Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Female-on-Female Violence: Ellen Athey - 1880

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): When the OHIO DEMOCRAT went to press on Wednesday of last week but few of the thrilling facts and circumstances which now surround this appalling tragedy had then come to light, but come they did and that so fast they trod upon each other’s heels, and in such bloody, fiendish aspect as to stamp the horrible crime as murder most foul, strange and unnatural.

Mary E. Seneff, a comely girl of eighteen years, had been living on Stonecreek in York township with the family of David Crites and left there, it is alleged, on account of the improper advances made to her by Alexander Crites some time in March last, after which she had spent portion of her time, down near to the date of her murder, with her sister Mrs. Ressler, at Barr’s Mills, west of Winfield in this county, and at New Philadelphia. The last four days of her life, the 25th 26th, 27th and 28th of May, she spent in the employ of Henry Athey’s family, on the David Crites farm in York township, as a servant girl to help clean house.

The father of the murdered girl at one time was a resident of York township and about fifteen years ago moved to Davies county, Indiana. Mary Seneff was said to be a good looking, modest girl, and was well liked by her acquaintances. She was a niece of Joseph and George Fisher who reside on Stonecreek, and a cousin of the Crites family. Mary Seneff had been in this county about a year, having left her home in Indiana to visit her sister at Barr’s Mills, as above stated.


“Blood hath strange organs to discourse withal;
It is a clamorous orator.”

Wonderfully so in this case. On Tuesday morning of last week the body of Mary Seneff was found floating in Sugarcreek just below the iron bridge and half a mile south of Dover. The body was wrapped in an old coverlet and a sheet, and inclosed with it were some bricks, coal ashes, cabbage stocks and newly cut hay—mute but powerful witnesses that pointed to their counterparts subsequently found at the Athey residence.

The body had undergone an advanced stage of decomposition; part of the flesh had already sluffed off the legs and right arm: the nose and eyes had disappeared and the teeth had fallen out.

As we stated last week, Coroner Bowers was notified of the fact, and a post mortem examination of the body was had, revealing the conditions as then stated, and the fact that a diabolical murder had been committed.

The excitement ran high on Tuesday in Dover, the people feeling greatly incensed over the heinous crime supposed to have been committed in their midst. It was soon ascertained that Mary Seneff had been missing fur some time and that her sister, Mrs. Ressler, had tried in vain to find her whereabouts, except that the Crites and Athey families had said that she bad left there early Saturday morning, the 29th of May, to go to Dover to hunt work.

It now become apparent that foul play had done its work, and suspicion, unerring as the compass, pointed toward the Atheys; whereupon, Justice Newburg issued a warrant for the arrest of Henry Athey and wife and Alexander Crites, and placed the same in the hands of constable Lockner, who, with several assistants proceeded to the farm of David Crites on Stonecreek and at about 3 o’clock, Wednesday morning, made the arrest and brought the prisoners to Dover and thence to New Philadelphia, and committed them to jail to await their preliminary examination.


When the body of the murdered girl was examined by Drs. Branning & Selden it was discovered that the deed of blood had been committed with some sharp instrument, most probably with an ax. The skull was fractured over the right eye; the left hand had a gash on the back part and the flesh seemed to be cut from the elbow yearly to the wrist on the outside of the arm. There was a cut crosswise on the inside of the wrist and a deep gash two inches long between the elbow and shoulder. From the appearance of the wounds it seemed that the poor victim had tried to defend herself and in doing so received these various wounds in the arm. She was also cut on the shoulder and directly back of the same shoulder, the instrument literally severing the bone. There was still another out lost below the shoulder-blade on the left side some two or three inches in length, and near the hip another cut about three inches long and one inch deep. There was a gash three inches in length on the right side of the chest near the arm-pit. A cut an inch long was found in the face across the cheek-bone near the right eye; also frightful cuts on each side of the neck near the base of the brain, nearly severing the head from the body. The law was broken near the chin; the skull mattered in with some blunt instrument, in fact the poor victim appeared to have been literally chopped and hammered to death.


