The Williamsport Sun and Lycoming Democrat


November 29, 1876





Molly Maguires Arrested for a Crime Committed 12 years ago.


            A Scranton letter says: The magnitude of the exciting political events of the period seems to overshadow every other important occurrence, and the public mind has scarcely had time to pursue anything else for the past three weeks.  Yet in the heart of the coal fields, which has been the theater of the most turbulent drama that has ever disturbed the social life or terrorized the minds of any people, a chapter of crime has been unfolded within a few days that surpasses in weird interest any acts hitherto revealed in connection with the Molly Maguire organization.  This strange story turns upon the arrest of Pat Hester, the "Pet of the Molly Maguires," who has been captured for the murder of a man twelve years ago.  He was arrested shortly after the murder and tried in the courts of Columbia County, but discharged for want of sufficient evidence.  The oath bound secrecy of the Molly Maguire organization, of which Hester was the hero and dictator for many years, shielded him from the law, and emboldened by what he deemed a stroke of good luck, he has since been sowing the whirlwind, the harvest of which he is about to reap.

            The society that has protected him had been demoralized and completely routed.  The murder for which Hester had just been arrested is that of Alexander Rea, a mining superintendent, who for his kindness to those under his charge, as well as his fidelity to the interests of his employers, was universally esteemed.  He incurred the displeasure of Hester or the society to which he belonged and accordingly was doomed.  The deed was committed near Centralia, Northumberland county, on the 17th of October, 1857.  The superintendent was on his way to the colliery to make his usual monthly payments, and stopping at a secluded spot on the road to permit his horse to drink from a spring, he was attacked.  The Molly Maguire Society, although then in existence, was not known generally, and Superintendent Rea entertained no fear of an assault.  He was dragged from his wagon and forced to the ground by a gang led by Hester, who told him to prepare for death.  On his knees he begged them to spare his life for the sake of his wife and children and he would give them all he was worth in the world.  They told him they were bound to have his life, and again bade him to prepare for his doom, as they could afford him a short shrift.  He entreated them not to kill him then, but if it was at all possible to permit him to see and embrace his little ones and his wife before he died.  The request was answered with a blow on the head and an oath from the leader, who commanded his criminal comrades to "finish him," and he was immediately killed, robbed of his money, watch, and other valuables, and the body was left beside the road.

            Shortly afterwards Hester and two or three others were arrested for the crime, but owing to the ramifications of the order to which they belonged, and of which the authorities were not aware at the time, they were able to prove an "alibi" by several witnesses from a distant part of the country.  It had since been demonstrated that the "alibi" defense has been effectively used by the Molly Maguires to cover up the tracks of the members of the order.  One of its chief provisions was to provide witnesses who were noted for the plausibility with which they swore falsely and the doggedness with which they clung to their testimony.  It was in this way that Hester was saved from the gallows twelve years ago.

            A few days ago another man who is suspected of being an accomplice of Hester in the murder, fell into the hands of the coal and iron police Officers Grim and Brink who have been on their trail for some time past.  He gave his name to Peter McHugh, and states that he lived in Centralia, the scene of Rea's murder, twelve years ago, and was county delegate of the Molly Maguires at the time of the murder.  There was found on his person a pistol and billy, and at his house were discovered several other deadly weapons, besides an old gold watch which it is supposed Rea wore when he was killed.  The arrest of these men is deemed very important as the murder of Rea was the first prominent deed of blood committed by the members of that society in the coal regions.  The feeling excited in Centralia, where Rea was a favorite, is most intense, and no trouble or expense will be spared to discover every link of the lost chain that has so long bound up the secret of his assassination in so much mystery.

