In 1891, a man named Robert H. Murray was released from a prison in Indiana, only to find himself arrested once more, accused of the heinous crime of killing a nun a few years before.
August 1891 Louisville, KY
A man named Robert H. Murray was released on August 4, 1891, from the prison at Jeffersonville, Indiana. Two days later he was arrested in Louisville, Kentucky on the suspicion he was a felon. The allegations were that he killed a Sister of Charity three years before.
The story reported by several newspapers across the United States described where Murray worked as a brakeman on a train that was wrecked, and he along with others were taken to the hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy at Terre Haute. He fell in love with a young nun who nursed him. She refused him and reported the incident to the mother superior who in an abundance of caution sent her to Emporia, Kansas. He found out where she had been sent to, and followed her there. She was working at the hospital and once again she refused his marriage proposal. He struck her across the head with what was thought to be brass knuckles. She died a few days later, naming her assailant as Murray.
So how did Bob end up in Jeffersonville Prison? In September 1890, Robert H. Murth, who was using the alias of Robert H. Murray, was sent to serve a one year sentence at the penitentiary for larceny he committed in Warwick County. He was a workman belonging to French & Co's show and stole a hat at the St. Charles Hotel that belonged to Albert Kirsch. He pled guilty to the charge and was sentenced to two years, but was released after serving half his sentence.
Murray was arrested in Louisville as a murder suspect on the strength of a story told by Clerk Ballow of the Jeffersonville prison. He went to the jail in Louisville, and identified him as Murray. Supposedly his description matched that of the alleged murderer. What Bob had done originally to be jailed in Louisville remained unknown.
Murray kept denying he was the man involved in the attack against the nun. He worked for the railroad for 20 years, and in 1874 lost three fingers off his right hand while coupling cars at Connersville, Indiana. However he didn't go to the hospital in Terre Haute and instead was cared for by his sister who lived in Rushville. He said it had been more than five years since he had been in the hospital in Terre Haute, and he went there on account of an injury he received after falling off an engine while stopped at Logansport, Indiana. During his stay at the hospital he was cared for by several nuns, but he never took a fancy to any of them.
He said that several years after he left the hospital he heard a sister had been murdered there, but that was all.
Murray was arraigned in the City Court, and his case postponed for two days to allow the officers from Kansas to arrive, which is where the crime was supposed to have occurred.
However within a day, a report was received from Emporia, Kansas which said no Sister of Charity was ever murdered in their city. However there was a case of nun who was raped at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, under similar circumstances four years ago. She was badly hurt, but recovered and was sent to another convent to make sure her assailant could not find her. Her attacker was arrested at Terre Haute a few days later, but provided an alibi and was released.
Hot on the heels of this news a letter was received by Major Owens from the Chief of Police of Terre Haute. The letter said further investigation into the case, found that Robert H. Murray had a double both in name and appearance. It turned out that both men were hurt in the same wreck near Terre Haute, both had the thumb and two first fingers of their left hand cut off, and both were sent to the Sister of Mercy hospital for treatment.
The rest of the story was accurate, in which the young nun was murdered after she refused the marriage proposal. One Bob was arrested and charged with the murder, but he provided an alibi that proved he was at Terre Haute when the murder took place in Kansas. The other Bob could not be found but a year later he was sent to the Jeffersonville prison for grand larceny.
The Chief said that the Sisters at the hospital had once heard that Sister Mary had recovered after a lingering illness but this is thought to be a mistake since one of the men had been arrested on a charge of murder. Or had it only been a case of rape?
It's on this cliffhanger that the story simply disappeared from the newspapers.
Were there two Bobs? Was a nun murdered or raped and a man escaped justice from this heinous crime? Was there any truth in the entire story?
Throughout the stories printed in different newspapers, the nun was reported to have belonged either to the Sisters of Charity or the Sisters of Mercy, however it was the Sisters of St. Francis who by 1884, had established hospitals in Lafayette and Terre Haute, Indiana; Omaha and Columbus, Nebraska; Emporia, Kansas; and Cleveland.
There were no stories in those years reporting any attack much less a murder against a nun, of any order. The police in Emporia, Kansas made this clear.
Or was it simply a story of revenge?
The entire accusation against Robert H. Murray (AKA Murtha) came about by finger-pointing from a clerk at the Jeffersonville Prison.
This prison was notorious, and in 1887, A. J. Howard the warden since 1875 had to resign. According to a newspaper story, "enough is known of it to make sure that the prison has been carelessly, extravagantly and dishonestly managed; that prisoners had been ill-treated, and those who had money were robbed of it, and that Howard's accounts with the state are in such condition as to indicate that he is short some thousands of dollars." It was estimated to be in excess of $150,000. The warden would purchase supplies in small quantities from local dealers, and the food given to the convicts was of the poorest quality and insufficient in quantity. The price charged to the state was a high prices, and the difference was alleged to have been divided between the dealer, the warden and the steward.
Even the chaplain was in on it. Arthur Brooks, a convict was promised by Chaplain Cain that he could secure him a pardon on condition he would pay $50 down and then promise to pay an additional $150. Then Brooks was told he had to pay an additional $500 as a retainer to pay a Mr. Charles Jewett who was the Democratic Speaker of the House of the Legislature. whose influence would be needed to get the pardon from the Governor.
Even after Howard had to resign, the prison's reputation was tarnished. Could the story have come about from a failed shakedown of another convict? The murder or rape of a nun was sure to raise outrage, which it did, until perhaps it was discovered the entire thing was fabricated.
The fate of the Bobs, if indeed there were two of them, remained unknown. The same holds true for Sister Mary, who was allegedly struck down by an obsessed suitor. That's if she existed at all.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer