(Should you decide to read all of this document - and if you have a sturdy printer - I suggest you print it out and read it at your leisure, as you would any mystery story. It runs to about 18 pages or 56kb.)
The Assassin of Capt. Nutt Escapes the Just Deserts of his Dastardly Double Crime by
Which Legalizes Seduction, Throws a Cloak Around Murder, Sticks a Dagger in the Heart of Every Family, and is a Disgrace to the Civilized World
The civilized world is hooting at us, and the press far and wide is pointing to Fayette county in derision. We may protest against, but we can not blot out the lasting disgrace fastened upon us by twelve ignorant and perverse men who defied the court, their oaths and the sacred claims of justice.
We make no apology for publishing the proceedings in full; the public need not be told that the STANDARD never hunts up obsenity with which to polute its columns, but the letters were admitted in evidence and read, and we shall not garble legal testimony. The public can never know the full force of the unparalleled enormities committed against this murdered father unti they read those letters entire.
(ed. Omitted here is a brief description of the findings at the "low" trial (grand jury?)
"Commonwealth against Nicholas Lyman Dukes. Is the counsel on the part of the prosecution ready?" were the words with Judge Wilson opened the proceedings on Friday morning. "Ready," responded Mr. Playford. Just then the defendant walked in and took his seat at the table, where he was soon joined by his counsel, Messrs. Boyle abd Mestrezat and R. G. Lindsey. They also announced that they were ready. The defendant arose, held up his hand steadily while the indictment was read and in answer to the clerk's question, "Are you guilty, or not guilty?" he responded "Not guilty." "How will you be tried?" "By God and my country." The work of selecting the jury then began.
(ed. Here a lot of space is devoted to the selection of a jury. Of the first 57 in the panel only 5 were sworn as acceptable. After further discussion and additional challenges a jury was finally chosen.
(ed. Some description omitted here)
The parties at the two tables were the same as on Saturday except that Mr. Asbury Struble, Dukes' step-father and bondsman, now sat near him, and a change was made in the appearance about the commonwealth's table when soon after the proceedings opened Capt. Nutt's widow and her sister, Mrs.. B. Downs walked in, clad in heavy mourning, and amid profound silence took their seats near Stephen R. Nutt. Mrs. Nutt scarcelly moved after sitting down, save the convulsions that were visible as she listened to the story of the murder of her husband. Dukes' face lacked the composed expression of Saturday; it was flushed and betrayed uneasiness yet still looked stalid.
A. D. Boyd, Esq., opened for the prosecution by outlining to the jury what they would prove. They would show that Capt. Nutt had been away from town for some time but that he came home from Harrisburg on the 23rd or December last and in response to an invitation from Dukes he was proceeding to go to the latter's room. On...to the room of F. C. Breckenridge, at the McClelland hotel, and told him he had received letters from N. L. Dukes-
Mr. Boyle-I object to counsel's stating testimony here.
The Court-The counsel will not relate the testimony at this stage.
Mr. Boyd then related the story of the two men going to Dukes' room in the Jennings house, and the killing. Counsel would show, he continued, that some two weeks before the killing Dukes wrote a letter to Nutt--
Mr. Boyle--"We object to the letters here, and shall object to them when they come to be offered as evidence, on the ground that they are not competent."
The Court--"Anything throwing light on the meeting may be referred to briefly, but counsel will avoid going into detail."
The defense here gave notice of what was expected to be a vigorous effort by them all the way through, and that was to keep out any reference to the Dukes letters. They did not succeed and Mr. Boyd was allowed to resume. He continued, that some three weeks before the murder Dukes wrote and infamous and outrageous letter to Nutt. He also wrote a subsequent letter in which he invited Nutt to come to his room for a peaceable conference, Nutt declined the invitation, but afterwards went, Dukes having meanwhile assured him that he would be unarmed. Another vigorous objection came from defense at this allusion to the contents of the letters, but it was over-ruled and Mr. Boyd concluded by saying that after Dukes had given this assurance as to his being unarmed he went to a hardware store and purchased an effective weapon, and having thus inveigled Nutt into his room, defendant then murdered him. (ed. Whew, what a sentence!)
"Our testimony will prove all this and more, and it will be such as to warrant you in finding this defendant guilty of murder in the first degree."
