Philadelphia Evening Bulletin

March 25, 1878






Another Chapter in the History of the Thugs of the Coal Regions

---The Assassins of Rea Suffer Death on the Gallows To-Day.


Execution of of Hester, Tully and McHugh at Bloomsburg---Story of the Terrible Crimes in Which They Were Participants.




The Hanging of Three Molly Maguires at Bloomsburg To-Day --- Patrick Hester, Peter McHugh and Patrick Tully Pay the Penalty for a Crime Committed Years Ago.


[Special despatch to the Evening Bulletin]

            Bloomsburg, March 25. – Probably six hundred strangers visited the town to-day out of curiosity to witness the hanging of Patrick Hester, Peter McHugh and Patrick Tully and the attendant circumstances.  For nearly two hours previous to the execution crowds congregated about the quaint and dilapidated jail, and at the time the culprits were being launched into eternity, at least 1,000 people were on the outside and probably 300 within the prison walls.

Mass Celebrated.

            This morning about half past six o'clock, Father McGovern, Kock and Schutler, the priests who ministered to the spiritual wants of the condemned, celebrated high mass in McHugh's cell, Hester and Tully being present.  The devotional exercises lasted about two hours and among those in attendance were the grief stricken wife, three daughters, and two sons-in-law, who appeared deeply affected.  The grief of the wife and daughters gave vent in loud sobs.  Mrs. Tully and her little son were also participants in the solemn scene; the latter had slept with his father a few nights ago.

            All three culprits, had previously been shaved, their toilets prepared and attired in neat suits.

At the Scaffold.

            About a quarter of eleven those who had been admitted to the jail building by card proceeded to the prison yard, in which the scaffold which sent four Mollie Maguires into eternity at Mauch Chunk, last summer, had been erected.  It occupied a position near the centre of the yard, and around it had gathered about 300 persons, among whom were newspaper reporters from Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other points.

            About 11 A. M. McHugh emerged from the uninviting corridor down the high steps into the jail yard, accompanied by a priest.  Next came the corpulent Hester, followed by Tully, also a man of heavy frame, both escorted by spiritual advisers, and both looking the picture of health.  Hester wore a black neck-tie; had on gold shirt studs; wore a broadcloth coat and in no respect looked like a mureder.  The condemned, with the

Crucifixes in Their Hands,

Ascended the steps leading to the scaffold with remarkable steadiness, and took their positions under the ropes which were soon to stretch their necks.  McHugh, of delicate frame, appeared to be the most nervous of the three, although Hester's lips were noticed to unnaturally twitch previous to and while during the devotional exercises were in progress.  Hester steadied himself by seizing hold of one of the uprights of the scaffold after he had reached the platform.

Last Words.

            All the condemned made a few remarks of which only a few straggling words were audible to the spectators and even the Sheriff, who was on the platform, was unable to give their substance.  It is understood, however, that McHugh and Tully neither asserted their innocence nor guilt of the murder and that Hester claimed not have been concerned in the murder, the inference being that he was not an actual participant.  He had stated to his counsel several days before the execution that he would call upon McHugh and Tully to state whether he was guilty or not, and if they connected him with the crime he was willing to hang, but Hester was not as good as his word, putting no interrogatories to his companions in crime.  After the hands of the prisoners had been pinioned and a strap tied about their legs above and below their knees, the white caps were drawn over their faces and

The Drop was Sprung,

the drop falling at ten minutes after eleven.  Hester struggled violently, but died first, his pulsations ceasing in nine minutes.  Tully lived eleven minutes, and McHugh twelve.  The remains of Hester were taken in charge of by an undertaker from Pottsville and will be interred at Shamokin.  P. F. Cuniff, of Wilkesbarre, took charge of Tully's and McHugh's remains.  Both will be buried in the Catholic cemetery at Wilkesbarre.

            "Kelly, the Bum," on the strength of whose testimony the culprits were convicted, was removed to the lock-up under the Court House before the execution.

Statement by Tully.

            A statement was made by Tully, one of the condemned men, to Captain Alderson, of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company's police force, and Benjamin Franklin,  Superintendent of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, on the 18th of March, and was reiterated by him on the 22nd inst.  This statement was put in writing and signed by Tully and reads as follows:


            Patrick Tully, when did you come to this country?

            In 1863; joined the Molly Maguires in Scotland, and the first place I joined them was in this country, at Centralia; Columbus McGee started the first lodge in that place, and was Body Master.

            Were you in the Rea murder?

