A Deadly Valentine: 1896

jealous woman's revenge illustrated police news

A Deadly Valentine

W.J. Lampton

The colonel had received a valentine, and as he looked it over and read its pretty verses he handed it to the writer.

“From a lady?” smiled the writer.

“Yes, from my wife. She never forgets,” and the colonel’s face wore the look of a sweetheart’s.

“Surely,” said the writer, “no better valentine could be than that.”

The colonel took it again and held it in his hand tenderly

“When she and I were married,” he began, in a reminiscent way, “we went to a post in the far west, where as a lieutenant, that was thirty years ago, I was stationed. Not far away was a town of the class not uncommon at that time, and chief among its well-known characters and prominent citizens was a man known as ‘Bug’ Thornton. He was a bad man and the barkeeper in the leading hotel of the town. The landlord of the hotel had a daughter of twenty-five or thereabouts, who was by odds the best-looking woman in town and a very nice girl, barring the fact that she was in love with Thornton.

“At first he was flattered by the favor in which he stood with the young woman, but her attentions in a few months wearied him, and he made her wildly jealous by devoting himself to the cashier of the Golden Lion restaurant, a young woman who owned a half interest in the business and was considered a good catch. This occurred about valentine season, and when the day came around the landlord’s daughter received a comic valentine, setting forth those things do, the delightful attractiveness of a jealous woman. The accompanying verse was more galling than the picture, and the girl was frenzied by it.

“It was no unusual matter for Bug Thornton to have a scrap once or twice a day with the rough characters who frequented his saloon, and every now and then he added a feature to the bill by shooting somebody or getting a shot himself, though, up to that time, escaping with slight wounds. Late in the afternoon of St. Valentine’s day he tried to put a gang of miners out of his place, and the whole crowd surged out into the street in front of the hotel. There the shooting began. And it lasted long enough for those not interested to get into what shelter first presented itself.

“I ran into the hotel, and as I did so, I noticed, Mollie, the landlord’s daughter, sitting by a window, with the shutters half-closed, looking at the fight. When it was over three men were dead on the ground and the others had disappeared. One of the men was Thornton, and, as I knew him, I ran to him first and lifted him up to see how badly he was hurt. As I raised him up with my arm under his back a bullet fell from his coat into my hand. I thrust it into my pocket without thinking, and helped carrying him into the house. Of course, the town was considerably excited over three killings at one time, and as all sorts of rumors were flying about I hurried to the post to let my wife know I was all right. Young husbands, you know, think first of their wives. When I found her and told her the story she became very nervous and asked about Mollie. I told her I had seen the girl at the window during the fight, and that made her worse.

“Then I became provoked and said Mollie hadn’t anything to do with it. Then my wife told me that she had seen Mollie at noon, and she had told her she was going to send Bug Thornton a valentine he would not forget, and that very day, too. That night I went back to the hotel and found that Thornton had received a bullet in the arm and one in the thigh, but the one which had done for him had gone square through his heart. I also found Mollie in a raving delirium. With all this going on around me, there wasn’t any wonder that I should forget the bullet I had put in my pocket, and there’s no telling when I would have remember it if it had not dropped on the floor that night when I took off my coat to go to bed.

“My wife picked it up and asked me what it was. Then I remembered, and quietly took it from her without saying. She insisted, and as she showed signs of hysteria about it, I told her it was the bullet that had killed Bug Thornton. She grabbed it from me, held it close to the light and then collapsed in a dead faint. She became conscious in half an hour or so, but I had to sit up all night with her, and the post surgeon was also in attendance until nearly daylight. By daylight things were quieter, and I took a look at the bullet. It was a .44 long and was not much roughened by the deadly work it had done. As I turned it over in my  hand, thinking what a fatal effect so small a bit of lead could have, I notice da mark on it, and taking it out where I could see better I found on it, scratched deep with a large needle, evidently, one word and part of another: ‘My Valen–.’ That told a dreadful story and explained my wife’s hysteria.

“What to do now I scarcely knew. Mollie had shot Bug Thornton, that was circumstantially proved by my wife’s testimony and the words on the bullet, but no one knew it save myself and wife. No one knew so much as that I had the bullet, except my wife. We had both known Mollie and respected her, and it seemed to be something awful to give her over to the law when it was so easy to let it all go to the credit of the miners in the night. After an hour’s thinking I was so near hysteria myself that I went to the doctor for something to quiet my nerves.

“At 9 o’clock I started into the town, leaving my wife asleep under the influence of opiates, and half way there I met a messenger coming for my wife to come to the hotel, as Mollie had shot herself and was dying. I turned the messenger back and hurried on to the hotel. When I reached her room she was dead, and near her on a table lay a .44-caliber revolver. It was the same one that had sent Bug Thornton his fatal valentine, but I didn’t go around looking for any more bullets. I had already found one too many.

“It was a positive relief to my wife when I told her as carefully as I could that Mollie was dead, and we talked it all over, coming to the conclusion that the girl had seated herself at the window, half concealed, with the object of killing Thornton when he came out to go to his supper, and had marked the bullet in the strange freak of a crazy woman. That her shot had been so true was a piece of chance or luck, or retribution; whatever you may call it, although she was not unskilled in the use of firearms. None the less was it chance that the fight in the street should have taken place at the time it did?”

“What did you do with the bullet?” inquired the writer.

“Dropped it into Mollie’s coffin when my wife and I went to see her for the last time. And,” concluded the colonel, “neither of us ever told our story of the tragedy until five years ago, when the last member of Mollie’s family died and was buried in the same graveyard where the bodies of Mollie and Bug Thornton lie moldering in the clay.”

Evening Star [Washington DC] 15 February 1896: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Comic” or “vinegar” valentines were the bane of the holiday. Although we may be baffled as to why a caricature and an insult should deserve any notice whatsoever, despairing lovers often took these vile missives entirely too much to heart.  That Schadenfreude-ish person over at Haunted Ohio has written of some of the tragedies that ensued in “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacres,” and “My Fatal Valentine.” Mrs Daffodil urges any of her readers who suffer unrequited love to have a trusted friend open your Valentine’s Day post and burn any unpleasant communications.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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