The commonwealth began their testimony by calling to the stand F. C. Breckenridge cashier of the People's bank, and a nephew of Capt. Nutt. He testified substantially as folows:
on the morning of 24th of December last Nutt came to my room in the McClelland hotel and I went with him from there to the bank. He then requested me to go across the street to the Jennings hotel where Dukes boarded and see the latter respecting an interview. I went to the hotel and inquired of the porter if Dukes was in his room. The porter led the way and I followed him. He showed me Dukes' room and I knocked on the door.
Dukes opened the door and I said good morning. Saw Mr. Nutt coming up the stairs. Told Dukes that Mr. Nutt wished to see him and at that moment Mr. Nutt stepped past and went into the room; the door closed and I stood on the outside. Heard scuffling in the room in a short time. I heard some one cry murder, but could not recognize the voice as it was somewhat smothered. Immediately after that I heard Mr. Nutt call "Clark, Clark!", (Clark Breckenridge) and I opened the door and found the two men clinched in a bending position with Dukes' arm over Nutt. I jumped between them and separated them partly. Nutt said, "Take hold of him." I got them separated and Nutt and I went to the mantel place and while standing there with my back to the other parties I heard a pistol shot. Nutt threw up his hands and fell. Nutt was not doing anything at the time he was shot. My best recollection is that the right arm was raised and resting on the mantel just at the shooting.
He had no pistol in his hands when Dukes fired. He fell rather on his face a little to the left side; did not say anything when he fell. I was standing very close to him when he fell. Dukes and Nutt were 9 or 10 feet apart when the shot was fired. Nutt, after they were separated, stood by the mantel piece in an exhausted condition.
When the Captain fell I went down with him, put my arm under his head and asked him where he was hurt; he turned his face as if to show me, but said nothing. I saw that one of his eyes was out of the socket and he was bleeding freely. I held him in my arms and saw his hand and felt it going down toward his overcoat pocket. I followed his hand into the pocket and found he had ahold of a revolver in his right overcoat pocket. Nutt was a left-handed man.
I then called for assistance to help me put him on the bed. Do not know what became of Dukes. There were three other parties helped me put him on the bed. I left then. They insisted that I should go out of the room before he died. He lived about ten or twenty minutes after he was shot. Nutt had two large bruises on his head, one on the forehead and the other on top of head. Did not notice any bruises on his face.
I was out of bed when he came to my room, but not dressed. Nutt went to the office of the hotel and waited for me there. We then went to the bank where he deposited $625 to the credit of his wife. He did not get a pistol at the bank that morning, nor did I see one in his pocket but I thought I saw something like a pistol handle in his pocket. The pistol had been taken away from the bank by his son Joseph two months previous. It was at his request that I went in search of Dukes. The bank is directly opposite the Jennings house. Do not remember whether he had a cane or not.
Capt. Nutt entered the hall of the hotel after I had gone in. I met the colored porter and asked him where Dukes' room was. I saw Capt. Nutt enter the hall door but did not see him follow up the stairs. The porter knocked at the door and it was opened. Nutt followed us to the door. Had not seen Nutt when I spoke to Dukes. Nutt went into the room and my impression is that he closed the door. Saw Feather in the hall before the scuffling began, and talked with him. They had scuffled for almost a minute before I went in. I did not enter the room until I heard Capt. Nutt call Clark, Clark; heard cry of murder just before. When I entered the room they were fighting near the foot of the bed.
Could not say who cried murder but I recognized Nutt's voice when he called Clark. They were close by the bureau between the foot of the bed and the wall. Did not notice anyone in the room at the time but the parties mentioned. They remained clinched until I went between them. Dukes went back of the bed and Nutt went to the fire place. He did not say anything to me. I did not see porter in the room. Do not know whether he went downstairs or not. Did not see Dukes after they were separated until he had shot. I had hold of Nutt's hand while he was standing at the mantel, but not when he was shot. I do not think that I swore at the inquest that his right arm was hanging down. Will not swear positively that his right arm was resting on mantel piece.
Nutt was standing with his left arm hanging at his side and was looking towards window. I stood on his left side. He threw both hands up on his head nearly together. I knew of the importance of this but it did not occur to me at the time I testified before the coroner's jury. I had my left arm under his head. If I remember correctly I did swear that I noticed his arm and hand going down towards his pocket. Not long after Nutt had fallen (ed. illegible line)...in his right overcoat pocket. I swore before that Nutt did not utter a word and I say so now. I swore before that I took the pistol out of his hand.
