One of the most Sensational Murder Trials of the 19th century.
The case of Edward S. Stokes for the murder of Col. James Fisk took place over three different trials from June 1872 to October 1873. It would appear from the order of witness testimonies, cross-examinations and some of the dates given (month and day) that this manuscript concerns the first trial which ended in a hung jury and took place in June and July of 1872. However, this manuscript has later editing in pencil and ink, where someone, evidently a lawyer, presumably counsel for Stokes, is shown to be picking apart the testimony of some of the prosecution witnesses. Thus, this manuscript appears to have been prepared for the second trial by one of Stokes' attorneys. The manuscript gives the names of witnesses, lists who was interrogating them, the cross-examinations, when, or if, they were recalled to the stand, as well as testimony by Stokes himself.
James Fisk, Jr. (1835-1872) and Edward Stiles Stokes (1841-1901)
James Fisk, Jr. (1835-1872) – known variously as "Big Jim", "Diamond Jim", and "Jubilee Jim" – was an American stockbroker and corporate executive, referred to as one of the "robber barons" of the Gilded Age. Though Fisk was admired by the working class of New York, he achieved much ill-fame for his role in Black Friday in 1869, where he and his partner Jay Gould befriended the unsuspecting President Ulysses S. Grant in an attempt to use the President's good name in a scheme to corner the gold market in New York City.
In 1864 Fisk became a stockbroker in New York City, and was employed by Daniel Drew as a buyer. He aided Drew in the Erie War against Cornelius Vanderbilt for control of the Erie Railroad. This resulted in Fisk and Jay Gould becoming members of the Erie directorate, and subsequently, a well-planned raid netted Fisk and Gould control of the railroad. The association with Gould continued until Fisk's death.
Fisk and Gould carried financial buccaneering to extremes: their program included an open alliance with New York City politician Boss Tweed, the wholesale bribery of legislatures, and the buying of judges. Their attempt to corner the gold market culminated in the fateful Black Friday of September 24, 1869. Though many investors were ruined, Fisk and Gould escaped significant financial harm.
Fisk married Lucy Moore in 1854, when he was 19 and she was 15. Lucy was an orphan, raised by an uncle from Springfield, Massachusetts. She tolerated Fisk's many extramarital affairs, perhaps because she was happy living with her own love, Fanny Harrod, in Boston. Regardless, they remained close, with Fisk visiting her every few weeks and spending summers and vacations with her every chance he could.
Edward Stiles Stokes (1841-1901) was the son of Edward Halesworth Stokes, who had owned a New York cloth business. By 1838 the father had made sufficient money to retire and move with his wife, Nancy Stiles, to Philadelphia. Their son, Edward Stiles Stokes, was born on April 27, 1840. He was educated in Philadelphia and later New York before starting business, first in a junior position with Samuel Perry, and later in partnership with Jenks Budlong, manufacturing and selling cheese. In 1862 he married Maria Southack, daughter of John W. Southack, wealthy furniture manufacturer of New York.
In 1865 Stokes was operating an oil refinery in Brooklyn at Hunter's Point. He sought funding and acquired two investors, Henry Harley and William A. Byers. Another provider of funds was a "silent partner", James Fisk, who operated the Erie Railroad and had a secret arrangement with Stokes to discount freight charges for the refinery.
In New York, Fisk had a relationship with Josie Mansfield. Mansfield was considered a voluptuous beauty by Victorian standards of female desirability. Fisk housed Mansfield in an apartment a few doors down from the Erie Railroad headquarters on West 23rd Street and had a covered passage built linking the back doors of the headquarters and her apartment building. Fisk's relationship with Mansfield scandalized New York society.
Mansfield eventually fell in love with Fisk's business associate Stokes, a man noted for his good looks. Stokes left his wife and family, and Mansfield left Fisk.
In a bid for money, Mansfield and Stokes tried to extort Fisk by threatening the publication of letters written by Fisk to Mansfield that allegedly proved Fisk's legal wrongdoings. A legal and public relations battle followed, but Fisk refused to pay Mansfield anything. Increasingly frustrated and flirting with bankruptcy, Stokes confronted Fisk in New York City on January 6, 1872, in the Grand Central Hotel and shot him twice, in the arm and abdomen. A relatively young man of 37, Fisk died of the abdominal wound the next morning after giving a dying declaration identifying Stokes as the killer.
