Albany Evening Journal: Shootings May Have Been Done By Boys

Note:  This is a transcription of an article that appeared on the front page of the Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York) on January 31st, 1916. It is the second in a series of articles published by the Journal that recount the crime, capture, and questioning of Harold Severy. This article continued on the second page, but original page references have been omitted for clarity. 


The police to-day were able to throw little light upon the mysterious shootings of which four persons were the victims Friday night, one of whom, James Irving, died early this morning at the Homeopathic hospital. Many theories are being advanced as to the identity and character of the silent gunman, who is now a murderer. Chief of Police Hyatt is still of the opinion that it is the work of a madman. Another theory which received many supporters to-day was that the four bullets came from a 22-caliber rifle in the hands of a boy.

H. Valentine, the well known rifle expert, after examining the bullets, said that they did not come from a revolver, as had been supposed. He pointed to the fact that the bullets came from cartridges, the explosive power of which is a combination of fulminate and mercury. The ingredients form a gas which explodes when the trigger hits the shell. Mr. Valentine declares that the grooves on the pieces of lead which entered the bodies of Mrs. John A McKown and, John McCormack, Edward C. Kenny and Irving contained grooves on the side, which he believes show that they came from a rifle.


The 22-caliber rifles are used in great number by boys, and most of the shots for these guns are of the gas variety. Mr. Valentine said there are thousands of the cartridges sold to boys in Albany yearly. These rifles are not of the flobert [sic, possibly “Robert”] kind. They are made in this country and are rifled as true as a run can be, according to Mr. Valentine.

Chief Hyatt was the first to discover the gas shell. Ever since the shootings the fact that none of the persons heard a shot has been the source of much wonderment to the chief. Last night a friend brought one of the shells to him and explained that it was made of fulminate and quicksilver. This man had secured the cartridge from George Mason the well-known confectioner, who is an expert in firearms. Mr. Mason was given several of the cartridges several years ago by the late Mayor Gaus, who was also an expert with a gun.

Detective Joseph Ryan saw Mr. Mason to-day. The confectioner showed the detective where he had shot one of the bullets into a board about 10 feet away. Mr. Mason said he used a small rifle in the test. The bullet was embedded in the board to the depth of of about an inch and a half, showing that the velocity of the bullet was even greater than the old powder variety of shots.


It was then that Detective Ryan went to Mr. Valentine. The sporting man said that the fulminate mercury bullet had great force in a rifle and a target pistol, but in a regular .22 revolver was of no use. As a test he took a target pistol and loaded it with one of the gas bullets. He fired from a distance of about 12 feet. The bullet went through two sides of a box and became embedded in a pine board to the depth of about half an inch. Mr. Valentine then made a request to see the bullets that were found in the victims’ bodies.

Mr. Ryan went to Chief Hyatt and explained matters, and the chief consented to have the rifle expert examine them.

“They are C.B. conical shells,” said the expert after weighing the pieces of lead and finding that they weighed 29 grains each. “You can stake all you can get that these bullets came from a 22-caliber rifle, the kind that boys are using. There is a groove on each which proves that. There are no revolvers that will fire that kind of a shot. I guess when you ferret this thing out that you will find that boys are the cause of the trouble. It is a wonder that more people aren’t injured by flying bullets. Only yesterday my wife called me and told me that there were three boys in the rear of my house, and each had a gun and was shooting

towards the house. I live in Summit park, and there are only lots in the rear. I knew that the practice of the boys was a dangerous one so I decided to rout them. When I went to the rear they had disappeared over hills. The boys have no idea just how far the bullets will carry, and I can tell you they carry a great deal farther than anyone would think.”

All of the shootings took place near some lot. Mrs. McKown was shot opposite the lot in front of the penitentiary. McCormack received his bullet while walking past the park. Kenny was on Western avenue, and there were plenty of vacant lots around. Irving didn’t know where he was shot. He first discovered he was wounded after a boy had hit him with a piece of ice. This was on Chestnut street near Hawk, but Irving had just come from the vicinity of the park. Miss Dowd received a bullet in the arm while she was near Capitol park.


Still working in the belief that the assailant was a mad gunman, Chief Hyatt redoubled efforts of his force to catch him. He had every available man at work scouring the city.

With the exception of the fact that Edward C. Kenny of 157 Western avenue informed Chief Hyatt last night that he thought the gunman wore a mixed gray overcoat instead of a black one, the police have obtained no further description of the fellow they are seeking. Mr. Kenny, who escaped with but a slight wound from the gunman’s weapon, while on his way home Friday afternoon, described him as being between 20 and 30 years old, he could not say positively. But he said he was certain that the man he saw running after he felt the sting in his back, was short and stocky, wore a soft hat and a long overcoat. None of the other victims were able to supply the police with any description of their assailant.