            During the preliminary hearing before the Justice, one of the witnesses mentioned incidentally that Hester was one of the gang who made a desperate attempt on the life of Claude White, another mining boss who was attacked on his way to pay men employed at his colliery.  Mr. White, being somewhat nervous traveling along a lonely road with so much money, took two officers Messrs, Clouser and Bernhardt with him, and on arriving at a point where their path was overshadowed by the luxuriant growth of the trees, they noticed four men skulking by the wayside.  One of them exclaimed "That's our man," and thereupon Clouser and Bernhardt jumped out of the wagon.  Mr. White called out, "Don't leave me along." and Bernhardt came and sat beside him in the wagon again.  Clouser, who stood on the road, was attacked by a fellow named Finelly, who fired at him.  The officer, drawing his revolver, also fired, and the robber fell shot through the shoulder.  His companions fled and escaped.  The wounded robber was fatally injured, and died in jail a week afterwards.  This attempt on the life of Claude White was made a month after the murder of Rea. 

            Clouser, the officer who shot Finelly in the attack on White, has since been murdered at Hazelton while in the discharge of duty, and White, who was then a noble specimen of manhood, has pined away until he is now a mere shadow of his former self.

            There is ever prospect now that the leaders of the organization that has scattered desolation and death and terror so freely throughout the coal regions will reap the whirlwind of crime that they have been sowing so long.


February 14, 1877


Pat Hester's Trial.


Kelly the Bum, Telling About the Mollies, Their Crimes and Their Politics.


            Bloomsburg, Pa., February 10.

Immediately after the court opened this morning Hon. John W. Ryon, upon the part of the defense, made a motion that Graham, the alleged accessory of Hester, McHugh and Tully, should be released from jail.  Great surprise was caused by Mr. Ryon's motion.  He took the ground that the evidence against Graham was not sufficient to effect a conviction, and that he had been confined in jail for several months.  He argued that Graham was entitled to a release under the two-term imprisonment provision of the State laws, as he had been confined for that length of time.  Judge Elwell thereupon ordered the Sheriff to grant Graham his liberty.  No objection was made upon the part of the State.  Mr. Ryon then resumed his sever cross-examination of Kelly, "the bum."  The cross-questioning by Mr. Ryon took up both sessions of the day, all but about ten minutes in the afternoon, when Hon. F. W. Hughes commenced his redirect examination.  While undergoing the questioning of Mr. Ryon, Kelly stated that in the fall of 1868 he was engaged in the electioneering among the members of the Molly Maguires in the interest of the Democratic party, under the direction of Hester and other members, and was paid for it during the same year.  He spent considerable time traveling about from place to place and beating men.  He did this at the command of the officers of the Mollies.  He said that at the meeting with Hester, the day before the murder, the men agreed that they would rob Rea and also take his life.  Afterward Hester expressed regret that Rea had been killed.  During the cross-examination Kelly acknowledged that he had committed a large number of robberies at Locust Gap, Frenchtown, Wilkesbarre, and other places.  He did not commence stealing until after he joined the Molly Maguires, and was ordered to do so by its members.  A few minutes Mr. Hughes opened the redirect examination, court adjourned until Monday morning.

                        Bloomsburg, Pa. Feb. 11. 1877.

            The excitement incident to the trial of Hester, McHugh and Tully for the murder of Alexander Rea was intensified yesterday during the cross-examination of Kelly "the bum," whose revelations of rascality came in such quick and surprising succession as to almost take one's breath away.  His story seems like the romance of ruffiansim; but so far the counsel for the defense, Hon. J. W. Ryan, with all his ready fund of legal fencing, had been unable to baffle or confuse him.  Kelly can neither read nor write, but his memory is remarkable, and it seems as if he could not utter a sentence without telling of some unexpected crime concocted by the Mollies and participated in by himself.


            He told how the Mollies of Schuylkill played a two-fold part in politics, the leaders working in the interest of rival candidates, selling their influence and the votes of the rank and file and putting the money in their own pockets.  The witness instanced the Fiske-Case contest for district attorney of Schuylkill, and narrated how he, with some of the prisoners, worked for the rivals at the same time.  On one occasion Fiske furnished a pass to take a gang from Locust Gap to Sunbury, and the leaders got Case to give them their fare, and then divided the money between them.


