By Bruce Cline, director of the Little Egypt Ghost Society
It was a hot, muggy day in Murphysboro, IL on July 30, 1915. Lizzy Martin, the wife of prominent Murphysboro attorney, James Martin, was found brutally murdered in her home on North Ninth Street. She had been savagely beaten on her head and upper body. The only suspect in this horrendous crime was the Martins live-in handyman, a negro by the name of Joe DeBerry. At first, he denied killing Mrs. Martin. After intense questioning by the Jackson County Sheriff, DeBerry confessed to bludgeoning Mrs. Martin with a fireplace poker. The reason for this crime was never clear. Some say he had been accused of stealing and had been caught by Mrs. Martin. Others said that he killed her because she refused to give him 5o cents for a haircut.
One month after the murder, DeBerry was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. October 16, 1915 was the day of the execution. The Murphysboro Daily Independent newspaper reported that “fog hung over the city like a cloak of death.” Jackson County Sheriff James White deputized 2000 citizens of Murphysboro so that all could obtain a good view of the hanging. Executions were very good for business in Murphysboro. Hotels, restaurants and shops were all crowded with customers. The entire downtown had a carnival atmosphere to it.
DeBerry was hung on the same scaffold that was used to hang Charlie Birger several years later. Once the trap door was sprung, it took De Berry 16 minutes to die.
After the death of Lizzy’s husband, James, rumors began to circulate that the majestic Victorian home that they had lived and died in was haunted. During the 1940s a fire destroyed the top portion of the stately Victorian home that the Martins once lived in. The 2 story Victorian home was remodeled into a one story bungalow. Starting in the late 1940s, occupants of the house would report mysterious sounds. It is not know if the strange creaks and other noised were due to the brutal murder that took place there or if it was the result of extensive remodeling that perhaps the spirits of the Martins did not approve of. Many residual hauntings have been reported wherever there was a tragic event or remodeling of an older structure.
Bruce Cline is the Director of the Little Egypt Ghost Society based in Carbondale, IL. He is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army as a Corps of Engineers Officer. He is a former municipal, county and state law enforcement officer. Bruce lives in Carbondale, IL with his wife, Lisa and several cats and dogs.
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