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The Crouse murder case — an unsolved 19th century whodunit

Some old-time mystery stories supposedly began with the dramatic line, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and in the case of the murder of Fort Plain farmer Henry Crouse at the Crouse’s lonely, wind-swept, Minden farmhouse the night of March 9, 1893, it was, according to contemporary newspapers, indeed a very dark and stormy night. Inclement weather, however, didn’t protect Mr. Crouse from being murdered.

March 11’s Gloversville Daily Republican presented the unfortunate headline, “Shot By A Burglar” and announced, “Thursday evening, well-known farmer Henry Crouse, living about a mile and a half from the village of Fort Plain, was shot and instantly killed by a burglar. About 9:30, Mrs. Crouse heard someone trying the front door in a forcible manner and immediately blew out the light and cried out to her husband that burglars were there. The front door was broken in just as Mrs. Crouse rushed into the hall. The burglar struck her on the side of the head, then darted up the stairway and reached the upper floor in time to meet Mr. Crouse on his way down to assist his wife. The burglar thrust a revolver into his face and fired, killing him instantly. In the meantime, Mrs. Crouse had come up the stairs and grappled with the murderer, who beat her off, rushed back down the stairs, jumped through a window, and made his escape.”

Mrs. Crouse, the Republican reported, labored through heavy snow to the nearest neighbor for help, but “the neighbor was afraid to go out of the house and Mrs. Crouse was forced to remain there until morning, when a passing milk man was notified and carried the news to Fort Plain. Mrs. Crouse could give no description of the burglar.”

Nor was she any help later.

The March 17 Hornellsville Weekly Tribune revealed, “Mrs. Crouse, whose husband was so mysteriously murdered last Thursday night, has been pronounced insane by Dr. Jackson. She is so violent, it takes two men to hold her. She has always been considered eccentric. There is no clue to the murderer. She is carefully watched night and day.”

Although early articles speculated Mrs. Crouse herself had murdered her husband, this view was never taken seriously by authorities. The more responsible Fort Plain Register assured readers, “The impression Mrs. Crouse was the murderer was due to ill-considered newspaper stories and ignorance of the manner in which the crime was committed.”

Remaining virtually unmanageable, the violent Mrs. Crouse was shortly committed to the Utica Asylum.

The same Hornellsville Tribune issue reported, “At Fonda, District Attorney Fish has asked the Montgomery County Supervisors to appropriate money for a detective to capture the murderer of Mr. Crouse.”

The supervisors apparently complied, as the Tribune later noted, “The Crouse murder is still an unsolved mystery. If Detective Price has discovered anything he has not disclosed it. The Coroner’s Inquest has not succeeded in placing guilt of the crime on anybody.”

The inquest lasted for days, covered by the Gloversville Daily Leader and numerous other valley papers. Much gossip and useless opinions reached daylight, but nothing of substance was learned beyond the general belief that one suspect, Frank Marsh, was a harmless near-do-well and part-time alcoholic who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Marsh was temporarily arrested on the extremely circumstantial evidence that he’d been seen drunk that night, that his boots were the same size as footprints found in the snow outside Crouse’s farmhouse, and that he was seen the following morning in Fort Plain with his ‘pantaloons’ wet almost to the knees. When called to testify, Marsh declared, “I slept at home the night of the murder. Got home at 10 o’clock. I was intoxicated. Got my feet wet the next morning pulling up ice with Dusty Norton. Never owned a revolver. Had not heard about the murder before I was arrested.”

Although at first glance Frank Marsh appeared a convenient candidate for the vacant position of murderer, at the heavily-attended inquest there were just too many people testifying they’d seen him the evening of the murder in various other parts of Fort Plain, “carrying a heavy load” as one person testified, and generally appearing obnoxious.

Even his father Joseph testified, “Frank came home on the night of the murder at 10 o’clock. He was drunk but wound the clock before going to bed. He ate something and I Iighted him to bed. Frank never carried firearms. Frank has since been at home sober.”

No doubt he had been: it was the safest place to be until the clamor subsided.

Time passed, and Montgomery County’s supervisors probably began wondering if they’d ever get their money’s worth from Detective Price, a New York dandy adept at selling tales of puffed-up adventures to the Police Gazette. They didn’t, and as for a burglary motive, it was long-believed Mr. & Mrs. Crouse had money — lots of it — and kept it in the house.

The Republican repeated this rumor, noting, “The murdered man was second cousin to D. Edgar Crouse, the late Syracuse millionaire, and was estimated to be worth from eighty to one hundred thousand dollars.”

True, the Crouse couple were very eccentric: “It was said Mrs. Crouse would sit up half the night and Mr. Crouse the other half, for fear of burglars. Apparently, their fear was justified. The Crouse case was never solved.

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