“We are following up every possible clue, have investigated any number of rumors, and will continue to do so, but as yet we have nothing to give out as to any arrest,” said Chief Hyatt this morning, who said he judged that Albanians were calming down, as their had been a falling off of telephone calls into headquarters. “Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we must have broken all records for inquiries received over a switchboard such as ours,” said the chief, and Operators Cahill, Sayers, and Cheeseman constitute a trio of well played out men. They listened to every inquiry, fearing to cut short less some slight clue might be passed up. Another evidence that the fears of residents have been somewhat allayed is the fact that many women came down town shopping to-day, many of them saying that they had seen policeman patrolling in the vicinity of their homes and that they had seen patrol-cious persons could escape through the vast net the authorities have thrown out. [sic should probably read “…and that they could not see how suspicious persons escape…”]

Chief Hyatt said the assailant may be an escaped inmate of some Institution, a fellow suddenly afflicted or a drug fiend. Hundreds of theories on that score have been advanced. Countless reasons for his act have been put forward. Possibly he might be one whose head has been turned by witnessing sensational movies, in which a shooting takes place every other moment and in which the “villain” generally escapes. Another one was that it might be the work of some individual who was laboring under the impression that a 22-caliber bullet could not inflict a fatal wound and that a little reign of terror could be stirred up without anyone actually being killed. But the death of Irving proves to the contrary. All rumors to the effect that the shootings might have been done by a woman masquerading in men’s clothes Chief Hyatt said were regarded as pure bosh. “They are too silly to pay attention to at this at this serious time,” he said.


The police have a line on the numerous drug fiends in town, and have satisfied themselves that if the shootings were the work of one of that type, he is a new one, and has managed to keep covered up. But Chief Hyatt is more inclined to believe the man they are seeking is a lunatic, pure and simple, and that the outbreak was not the result of anyone becoming suddenly crazed by the use of drugs. Yesterday morning word was received from Mechanicville, that a fellow had been taken into custody there, who told a rambling story, had admitted being in Albany, and who could not give a good account of himself. It was thought he might possibly be able to throw some light on the subject. He was brought to Albany and Chief Hyatt was closeted with him for a long time. He gave his name as Edward Taylor, said he was 39 years old, and hailed from New Orleans. He said he was down and out and had done a 60 days’ sentence in the penitentiary for vagrancy. There was absolutely nothing brought out which could in any way connect him with the affair and Chief Hyatt sent him out of town.


James Irving, who also went by the name of Erwin, the gunman’s second victim, who was shot in the left ribs on Chestnut street, about 5 o’clock Friday night, died at the Homeopathic hospital at 12:25 o’clock this morning. Coroner Hastings directed Dr. Frederick Myers to perform an autopsy and death was found due to hemorrhages of the spleen and liver, brought on by the pistol wound. Undertaker Simmons was given permission to take charge of the body. Irving’s only relative is said to be a nephew living in the southern section of the city and he will be interviewed by the coroner as to what disposition he wished made of the body. The dead man was a familiar character about the city for years, being known as “Jimmie Matches,” as he went about the business section selling bunches of them. He was between 60 and 65 years of age and had roomed for several years at the hotel conducted by George Gude at 91 Green street. Irving was a sufferer from Bright’s disease, but he made made a gallant fight for life in the hospital and the physicians said that he was possessed of remarkable vitality.

He was unable to furnish the police with any clue as to his slayer. When he was struck by the bullet while passing the New Amsterdam apartment house, he thought that he had been hit by a piece of ice thrown by small boys. He began to grow faint and stepped in the doorway, where he almost collapsed. He was assisted to the office of Dr. Edgar Vander Veer, who, upon seeing he had been wounded, directed his removal to the hospital in an ambulance.


The condition of Mrs. John A. McKown, who was shot while walking on Myrtle avenue, near Delaware avenue, was reported as still being serious at the Albany hospital to-day. Her advanced years make her case an uncertain one. However, she was reported as resting comfortably. At that institution, yesterday, the physicians successfully removed the 22-caliber bullets from the bodies of Mrs. McKown and John McCormack. The latter today was reported as being much improved and his recovery is looked for. Edward C. Kenny, who was “peppered” by the gunman on Western avenue, and escaped serious injury, will be confined at this home for several days, but no serious results are anticipated.

Albany Evening Journal: Albany Women in State of Terror Because of Madman’s Acts

Note: This is a transcription of an article that appeared on the front page of the Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York) on Saturday, January 29th, 1916. It is the first in a series of articles published by the Journal that recount the crime, capture, and questioning of Harold Severy. The original article continued on the second page of the paper, but page continuation references have been omitted for clarity and ease of reading. 

