Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Man Who Shot Mayor Richards

Photo: Mayor John Richards

Excerpts from the book, "The Man Who Shot Mayor Richards" by Carl L. Stanton.

Probably the most notorious event in Bunker Hill occurred in 1897, when Fenwick Y. Hedley, editor of the Gazette news, shot and killed John R. Richards, the city's mayor.  The story was sensationalized by big-city newspapers and the rival Bunker Hill News.  It was mentioned but briefly in the Gazette issues of 1897 and 1898, as one would suppose.

John R. Richards, Mayor of Bunker Hill was shot by Fenwick Y. Hedley.  The dead man, a bachelor, was 64 years of age. His assailant, who is now in jail at Carlinville, where he was taken at his own request to escape the threatened vengeance of a mob, was 50.

Mr. Hedley was married ten years ago to Miss Sanborne of St. Louis.

A woman was the cause of the tragedy.  Her name is Helen Alice Brown, she is is 26 years old.  She lives with her parents at the Monument House, of which her father is the landlord.  The direct cause of the tragedy was jealousy.

Photo: Fenwick Hedley

For several years, Mr. Hedley was organist of the Bunker Hill Congregational Church.  He was occupying this position when Miss Brown became the soprano.  Both interested in the world of medley, they grew to be interested in one another and a warm attachment was the result.  That this existed is admitted by the prisoner's relatives and friends, by those who where intimate with the Mayor and by the father and mother of the young woman.

Mr. Richards was infatuated with Miss Brown.  He had begged her to marry him, entreated her parents, and then had threatened her.  Richards accused Hedley of preventing the marriage and enmity between the men was the talk of the village.

The assault that had such a tragic ending was the third within six months.  In January, Hedley was knocked down by the jealous lover.  The attack was repeated in May, soon after Richards was elected mayor and yesterday came the third and to the striker the fatal blow, for the editor was prepared.

Shortly before noon yesterday Capt. Hedley, he was a captain in the Civil War, visited the G.A.R. Post in Bunker Hill, and he went there to sign a paper which had been issued at a meeting the night before.  Having done this, he walked downstairs and entered the store for a chat with James McPherson, the proprietor.  While they were talking the noon-day whistle blew.  A young woman came out of the Mayor's office and walked down the street.  She was Helen Alice Brown, who worked there as a stenographer.  She bowed to Mr. Hedley, who at this time was standing on the pavement.  She had gone but half a block when Mr. McPherson caught Hedley by the arm and exclaimed: "Look out, there comes Richards, and he had blood in his eyes."  "I am ready for him now" was all Hedley said.

The Mayor approached walking rapidly.  The editor stood still on the pavement.  The two were within reach of hands when the Mayor said: "Why don't you speak when you meet me on the street, Hedley"?  The reply was not overheard by those nearby.  It was followed by a blow delivered by Richards.

There was a cry from McPherson, "Look out!"  Hedley had a revolver and was taking steady aim.  Richard's hand reached into his hip pocket.  Still the editor did not fire.  The Mayor withdrew the hand empty.  He stooped down and seemed to be reaching for some plow points lying on the sidewalk.

Two shots in quick succession rang out and the Mayor staggered.  With an effort he started after Hedley who was walking rapidly up the street.  He shouted, "Coward, you coward."  Just then a cry was heard.  It was a woman's scream and those who had witnessed the tragedy looked down the street and saw Helen Alice Brown.

They carried the Mayor to his residence and Dr. Bley and Milton were summoned.  The Mayor had left instructions but a month before to telegraph at one a Dr. Mudd in St. Louis if ever he as seriously hurt or ill.

At 2 o'clock, Dr. H. H. Mudd, in St. Louis received the telegram from Bunker Hill urging his attendance, as the Mayor had been shot.  The train arrived at 4 o'clock.  A hasty examination showed the surgeon that the bullet wound was in the right side, just above the hip and had cut some of the vital organs.  The other wound, in the arm, was not of consequence.  An attempt was made to sew up the wound, but it was futile.  Dr. Mudd said nothing could save the patient.

The was the last testimony on the defense and the case was given into the hands of the attorneys.  Stirring and convincing speeches were made by both prosecution and the defense.  Thursday evening at 10:30 o'clock, the case was submitted to the jury.  Returns were brought yesterday morning at the opening of court.  The verdict read not guilty.

After his acquittal, Hedley divorced his wife and he and Miss Brown went to live in St. Louis.

In the Nov. 8, 1898 issue of the Bunker Hill News: "With the Marriage of Fenwick Y. Hedley and Miss Brown, the finishing touches have been added to probably the most romantic as well as one of the most sensational affairs that ever involved men and women in real life."

...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories at

--Cite this story: The Bunker Hill IL Historical Society. "A Look Back in Bunker Hill History." Bunker Hill Gazette-News, January 3, 2013.

Carl L. Stanton. "Newspaper and personal accounts of the 1897 shooting of Mayor J. R. Richards of Bunker Hill, Illinois by the editor of the local newspaper" In The Man Who Shot Mayor Richards, 2003. Provided by the Bunker Hill IL Historical Society.

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