5 of Dayton's most shocking murders


By Amelia Robinson

Staff Writer

Dayton hands have been drenched in blood throughout history.

Some of the nation’s most shocking historical murder cases happened at the Old Court House in the center of downtown Dayton.

For the past five years, Dayton History has brought one of these real-life courthouse dramas to life as part its Old Case Files project.

The program uses newspaper, court and other documents to spotlight Old Court House trials.

Audience members serve as jurors and determine if the accused are guilty or innocent.

Last year the staged re-enactment was of Mary Knight’s 1895 murder trial.

Not to give too much away, but Mary would not win the world’s greatest daughter award. This only child with an "appetite for strong drink" was tried for the bloody death of her mother Catherine “Grandmother Hark” Hark.

The supposed murder weapon: the cross-piece of a stove top covered in hair and blood.


Here's the rundown of the four scandalous cases featured in the series from 2011 to 2014:


  • Bessie Haunts

    5 of Dayton's most titillating and downright shocking murders, item 1
    Photo of Albert Frantz from the Ohio Department of Rehablitation and Correction. Drawing of Bessie Little from Dayton Daily News Archive. The old Ridge Avenue Bridge, where Bessie Little was murdered, as it appeared around 1910.


    What happened: Albert J. Frantz was accused of shooting his pregnant lover Bessie Little on the Ridge Avenue Bridge on Aug. 27, 1896, and trying to pass her death off as a suicide. Bessie's decomposed body was found floating in the Stillwater River. Prosecutors argued that Albert murdered the 23-year-old because he did not want to marry her.

    Dayton’s Ridge Avenue Bridge has haunted history as site of notorious 19th century murder ←

    According to a piece by former Dayton Daily News columnist and local historian Roz Young (The Story of the Bessie Little Bridge), then-Dayton Chief Farrell “testified at the preliminary hearing that Frantz told him he had taken Bessie for a ride in his rig and that as they approached the bridge, she shot herself twice in the head. He panicked when he realized he might be blamed for her death and threw her body into the river.”

    Prosecutors said the first bullet killed Bessie, so there was no way she could have shot herself that second time in the head.

    Her head was brought into the courtroom on the second day of the trial causing many to faint. Coroner Lee Corbin removed it from the jar it was stored in to show jurors the path of the bullets.

    Outcome: The jury didn’t believe the whole "she shot herself twice in the right ear" defense. They found Albert guilty after six days and more than 100 witnesses. He professed his innocence until the day he was executed by the state on Nov. 19, 1897. Albert was only fourth man in Ohio history to meet death in the electric chair after the current was turned on and off five times. He could be heard groaning after each turn.

    Disowned by her adopted family due to her pregnancy, Bessie was at first buried in Potter’s Field.

    The family had the body moved to Woodland Cemetery shortly after Albert’s execution.

    Bessie’s ghost is said to haunt the Ridge Avenue Bridge, which is nicknamed the Bessie Little bridge. The bridge she died on was replaced in 1927. That bridge was demolished in 2014 as part of a $5.2 million Ridge Avenue Bridge project that will see a new bridge.


  • "Jennie Smith did it, so help me God.”

    5 of Dayton's most titillating and downright shocking murders, item 2
    Historic photo of the Old Courthouse in downtown Dayton. (Source: Dayton History)


    A vagabond shoemaker going by the name Harry Adams was accused of bludgeoning Civil War veteran Henry Mulharen (Mulharon) to death with a hammer after seeing Henry, a married man here from Vermont for treatment at the National Soldiers Home, had money.

    Long story short (Read: Split Blood:Dead Men Tell No Tales — Women, Whiskey & Woe on Dayton History online), Henry, Harry and Jennie Smith, a prostitute at an establishment called Lou’s place, went on a bender around town on Feb. 13, 1976.

    Harry (a seasoned hood whose real name was actually Francis Daniel Spealman) reportedly asked two men and then two boys to help him rob a drunken Henry of the pension money burning in his pocket.

    Both groups declined.

    From Split Blood: Meanwhile, after not being able to convince Henry to go back with her, Jennie decided to return to home. Adams, seeing that Mulharon was alone, followed the stumbling man up an alley running off Brown Street, between Oak and Union streets.

    A few minutes later, Jennie was confronted by Adams, who had run to overtake her. In one blood-covered hand he held a hammer. Without a word, Jennie knew what had happened.

    “I’ve killed the son of a bitch, but haven’t got his money! Take this hammer to my woman, then you’ll be as deep in the mud as I am,” screamed Harry, as he thrusted the bloody tool to her. “Take it or I’ll kill you. And if I can’t, I’ll get someone else to do it. Remember, dead men tell no tales!”

    Frightened, Jennie did what she was told, taking the bloody instrument to Lou Huffman to dispose of.

    Adams quickly returned to the scene of the crime and began rifling through Mulharon’s pants pockets. Before he could find the money, however, Harry noticed someone coming out of a nearby saloon. Instead of running away, Adams began yelling that someone had been killed.


    Outcome: Drunk on whiskey he was given on a priest’s request, Harry was hung on June 15, 1877. He professed his innocence all the way to the hangman’s noose, blaming Jennie just before those in attendance heard a sharp snap as his neck broke.

    According to the book “Ohio Ghost Hunter Guide V: A Haunted Hocking Hunter Guide. “ he wrote: “I, Harry Adams, sitting here within four feet of the scaffold upon which I will die a most ignominious death, within full sight of it while looking upon it, do solemnly declare, with this my dying word, that I never did the deed for which I am to die, but that Jennie Smith did it, so help me God.”



    5 of Dayton's most titillating and downright shocking murders, item 3
    Dayton History 2013 reenactment of Ohio vs. Layton Hines


    Layton Hines, a young black man, was arrested in the death of Anna Markowitz, an 18-year-old Jewish woman, and her friend Abraham Cohan in the summer of 1907.

    Anna, her sister Bertha and Abraham had enjoyed an evening at Soldiers’ Home and were heading home when they decided to stop for a rest in McCabe Park.

    They heard a gun shot and Bertha and Abraham jumped to to leave as a male figure rushed toward them, according to Dayton History.

    Anna did not get away as gunshots rang out. Abraham managed to escape but was shot. Bertha was ultimately the only survivor. Her sister was raped and strangled to death.

    Outcome: The trial was controversial with some believing Layton was coerced into confessing to the crimes and was a scapegoat. Dayton History says societal tensions were raised as people from difference races, religions and economic status testified.

    Layton was convicted in Abe and Anna’s deaths after 11 hours of deliberation, according to newspaper accounts. A request for mercy was made by the jury, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

    Some theorize that these deaths and four others in Dayton were really the work of a serial killer called “Jack The Strangler.”


  • Amelia Gunned Down

    5 of Dayton's most titillating and downright shocking murders, item 4
    Photo of Harry Crooks from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections


    Harry Crooks was accused of gunning down his ex-wife Amelia after chasing her in the middle of a Dayton street after she obtained a divorce from him. Several people claimed they witnessed the murder.

    Harry was described as a ”good husband before his addiction to morphine and whiskey.”

    Outcome: Harry's mental stability was questioned during his trial and an insanity plea was entered to justify his innocence.

    His eyes were reportedly "red from weeping over the grave of his dead wife in Dayton" when he entered prison, according to information from the Marion Daily Mirror on a genealogy group's page.

    He was executed Oct. 29, 1909.