(ed. About two col. inches omitted here as unimportant).
On the reassembling of court the commonwealth called James I Feather, son-in-law of the proprietor of the Jennings hotel. He testified:
I was standing in the office of the hotel when I first saw Nutt on the outside. I went through the sitting room and up stairs. Saw Breckenridge go up and afterward Nutt. I was on the outside of the room and heard scuffling and then some one say, "Clark! Clark!" [Breckenridge] Thought it was Nutt's voice. Was standing two or three feet from the door. I asked Breckenridge what that meant. Said he didn't know, and then he went in. I followed and saw Nutt and Dukes scuffling near the foot of the bed. Dukes had Nutt under his arm and both were bent over; Breckenridge took hold of Nutt and I of Dukes and we separated them; they stood 8 feet apart then.
After we got them separated I said to Dukes, "What does all this mean?" He said, "Well, he came in here to whip me." I said, "Well, he can't do it now." I think he repeated the remark and he was fumbling around his clothes; he then pulled up his revolver and fired.
Q--What was Nutt doing at the time he was shot?
A--He was not doing anything. Nutt was standing with his left side to me; when shot he threw his hands to his face.
Q--Was there anything in his hands?
A-There was nothing.
[The commonwealth emphasized this point as showing that Nutt had not taken hold of his pistol until after the firing.]
I then grabbed Dukes' revolver, who was raising it in the direction of Nutt and Breckenridge. Nutt had no revolver in his hand at the time. As the shot was fired someone cried murder. No blows were struck after I went into the room. Dukes remained there a short time and then went out. I got his revolver and also that of Nutt's. Dukes' pistol had one shot fired out when I examined it, and Nutt's none. I saw no one in the room but Breckenridge until after the shot was fired, when I saw the colored porter.
Mr. Boyle--Mr. Feather, you were not on good terms with Dukes at that time, were you?
Witness--I was up to that time and voted for him.
Did you say that you would not vote for him?
Mr. Playford--I object.
Did you not tell Col Searight you would not invite Dukes to your wedding?
Objected to. Objection overruled and witness stated that he might mave told Searight so. The object of counsel here was to discount Feather's testimony by showing that he was on bad terms with Dukes. Witness persisted that he and Dukes never had any difficulty.
(ed. Several column inches are omitted here as they were primarily repetition of what we have read as well as a diagram of Dukes' 13 1/2 x 14 room.)
Dr. J. B. Ewing, who attended Nutt a few minutes after the shooting was called and described the wound. The bullet entered below the left eye passing through the brain. When he came to the room and the body lay on the bed he was not quite extinct, and the right arm was moving convulsively as if grasping for something. He probed the wound...as the brain but could not find the bullet. No post mortem was held. There was a wound on top of the head. [Here again was brought out the point that the muscles of the arm were active some time after the shot, as supporting that it was after the shot that Nutt reached for his revolver and that it was not impossible for this to occur after the fatal shot.]
(ed. Two paragraphs omitted as nearly illegible.)
Mrs. Frances Nutt, widow of the victim was called. Husband came home on Saturday before he was killed. The question as to long since he was at home before was objected to and overruled for the time being. The question as to Capt. Nutt's habits of carrying a pistol was objected to but overruled....for the purpose of showing that Nutt made no preparation for the meeting. Mrs. Nutt then stated that Mr. Nutt had carried a pistol for years, since he became a cashier for the bank here. She also stated that Nutt scarcely left home for town without a cane in his hand.
The testimony of William Pickard, clerk in Z. B. Springer's hardware store, Main street, created a visible sensation. He testified: Dukes purchased a revolver of him on Thursday, December 21; said he wanted a pistol that was good and sure; was shown several, one a double action and two or three others; one a Smith & Wesson, single action, and the other "the American." They were all three of 32 calibre, perhaps one 38. When shown the Smith & Wesson, Dukes asked if it was a double action. Told him it was not; he then said he wanted a double action, "something that was sure." Dukes said he had asked Mr. Springer the price of the revolver the day before. He also asked witness about the cartridges and requested to be shown them. I showed him a 32, a 38 and a 22 cartridge. He took the 22 and 32 and went out, saying that he would be back. Came back in 10 or 15 minutes, looked at the revolver and purchased it.
