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The following articles describe the horrific murder of a man and four of his young children, a staged suicide, and a deathbed confession. An amazing story if you’re up for a long read… and if you’re a Thanatos Archive member you can view the incredibly sad post mortem of the father and the children in our collection by clicking here.
HANCOCK, Frank, Jayson, Grace, Hannah, Susie
April 23, 1889
Horrible Crimes in Clymer. A FATHER MURDERS HIS FOUR LITTLE CHILDREN AND THEN HANGS HIMSELF.
Frank Hancock has been employed as fireman for the past year at the sawmill of Messrs. Waite, Thomas & Atwell, on Blue Run, in Clymer Township. He was a man of about thirty-four years, his wife was twenty-eight, and the oldest of their five children was a boy of ten and the youngest a baby of a few months old. The family moved to that place from Potter Brook, and they formerly resided in Jasper, N. Y. They lived in a rough board house, such as usually found around a sawmill in the back woods. The man was industrious and sober, the children were bright, and to a stranger nothing appeared to be lacking to make a happy home; but the man had cause to doubts his wife’s faithfulness, and this cause led to the despondency of the husband and the commission of the unnatural and horrible murders and suicide. Last Saturday morning the community and the whole surrounding county was shocked by the announcement that Hancock has taken the lives of his four oldest children and then hung himself. It seems that Mrs. Hancock went over to Mr. Sol. Havens’s on Friday afternoon to take care of Mrs. Havens, who was having fainting fits after having had a number of teeth extracted. She returned home and prepared supper for her family, and then told her husband that Mrs. Havens was no better and that she was going back to stay with her during the night. It is not known whether the couple quarreled or not, but Mrs. Hancock says that Frank came over to Mr. Havens’s and called her to the door and threatened to kill the children and himself if she didn’t go home. She refused to go out doors to talk with him. She didn’t believe he would do what he threatened, but still she was so anxious that she went over home about one o’clock in the morning to see if everything was all right. From the yard she saw a light down stairs and found that her husband was moving about the house. Then the lights went out, and she returned to Havens’s, supposing everything to be alright. In the morning when Mrs. Hancock returned home she found no one down stairs, and she rushed upstairs to find a sight so horrible that it can hardly be pictured in words. From a rafter in the unfinished chamber the dead body of her husband was suspended, and on the two beds lay the dead and terribly mutilated bodies of the four children, a boy of ten years and three girls aged respectively nine, six and four years. The young babe alone was left alive. The boy had been stabbed in the left side, the two oldest girls had each been stabbed several times in the side and back, and the four-year-old child had four knife thrusts in her side and had been disemboweled. The fiendish work had been done with two butcher knives, and the whetstone with which Hancock had sharpened them for use was found upon the floor. Hancock had evidently attempted to kill himself with a knife, as three knife wounds were found in his side near the heart and two in the neck. After stabbing himself it is supposed the he took a long rope, doubled it, passed it over a rafter, put a noose about his neck and jumped off a box. His neck was broken by the fall. Three letters were found in the house in Hancock’s handwriting. One was addressed to his wife and was substantially as follows: ‘Lib: You will take the cup and saucer and give it back to Eva. I have written father about the watch. I wanted to have a talk with you, but you wouldn’t talk with me. I am going to kill the children, and you are to blame for it. Frank. Another letter was addressed to Hancock’s parents, and according to our informant read as follows: “Dear Parents: In love I take my pen to let you know what I am about to do, so that the blame will fall where it belongs. I shall kill my children before morning. I can’t live this way any longer, and further, I won’t. Don’t let Georgie go to the poor-house. You will never know why I do this. Take my watch and have it fixed and keep it for Georgie. Frank. A third letter was addressed to Mr. Atwell, Hancock’s employer, and it was as follows: “Mr. Atwell: Please see that I and my children have a decent burial. Do what you can for the kid I leave. Frank Hancock. Coroner W. R. Francis, of Knoxville, was summoned, and he visited the scene of the tragedy on Saturday and empanelled a jury consisting of the following gentlemen: John Davis, foreman, and J. L. Thompson, M. E. Stebbins, Potipher Fish, S. A. Griffin and ____ _____. Two witnesses were examined: Mrs. Hancock and Mr. Sol Havens. Mrs. Hancock testified that she had made an agreement with Frank not long since that they were to separate, she taking three children and he two, and that it was understood between them that she was to live with another man. Mr. Havens’s testimony did not agree with Mrs. Hancock’s in some particulars relating to the way in which she spent the night at his house, and he mentioned the visit of two young men at his house Friday night.