Fisk's body was laid out for public view in the Grand Opera House, which he had owned. Some twenty thousand people came to pay their respects with five times as many more individuals waiting in the streets to gain entrance. The notorious letters Fisk had written to Mansfield, numbering thirty-nine, were published in the New York Herald one week after his death. For those who had hoped to read revelations detailing Fisk's corrupt business practices, the letters were a sorry disappointment, being no more than the commonplace communications between a man and the woman he loved. Fisk is buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Stokes pleaded self-defense, using a wildly incongruent set of mitigating circumstances. He claimed to have been suffering from emotional turmoil at the time he committed the act. Fisk's death was blamed on medical malpractice by those who treated his mortal wound. He claimed he shot in self-defense, and a gun later found in a sofa at the hotel gave credibility to his assertion that Fisk had a weapon.
Stokes' father had died whilst he was in prison and his wife had been taken to Europe by her father during the period of the trials. The three trials & the results were: Trial 1: 19 June to 15 July 1872 hung jury; Trial 2: 18 December 1872 – 2 January 1873, guilty of murder, sentenced to hang on 28 February, but verdict appealed, appeal granted on 10 June 1873; Trial 3: 17-28 October 1873, found guilty of manslaughter 3rd degree, sentenced to four years in Sing Sing where he served until 28 October 1876.
Before his incarceration, Stokes and his family had lived in the Hoffman House Hotel, corner of Twenty-fifth Street and Broadway. The proprietor, Cassius H Read, was a friend Stokes during his trial and after his release made him a partner in the hotel. Stokes became quarrelsome and took court actions against many of those that had helped him including Read. He also had a long running battle with his cousin, W. E. D. Stokes, although shortly before his death they made up their differences. Stokes died in New York City on November 2, 1901. He was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn
The trial of Edward S. Stokes for the murder of Col. James Fisk was a Victorian sensation in the legal annals of America due to the nature of the crime and the people involved. There were a number of contemporary accounts written about the trial, which highlighted the sensational nature of the case.1
1. The Annals of Murder: A Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets on American Murders from Colonial Times to 1900. Compiled by Thomas M. McDade. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961; pp. 272-273. Nos. 917 thru 925 all deal with the Stokes murder of Fisk.
Charles G. Hill of West-Troy, Lumberman
I stood by the elevator when the first shot was fired. I started toward the corner of the elevator. The second shot followed in quick succession (fol.3) within a quarter of a minute (fol. 37). I then walked around the corner of the elevator toward the private entrance. Then saw Stokes standing (as I thought) a little left of the hall about opposite the doors of these rooms (showing on diagram). Stokes made a motion with his hand & turned & walked toward me. I walked that way & said 'What is up.' Stokes said 'there is a man shot.' I immediately went to the head of the stairs of the private entrance, pretty near them, & saw Fisk I think, upon the platform, rather leaning. At that instant someone said 'That was the man that shot him.' I immediately went after Stokes & reached I think the 3d step of the main stair way (3 steps from top or bottom). When they were bringing Stokes back & he sat down on the porter's bench. I stood at the corner of the elevator when I just saw Stokes. Never have seen the prisoner since. I did not go in the room where Fisk was taken (fol. 3. 4.5.).
The sound of the voice of the person who said 'That was the man that shot him,' seemed to come from or near the parlor to the right & north of the stairway (fol 44). I think two or three people went down the main stairway ahead of me, after Stokes (fol. 55). I think these people came out of the hall in front of the dining room, & the hall in front of the parlors (fol. 58) I saw a boy standing down by Fisk, at the foot of the stairs. I saw his head (fol 64) & think he was helping him. I heard no words of any kind from anyone except [what] I have stated as coming from Stokes & from the voice which apparently came from the north of the staircase. When Stokes passed me, he was walking neither fast or slow (fol 65)."
"[Page 15] Patrick Hart – Hall Man G.C. Hotel
Just previous to the shooting of Fish I was on the main stairs in the office, coming up & at the time of the 1st shot was on the second step of that stair case from the office (fol2) I heard the 2d shot also on the staircase (fol 3) I kept right on up & went down toward the ladies' entrance & went down to the door to Col Fisk…" Did he see Tom hart?