            Yes, I was, and Peter McHugh, Barney, Campbell, John Dalton, Daniel Kelly, and Bradley (I don't know his first name); we were at the shooting and place of murder.

            Patrick Hester and Ned Skiverton went as far as the toll-gate: Peter McHugh told me he was the last man that talked to Hester, and he told Hester that he (McHugh) would not be hunted by any living man, and Hester said "Go ahead" ; Hester gave Kelly a revolver, Skiverton went home by the east end of Mt. Carmel, and Hester went by the west end and down the railroad on the truck, and the above named went over the mountain and killed Rea, the same as was sworn to by Kelly.

            I want to tell you one thing, captain, and that is that Harris and Muff Lawler swore false, and Kelly told the truth except going to Hester's that morning, and Hester's witnesses at the trail all swore false, every one swore a lie, and Luke Richardson got one hundred and thirty-five dollars to swear to a lie, and Dennis McGloughin got thirty-five dollars to buy a suit of clothes with and he swore a lie.  Hester and McHugh wanted me to plead guilty, providing they got a new trial, and clear them, for I had no money and no friends, and that one was enough to die.

                                                                                    Patrick Tully.

            This statement was signed by Patrick Tully, in our presence, at Bloomsburg jail, March 22d. 1878.

                                                                        Benj. Franklin,

                                                                        Thos. Alderson.           






The Story of the Crime for Which Hester, McHugh and Tully Paid the Penalty To-day.



            On the evening of October 17, 1868, the people of Centralia, a mining town near Ashland, were surprised to see a horse and carriage, undriven and unattended, coming into town and approaching the house of Alexander W. Rea.  It proved to be Mr. Rea's team, and on inquiry it was found that its owner, who was agent for the Locust Mountain Coal and Iron Company and Superintendent for the Coal Ridge Improvement Coal Company, had been missing since morning.  He had started that morning, as usual, to visit the latter company's mines, but had not been seen there nor could anything be learned of his movements after leaving home.  The appearance of his empty carriage, however, suggested that some evil had befallen him, and as he was a man greatly respected in his own town, the citizens of Centralia turned out en massè to look for him.  Next morning (Sunday) his body was found in the woods about thirty yards from the roadside, at a spot about a mile and a half from Centralia.  He had been foully murdered, having received no less than six bullets, some of them from pistols fired so close to his head that the powder burned and blackened his face.  The object of the assassins undoubtedly was plunder, as Mr. Rea's gold watch and a sum of money which he was known to have had with him were missing, and as, moreover, he was not known to have had an enemy in the world.  As in all such cases – and they were but too common at the time – suspicion fell upon the mysterious band known as "Mollie Maguires" : but as in all such cases, it was impossible to crystallize the suspicion into positive proof.

            The tragedy caused a great excitement throughout the Schuylkill coal region, and a large reward was offered for the arrest and conviction of the assassins.  Within a few weeks after, Patrick Hester, county delegate of the Ancient Order of Hibernians for Northumberland county, and notorious as a Mollie Maguire leader; Thomas Donohue, keeper of a drinking saloon near Centralia, John Duffy and Michael Pryor were arrested on suspicion of complicity in the crime.  The murder having been committed in Columbia county, they were taken to Bloomsburg for trial.  Donohue was tried first and acquitted, the jury standing eleven for conviction and one for acquittal; whereupon the other cases were not prossed.  The subsequent discoveries do not connect an of the party with the crime except Hester, though Donohue was aware of the conspiracy to commit it, the details having been arranged in his drinking saloon.

Delayed Justice.

            Nothing more was heard of Rea and his murders until the explosion came which destroyed the Mollie Maguire society, and threw its members out to public gaze.  Then there were numerous arrests, and among them those of Patrick Hester, Peter McHugh and Patrick Tully.  There were taken to the Bloomsburg Jail, and arraigned for trial February 9, 1876.  The principal witness against them was Manus Kull, alias Daniel Kelly, or "Kelly the Bum," who freely admitted that he had himself taken a prominent part in the murder of Rea, and gave a very minute account of it, criminating the defendants at every point.  He was proved by the counsel for the defence to be a villain of the deepest dye, but his testimony was so strongly corroborated by other evidence as to leave no doubt of its truth.

Kelly's Story.