            The fiendish character of the female Mollies was illustrated by the recital of a startling story as to how Pat Hester's wife engaged a band of desperadoes to go and cut off Mrs. O'Brien's hair for revenge.  The gang, including Kelly, went and tried to get in through the windows of O'Brien's house, regardless of the fact that the family was there.  They finally broke in, and Kelly says that when he was going to scalp Mrs. O'Brien somebody knocked him down with an axe and the desperadoes dispersed.


            The murder of Alexander Rea was, he said, suggested by Hester on the night of the 16th of October, 1868, because on that same night he intended to go down the mountain to assist in robbing Claude White, another superintendent, suspected of having a large sum of money, but he missed the train, and then, to make up what he considered a great loss, he planned the attack on Rea.  Subsequently a man named Jack Smith, while speaking to the witness, told him he understood the Order intended to get men from Philadelphia to rob Rea, but if they carried out that intention he would leave the society, because he thought it a disgrace to get outsiders to come and do their work in that county.

Over the Dead Body.

            The witness sent a thrill through the audience when he described the chaffering of the murderers over Rea's dead body for the overcoat he wore, and their final decision of not taking it because it was riddled with bullets. Their division of the $60 found in the pocketbook, their fleeing from justice, the wandering of Hester and the rest to evade capture, formed a remarkable chapter in the history of this great crime.  Kelly said it had been a burden on his own mind for nine long years, and, although he had been in prison at different times for various other offences, the thought of it forever pursued him and often tortured him in his lonely cell.  His cross-examination was concluded in the afternoon, and Hon. F. W. Hughes was opening a redirect examination when the court adjourned until Monday morning. 

            Detective McParlan and a body guard are still in town, and it is possible he will be heard early in the week.



February 21, 1877




Desperate Effort of the Mollie Leader to Escape the Gallows.

            Bloomsburg, Pa., February 19.- In the Hester trial Michael Graham, the alleged accessory after the fact, who was released on the 11th inst. by order of the Court, was sworn this morning.  He denies that Kelly ever gave him Rea's watch, or that he ever had it.  He also testified that Tully and McHugh were working with him at the time the murder was committed.  The defense called several witness to prove the bad reputation of Kelly, and that he would not be believed under oath, among them being ex-State Senator Colihan, of Schuylkill county.  Several of the witnesses were members of the Mollie Maguires order, so their evidence does not bear as heavily against Kelly as was expected.  Thomas Casey corroborated the witnesses examined on Saturday as regarded Hester's being in McLaughland's saloon the night before the killing of Rea. 

            Maria and Helen Hester were recalled and testified that their father went to Lo Salle in order to avoid being arrested for running and illicit distillery in the woods near his house, and not to avoid arrest upon a charge of being connected with Rea's murder, as was alleged by Kelly, The defense are making a strong fight, but some of their witnesses are hard characters.



February 28, 1877

Murder in the First Degree.



Hester, Tully and McHugh, the Molly Maguire Assassins, Convicted at Last Alexander Rea's Death to be Avenged Thrilling Scene in Court on the Rendition of the Jury's Verdict on a Nine Years' Old Crime Fifteen Mollies Waiting for Halters.


            Bloomsburg, Pa., Feb. 24, 1877.  The excitement incident to the great Molly Maguire murder trial reached a thrilling climax to-day, and gave rise to a scene such as was never before witnessed in Bloomsburg.  At half-past eight o'clock Hon. F. W. Hughes resumed his powerful closing speech for the Commonwealth, which had been interrupted by the adjournment of the court last evening.  The prisoners, Hester and Tully were accompanied by their wives, but McHugh was alone, with no friends to share his anxiety.  The court room was packed, the fair sex being present in large numbers; and in this respect the concluding scene was in strong contrast to the opening, when not a lady was to be seen in court except Hester's wife and daughters, who have been constantly beside him during the terrible ordeal.


