After collecting his money, Jones would jump back into Canada and disappear. He later refined the scheme by gathering bogus recruits from the local Oneida Nation. Jones then pocketed the money and took off, leaving the natives to face the wrath of American officials. Jones evenutally pulled his scam off once too often and was sentenced to three years in jail.

In 1868 Jones concocted his most brazen scheme - to rob his brother's house. Disguised with a fake beard, he forced his way into the home where he surprised his 13-year-old niece, Mary. Unfortunately for Jones, Mary was able to see through the disguise and identified her uncle as the burglar.

It also proved unfortunate for Mary.

henry jonesOn the afternoon of Friday, June 11th Mary's mother - showing a decided lack of judgement - sent her daughter to her uncle's house for a cup of flour. Henry Jones (right) was aghast at the idea. His brother was furious that Mary had testified against him and the hatred had spilled over to Thomas' young daughter, Elizabeth. Just a week earlier, the 13-year-old had publicly threatened to kill her cousin "for half a cent."

Mary, however, did not feel her life was in danger and brushed aside her father's concerns. It was the last time her parents saw her alive.

Forty-eight hours later a searcher made a gruesome discovery a half mile from Thomas Jones' home. It was the body of Mary Jones. Her skull had been fractured.

The entire Jones family was immediately taken into custody - partly on suspicion, partly to protect them from a public lynching. Jones and his daughter were later charged with the murder, based on the testimony of the family's youngest son.

At the trial that October, Elizabeth Jones testified she had beaten her cousin to death with a stick and then buried the body in a pile of leaves. Although there was no direct evidence to link her father to the murder, the jury was swayed by medical evidence that indicated Mary's wounds were so severe they could not have been caused by a young girl. While Jones admitted he hid the body, he was adamant his daughter had committed the crime by herself.

Elizabeth, for her troubles, was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years imprisonment in a penitentiary. Thomas Jones' attempt to hide behind his daughter's confession had eliminated any hope for mercy from the court. He was sentenced to hang on December 29th. It would be London's last public execution.

Jones proved to be a popular candidate for the hangman's noose. Despite the bitter cold, people from as far away as Delaware began gathering in the court house square more than two hours before the execution. By ten o'clock that morning the crowd had reached an estimated six thousand - nearly half of London's population.

Throughout his imprisonment, Jones held out hope he would be reprieved. Although he nearly buckled in front of the executioner, he remained steadfast in his innocence.

"I don't dread this rest, a bit, for I have no guilt to feel. I never did have," he yelled out to the crowd. "May God have mercy on me now."

"The wretched man stood for a few seconds - awful moments they must have been to him - on the brink of eternity. While every eye in the vast assemblage was turned upon him in the dread expectancy of the fatal move, the sudden drop of the trap was noticed," scribbled a reporter from the London Advertiser. "An involuntary moan arose from the crowd beneath and then a death like silence which gave place to the shuffling of feet and hum of voices as the assemblage began to disperse."

In death, as in life, no one wanted any part of Thomas Jones. His wife refused to accept his body for internment. Jones' remains were dumped into a cheap casket, buried in an unmarked grave at a local cemetery and quickly forgotten.

Still, it was a better funeral than the one he had given to young Mary Jones.

The author wishes to thank Nancy Debreccini and Robert G. Vanidour for their help in preparing this article.