Coroner Francis, being compelled to return home on account of business, adjourned the inquest until today. The five bodies were buried yesterday at Sabinsville. It is said that Mrs. Hancock has not borne a very good reputation. She has neglected her family and run with other men and engaged in carousals, staying away from home for days and nights together, being utterly shameless in her conduct. On the other hand, she accuses her husband of unfaithfulness and relates numerous instances of his utterly shameless conduct with other women in her presence and in his own home, threatening her with violence when she complained. Mrs. Hancock is described as a medium-sized woman and is quite plump. She is very plain looking and is evidently rather course grained. She talks freely about the tragedy, and does not hesitate to tell some pretty tough stories about her husband’s conduct as well as her own, and she seems to be not at all embarrassed in relating the incidents. [Buried at Sabinsville Cemetery, Clymer Township. Stone says Hancock Family]
April 30, 1889
The funeral of Frank Hancock and his four children whom he had murdered was held at Sabinsville last week Monday. It was the largest funeral ever held in that part of the county, hundreds of people being drawn to attend in by morbid curiosity. The church was packed and many stood outside till the close of the religious service. Rev. D. A. Parcells, of Westfield, preached an appropriate and touching sermon, and the scene, with the five coffins around the altar, was a most affecting one. At the close of the service the caskets were taken outside in front of the church and opened for the inspection of the people, and for an hour or two the great throng clustered about the coffins, gazing at the bodies. It is estimated that from 1,500 to 2,000 people were present. As Mrs. Hancock left the church she fell forward in a dead faint. A photographer appeared and made pictures of the unusual and sorrowful scene. The five bodies were interred in one grave. On Tuesday the inquest was continued at the house of Mrs. Morris Atwell, and Mr. Atwell was the first witness. He testified that Frank Hancock had been a fireman in his mill for some time. He considered his reputation good; he was industrious, and the witness had known of his helping his little daughter do the housework. Mr. Sol Havens thought Mr. and Mrs. Hancock came to his house together the night of the tragedy. He had heard Hancock say before that he intended to kill himself. Two men named Coagley and Birmingham were at his house on Friday evening. Mr. Havens contradicted himself several times while on the stand. Mrs. Hancock was sworn, and she stated that the family moved to Blue Run a year ago. She had never heard her husband remonstrate about her conduct or say anything about killing the children. Her husband knew that she went to Havens’s and to see Coagley. He went to Havens’s with her, the babies being asleep at home. Before he left he said he wanted to talk with her. She said to him, “Don’t kill the children. He said, Wherever I go they will go with me. She testified that she went over home before she retired, saw no light, and went back to Havens’s and to bed. The next morning she found the letters and saw the terrible scene and then rushed out and gave the alarm. She said that the letters were in Frank’s handwriting. Mrs. Havens was sworn and her testimony agreed substantially with that of the preceding witness. She further said that she never saw Mrs. Hancock do any housework; that the daughter, Gracie, did the principal work of the house. She was considered a bright and motherly child, but had been sadly neglected, never going to school and being only half clothed. Both Mrs. Hancock and Mrs. Havens acknowledged on the witness stand that they had been off riding after the funeral with two men, and they did not return home until after midnight. Several witnesses testified that Mrs. Hancock’s reputation was bad and that her husband’s had been good. Henry Coagley testified that Mrs. Hancock told him that Frank was going to kill himself, and that Frank had asked him to lend him a revolver on Friday and that he said he meant, to go the road from whence no traveler returned. Messrs. John Hancock, father of Frank, and William Hancock, his brother, testified that the letters were in Frank’s handwriting; that Frank had sometime ago advised them about disposing of the children in some manner so that they might have proper care and be sent to school. Other witnesses were sworn, but their testimony was unimportant. The Coroner’s jury then made the following verdict: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: An inquisition indented and taken at the house of Morris Atwell, in the township of Gaines, and what is known as Blue Run, commenced on the 20th day of April, (adjourned to and completed on the 23rd) A. D., 1889, before me, W. R. Francis, Coroner of Tioga County, State of Pennsylvania, upon the oath of John Davis, J. L. Thompson, M. B. Stebbins, E. P. Fish, Alvin Griffin, and John Fischler, good and lawful men of the county aforesaid, who being duly sworn according to law, to inquire where, when, how, and after what manner, Frank J. Hancock, Jayson Hancock, Gracy Hancock, Hannah Hancock, Susan Hancock, came to their deaths, do say, upon their oaths, after viewing the several bodies, their surrounding conditions and the weapons used and lying near; after reading the various letters written by said Frank Hancock, as proven by witnesses acquainted with his handwriting; after hearing all the evidence, which showed repeated threats by said Hancock to destroy his children. It is the opinion of said jury and said Coroner that said Frank Hancock, while laboring under temporary aberration, super-induced by the neglect, shameful conduct and infidelity of his wife, did, with two large butcher knives, stab unto death his children as follows: Jayson, aged 9 years; Grace, aged 8 years; Hannah, aged 7 yeas; Susie, aged 4 years, between the hours of twelve midnight and 7 a.m., April 20, 1889, in the chamber of his dwelling and that the said children were asleep in their beds when attacked by their infuriated father. That said Frank Hancock, after killing his four children, did make six attempts to destroy his own life by stabbing, and failing in that did attach a rope to a rafter in the same chamber that had witnessed the destruction of his children, and put a noose about his neck and hung himself until death. It is further duty of aforesaid jury and said Coroner to state with the utmost emphasis that the neglect of her family by Mrs. Lizzie Hancock, the wife of said Frank Hancock, thus imposing upon her eight-year-old daughter excessive responsibility and labor incident to the care of the household and children, merits the strongest condemnation of a civilized community; and it is the further opinion of said inquest that her unnatural and infamous conduct and neglect did, in a manner, contribute to the state of mind of said Frank Hancock, that brought about the tragedy. In witness thereof as well the aforesaid Coroner as the jury aforesaid do to this inquisition affix their hands and seal, at Blue Run, on this 23rd day of April, A. D. 1889. W. R. Francis, Coroner, John Davis, Foreman, Melvin B. Stebbins, J. L. Thompson, E. P. Fish, Alvin Griffin, John Fischler, Jury.