            The address of Mr. Hughes was listened to with eager interest. He reviewed the testimony closely, and showed that in its main features the evidence of Kelly "the Bum" relating to the plot and the deed remained unshaken despite the vigorous cross-examination to which he had been subjected.  Hughes detailed the scene of the killing of Rea with a weird, passionate eloquence that called forth frequent expressions of subdued horror from the packed audience; and during this part of the speech Mrs. Read and her daughters were so overcome that they were compelled to retire from the room.  The firing of the fatal bullet into the expiring man's brain, the bringing of the body to the bereaved home, the agony of the grief-stricken family all were depicted in touching terms that melted many an eye to tears.  After this, however, came a surge of indignation when the speaker laid the crime to the society of the Molly Maguires, which he characterized as "hell-born organization," and turning to Hester, Tully and McHugh, he pointed them out as its votaries and the men whose hands were dyed red in the blood of Alexander Rea.  The address of Mr. Hughes, which occupied nine hours in all, closed with an earnest appeal for a verdict against the prisoners in accordance with the testimony.


            At the close of the speech Colonel Freeze' of the counsel for the defence, moved for the discharge of the jury on the ground that Mr. Hughes had misrepresented the proofs, and argued upon matters outside of the testimony in the case indicted to excite the fears and perjudice(sic) the jurors to procure a verdict.  The motion was ordered to be filed.


            Judge Elwell proceeded to charge the jury.  He gave an exhaustive review of the testimony, explaining the different legal points involved, and abstaining from indulging in a single sensational phrase or opinion that might help to overturn the most dispassionate mind.  His charge took and hour in its delivery.


            At one o'clock the case was committed to the jury, and the court adjourned to await the verdict.  The town was very much excited in anticipation of the result, which it was thought would be made known about eight o'clock this evening.  Bets were freely made on the virdict(sic), and just when every one was busy guessing what it would be the solemn tones of the Court House bell were heard, starting all with the announcement that the jury had arrived at a decision.  Instantly there was a rush from all parts of the town to the court room.  The people poured, pell mell, wildly through the doors, crushing and knocking each other down in their eagerness to obtain admission.  Precisely at three o'clock the jurors came into court and the prisoners, looking pale and restless, were marched into the room the observed of every eye.  The suddenness of the verdict foreboded (illegible).  Hester wife and two daughters sate beside him, very much agitated, and every heart was throbbing feverishly for the first word to be spoken.  The Court House bell tolled its last and the words


were whispered from one to another.  Judge Elwell admonished those present not to indulge in any demonstrations, no matter what the verdict might be.  To the query, "Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon your verdict in the case of Patrick Hester?" the foreman answered, "We have;" adding in slow, solemn tones, "it is


            Then the pent up agony of Hester's daughters was broken in a flood of tears, and Mrs. Hester, who sat as pale as death beside her husband, with drooping eyes and aspen lips, fainted away.  A brief commotion ensued, after which the poll of the jurors was proceeded with, each rising in his place and answering.  "Guilty of murder in the first degree."


            The same verdict was rendered in the case of Patrick Tully and Peter McHugh, and during this solemn stage of the proceedings the situation was painfully distressing, the women moaning and weeping bitterly.

            The verdict having been rendered, the jury were discharged, and Colonel Freeze, for the defence, made a motion for a rule in arrest of judgment and to show cause why a new trial should not be granted.  The rule was entered accordingly, to be argued next week, and the Court adjourned.

            The prisoners were led back to their cells, and the great audience dispersed.  It is safe to say that no new trial will be granted, there being no good grounds upon which to base the order, so that Hester, Tully and McHugh, who swell the list of Molly Maguire prisoners now under sentence of death to fifteen, will doubtless have to meet the fearful fate merited by their crime.  This is the first verdict of murder in the first degree ever found in this Court, and it is said that other arrests for Molly Maguire outrages will rapidly follow.