Triple Tragedy in Lyons
MURDER AND SUICIDE.
Solomon H. Easterly Kills His
Wife and Mother-In-Law with an
Ax, and Drowns himself in the Outlet.
Newark Union --- from Lyons Republican Lyons, N.Y. July 31, 1880
Of the Horrible Affair
To an already long list of recent startling accurrences in and near our village, last Sunday evening added one more-the last being the most terrible and horrifying of any tragedy ever happening in Lyons within the memory of any of our citizens. Strong men, used to ghastly and bloody sights, weakened at the scenes presented by this sickening tragedy; and a thrill of horror ran through the town as there were related by excited citizens, one to another, the partculars of the double murder and suicide which are the subject of this article.
THE STARTLING AND AWFUL CRIME
which we chronicle this week was committed on Sunday evening about 6 o'clock at the farmhouse of Solomon H. Easterly, about three miles and a quarter southwest of this village-resulting in the murder of Mrs. Lydia Geer and Mrs. Solomon H. Easterly, and the suicide of the murderer Easterly a short time afterward. The facts as gathered from the nearest neighbors and one of the two children present at the time of the murder are as follows: About 7 o'clock Sunday morning Mr. Easterly ordered his hired man, Mr. Ben W. Woodhouse (who lives in the rear part of the Easterly house) to hitch his horse to a carriage. As soon as the horse and carriage were ready, Easterly with his little son went to Phelps and then to Clifton Springs for the purpose of spending Sunday. The son, Charlie, a bright little fellow of about ten years, says his father drank a little lemon pop at Clifton, but
NOTHING OF A SPIRITOUS NATURE.
The father and son arrived home a little after five in the afternoon. Mr. Easterly un-hitched the horse, put it in the barn, and went into the house. Finding no one except his little girl in the lower rooms he went up stairs on the second floor to his room. Here he found his wife and mother in-law Mrs. Geer, sitting, as the little boy (who accompanied him) says, in the corner. Almost immediately there seems to have been an altercation between Easterly and his wife, which momentarily grew more earnest and excited. The origin of this altercation the son has forgotten in the excitement of, the succeeding events; but the little witness says that in the war of words the mother-in law Mrs. Geer interfered as against the husband and he, growing angrier,
ORDERED HER OUT OF HIS ROOM
several times, Mrs. Geer, each time flatly refusing to leave. At this Easterly went across the room to his closet, and returned with a five-barreled pistol in his hand. Immediately he began to shoot wildly at the two women in the comer, shooting four times without hitting them and once snapping a defective cartridge. One of the bullets went through a window glass and the others lodged in the walls. The little boy, who was present all this time, says that at the second shot Mrs. Geer said to his mother, who was getting up, "Don't be afraid, Mary;
"IT IS NOTHING BUT POWDER"
This seemed to anger the man more than ever, and when the ladies hurried down stairs after the shooting, he hastily followed them. Upon reaching the first floor Easterly dashed out of the door, ran through the yard, and across the road to his barn opposite. In the meantime the son had descended to the lower floor and gone into the room with his mother and grandmother Mrs. Geer. While the father was going to the barn the boy says his mother asked Mrs. Geer what "Sol" was going to do; and Mrs. Geer replied that he was probably going to get his horse and go to town. In less time than it takes, to relate it, Easterly appeared at the door.
WITH AN AX IN HIS HAND.
Charlie says that knowing then something terrible was about to happen, he ran out upon the porch, passing his father as be came into the room where the women were. A second later be heard a slight scuffling in the room, and almost at the same time a blow from the ax "upon someone's head" (as he expressed it) -which he found afterwards to be that of Mrs. Geer, his Grandmother. At this the boy burst out sobbing and being joined by his little sister, the went down from the porch out into the yard by the pump on the west side of the house. While standing there the children saw the mother run out of the house and across the porch, and stop beneath the large maple tree in the yard.