Above found on http://www.joycetice.com/obitcemt/sabnobit.htm
THE DEATHBED CONFESSION
Mrs. Frank Hancock Confesses to Murdering Children and Husband on Deathbed
From the Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), dated July 23, 1891:
Submitted by Denise Hansen
A Woman’s Terrible Crime
An Unfaithful Wife Confesses on Her Deathbed to the Murder of Her Family
The Husband Was Always Blamed
Austin, July 22 – A startling story comes from one of the lumber camps at Kettle Creek, this county, the truth of which interested parties have started out to investigate. In April 1889, the people of all this region were horrified by the news that Frank Hancock, a lumberman, living at Blue Run, near the Tioga and Potter county line, had murdered four of his children and committed suicide by hanging himself in his house. The news was made known by Hancock’s wife, who had been absent from home on the night of the tragedy. At the coroner’s inquest it was developed that Hancock was jealous of his wife, with good cause, and that he had frequently upbraided her for her unfaithfulness. The fact was brought out also that the chirography of Mrs. Hancock resembled in a remarkable manner that of her husband. Many who knew Frank Hancock well refused to believe that he could have committed the shocking crime of which his alleged note declared him guilty, but, on the strength of the evidence submitted, a verdict to the effect that he had murdered his children and himself was rendered. Mrs. Hancock left Blue Run after the investigation was over. She was soon heard of as an abandoned hanger-on of the lumber camps, living with this and that rough lumberman.
A few days ago a messenger from the Kettle Creek camp went to Coudersport, the county seat of Potter county, with the startling story that Mrs. Hancock had died in camp, and that before dying she made a confession, which not only acquitted her husband of the murder of the children, but which declares that she herself and two of her paramours, whom she names, but whose names are not made public, murdered her husband and children. The confession is to the effect that she had become alarmed at the threats that her husband had made against her, because of her persistent unfaithfulness, and, egged on by the two men, she resolved, with their aid, to put Hancock out of the way. The plan was to chloroform him when he was asleep, hang him to a rafter and place a note in his pocket, as if written by himself, stating that he had committed suicide and why.
Above found on http://genealogytrails.com/penn/potter/newspaper/crimes.html
A devastated young widow and her daughter. Real photo postcard.
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One of the perks of baking bread at home — maybe half the point of baking bread at home — is the privilege of hacking off the crust while it’s still hot, slathering it with butter, and eating it messily over the sink. Cookbooks will tell you that bread only develops its full flavor after it cools, which may be true. They will also tell you that if you slice bread while it’s hot, you’ll crush it, which is definitely true. But I do it anyway. Damn the torpedoes and all that.
Thank God I didn’t live in the nineteenth century, though, because then, it would probably have killed me.
Back then, it was commonly believed that eating hot bread was unhealthful — dangerously unhealthful. The famous health reformer Sylvester Graham said bread shouldn’t be eaten until at least twelve hours old. Magazine articles about what ladies should eat for breakfast (of which I’m afraid there were lots) recommended day-old bread and warned sternly that hot buttered toast was “hostile to health and female delicacy.”
Tea, coffee, and milk, are the most wholesome beverages for the morning meal; which should be accompanied, if possible, by home-made bread, at least one day old. This seldom disagrees with any one; if it should, it may be toasted, and buttered cold and slightly; but warm buttered toast is by no means advisable: indeed, it is far preferable to use only hard biscuits, which require no butter, and are of easy digestion. 1
Even the high mortality rate of Indians living on reservations was blamed (by white observers, anyway) on severe indigestion caused by their diet of hot biscuits — not that white flour and cheap fat, which was all they had access to at that point, had no nutritional value, but specifically that the biscuits were eaten hot.