            Kull, or Kelly, as he was better known, said that the murder was planned in Donohue's saloon, on the night October 16, 1868, and that then persons took part in the conspiracy, viz.; Patrick Hester, Peter McHugh, Patrick Tully, Ned Skiffington, Bryan Campbell, James Bradley, Wm. Muldonney, Roger Lafferty, Jack Dalton, and himself.  Donohue and Duffy, who were arrested with Hester, in 1868, for the murder, were not there, having gone to Pottsville to arrange an attack on J. Claude White, Superintendent of the Swatara Coal Company, whom they intended to waylay and rob.  Hester was to have joined them, but missed the train.  He returned to Barney Dolan's saloon, at Big Mine Run, where he found most of the above party, and they all walked down to Donohue's saloon, at Ashland.  Hester said; "I lost a good thing to-day, down the mountain, but I have a good thing on hand yet.  There's Rea going to make the pay at Bell's Tunnel to-morrow, and there's money in it if the job is done clean." ("A clean job" among the Mollies always meant the work accomplished and escape successfully made.)  He said Rea would have $18,000 or $19,000 with him, and they could get the money and divide it among them.  The matter was talked over then, the details agreed upon, and Lafferty went out and procured a quantity of ammunition, with which he loaded the pistols of the party.  They staid there all night, drinking and talking, and early next morning started out on the road they knew Rea would take, and placed themselves there in ambush.  Hester, however did not accompany the party to the place selected.  He was too notorious, and his reputation too bad, to permit him to run any risks in a neighborhood where he was so well known.  He went on to Shamokin to buy hair for the plastering of his house, in order that he might be able to prove an alibi if it ever became necessary; but before leaving the party he gave Kelly his pistol, saying: "Your pistol is no good.  Take mine, for I know it is sure."  Skiffington, who was lame, also left them, saying he would go to work to ward off suspicion.  The others went on and posted themselves in an old wood road, near a place called the Water Barrel, a wayside fountain where Rea was accustomed to water his horse.

The Murder.

            In accordance with the Mollie tactics, the murderers selected were all strangers to their intended victim, except one, Dalton, who was accordingly  posted by the side of the highway, with instructions to give a signal by raising his hat when Rea came along.  One or two men passed by, but the sentinel made no sign.  Meanwhile those men in ambush debated what they would do with the boy in case Rea had his son with him, as he often had, and decided at last that they would let the boy take the buggy and drive home.  Time wore on; they became hungry, and Bradley, who was not known in Centralia, went to that town and bought crackers, cheese and whiskey, and they ate and drank.

            At last the doomed man came.  He was alone in his buggy.  Dalton gave the signal, and his companions surrounded the vehicle with their pistols drawn and cocked.  Rea was ordered to alight and deliver, and did so without a word, handing his watch and pocket book to Kelly.  The latter then turned to McHugh, and asked: "What shall we do with this man?"  McHugh replied: "I don't want to be hunted around the world by any living man." Kelly and McHugh then fired simultaneously, and Rea, grievously wounded, turned and ran into the woods, while Tully followed, firing as he ran.  Rea fell on his face when Tully fired another shot point blank into is head.  The party then went up on a neighboring mountain to divide the spoil, but were bitterly disappointed to find that, instead of the rich booty Hester had promised them, they had secured only $50 or $60 and a gold watch.  Kelly got the watch, which he afterward sold for $20; but the new owner did not keep it long, and it was finally smashed up to get it out of the way.  Hester was afterward offered a share of the money, but he refused it in disgust at the smallness of the amount.  He had expected that Rea would have with him that morning the money to pay the monthly wages at the colliery; but they had been paid the day before, and Rea had with him only money enough to meet some small bills.

The Murderers

remained in the vicinity of the their crime for a day or two and some of them for a considerable time, but most of them were frightened away by the arrests of Donohue and Duffy.  Hester himself left the region and traveled as far as La Salle, Illinois, but returned and gave himself up, with a confidence in the result which the abandoning of the prosecution against him showed was well founded.  Tully and McHugh, however did not linger long.  They were miners, living in Shamokin, and working in the same breast at the Coal Mountain Colliery.  They disappeared from their boarding house on the Friday preceding the murder and were not seen again until the Monday following, when they returned, took their underclothing, which the hired girl was washing, wet from the tub, and left without paying their board bill.  When arrested, nine years after, they were working at different mines in Luzerne county.

The Work of the Mollie Maguires.