BLOOD WAS RUNNING DOWN HER FACE
And she seemed to have received a number of wounds about the forehead. Scarcely had Mrs. Easterly reached the tree when her husband dashed through the door, jumped off the porch, and followed her to where she stood. Then giving his ax a wide swing over his heads (raising on his toes to get a better purchase) he
DEALT HIS WIFE A DEADLY, CRUSHING BLOW
In the center of the skull, felling her to the ground. She fell backward, throwing her head suddenly back at the same time and in this way loosened the blade of the ax from the cleft it had made in her skull. At this moment Mr. Ben W. Woodhouse and his wife, who occupy the rear rooms on the first floor of the Easterly house, appeared at their door on the west side of the house. They saw Easterly as he dealt his unhappy wife the fatal blow, and saw the poor woman fall at his feet. For moment they were
DAZED BY THE AWFUL SPECTACLE,
And their limbs refused to move. Then Woodhouse, rallying his strength ran to the porch, to which Easterly had in the meantime returned and where he stood irresolutely with his bloody weapon in his hand, looking back at his work under the tree." How could you strike a woman down like that" he said. To which Easterly hoarsely replied. - For Gods' Sake,
"WHY DIDN'T YOU STOP ME?"
"you had got too far-I couldn't do anything," Woodhouse answered.
Woodhouse says that Easterly then ordered the horse hitched up, saying that he "would go for the doctor and perhaps the wounds could be sewed up and the women saved." While-the horse was being got ready Easterly went into the room where Mrs. Geer lay dying-the son Charlie followed his father into the house, and says that he there saw his grandmother Mrs. Geer, half kneeling in the southwest corner of the room, leaning against a "what-not" or Corner stand. She had her hands, he thinks, on her head, from which
THE BLOOD WAS STREAMING.
His father, he says, asked her if he had given her enough; but no reply was made. Sickened at the sight, the little fellow went out into the yard to his dying mother, and the father remained in the room with the expiring mother-in-law. The blood marks on the walls, the "what-not" or corner stand and door casings, and the great pools of blood on the carpet in different parts of the room would seem to show that Mrs. Geer was moved by Easterly after she was struck, to the corner opposite, and placed in a large rocking chair near the window, where she was found soon after. Easterly is thought to have done this when alone with the dying woman this time in the room. This opinion is strengthened by the fact that when he came out of the room he went to the pump and washed his hands, and that blood was subsequently found upon his clothing. The ax he put behind the little secretary in the room at the same time. In a few minutes Easterly went into the barn where the man Woodhouse was harnessing the horse, and assisted in the work. Woodhouse says that repeatedly during harnessing Easterly said." Why didn't you or somebody stop me? "and seemed to be repenting the deed. When the horse was harnessed Easterly went to the house for his coat, and called his boy into the front hall, where he gave him his pocketbook to keep and told him to go to his grandfather Easterly's near by and tell what he had done and that he (Easterly) had been
PROVOKED TO IT.
He returned the yard, and kissing his boy, bade him good-bye and got into the phaeton, which had been brought up to the gate. The last seen of Easterly by those at his house he was driving rapidly down the road toward the village; ostensibly for a doctor. Several persons living on the road remember having seen him on his way, but of course not knowing the cause of his haste paid little attention to him. As soon as Easterly had departed, Woodhouse ran to a neighbor's, John Frank's and told him what had happened at the Easterly place; and the two forthwith went over to the house. Mrs. Easterly was lying in the same position as when she fell at the fatal stroke. Her hands, in an involuntary movement of the muscles, were pulling at the grass about her, and streams of blood ran from the several gashes on her head. She was
BREATHING FAST AND HARD
And was entirely insensible. Feeling that they were incompetent to render any aid to the wounded woman, they both went to Mr. Benjamin Whitlock's a quarter of a mile away; and he, harnessing a horse of his own, went back with them to the house. Arrived there Mr. Whitlock entered with them and found Mrs. Geer
SITTING IN CHAIR DEAD.
