Pennies in the Dust: the Murder of Marshall Pritchard, Part 2

By Kathi Kresol ~ Read Part 1 here.

There were a few more inquests and many people were questioned. After all the witnesses, after all the testimony, the authorities were still left in the dark. No one claimed to have seen Marshall after 10:00p.m. that evening. The last gentleman, a Colonel Smith claimed that he saw a man sitting outside of Winnie’s barber shop. The man was intoxicated and the Colonel spoke to him to urge him to head home. The man stood up and staggered away. Authorities were baffled and the paper quoted them as saying “it was if Pritchard had sunk into an invisible hole into the ground.”

The quote that greeted people from the paper on January 28, 1879 claimed “The Coroner’s jurors go about looking wise as the bird of night which hoots, while they are much in the dark as anyone”. Rumors flew but that is all they were- just rumors. The Daily Register reported, “there are a thousand and one rumors, and to hear the conversation in knots of men on the street one would think that a hundred men had been murdered in a hundred different ways.”

And that was all. The investigation continued, people were still questioned but there were no sure answers. Leads were followed but never amounted to anything. Marshall was buried and his family began to learn to live without him. His wife, Emma raised their eight year old son with the help of Marshall’s family and friends.

There was a flurry of activity on the case in 1885 when the police arrested Gideon Copper and charged him with Marshall’s murder. Cooper was arrested on the tip from a man serving time in Joliet for forgery. In the January 21, 1885 edition of the Daily Gazzette it states that Sheriff Hutchins went to the “city of criminals” to bring Banta back to Rockford for questioning. Banta testified that when he was serving time in the county jail, his cellmate shared a story about the Pritchard murder, naming Gideon Cooper as the killer and robbery as the motive. Will Lorenson was named as Cooper’s accomplice.

Banta later changed his story ( at least a dozen times) and insisted he had seen Cooper commit the murder. By July 1885, Banta had changed his story and confessed that he had done the actual killing. In this newest version, he was traveling with his cousin from Rockford to Rockton when they came across Marshall walking on the road. They noticed he was staggering because of being intoxicated and they offered him a ride. Marshall accepted but shortly after they continued they travels, Marshall became “quarrelsome” and pulled his revolver from his pants pocket.

Banta claimed it was self-defense and that his cousin and he made a solemn pact not to mention the evenings events to anyone. Banta admitted to knowing Pritchard and the fact that Marshall was the tax collector for Cherry Valley. Banta made the confession to “appease the gnawings of conscience, which had prevented him from sleeping or resting. The paper went on to say that officers believe Banta’s version of the murder.

This would give one the impression that this murder case was solved. But it wasn’t. The police couldn’t find any evidence against Banta and it speaks to their integrity that they didn’t just stamp it solved and move on. Banta was labeled a liar and (as stated in the Daily Gazette on July 27, 1885) a “loquacious crank.”

The last the papers mention about James Banata is in a quirky article in the Rockford Weekly Gazzette on March 3, 1886. The paper announces the wedding of James Banta and Lizzie Connors. The groom, now 82 is incarcerated in the state’s prison (again) in Joliet. The bride showed up at the prison, a four day old baby in one hand and a marriage license in the other. The prison chaplain, J.J. Walkers, performed the ceremony ín a highly satisfactory matter. The blushing bride claims that James is the father of the little infant and that she is the mother. Lizzie Connors was 85 years old at the time of the wedding.

There was even a reward offered that no one ever claimed. In fact, Banta mentioned it in a letter to Thomas Sully on July 16, 1885. The paper printed the letter and then calls Banta “a crank of the first order”. It goes on to say that “it may be possible that he is having a truth telling fit this time. His neck needs stretching if any evidence beyond his own words confirms his story.” The paper gives the impression that Banta is interested in the $1000 reward. There is a final footnote to the Banta story.

In 1903 there was an article in the Daily Register Gazzette that mentioned Harry Hillman, one of the last men seen with Pritchard. It stated that shortly after Marshall was killed this Hillman moved west to a Dakota and ran for sheriff. His defeat was supposedly caused by the scandal of his being a suspect in Marshall’s death. Marshall’s case was never solved. His family members never found out why this man, by all accounts a good man, was taken from them.

Marshall is still said to linger both in the area of his death and the Cherry Valley Cemetery. His is not a overly noticeable ghost. In fact, even the words on his tombstone have been mostly obliterated. Some people have reported feeling a cold spot around his grave or hearing the sounds of stumbling footsteps and men shouting by the place where he was killed.

Psychics have reported that his shame keeps Marshall here. He feels a great amount of disappointment in himself for allowing the drinking problem to make him vulnerable. They also report that he feels guilty for the anguish he put his wife and child through. His young son has left an impression too. Apparently, visitors to the Cherry Valley Cemetery have seen a young boy in the proximity of Marshall’s grave, sitting on the ground with his head in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably. It is easy to imagine that exact scene playing possibly numerous times as the young boy dealt with the loss of his father.

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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