While examining it he stood near the end of the show case in front part of the store. While examining a couple of customers came in and Dukes stepped around the end of the show case, saying that he didn't wish every one to know his business there and walked to the back part of the store, where he stood looking into another case until the customers went out. He then returned to the front of the store and purchased the 32 calibre Smith & Wesson, double action.
(ed. Much discussion ensued here relative to two letters which the commonwealth wished admitted as evidence. Both letters were from Dukes to Nutt, dated Dec. 4 and Dec. 19. Mr. Boyle objected to introduction of the letters but was overruled and the letters admitted.)
A rustle passed over the courtroom and Dukes' face flushed as it was announced that the commonwealth had gained their point. Mr. Playford then led Mrs. Nutt and her sister-in-law out of the room, and read the letters amid profound silence. During the reading Dukes kept his gaze fixed steadily down to the floor. Judge Wilson turned around with his face away from the audience and looked pale and seemed with difficulty to refrain from tears. Fathers bowed their heads in tears and grief as they listened to the horrible sentiments written to a father about a daughter whom he loved and fairly idolized.
Office of N. L. Dukes, Attorney-At-Law. [Read this in private.] Uniontown, Pa., December 4, 1882.
Capt. A. C. Nutt, Harrisburg, Pa.:
DEAR SIR--This matter that I am about to communicate to you is sad, painful and marvelous, and if there was any possible way to avoid it I should be only too glad to escape the task I now impose upon myself. Allow me to premise, however, that what you find herein written is faithful to fact, no exaggeration, no inacuracies, no false assertions. Your belief and my own correspond. I should not hesitate to believe implicitly your statement and I believe you will yield equal credence to mine.
This much said, I still tremble upon the brink; my message is so terribly awful that it is almost impossible to pen it. But what I have to communicate concerns your daughter and will almost drive you to madness, because I know how you worship her. Let come what will the blow must fall, and the sooner as I take it, the better in order that the calamity may in some degree be averted. Have patience until I give you a brief outline of my acquaintance with her. The first time I remember having seen her was at the Presbyterian church. She sat across the aisle from me. I asked some one who she was. I thought she waas the prettiest, nicest, and most modest girl I ever saw.
Shortly after you moved into your new house A. C. Hagan came to me and told me that Miss Breckenridge was visiting at your house and that Lizzie Nutt had requested him to bring me out. I readily consented and went with him and was introduced the first time. We were all spending the evening very pleasantly in the front room where the folding doors are now. About 9 o'clock your Lizzie said to Mr. Hagan that she had something to tell him. He wanted to know what it was. She told him to come into the next room and she would tell him.
They shoved the sliding door back just far enough to pass through and went into that room and remained there in total darkness about half an hour. I was astonished, but thought her youth and inexperience palliating circumstances and excused her. A few weeks subsequently I called upon her consonant to her cordial invitation, and she received me in the dining room. She had a manner most winning and free from guile and came and sat very near to me.
She remarked that she had a burn on her hand and undertook to show it to me, holding her hand up in front of my face. The light shaded the place where she said the burn was, and I took hold of her hand in order to turn it into position to see. I did so. But when i had done that she made no attempt to withdraw her hand, but let it rest in mine. I placed the other hand lightly upon it also and just for fun I made a feint as if to kiss her. I was utterly surprised when instead of withdrawing her face from me, she absolutely advanced her face to meet me. Of course such a reception flattered my vanity and I began to feel an interest in her.
I went away and promised to call soon again. In about two weeks, thereafter, I started back again. The front door was not hung then and the entrance was from the porch by the back door. As I was passing in front of the large window of the front porch (the shutters nor blinds were not up yet) i saw opposite the window upon a sofa Hagan with his arms about her. I stood a moment and watched him fondle her with no objections from her. My dream was dispelled, and I turned my head and walked home and visited there no more till she had a party of some kind, and then paid my party call and stayed away. She would, when I did not appear, drop me a note asking me what had become of me, &c. I would then call and would be received in the utmost cordiality, and treated with all appearance of preference.
I felt flattered by her attentions, and things ran on in this way for a year or such a matter, I making occasional calls. All this time there became a swarm of young men calling there, each thinking he had the preference. Hagan thought he was first and told me frequently how he fondled her. He showed me notes from her inviting him out. Then Frank Hellen told me she was mashed on him and showed me several very cute notes from her. He told me how she kissed him the night of a party there and how she squeezed his hand every time he passed her in the grand chain.
Copyright © 2006 Arthur Brenton Wiggins