…When I found Col. Fisk, he was standing at the foot of the stairs between both doors he was below the landing (fol 7 & 8) I don't recollect of there having been any gas lighted (fol 8) proof of darkness "
Thomas Hart – Doorman at private entrance of G.C. Hotel
I was occupying a chair at the first landing of the private stairway when Col. Fisk came in (fol 1) It was about to the best of my knowledge about 5 minutes to 4 o'clock when Fisk came in (fol 2) I had known Fisk about 4 months. He had been several times to the house & ordinarily came in at ladies' entrance. He had no regular time of coming, he came sometimes in the morning & sometimes in the afternoon (fol 3) I did not see Stokes on that day before Fisk came in, but after he came in I saw him (fol 4) See his own rebuttal testimony p.25 …I took the globe down that was over the first door going out, that is at the bottom of the stairs & I took it up stairs to clean it & when I got upstairs I stood a couple of seconds & looked down & I saw Mr. Fish coming across the side walk & coming in the door. I stood a couple of seconds & heard him ask the other boy (Redmond) something & I couldn't understand what it was, & I saw him start to come upstairs. He started to come up on his right hand, Redmond says left hand his right hand on the railing. I then turned & crossed over the hall & looking to the left at the head of the private stairs Stokes actions I saw Mr. Stokes coming along in a stealthy manner, in a crouching manner, that is he come along kind of stooping & walking lively. He was near the wall on his right hand & coming from the 1st parlor. Did he see Tom Hart? It was parlor 207 he was coming from. When he got to the corner of the hall & turning to the private stairs he stood and looked down. At that time, he turned around the corner & remarked 'I got you now,' or words to that effect & walked out toward the head of the stairs & dipping different from Redmond about 3 steps to his right hand I saw him pull up his right hand from his pants or overcoat pocket. I couldn't tell which, & resting it on the bannister as near as I could see & heard 2 reports of the pistol…"
"[Page 25] Thomas Hart – recalled July 11th
Mr. Stokes might have come up the stairs (private entrance) while I was up stairs at the coal closet washing out the spongers that we clean the windows with. I was up there 2 or 3 times. We were not allowed to take any pail on the stairs (fol 1) See below exam'd mark x…
Cross. Ex'd by Tremaine
… x Left Redmond at the door a few seconds only before Fisk came in. Went on duty at 3 o'clock at door of private entrance & stayed there all the time up the time Fisk came in…"
"[Page 111] Edward S. Stokes
Antecedents – Mr. Stokes (fol 1 & 2) First became acquainted with Fisk in July 1869 at the E.R.R. Office.
Question – State generally what the character of your business relations with Fisk were? Objc'd, Objc'd sust., Excep (fol 3). Has your relations with him been friendly & intimate? Objec'd to
The Court – I don't think you can go back 2 or 3 years into those transactions.
Mr. Tremaine – Will your honor fix a time within which we may offer evidence?
The Court – No, I can only rule on questions as asked.
Mr. Mc Keon – Cannot we show that he has been trying to get his legal rights, but in consequence of a corrupt judiciary he could not reach this [man] at all.
The Court – I don't think that has anything to do with this issue (fol 3 & 4) Evidence excluded Excpe'
[Stokes] On the 6th of Jan'y the relations of the deceased to me were very hostile> They had been hostile since Jan'y. They had been for many months (fol 5) On the morning of the 6th I was before Justice Bixby as a witness. Fisk was not there. I had not seen him before that date for 2 or 3 weeks. It was at the opening of the 'Black Crook" (fol 6) I heard he had been sick over a week prior to the 6th of January. I left Bixby's Court about 2 o'clock in the company of Mr. Fellows (Assist Dist Atty) & Mr. McKeon in a carriage. Josie Mansfield was the complainant in the case agt Fisk. Miss Mansfield & her cousin Mrs. Williams left at the same time in another carriage. My carriage drove to Delmonico's, corner of Chamber St & B'way direct (fol 7) we all went in & remained there from about 2 ½ to ¼ before 3. I had some oysters & a glass of ale with Mr. McKeon & Mr. Sprague of Utica (fol 8) I went over to Rufus Andrews' office opposite the City Hall & asked him whether I could go to Providence on Monday (Objc'd to) (fol 9). Mr. Andrews said that no
[Page 112] indictment had been found my Mr. Fish, that it had been laid over for a number of times & he supposed the thing was ended & he advised me to go to Providence on Monday as I intended. I then went to the office of Mr. Bixby & he said by all means go to Providence. He said the indictment had been up several times but dismissed.