            The evidence of Kelly and others left no room for doubt that the death of Rea was caused by the Mollie Maguire society, as common report had charged from the first.  A great deal of information as to the work of this mysterious and deadly organization came out on the trial.  All the assassins were members of it; necessarily so, for the order would not trust its delicate work to strangers.  Kelly, himself, was made a member in Ireland.  He subsequently belonged to it in Scotland, and then in America, and he testified that its nature was everywhere the same – always cruel, bloodthirsty and law defying.  It had crime, especially murder, reduced to a system; very simple, but wonderfully sure and strong, as is shown by its work.  It held its cowardly, treacherous members in hand by fear.  To disobey an order, to reveal a secret, to betray a comrade was death, and so there was no leaking.  To obtain revenge on an enemy it was only necessary to complain to the head man of the lodge; all the members of the order everywhere were bound to assist in the work of retribution if called upon; the wild and difficult nature of the country in which they operated principally was in their favor, and hence men were surprised and killed by an overwhelming force, none of whom they could identify, even if they lived long enough to tell the story of the assault.  The story of the outrages coolly confessed by Kelly as the work of himself and his companions would rival the Newgate Calendar.[1]  He testified that the object of the order, as he saw it during all the time he was connected with it was

Beating and Killing Men.

            "If anybody," said he, "had anything to do, he would get the body-master to send off for men to do it; for instance, if a man wanted another man beat or shot he would tell his body-master, this body master would send off to some other body-master, who would call two or three other men together who could be trusted to do a clean job."  Robbery was another branch of the society's peculiar work.  The rules of the society as to obedience to orders were very strict.  The body-master was an autocrat.  The penalty for a first disobedience of his commands was a fine or three months' suspension; for a third, expulsion; while if a man was selected "to do a job" and did not do it, "he might run the chance of being shot himself."

            "Suppose," said the examining counsel, "you had refused to join in killing Rea?"

            "The members would have laid out for me and shot me," was the sententious answer.

            At the time of Rea's murder Patrick Hester was Body-master of the Locust Gap division of Mollie Maguires.  He had been County Delegate (the highest office in the county) for years; but having had the misfortune to be apprehended and sent to the Eastern Penitentiary for a short time for some offence, he found himself under a cloud when he returned to his people, and obliged to take a more humble position.  Peter McHugh was County Delegate of Northumberland at that time.  Tully was a member of Hester's division, as were all the others concerned in the assassination.


            As has been shown, Patrick Hester was the projector of the murder of Alexander W. Rea.  At that time he was the leading spirit of the Mollie Maguires in the Schuylkill coal region, if not in America.  His influence over the Irish element among the mines, whether Mollie Maguires or not, was almost boundless, and he used it to such bad purpose that his name was a terror to all peacefully disposed citizens, and justly so, for he, more surely than judge or jury, held the power of life and death over them.  The story of Rea's death shows how easily he could compass a man's destruction.  Disappointed in one nefarious scheme, he had but to point to another, and more men than he needed sprang to do his deadliest bidding.  And yet he owed his power to neither talent nor manliness, but simply to fortuitous circumstances and a brutal disposition.  He was a low, coarse, ignorant man, of the type which under other circumstances produces the ward politician, with cunning enough to take advantage of other men's weaknesses and heartlessness enough to keep his interests and his sympathies always well apart.  The Mollies demanded an unscrupulous leader, who would gratify their thirst for blood and plan for them robbery and revenge.  Such a man they found in Hester.  Rea was one of his friends, and often gave him friendly advice and assistance in calculating the accounts and arranging the affairs of his office as tax collector of his township; but friendship and gratitude were not permitted to stand in the way when robbery and murder were to be accomplished, and all the remorse Hester ever showed for the crime was when he went to visit Donohue in his cell, while both were waiting for trial.  "Pat, Pat," said Donohue, "that was a poor go, killing Rea, wasn't it?"  "It was so," replied Hester, "and if I had to get him shot again I would never do it.  But we're all right; we can at any time get from 5 to 500 to swear that we wasn't there at the time."

            McHugh and Tully were working miners, and so far as known, might have lived and died, quiet and respectable citizens had they not fallen under Hester's evil influence.  But being Irishmen and Mollie Maguires, they became attached to his lodge and were bound to do his bidding.  As assassins, they richly deserved their fate, and the community is well rid of them; but it is more to be congratulated on the death of a leader in crime like Patrick Hester than those of a dozen subordinates like Tully and Peter McHugh.



[1] The Newgate Calendar was originally a series of obituaries of execution from Newgate prison in London compiled by the keeper of the prison.  It later became a series of biographies on the famous prisoners from Newgate.  It tended to embellish the exploits of its subjects and also to borrow stories from other sources.