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The Cairo Bulletin
The Cairo Bulletin
Contributed by Gigimo

Description: Suicide, or Murder! Which Was It? The Latter Most Probable. John W. CARTER Found Dead in His Bed, With a Bullet Hole Through His Head.

Date: January 26 1878

Newspaper published in: Cairo, Illinois

Our neighboring village of Mound City was yesterday morning thrown into a state of the utmost excitement over the report that one of the oldest and most prominent and influential citizens of that place - Mr. John W. CARTER, had committed suicide, and in less than half an hour from the time the discovery of the body was made nine out of every ten citizens of the place had heard of the affair. Word of the death of Mr. CARTER having reached a reporter for the Bulletin, he started immediately for Mound City, where he arrived in due time, and at once set to work to gather what information he could of the sad event. From those who were most intimately acquainted with Mr. CARTER, and who were among the first in at the scene after the body was discovered, we learned the following facts:


In order to give the reader a better understanding of the surroundings of the body when discovered, it will be necessary to give a brief description of the inside arrangements of Mr. CARTER'S office. The building is one story high, and Mr. CARTER was the only occupant. The inside of the building is divided into three apartments, the first of which, and the one first entered from the street, was occupied by Mr. CARTER as an office. Next is a small room - perhaps twelve feet long by eight wide. This room contained a desk, a bureau, several mattresses, two or three pillows and a quantity of bed clothing, and it was in this room that the body was discovered. Back of the bedroom is another room, perhaps twelve feet square, which, from its appearance, we should judge was used by Mr. CARTER as a store room. This is the arrangement of the inside of the building, and the reader will now be able to form a better idea of the surroundings.

The colored porter who attended Mr. CARTER'S office, swept out, made fires, etc., stated that when he entered the office in the morning, between six and seven o'clock, he found the office in its usual order, and started to go from the office to the store-room, and when passing through the bedroom saw Mr. CARTER lying on the mattress, and it occurred to him that his countenance wore a peculiar look. The porter stopped and looked CARTER in the face, and saw that he was dead. He immediately gave the alarm, and in a few minutes a half dozen persons had gathered in the office. When found, the body was covered to the neck with bed clothing. On removing the quilts it was found that he had all his clothes on. In his right hand, which lay on his breast, he held a small revolver, the fore-finger clasping the trigger. The left hand also lay on the breast, only a few inches lower down.

The cause of death was then looked for, and a bullet hole was discovered in the right temple just above and to the front of the ear. The ball took a downward course and came out just under the ear on the left side of the head. The mattress under the body was saturated with blood, though nowhere else in the room could blood be found. From all accounts it would seem that Mr. CARTER had gone to his office sometimes between nine and ten o'clock the night before. Mr. George RICHARDS, the conductor on the Mound City railroad, just before starting on his regular trip to Mounds Junction to meet the up train on the Illinois Central went into the office. It seems that there were four keys to the outside door. Mr. CARTER carried one and Mr. RICHARDS and the colored porter each had a key, and the fourth was usually to be found in a drawer in the office. Mr. RICHARDS unlocked the door when he went into the office, and finding the door leading from the office to the bedroom locked on the inside, felt sure that Mr. CARTER had gone to bed.

On entering the office he found the lamp burning, and before leaving put out the light and re-locked the door. Mr. RICHARDS then left for the Junction and did not return to Mound City again until fifteen minutes before five o'clock in the morning. When he re-entered the office he found that the lamp had been relighted, and moved from the place where it usually set to another part of the office. He saw too that the door leading to the bedroom was open, and that on the desk in the office lay some of Mr. CARTER'S account books, opened out. These matters, the lighted lamp, the opening of the bedroom door, and the condition of the books, attracted his attention, but he gave the matter no serious thought and went out and, locked the office door behind him, and after putting his team away, went home. The first he knew of Mr. CARTERS death was when he got up in the morning.

A coroner's jury was assembled and an inquest held, and a number of witnesses examined, when the circumstances attending the finding of the body and the matters related by Mr. RICHARDS concerning the lighting of the lamp, the books, etc., were brought up. The jury without much deliberation returned a verdict of "death by suicide."

This verdict of the jury, however was not satisfactory to everybody, and there were many who claimed that the reasons for suspecting foul play were many and forcible. The fact that when the body was found both hands were lying on the breast, the bed clothing covering them and tucked close up to the chin, was pointed to as a strong reason for suspecting foul play. Another thing that seemed to strengthen the belief that CARTER had been murdered was the fact that had he shot himself he would necessarily have held the pistol so close to his head that there would have been powder marks on the flesh and the hair would have been singed - but nothing of the kind was visible. Not a hair of his head was burned, nor was there to be found the slightest trace of burned powder on his face. These circumstances, coupled with the fact that as late as nine o'clock on Thursday evening Dr. CASEY and others met Mr. CARTER at the post office, and he was in his usual good humor, and laughed and talked with them on various subjects, were pointed to in support of the theory that he was murdered.


There are those who claim that there is a "woman in the case." It is said, but with how much truth we do not know, that Mr. CARTER had formed an alliance with a young woman in Mound City, and that of late she had given him considerable trouble. This woman was called as a witness before the coroner's jury, and she testified that she had not seen Mr. CARTER since Tuesday evening, but that on Thursday evening she wrote him a note saying that she was going away, and would send her trunk to the station. The negro who carried this note to Mr. CARTER testified that he (CARTER) wrote an answer to the note and gave it to him to deliver, but that on his return he could not find the woman, and he took the note back to Mr. CARTER. Search was made for these notes but no trace of them could be found. There are those who attach much importance to this matter, and believe that if this little incident is properly worked up, it will lead to the true theory as to how CARTER came to his death. At all events, the circumstances above stated - the manner in which the bed clothing covered the body, the fact that there is not the slightest evidence of powder on the face, or that the hair was burned, the woman and the notes; and the fact that the pistol found in Mr. CARTER'S hand could not be identified as belonging to him, and that none of the cartridges found in his office would fit it, are all pointed to as going to show that he did not commit suicide but that he was murdered. In fact there are very few people in Mound City who take any stock in the idea that Mr. CARTER committed suicide, and the desire for a more thorough investigation of the matter has become so strong that another inquest will be had today, when it is to be hoped that the truth concerning this most deplorable affair may be brought to the surface. We do not believe that John CARTER killed himself, and we do believe that he was murdered, and that too by someone who was on familiar terms with him and knew the arrangements of his office perfectly.

Submitted: 12/12/16

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