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Awful Tragedy at a House of Ill Repute


November-December 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Wednesday, November 26, 1862.

Awful Tragedy at a House of Ill Repute—Revelry—Jealousy—A Woman Burned to Death—A Horrible Suspicion—Two Women Arrested.

A most horrible casualty occurred between two and three o’clock yesterday morning, at No. 28 South Tenth street, near Walnut. The place was a house of ill repute, kept by a woman known as Anne Martin, but whose real name was Anne B. Fisher. In a similar house in the vicinity was an unusual gathering of vicious men and women, among whom were two Cyprians named Ellen Montreville and Maggie Wilson. These became intoxicated and reckless. The latter heard that “her man” was at the house of Anne Fisher, and at two o’clock in the morning, accompanied by Ellen, went thither, avowedly to ascertain the fact.

Arrived at Anne’s place, they rang the door bell. She had not retired, and soon appeared at an upper window, and asked what they wanted. One of them told her they had a particular business, and insisted upon her coming down. Leaving a female companion, with whom she had been reading, Anne lighted a piece of paper, descended the stairs with it burning, turned on and ignited the gas near the hall door[,] threw down the still blazing paper upon the floor, and opened the wicket or slide in the door. As she did this, her visitors without, intoxicated as they were, discovered simultaneously with herself that a portion of her dress was in flames. A policeman outside also perceived that smoke was issuing from the aperture in the door. The burning woman imprudently opened the door and rushed out, thus creating a draft that greatly increased the speed with which the volume of flames was enveloping her entire person. The women whose untimely call had occasioned the catastrophe were incapacitated by liquor and terror, and, after an ineffectual attempt by one of them to smother the fire, both rushed from the agonizing scene. The policemen and others soon brought water and threw upon the frantic victim, but too late to save her life. Despite medical skill, she expired about 6 A. M.—scarcely three hours after the casualty.

The gas burner referred to is near the hall door, and the partially burned paper was found still lying nearly beneath where Anne must have stood to look out of the wicket.

From exclamations made by her in her agony, and from a declaration attributed to one of the nocturnal visitors, to the effect that she did not throw the fire, as well as from the character of their errand and some other circumstances, the terrible suspicion naturally arose that the two women had visited the house and called Anne to the door for the fiendish purpose of burning her to death. Accordingly at 4 P. M. policemen Burgen[,] Walker and Kernan found the suspected parties and committed them to the calaboose on the charge (since the victim was then still living,) of assault with intent to kill.

It subsequently appeared that the motives alluded to as leading the women to the house had no foundation in fact, and that the man they were seeking was not there.

Coroner Stevens proceeded yesterday forenoon to the house No. 28 South Tenth street to hold the necessary inquest. The witnesses were summoned, and the jury sworn in view of the charred and shockingly distorted remains. The testimony satisfactorily shows the facts to be substantially as above detailed.

Anna Parker, living at No. 28 South Tenth street, testifies that she heard a scream, saw a blaze in the hall, saw that the blaze proceeded from the clothing on the person of Anna Fisher; saw Maggie Wilson standing in the front door, and heard Anna Fisher say she did not know which of the girls had done it.

Thomas Phudy, policeman, living on Twenty-first street, between Spring street and Gamble avenue, swore that he saw two women standing at the door of No. 28 South Tenth street, and heard the taller call for Miss Anne to come down; Anne came down and opened the slide door; in about a second afterward she was on fire all over her person; the hall lamp had just been lighted, and the blaze of the dress was immediately after; she took fire before the hall door was opened, but apparently while the slide or wicket in the door was open; saw no fire till I saw the dress on fire.

Anne Williams testified: Heard Maggie Wilson and Ella Montreville ask for Anne Fisher; saw Maggie Wilson standing in the doorway: do not know whether the girls had had any misunderstanding or difficulty; Ella Montreville said she did not throw the fire, but that Maggie Wilson did it.

Fannie Bugia also living at No. 28, south Tenth street, testified: Two women came to the door and asked for Anne Fisher. Anne said she did not want to let them in. She lighted a piece of paper and took it downstairs to light the hall gas. After she had lighted the gas and stood at the door she was suddenly on fire and said “that’s the particular business they wanted to see me for.” The partly burned paper was afterwards found on the hall floor, near where Anne was standing when she caught fire.

At this point the Coroner and Jurors left the house No. 28, south Tenth, and proceeded to the Central Police Station, to hear the statements of the girls Wilson and Montreville, whom the police had arrested at 4 A. M.

The prisoners were separately brought from the calaboose to the Recorder’s Court room, and there required to swear and testify.

Ella Montreville said that Maggie Wilson and herself went to the door of the house and rang the bell. Maggie wanted to find out if her man was at Anne’s. When the door opened, Ella saw that Anne’s dress was on fire. The fire was at the back part of the dress. Anne at once ran out, and they ran away through terror and fear of being burned.

Maggie Wilson, on oath, said: I went to Anne Fisher’s house at about 2 o’clock. Anne came down and opened the wicket in the door, and then we saw through the wicket that her dress was on fire. I told Anne her dress was on fire. She then opened the door and ran out. I tried to catch her and put out the fire; I got slightly burned and then ran off.

The jury readily found as their verdict that the deceased came to her death from being accidentally burned in the manner above indicated.

The prisoners were subsequently admitted to bail by Justice Waite, and will probably be discharged by the Recorder this morning.