Pennies in the Dust: the Murder of Marshall Pritchard, Part 1

By Kathi Kresol

“Beware lest he take you away with his stroke.”

These were familiar words in the late 1800’s. Fire and brimstone was the common theme spoken from most pulpits on Sunday mornings. But these words weren’t spoken from a pulpit. These words were some of the last words spoken over the grave of an unfortunate man named Marshall Pritchard.

Marshall Pritchard wasn’t always considered an unfortunate man  – in fact quite the opposite is true. His life started out simply enough. He was born on February 18, 1844 in Ostelic, New York. According to records, Marshall’s father, Myron Pritchard was a carpenter and his mother, Mary a housewife. They had two sons, Marshall and Asa born in 1842.

They moved to Illinois sometime between 1850 and 1860 settling in Cherry Valley. Marshall followed in his father’s footsteps and trained as a carpenter for a time. In 1862, he joined the Illinois 67th as a private and re- joined in the fall after mustering out. The whole family must have been devastated with the news that only brother, Asa who was also serving in the Army, died of disease.

Marshall was married to Emma L. Hathaway in 1867. Described in the newspapers as an “estimable lady with a high mental endowment,” Emma was from Michigan. The details of the courtship have been lost but they were married on October 22, 1867.

They decided to settle in the Cherry Valley, Illinois area. Marshall quickly gained respect in the small town. He worked as a druggist for Mr. King for a time while Emma kept herself busy writing articles for “several eastern magazines.” They bought a little house across from the public school building and Marshall was asked to serve on the school board.

Their only child, a son was born in 1871. He was eight years old when his father was killed. In January of 1879, Marshall’s and Emma’s looked bright. Marshall had recently been elected as the Cherry Valley Tax Collector and from all accounts seemed very pleased with the position. He would spend his days traveling to collect the taxes and then head to Rockford to secure the funds in the Third National Bank.

Friends had recently noticed some alarming changes in Marshall’s personality. He was always a “temperate” man in the past but with the added responsibility of the tax job and the close proximity to several drinking establishments, Marshall’s drinking had increased. In fact, the night before he died, Marshall was seen in Rockford very inebriated. His close friends were concerned that harm would come to him.

That is exactly the scenario that seemed to have played out for the unfortunate Marshall.

The facts of the “Terrible Tragedy” are shrouded in speculation and the mystery deepened by too few clues and conflicting accounts.

These are the facts that are known. Marshall had spent the last day of his life in the usual way, collecting the taxes and then taking the train into Rockford to place the funds in the bank.

Friends mentioned seeing him in Rockford most of the day with the last sighting of Marshall taking place in the evening. He was in Mapes Saloon, a friend stated.

Marshall’s body was found the next morning around 7:00a.m. A man by the name of E. H. Glynn was walking his cow to the watering tank in the area of present day Main Street and Harlem Boulevard. He noticed something in the road and asked a young man who was standing nearby to hold his cow while he got a closer look. What he saw shocked him. There in the middle of the road was a dead man. He went to summon help even though it was obviously too late to save the poor man.

Mr. Glynn was able to round up a few men who helped him lift the man unto the side of the road. He reported that the body was cold and that he saw a cut in the back of one of the ears. There was a pool of blood under the head but no signs of a struggle. Glynn also noticed a revolver lying three feet or so from the body. He noticed several pennies that he assumed had fallen out of the dead man’s pocket. There was a small wound on the left side of the head and a larger wound on the right side of the head. There was a tuft of hair that appeared to be the man’s own clutched in his hand.

Dr. G. L. Pritchell performed the autopsy later that morning but his initial exam of the body was that death was instantaneously caused by a gunshot from a .38 caliber weapon. The bullet entered the left side of the head, took a downward course and exited the head on the right. He concluded that there was no powder burns to the skin so the barrel of the gun was further way from the head. Dr. Pritchell stated that due to this, he didn’t think that Marshall had inflicted the wound himself.

The news spread like a wildfire in the small town of Cherry Valley. Many of the men decided to head to Rockford to get the whole story. In fact, the article in the Daily Register mentions that “by noon it seemed as if the male population of the Valley had turned into Rockford en masse.”

In flowery language known to that time period it describes the inquest as “A perfect mass of humanity, standing so thickly as to seem actually welded together, were crowded within the walls, and the atmosphere in a short half an hour, fairly reeked with poisonous vapors.”

The inquest began at 2:00p.m. the same day that Marshall’s body was found. There were 12 local men who served on the jury. Witness’ were called and testimonies taken. The first was Glynn the man who had discovered Marshall’s body. Others included people who lived by where the body was found. Most recalled hearing a shot around 11p.m. the previous evening. It seems that that must have been a common occurrence for the time. No one was even startled enough to report it.

One lady, Sophia Sandine heard some men talking around the time of the gunshot.

After this testimony, the coroner stated that Marshall had most likely been murdered. He theorized that some unknown person or persons had led Marshall away from the tavern maybe with the promise of helping him home and then robbed him. Or at least attempted to rob him. What the robbers might not have realized is that Marshall had already deposited the $116.00 he had collected into the bank.

In fact, the only money that Marshall had on him were a few pennies found next to him on the ground. The man who found him mentioned at the inquest that his pockets had been turned inside out giving the impression that they were looking for something.

To be continued Wed. May 29

Kethi greenwood 4Kathi Kresol has been  organizing paranormal events for the past eight years. Her life-long passion for anything odd and unusual has led her to pore over long forgotten newspapers, books, and journals. She collects and shares the stories of fascinating people who have called this area their home.


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