This idea wasn’t new to the Victorians. An English visitor to Virginia in the 1720s criticized the locals for “eating too much hot and new Bread, which cannot be wholsom, tho’ it be pleasanter than what has been baked a Day or two.” And some English doctors offered this advice in a 1746 guide to better health: “All Bread made of Grain is never good till it be fully cold. Hot Bread is exceeding dangerous, swimming in the Stomach, procuring Thirst, most hardly digesting, and filling the Body full of Wind.”
Wind. I presume I don’t have to spell that out for you. The doctors noted that old bread, by contrast, is “drying” — so this has something to do with the medieval concept that health was governed by the four humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile), each of which was either cool or warm, moist or dry, and that foods had similar properties that caused the body to produce more or less of particular humors and thus, potentially, to become imbalanced. If new bread was too moist, then, it could cause you to produce (for example) too much phlegm, which would give you a head cold or the flu.
The four humors were out of vogue by 1800, but the idea that hot bread was indigestible lived on; people just explained it differently. There was, for example, a notion that bread didn’t develop its full nutritive properties until it had aged somewhat. The Female’s Encyclopedia (London, 1830) insisted that bread ought to be two to three days old:
One of the most essential rules in the economy of bread, which it would be well to practice at all times, is, not to eat new bread. New bread may be agreeable to some persons, but it is most unwholesome, and does not afford by any means so much nourishment as bread two or three days old. In the scarcity of 1799 [in the North of England], bakers were wisely prevented selling bread that was not twenty-four hours old.
She was very clearly talking about white bread, so it’s not clear what nourishment the bread was supposed to be attaining by sitting around on the counter, or by what means. Calorie fairies, maybe.
Sylvester Graham thought only a twelve-hour wait was necessary to let the bread cool thoroughly. Hot food of all kinds, he believed, caused tooth decay and debilitated the stomach. Graham’s advice came from a complicated theory in which all disease stemmed from some kind of debility, which in turn was caused by overstimulation of various organs. (This was before germ theory.) Worse, physical stimulation could lead to spiritual stimulation and debility. In other words, licentiousness. Promiscuity. Debauchery. So even toast should be eaten at room temperature, lest it derange the stomach lining and threaten “female delicacy.”
Others were more worried about the butter. Hot butter was not only unhealthy but could spoil your looks, as a women’s magazine warned: “The heated grease, which is their principal ingredient, deranges the stomach; and, by creating or increasing bilious disorders, gradually overspreads the fair skin with a wan or yellow hue.” You want that rosy glow, don’t you?
Then there was the danger of mixing fat and flour. By the 1830s the idea was developing that this combination was particularly unhealthful, partly because of a bit of early research into human digestion. A doctor experimenting on a patient with a gastric fistula — a hole in his stomach that extended out to his abdominal wall — fed his patient various foods, took samples from his stomach at various times afterward, and compiled tables showing how long common foods required to be digested. “Bread, buttered, for breakfast, with coffee,” for example, took a whopping four hours fifteen minutes and led to a “morbid appearance of the stomach.” This was one data point taken from a medical freak in a bizarre setting, but reformers who wanted to improve Americans’ diet cited the research as gospel, and after a couple of decades it became common sense that heavily buttered bread was indigestible, especially if it was hot. A lot of late nineteenth-century cookbooks warned against eating too much pastry, for the same reason.
The only really sensible explanation I’ve found comes from an 1897 book called The Relation Of Food To Health And Premature Death, which tried to debunk some of the myths about hot bread:
The wholesomeness of bread does not depend upon whether it is hot or cold. The objection to hot bread is that as a rule it contains more moisture, and is therefore much more doughy. Its particles do not separate so readily when put in the mouth. For this reason there is a tendency, almost universal, to swallow such bread in sticky lumps, and of course the particles do not separate easily when they reach the stomach. This causes them to be retained in the stomach so long that fermentation is set up.
That seems reasonable enough. The authors added:
If bread not made with yeast is sufficiently well baked, there can be no objection to it merely because it is hot; but in yeast bread, unless very thoroughly baked, the ferment does not leave the loaf until six or eight hours after baking.
Apparently, for certain people, the smell of yeast can trigger a migraine, and so they need to avoid freshly baked bread. And since more women than men suffer from migraines, that fact could perhaps explain why Victorian women’s magazines harped on this issue.
So it appears that there are one or two grains of sense buried in all of these dire warnings, but that they were wrapped in so much pseudoscience through the ages that they were blown all out of proportion. Superstition is a highly adaptable beast. Just to be on the safe side, though, if you want to keep your youthful vim and vigor without descending into wanton sin, let alone gross flatulence, eat only day-old bread, toast it lightly and let it cool thoroughly. And if you must butter it, do so only lightly.
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Close-up of Archive Image #3411.
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