This was the first Woodhouse and Frank knew of Mrs. Geer's murder. Mr. Whitlock, suspecting that Easterly had not really gone to get a doctor, advised Woodhouse to harness another of Easterly's horses and go for one himself. This Mr. W did, and arrived at Dr. Bottum's office about 7 o'clock. In a remarkably quick time Dr. Bottum accompanied by his medical student York and Dr. Gillette, were at the scene of the murder. Mrs. Easterly was removed from where she fell, under the tree, to a cot-bed in the bare parlor on the east side of the house. An examination of her wounds was quickly made, and they were decided fatal-death being only a few short hours distant. The main wound was fully six inches in length on the scalp the same on the skull The ax had penetrated the brain several inches. A fracture over the right eye was found, and also one from this main wound back behind the right ear. These fractures were not the result of the ax cut, but from the force of the blow. Two wounds were on the left and one on the right side. These, however, were scalp wounds, and it is probable that only the last and greatest blow was a fatal one. Mrs. Easterly's head seemed to be
ALMOST SPLIT IN TWAIN
by this blow, which must have been inflicted with tremendous force. No bullet holes were found on the body, as some who had heard the shooting thought there might be. It was deemed advisable not then to close the wounds in the head; and attention was turned to Mrs. Geer, whose dead body was still in the chair, in a sitting position. A cot bed was procured and set up is the sitting room, and the body placed upon it. Only one wound a long wide cleft in the skull, could be found. This began a little above the left eye and ran to the back part of the head. It was about six inches in length and three fourths of an inch in width. The blade of the ax had desceded nearly to the base of the brain, almost cutting it in twain. Mrs. Easterly remained in a unconscious state until a Little before midnight, when she expired.
THE COMMUNITY ROUSED
When the writer reached the Easterly homestead on Sunday evening, great crowds from the neighboring farms and from the village were arriving. The road from the village was filled with carriages going to and from the scene of the murder and the little square in front of the house was crowded with men, who, with due appreciation of the awfulness of the recent event, were discussing with bated breath the deed, the victims, the murderer, and the probable cause of the trouble! The house is a two storied frame building-painted white. It is of medium size for a farm house, and has a single storied wing in the rear. In front of the house are a number of large trees, which tend to make the place look cool and inviting. A few feet to the west of the house is a small carriage house; opposite, across a road running east and west, is lage red barn. Following is a diagram of the principal rooms in the house, showing the location of the barn, etc,
A GHASTLY SCENE
Within the house the front rooms and hall were crowded with people. Ghastly scenes presented themselves on all sides. Strong men turned away horror-stricken, and women, sickened and dumbfounded, shut their eyes to the sight. In the sitting room where Mrs. Geer met her death and was lying dead upon a cot, the blood spattered walls, the gory carpet, the pools of blood in the chair in which she had sat, the bleeding corpse and the pushing crowd, combined to make the scene one long to be remembered with a shudder. The air was warm and very few were able-to remain long in the house! The floor was covered with an ingrain carpet, which was clotted with coagulated blood in many places. In the southwest corner was a what-not on which were shells, daguerreotypes and books. It was in this corner that Easterly struck Mrs. Geer, and upon the cover of one of the books were distinguishable
THE PRINTS OF A BLOODY HAND
which the poor woman had involuntarily put out as she sank to the floor. The door a few inches away was spattered with blood, as were also some of the books and other articles on the "whatnot". Just back of the door leading out on the porch was the rocking chair in which Easterly had placed his mother - in- law after felling her. A foot away; in the northwest corner of the room, was a small yellow secretary, behind which Easterly had thrust the ax after striking his wife. The weapon had remained where Easterly left it, but was now brought forth. It had a short handle, and a blunt, rusty blade. Very little blood could be seen upon it, only a stain, and gray hairs adhering.
THE DYING WIFE
Across the hall on a cot in the parlor, lay the dying wife. The floor of the room was bare as were the walls and mantle, the former furniture of the room not having been brought back after the reconciliation between Easterly and his wife about two weeks ago. A great cleft in the woman's skull lay gaping, out of which quantities of blood ran out upon the pillow, and to all who gazed upon the horrid scene it was apparent that a small remnant of life would soon be gone. At about 11 o'clock very few of the persons remained who had been drawn to the house by curiosity and kind friends were left to themselves to take care of the dead and dying. Mrs. Easterly died shortly before midnight.
