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
Close-up of Archive Image #3411.
If you’re a Thanatos Archive member, you may view the entire, uncropped image here.
Post mortem or not? Click the images to enlarge them.
Additional material related to the drowned siblings, whose double post mortem photo is available in our member section. If you’re a Thanatos Archive member, click here to view their post mortem photo and additional info.
Note: I believe the article accidentally spelled the name wrong, which was common. The family went by Sprangers and Springers (probably an Americanized spelling).
Sixth plate daguerreotype of a little girl. The photographer used two mats to hide the fact that she was in a tiny coffin, which has been leaned against a chair and supported by a woman, whose hand is visible in the shot.
If you’re a Thanatos Archive subscriber, be sure you are signed in, and then click here to view the entire scene hidden beneath the mats… amazing!