Examinations at the Athey premises developed the well-grounded theory that the body had been buried in an ash-pile about twenty feet from the corner of the house and no doubt it would have remained there but for the stench and the earnest hunt that was being made for the missing girl. The murder evidently took place in the bud-room down stairs in the Athey house and between 10 p. m. on the night of the 28th of May and day-light the next morning. The girl had doubtless gone to bed, as she had no clothing on when found in the creek except chemise and drawers, and the cuts in these garments corresponded with the wounds on the body, while the skirts found with the body had no cuts whatever, indicating that she was murderously assaulted in all probability while asleep.

In this connection we may state that farther investigations at the Athey house show that the bed clothing, the bed tick and the railing of the bed stead all bear marks of heavy blows with some sharp instrument like an ax. But the climax of overpowering evidence that the foul and bloody murder was perpetrated right there and under the circumstances indicated, was reached on Friday forenoon of list week when it was discovered that the wall near the bed was bespattered with blood, and that streams of blood bad ran down the hewed logs and chinking and behind the baseboard and stood in puddles under the floor. The room had been carefully scrubbed, whitewashed and papered, carpet and bedclothes washed, but notwithstanding all this the vigilant eye of an outraged public pierced this dismal abode and made such discoveries as point to the fact that murder will out and that the blood of Mary Seneff cries aloud against the perpetrators of the crime.


The preliminary examination of the three persons arrested took place at the court-house on Thursday the 17th and lasted till 2:30 p. m. on Friday. The most intense excitement prevailed during the trial, and many feared a breach of the peace by some of the indignant populace but, happily, law and order were maintained. The court room was literally packed with people and many could not get in for want of room.

Prosecutor Mitchell was assisted by T C. Ferrel, W. G. Baily, J. T. O’Donnel and J. W. Albaugh, for the State.

The defence was conducted by A. W. Patrick, A. L. Neely, J. A. D. Richards and F. Douthitt.

The evidence introduced was but a confirmation of the leading facts and feature of the case as noted in this article, as tending to implicate the parties arrested in the murder of Mary Seneff.

As we stated, at 2:30 p. m., on Friday, the State rested, and the defense waiving examination the case was left to the court Justice Newburg, after a short consultation with Justice Graham, announced as the opinion of the court that there was probable cause to hold the prisoners for the crime of murder and ordered that they be committed to jail without bail.

When the court made the announcement just stated, Alex. Crites and Henry Athey broke down and wept, while Mrs. Athey sat stolid, apparently unmoved and unconcerned. They were immediately remanded to jail under a strong guard where they will doubtless remain until the convening of the Common Pleas court in November, to await the action of the Grand Jury.


Ellen Athey, charged with this crime, is a daughter of David Crites who, as we have stated, resides on Stonecreek about three miles south-west of New Philadelphia and is the second wife of Henry Athey, he having been married to a sister of Ellens’s. His first wife died about five years ago. Athey’s family at present consists of his wile Ellen, two boys aged 10 and 7 years, and a bright little girl 16 months old.

Alex. Crites is a single man 23 years of age and has been a teacher of common schools in the country for some time.

The David Crites family consists of 6 persons now. Mrs. Crites is the mother of seven children, all living except the first wife of Henry Athey; of the children living there are three boys and three girls – the youngest of which is 17 years old.

The public mind appears to rest upon the perplexing question: What motive led to this fiendish murder of poor Mary Seneff? Was it jealousy, that merciless destroyer, compared to which

“All other passions have their hour of thinking,
And hear the voice of reason,
While this alone breaks at the first suspicion into phrenzy,
And sweeps the soul in tempests”—

Or was it a cool, premeditated murder to wipe out a witness to some other high crime committed by the perpetrator or perpetrators of this? It is possible the public may yet know all the facts of this bloody tragedy, as it is almost certain the guilty actor or actors in it will have to atone to the offended law.