Two of the Four Victims of the Mysterious Stranger Are in a Serious Condition—Young Girl Was Held Up on Lake Ave. This Morning by a Man Whose Description Resembled That of the Gunman—After She Fled from Him She Found an Unexploded Cartridge In Her Muff

In an endeavor to capture a man, described as being about 30 years old, short and stocky, and wearing a slouch hat and a long overcoat, who shot one woman and three men on the public thoroughfares late yesterday afternoon, Chief Hyatt has the entire police force at work to-day. All the reserves have been pressed into service and sent out patrolling the city in civilian clothes. The police believe the mysterious stranger is either a madman or a dope fiend.

The case is one of the most perplexing the police department has ever been called upon to handle, and every effort is being put forth to land the maniac before he can do others bodily harm. Hundreds of women in the residential sections of the city are remaining indoors to-day, fearful that they might become victims of the madman’s gun-play should they venture out on the streets.

The people of Albany are thoroughly aroused over the shootings and are in fear that the madman will pay a visit to their respective sections of the city. All morning there were reports of additional shootings. The Journal office was besieged with telephone calls. One report said that three women had been shot on Quail Street; another anxious inquirer wanted to know if it was true that the two women had been shot on Delaware avenue. In almost every part of the city there were reports of one or more shootings. The police in each instance investigated but found the stories all to be untrue. These reports show the state of mind in which Albanians, particularly women, are living.


The police are at sea as to who the man is and although every policeman is working on the case they have not a clue to work on. The only inkling of the gunman was given by Margaret Stapf, a domestic employed in the family of Deputy Attorney General Wilbur W. Chambers. She was on her way to the residence of her employer on Providence street when she was accosted by the man on Lake avenue, near Western avenue.

“Could you tell me where Quail street is?” the man asked.

The girl directed him and started to walk away, when he took hold of her and said:

“What pretty brown eyes you have.” At the same time he chucked her under the chin.

Miss Stapf started to pull away and, the man tried to hold her.

“You’re not afraid of me, are you?” he said.

Miss Stapf finally broke away and ran as fast as she could to the Chambers home. Once there she told of her experience. As she placed her muff on the table an unexploded 28-caliber cartridge dropped to the floor. Miss Stapf is sure the man had placed it there.

She described him as being about 30 years old and about 5 feet 7 inches in height. Although the man’s black hat was pulled well over his face Miss Stapf took special notice of his features. She said he had a think face and blue gray eyes. He wore a gray overcoat.

Miss Stapf notified her employer, who in turn notified the police, and Detective Bain was sent to see her.

It is believed that the shootings will hurt business to a great extent down town to-night. People, especially the women, who make it their business to trade in the down-town business section on Saturday night will be afraid to make their usual trip. Business men claim that this will mean the loss of thousands of dollars.


Mrs. John A. McKown, 70 years old, of 225 Myrtle avenue, the man’s first victim, is in a precarious condition at the Albany hospital and is not expected to live. James Erwin, 69 years old, of 91 Green Street, who was the next to be shot, is in the same condition at the Homeopathic hospital. John McCormack, 20 years old, of 46 Dove Street, the third victim, was shot in the back, but his wound was such that he could receive medical attention at home. Edward C. Kenny, 26 years old, of 157 Western avenue, who is an assistant secretary in the office of the state department of health, was the next to be caught, receiving a bullet in the back. He is at home under the care of his physician.

Mrs. McKown, the first victim, was shot at about 4:30 o’clock yesterday afternoon, but it was 6:15 o’clock last night before the police were notified.

As soon as Chief Hyatt learned the facts he put the entire police machinery in operation. That the fellow is either an escaped maniac or a crazed dope fiend the authorities have little doubt. All of the victims were struck by 22-caliber bullets, fired from a pistol, carried, it is believed, in the madman’s pocket. The report that he had a Maxim silencer attached is not believed, as they are not made for weapons of such small caliber. The fellow is supposed to have pulled the pistol and fired directly at his victim, instead of shooting through his coat pocket. There is not such a loud report from the discharge of a 22-caliber revolver as many imagine, and as persons have become accustomed to loud reports from automobile exhausts and tire blow-outs, little attention is paid to them. At first the police were of the opinion that the fellow was using an automatic revolver of 22-caliber type, but when Captain Samuel Keith of the fifth precinct, exhibited the bullet

struck Mr. Kenny to Chief Hyatt at the reporting of the precinct commanders to-day, it was seen that it was an ordinary lead bullet such as is used in cheap small caliber revolvers or rifles.


Chief Hyatt told the assembled captains this morning that in all probability the fellow was a dope fiend and that their men should pick up all suspicious characters.

“There is absolutely no cause for the shootings,” said the chief, “which proves that it is simply the work of a man whose mind is unbalanced.”

Last Tuesday afternoon Miss Mary Dowd of 218 Orange street, while walking on State street, head a report and felt a stinging sensation in her left arm. She went to the office of Dr. Happel, who found that she had been struck by a small lead pellet which was fired either from an air rifle or a small caliber pistol. At the time, the police were of the opinion that it was the work of boys using air rifles in popping at sparrows, but now they are inclined to believe that she might have been a victim of the same gunman who did the shooting yesterday.