Question – Did you believe there was no indictment found? Objc'd to, Excluded, Excep
I went from Bixby's office in Warren St across the street & took a coupe in B'way drive by a man whose name I think is Lawrence Carr. I never saw him before. He appeared at the coroner's inquest. I told him to drive to the Hoffman House. I recollect that when I got into the coupe it was 3 o'clk. He drove to Hoffman House. I went immediately to my room to get some papers I had prepared for this Court of Appeals which met in Providence on Tuesday. Objc'd to
In the Office I found a dispatch which I had sent to John Doty. Obc'd to, as the dispatch has already been ruled out (fol 13)
The Court – Leave that for present & go on
I then sent a dispatch. Had some word with clerk in hotel office Mr. John –
The Court – Can't have what you said to anybody
I saw Mr. McLaughlin there had a conversation with him., also saw Mr. George Cotterill (fol 14) had a conversation with McLaughlin concerning 2 witnesses he told me. Objc'd to McLaughlin said he thought I would not be able to go to Providence on Monday unless I had those papers attend to that day. He said Mr. Smith was to be found at Corner of B'way & Amity st (fol 15) & he believed Mr. [Feins] had to stand on that corner & probably one or both would be found in that location. I found that some papers which I had endorsed had been left at Miss Mansfield's' some several days before when I had been on a visit at her house 359 W. 23d St., therefore I got into the coupe on the 24th st side told driver to drive to 359 W 23d St (fol 16) …
[Page 115]. Then went out of Dodge & Chamberlin's walked across to the corner of B.way & Amity St (fol 21) Mr. Ferris used to stand on that corner. I didn't see anything of him, but I met Mr. Bailey previous to my reaching the corner, told him I was going to Metropolitan Hotel to get tickets for Black Crook asked him to accompany , he consented, I walked across Amity St down B.way when nearly opposite main entrance I noticed a lady standing in the window in the parlor on that diagram, as I noticed afterward was first parlor. Parlor where the sofa was. She was looking from that window. I though I had met her at Saratoga (fols 22 & 23) ….
[Page 117-119] Asked Mr. Bailey to come over to the hotel with me……walked in the ladies entrance, as I walked upstairs this boy Redmond was on a ladder about 5 or 6 ft up, he was cleaning windows I think, passed upstairs through the hall, when I reach the parlor, looked in, this lady turned her head around, saw I was not acquainted with her & she didn't recognize me. Walked along the main hall until about here (designating on diagram) (fol 26) Went right in the entrance, didn't stop at all, went round this 'turn' until I go there, looked in there probably for ½ a moment, not more, walked along this corridor, as far as I could go. There was a reading room or something right here, I went there, just looked (this was the first time I had been on 2d floor of G.C. Hotel), looked in there for a minute – I should think, walked back again (fol 27) there were several ladies standing in the hall talking to the Frenchman who testified here. Henry, the parlor man, he was standing somewhere here. I walked down this main hall to the dining room as I did so a lady come in & passed up these stairs, passed me & went up there…There were doors at the end of this hall here, but they were closed, so I walked directly back, didn't stop at all here; went right around about here, right down the hall, didn't pause at all, was going out got down I think 3 or 4 steps, when I saw Mr. Fisk coming in the door, he had not got in the door.
[Page 119] The moment he saw me he sprang upon this platform & as soon as he got on to it with his hand, pulled his pistol from behind, I was then on the same line with him, & cried out to him 'don't fire,' I jumped across on the left hand side of the bannister, placed my hand on the bannister, this way, pulled out my pistol & fired on him. There are sixteen steps from the platform up, I think I was as far four down as there. Mr. Fisk might have had but I don't think he had his foot upon that step. He was right down at the place. I was going right out the entrance here. The boy Redmond was outside the door & think Mr. Fisk had men talking to him, for when I came around here, I heard some conversation going on; but didn't know what it was, had no idea it was Mr. Fisk, none in the world…"
[Page 141] Mrs. Marietta A. Williams for Prisoner
By Mr. Townsend
I was residing with Miss Mansfield on the 6th of Jan'y last – have lived with her 3 years, am a cousin of hers. Have heard Fisk make threats against the prisoner, which I have communicated to him (fol 1) Have heard the threats several times they were in regard to his life…
I have seen Fisk with a pistol on many occasions. The last time I think was during his last visit at Miss M____'s (fol 4) That was in Dec. He took it out of his pocket & laid it on the Mantelpiece. Cannot describe its appearance (fol 5) Have seen pistols in his possession any time when there was any excitement. Have heard Fisk make threats against Stokes on different occasions, when at Miss M's. I have heard Fisk speak in the presence of Stokes, in regard to having him railroaded (fol 6) to state prison. Miss Mansfield was also present; it was in the front parlor. I was there at the suggestion of Miss M. It was year prior to the killing…" (Inventory #: 30762)