The Hall-Mills Murders
The End and the Beginning
In November, Jane Gibson identified Henry Carpender as the actual murderer of Hall and Mills. He lived two doors from the Halls, and was their first cousin. His brother had officially identified Halls body. But Henry offered an alibi: an early dinner with his wife at the home of some friends, leaving around 10:30. Several people who knew the Pig Woman came forward to attest to her unreliability, claiming she was known around the neighborhood as a liar.
And someone else came forward as well: George Kuhn, who owned a cigar store, reported that Willie Stevens had come in on Sept 19th and asked him to deny any rumors that the Hall-Stevens-Carpender family had anything to do with the murders. This was long before the Pig Woman had identified Carpender.
Then Paul Hamforszky, who had pastored a Hungarian Reformed Church, said that Hall had confided that he intended to run off with Mrs. Mills and that a relative of his wifes had threatened to kill him. He told this to Mott, but was not contacted thereafter.
Another odd piece of information that came out was that several hymnals at St. Johns had a page torn out: it proved to have been the page that contained a hymn that had been favored by both Hall and Mills: "Peace, Perfect Peace."
Finally on November 20, a Grand Jury was convened. After five days and sixty-seven witnesses, no action was taken and the matter was laid over. Although there were assurances from the authorities that the case would still get attention, few people believed that. For the next four years, people got on with their lives. Mrs. Hall even went to Europe.
Then, on July 3, 1926, Arthur S. Riehl, who had married Louise Geist, the maid who had worked for the Hall family, filed for annulment. He discovered that she had withheld knowledge about the activities of the family. He claimed she had told Mrs. Hall on September 14th, four years earlier, that Hall had plans to elope with Mrs. Mills. She went with Mrs. Hall and Willie Stevens that night, driven by the chauffeur, and received five thousand dollars for keeping quiet about what she knew. Louise claimed that his tale was a pack of lies.
The newspapers picked up the story and raced to outdo one another in tabloid sensationalism. One item of interest was that Trooper Henry Dickson, who was independently investigating the case, had mysteriously disappeared in June 1923. People believed he was spirited away or paid off to drop his investigation.
At first, Middlesex County prosecutor John Toolan (succeeding Stricker) had no intention of re-opening the case. Then he moved it to Somerset County, where Francis Bergen had succeeded Beekman, who had died. On July 28th, Bergen requested the presence of Justice of the Peace, William Sutphen at the county courthouse. Based on new evidence, he issued warrants for the arrest of Mrs. Hall. She hired Robert McCarter, a well-known trial lawyer, to represent her, and he teamed up with Clarence E. Case as assistant chief defense counsel. The state responded by replacing Bergen with the more powerful and experienced state senator Alexander Simpson, a savvy lawyer, five feet tall, from Hudson County.
Simpson was horrified by the amount of evidence that was gone, including Willie Stevens gun, which had been returned to him (and had also been proven to have been disabled long before 1922). He interviewed Jane Gibson and announced his intention to proceed. Very shortly thereafter Jim Mills admitted that he had indeed known about the affair his wife was having and that he had threatened divorce, but had not had the time or money for it.
Arrest warrants were issued for Willie Stevens and Henry Carpender. A hearing was scheduled that took four days, and in the end, after fifty witnesses were called, bail was denied for both men as they were committed to go before a Grand Jury. It was Simpsons contention that Mrs. Hall had gotten caught up in a murder, but she herself did not do it. There were people, however, who claimed that she had hired someone to do the job and was therefore guiltier than Simpson was saying.
Another investigation was launched, which sought to break down Henry Stevens alibi, and which brought forth the testimony of St. Johns vestryman, Ralph Gorsline (rumored to have once had an affair with Mrs. Mills). This man admitted that he had been in De Russeys Lane the night of the murder. He had turned there around ten twenty p.m. and had begun to back out when he heard a shot, a womans scream, and then three shots. The scream died to a moan and then stopped altogether.
Grand Jury testimony included a report from a man who had seen scratches on Mrs. Halls face on the day of her husbands funeral, and a woman who placed Henry Stevens in New Brunswick on Friday, September 15th. There was also a report from the ranks of the choir that Gorsline had threatened Mrs. Mills to get her to give up the rector, and that hed been spying on her, along with a woman who wanted the rector for herself.
The Grand Jury indicted Mrs. Hall, her two brothers, and Henry Carpender of the murders of Reverend Hall and Mrs. Mills. Stevens was arrested and the four defendants were arraigned. Each pleaded not guilty, and only Mrs. Hall was allowed to remain free on a substantial bail.
Then state trooper Dickman, who was located imprisoned in Alcatraz for desertion, was brought to New Jersey to give his statement. He said he had been paid to drop his investigation and leave the state.
Simpson then asked that Carpender be tried separately from the other three, because the evidence against him was different, and the request was granted. The first trial was scheduled for November 3rd.