A peculiar circumstance connected with the shootings was that the victims did not realize at first that they had been shot. When they first felt the sting of the bullet they believed it to be a snowball or some other harmless missile. They did not know the real cause of the sting until they discovered the bleeding wound later.

Mrs. McKown, the fellow’s first victim, was shot at the corner of Myrtle and Delaware avenues. She was on her way home when she received a bullet in the back, which passed through her right lung and lodged in her breast. She collapsed a few moments later, but that she had been shot was not discovered until she had been assisted home and the Dr. T. W. Jenkins summoned. When he discovered the wound and saw the seriousness of it, he promptly ordered her removal to the hospital. Owing to her advanced years, the physician doubts her recovery. Mrs. McKown saw nothing of the fellow who fired the shot.

Just after 5 o’clock, Erwin, who rooms at 91 Green street, was walking on Chestnut street, when he was struck by what he thought was a piece of ice thrown by a boy. He nearly collapsed in front of the New Amsterdam apartment house and was taken to the office of Dr. Edgar Vander Veer on Eagle street.

The physician made an examination and seeing the man had been wounded he promptly sent him to the hospital and notified Policeman Anthony of the second precinct of what had occurred. The latter began an investigation and later notified headquarters. Captain Patton put every available man out in search of the gun toter. Erwin was shot in the back, the bullet penetrating his stomach and making his case a critical one. McCormack, the third victim, is the only one who has been able to give the police a description of the fellow now being sought. He was walking on Madison avenue about 6 o’clock when a short stocky fellow with a slouch hat and overcoat, asked him for a match. He was unable to comply with the request and after going a few steps felt something strike him in the back. He became dizzy and a friend took him home, where medical aid was summoned and it was found that he also had been shot.


By the time word of the shooting reached headquarters Chief Hyatt was aware of the situation and lost no time in having the precinct commanders get every man out on the streets in search fo the madman. Edward C. Kenny, the fourth victim, received a bullet in the back, near the shoulders, while on the way to his home 157 Western avenue. He said he felt a sting in the back and looking around saw a man running over Lake avenue. He became weakened, but managed to get home and when he realized he had been hit he called his family physician, who told him he surely had, that he had a bullet embedded in his back. [sic] It was extracted and Kenny put to bed. Kenny said he could not say as to whether he had heard any report or not. He simply had been struck. None of the victims recalls hearing any reports, and the theory put forth as to the automobile exhausts and tire blowouts, shades the Maxim silencer idea. Chief Hyatt said to-day that he was having his men make a careful investigation as to any silencers being sold here. He recalled that only recently a lecture on that gun attachment was delivered before a local body in the education building and said that there was a possibility of the gunman having been in attendance and deciding to try it out. But the instruments are expensive and the police say that if one could be procured for such a small caliber weapon as the fellow is using, he would attach it to a good revolver instead of the cheap one, which it is safe to say he is using.


Never in the history of the city has there been such a reign of terror, and the police are powerless to do any more than they are doing now. Chief Hyatt’s men have been working very second since the first shooting as reported, but have made no progress. Detective Ryan was patrolling the section in the vicinity of Chestnut street and South Hawk street until long after midnight, but was forced to report “no progress.”

In some circles it was reported that the police believe that the maniac lives somewhere in that vicinity. This report could not be verified.

One theory of the police is that the man is a dope fiend who has been deprived of his drug. This produces a form of insanity, it is alleged, that gives the victim the tendency to kill. This man, it is believed, having nothing but a revolver of the smallest caliber is using this weapon to terrorize the people. If these bullets, as small as they are, hit a vital spot, they will kill. This is what the police fear will happen if the man isn’t apprehended soon. If the man had used a larger gun, it is said two of his victims would now be dead.


There was a report that William Sweeney, who was committed to Pavilion F recently, had escaped and was the guilty party. The report was untrue. Sweeney is still at the insane hospital and doing well. Even if he had escaped, it is not believed that he would use a gun. In the first place he had no gun, nor money to buy one. In the second place the man was harmless. He believed himself to be a singer and fighter. He had the latter notion in his head when the officers attempted to take him from the jail to the pavilion. They found him naked and in fighting pose. He gave them a tussle, but was quickly subdued.

As the shootings continued to be discussed among the young women clerks in the state departments in the capitol and rumors of fresh assaults reached the capitol, the fear which the clerks already had continued to increase, and when the noon hour arrived there were many who feared to leave the offices in which they were employed. Some telephoned to their homes or to friends to come to the building to escort them home. But few who had made engagements for this afternoon or had planned some amusement carried out their intentions, the greater number going directly to their home.