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.

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