[“The Murder Of Miss Mary E. Seneff. - Arrest of Henry Athey and Wife and Alexander Crites on Suspicion of Being the Murderers. - Their Preliminary Hearing Before Justice Newburg, assisted by Justice Graham, at New Philad’a. - The Prisoners Committed to Jail on a Charge of Murder In the First - Degree to Await the Action of the Grand Jury At the November Term Of Court.” The Ohio Democrat (New Philadelphia, Oh.), Jun. 24, 1880, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Ellen Athey, who has been a prisoner in jail here for several months, charged with the murder of Mary Seneff, of which many people of this county have doubtless heard, escaped from jail on Friday night last, after midnight. She has for some time been confined in an iron cell, or cage, in a lower room in the northwest corner of the jail. The room was supposed to be pretty thoroughly secured by stout iron work across the windows, boiler-iron lining over the two doors, and proportionately secure fastenings about the door locks. One of the doors of the room opens on the porch at the north side, and through this the prisoner made her exit. Mrs. Athey’s little child, as is generally known, has shared its wicked mother’s imprisonment from the first, and for the humane purpose of letting her have access during the very cold nights to the stove and the warmer parts of the room, her cell door was left open. With enjoying the little privilege she conceived the idea of making her escape, and the way she did it exhibited some mechanical ingenuity at least, however fallacious her hopes and calculations of eluding capture – alone, friendless, and outcast of that terrible windy night. She heated the poker red hot and with it burned deep into the door frame bear the bolts that held the lock staple, and in this manner loosened the staple and opened the door. In a few hours Elizabeth Cardery, who lives on Front street, west end, New Philadephia, informed the Sheriff that Ellen Athey was at her house. Mr. Lyons lost no time in going to the house  and found his truant prisoner snugly covered up in bed, from which she was at once taken back to her old quarters in jail, and for this attempt at liberty will not likely be allowed the freedom of her room in the future. Mrs. Athey, when caught, made no demonstrations, as we are informed, save the shedding of a few tears, but returned quietly with the Sheriff. She left her babe in the cell to get along as best it could, and the little thing suffered some from cold during her absence.

[“Ellen Athey Escapes From Jail, - And Is Soon Recaptured.” The Ohio Democrat (New Philadelphia, Oh.), Jan. 30, 1881, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): Canal Dover, Feb. 26. – Mrs. Elizabeth Deldine, placed on the witness stand this afternoon, is the most important witness stand this afternoon, is the most important witness the prosecution in the Athey murder trial has produced. She said:

I live in New Philadelphia. Mrs. Athey came to my house the night, she escaped from jail, after midnight, and asked concealment till Sunday night. She was out of jail and was going to stay out; she would get her hair shingled and dig coal at Newark as a man; her husband would take her there Sunday night. She talked till past 3 o’clock. She said the murder was caused by her dreaming she saw Athey and Mary Seneff up in the woods together; this started her jealousy. She said she heard a light knocking at her door when Seneff worked for David Crites, in the spring of 1880; she got up and looked out of a window and saw Seneff go from the door, pick up an armful of wood and take it to Crites’ house; she said that on May 28 her husband was working in a salt well six miles away; he promised to come home that night but did not; she and Seneff were over at Crites’ in the evening; when undressing she accused Seneff of having rapped at the door; she denied it, and said she was not that kind of girl. They had a few words and retired; Mary went to sleep, but she lay awake thinking till midnight; Seneff was going away next morning and when Athey did not come she thought they were going to run off again. This she determined should never be accomplished. She up and got an axe. When near the bed her heart failed, but when she thought she would never see her husband again she struck. The first blow was above the eye. Seneff was lying on the back and side of her face. When she struck Seneff she threw her feet out of bed, and the next blow was on her knee. Mary said: “My God, Ellen, but I am stout,” and she showed me her arms. She said she
went out, dug a hole in the ash pile, dragged the body out and buried it a foot deep. She laughed about it when telling it. She said the boys promised to throw the body in a deep hole back of Blicktown, when they hauled it away, but instead threw it into the creek where everybody could see it.

A rigid cross-examination failed to shake this testimony in any particular. Another important witness will likely be put on the stand Monday.

[“Confession – On Mrs. Athey, Murderer of Mary Seneff – The Horrible Crime Prompted by a Dream – What Jealousy Will Do.” The Milan Advertiser (Oh.), Mar 5, 1881, p. 8]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4): At New Philadelphia, last Saturday, the jury returned a verdict of murder in the second degree in the case of Mrs. Ellen Athey, who chopped to pieces a young woman named Mary Seneff.

[Untitled, The Athens Messenger (Oh.), Mar. 10, 1881, p. 1]

 [Illustration of the crime, source: The National Police Gazette (New York, N.Y.), Jul. 17, 1880, p. 8]


For more Violence by Women cases involving axes and hatchets, see: Give ‘Em the Axe


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