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.

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