The victim in this true story murder was a distant cousin of mine.
As of 2018, it is a 121-year-old cold case that is one of the oldest unsolved murders in the history of Yates County, New York.
I originally presented this compelling tale as a weekly (Thursday) serial, in seven (!) parts, that started December 8th, 2011. Written in rhyming couplets, it give a quicker speed to the material, but still shared all the known information and detail.
Readers are drawn into the investigation as a well-respected Inspector coming in from out-of-state to assist.
I apologize for the hour, Inspector, but your expertise is sought;
The Police have made no arrests, and the family is overwrought!
This case defies all logic we know; no piece fits the puzzle (we tried);
And the Coroner cannot confirm or deny just how this poor man died!
His name was William BRUNSKILL, found dead out by the water;
Someone perhaps had struck him and his life took sharp a falter.
All the facts I relay, Inspector, newspapers did first report;
But details and interpretation are subject to contort –
Or alter investigations and inquiries articulated;
And make this grisly madness: a death premeditated?
No witnesses came forward with details of a fight;
Just an employee of the Power Corp who found him at early light …
Face-down in quiet waters of Penn Yan’s Keuka Lake;
Lying there in his own blood — a nasty mess did make.
From the enforcers of the law, their brief report did state;
With gawkers milling all about, the crime scene they did taint.
So, the coroner took the body and after examination;
Said the victim’s lungs had filled with water but further investigation,
Revealed a blunt-force trauma — right quadrant behind the ear;
The gash, indeed, was bad enough to kill him, the doctor did fear.
The police were thinking suicide, but the coroner contradicted;
“The wounds,” said he, “to this man’s head, could not be self-inflicted!”
The bloating and disfigurement, the coroner then estimated;
Was not from mere hours — but days – he carefully calculated,
But all the blood and bruising – perhaps he fought? Or fell?
An accident? Or a murder? The doctor, not yet, could tell.
Two black oars, from a boathouse nearby were reported confiscated* (stolen)
And the chance this could be murder was quickly elevated.
Then six feet under the water, they found a soft, white hat;
About fifty feet south of where the water-soaked body was at,
Officers pieced together, more bits of this man’s life;
He’d been out for work for months and also estranged from his wife!
No signs were found that the body was moved, after he had died;
But some villagers that were questioned, said the man was much despised!
Like Brunskill’s housekeeper, Mary STROPE, who on Sunday saw him last;
“Looking for work,” she recalls, when out the door he passed.
Her statement, it was shattered, though something seemed to be missing;
As others had simply claimed that Brunskill just went fishin’.
And six witnesses remembered Brunskill quarreling with another;
A Buffalo railway signalman – Mrs. Strope’s brother!
These witnesses also mentioned, Inspector, that Brunskill was not alone;
A spaniel and a bulldog pup followed him from home.
He walked along breakwaters, recently built by the State;
Both the dogs were with him wading through the shallow breaks
Later, he was seen alive, up the west side of the lake;
Trying to o’erturn a canoe (a fishing trip to take?)
By late Sunday, near John PURDY’s boathouse, the dogs were milling ’round;
In the very neighbourhood where the decedent would later be found!
Mr. Purdy shut the dogs in his boathouse, for their owners he planned to wait;
But the owners never came, and the dogs slipped out the gate.
By Monday, the bulldog puppy across the Channel had swum;
And exited near the ice house of J.C. SHANNON and Son
She went to George CLARK’s residence, where she is known by name;
And refuses now to leave, as she had come home lame!
And it was six railway employees, in the evening’s early night;
That found the decedent’s body — not by the morning light.
Then later Tuesday evening, the spaniel to Brunskill’s did go;
(And nothing else has been reported of the animal, that I know.).
Dr. HAVENS formed a jury on Wednesday, of which this matter, to take;
On the investigation and an indictment then to make.
The Coroner’s (Dr. Havens) findings Dr. TUTHILL helped to list
And then he examined the body, to ensure nothing was missed.
Subject was Caucasian, male, and for hours he was reviewed
Mister DOE, though not identified, the findings did not conclude:
Face-down, he was found in water, for two days — maybe three!
So, determining this subject’s age will not come to be.
Partial loss of two fingers from right hand, quite some time ago;
Result of occurred in distant past from cause as yet unknown.
Discoloration marks, the left fourth finger of his hand;
The probability of: a stolen wedding band?
A deep scar sits o’er his left eye, but it is also aged;
And his face is almost black from evident beatings pre-arranged!
Also, terribly hanging, his left eye does protrude;
And a skull fracture to the right temple made by something blunt and crude.
His clothes, although not shabby, show wear however slight;
(But any other details were not made forthright).
With the indications found, both doctors did concur;
This dead man they knew as John Doe, indeed was a victim of murder!
With the autopsy finished, HOPKINS Bros., the body did take;
To prepare it for immediate burial was their intent to make
But a man met with Havens & Tuthill, to alleviate his fears;
“William, he went missing,” he mumbled through his tears.
The undertakers waited, as the man was taken to;
With others, to the body: was he someone they knew?
Gathered ’round, they watched the sheet lift carefully;
Rage filled hearts, tears filled eyes — this man was family!
“Who did this to my brother?” the upset John BRUNSKILL said;
But the doctors had one answer: they only proved the man was dead.
The next few weeks, the coroner’s jury heard witness testimony;
And conflicts with the day in question, hindered the ceremony.
Many claimed, the victim went fishing, with a couple dogs in tow;
He was looking for work, said others, and to Penn State he’d go,
With valise in hand, they continued, and a dapper white felt hat;
(The former was never located; and the latter, Tuthill found that!).
Those barking dogs, many complained, were out ’til very late;
Some said, at least ’til seven; others, at least ’til eight.
And all but one recollected, the victim was in a fight;
An argument with Mr. Fred STROUP (sic) earlier during the night.
Ending with this addenda dated 05JAN2012:
My poem, “Murder and Mayhem,” was picked up by the
Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society
located in Penn Yan, New York, for print in their newsletter YATES PAST (March 2012), pp.8-10