PURSUIT OF THE MURDERER
During the time whether crowds were going to and coming from the house, Sheriff Glen and Deputy Sheriff Howell had not been unmindful of their duty as conservators of the public welfare. Proceeding at once-to the Easterly place, they had made themselves acquainted (so far as possible) with all the circumstances attending the murder, and had taken means to prevent the escape of the perpetrator. They questioned several persons who had seen Easterly after the murder, and found that he had driven toward the village, and had turned into the lane just south of the railroad; stopping before a fence near John O' Keefe's house, had got out and tied his horse. Meantime, with belief that Easterly did not intend to return home and had not gone for a doctor, a man had been set by the Sheriff to Phelps to keep on the lookout for him there; Deputy Howell went to Rochester on the night train, and the Sheriffs brother to Syracuse, one similar errand. A description of Easterly was telegraphed to all of the neighboring cities. Opinions were about equally divided as to whether his intention was to get away or commit suicide. Sheriff Glen learned that after Easterly had tied his horse to the fence near O'Keefe's, he was seen to go east across the fields toward the Canandaigua Outlet, but whether with intention to reach a train at the depot or to
of course there was no means of knowing--the Sheriff therefore very promptly gave orders to Constable James Albaugh and Ben Rich to search the outlet for the body. These two searched late into the night without result and began again next morning as soon as light permitted,Rich says that at about 5 o'clock he happened to see on the bank opposite him among the bushes a white shirt; and then going across, he found a hat, pantaloons and a coat lying along the bank, turning around, he saw a few feet out in the water the back part of
THE HEAD AND SHOULDERS OF A DEAD MAN
Rich called to Albaugh and together they went out in the water and looked at the corpse which they recognized as Easterly's. The news of the discovery was immediately sent to Sheriff Glen, who had been up all night; and as soon as he arrived, which was at about 7 o'clock in the morning, he ordered the body to be taken out and placed upon the bank to await the arrival of the coroner. In each hand of the suicide was found a heavy stone around which the fingers were tightly clutched. Easterly had gone into the water with his socks and cuffs on, and three little metallic "Boyd Batteries" hanging around his neck. Having reached the deepest place in the stream at that point, he probably picked up the stones, and with them in his hands, threw himself on his face keeping his body beneath the surface by the stones weight. The corpse was brought out and laid upon the west bank of the outlet, where it was covered with Easterly's clothes and a blanket, there-it lay until the arriving of the coroner, when it was removed to the house.
THE CORONER'S INQUEST
At 8:30 on Monday morning, Coroner Livingston arrived in town, and immediately empanelled a jury of nine persons, Viz; Lyman L. Dickerson, John H. Buell, William F. Ashley, Peter J. Powell, Charles Aurand, Jacob Sees, Joseph C. Myers, Samuel A. Jones and Ira T. Palmeter. It was decided that the Jury should at once view the bodies, and visit the premises and the place of finding Easterly's body and on Tuesday should examine witnesses. Accordingly carriages were procured, and the coroner and jury drove first to the spot where Easterly's body lay on the bank of the outlet, and thereto the scene of the murder. Arrived at the house, the jury viewed the bodies of the two dead women; and while thus engaged, the body of Easterly, in charge of E. F Gilbert, undertaker, arrived and was borne into the parlor where lay the coupes of the women. The scalps of the murdered women were sewed up by physicians, and all the bodies packed in ice. On Tuesday morning at 9.30 Coroner Livingston called the roll of the jury, and finding all present, began the examination of witnesses. The first witness called was the boy Charlie, who in a frank, manly manner, related his story as he had told it to the reporters the day before. Once or twice he shed tears, but on the, whole underwent the examination with remarkable fortitude for one of such tender years. Mr. Woodhouse was the next witness examined. He stated that he was lying asleep on a couch in his room all Sunday afternoon, and that a little before 6 o'clock his wife woke him, saying-" I guess Mr. Easterly has ordered the old lady out of the house; they have been having words in their part of the House." Woodhouse said he then got up, and with his wife went to their door on the west side of the house, and there heard the reports of some firearm. At first he thought it was a little toy pistol the little boy had been shooting about the place; but the shots came in such quick succession that he at once knew it was not the boy's work, but something more in earnest. He went back to his room and put on his boots, and with his wife again went to the door--just in time to see Easterly strike his wife down beneath the tree about twenty five feet away. The remainder of Woodhouse's testimony was mainly as we have already detailed. Mrs. Woodhouse next gave her testimony. She corroborated what her husband had said, but added that the shooting and all, up to the time that Easterly fell beneath the tree, did not occupy more than two minutes. Mr. Benjamin Whitlock gave his testimony in regard to what happened up to what happened up to the time the physicians arrived. Dr. E. W. Bottum testified concerning the wounds on the women's heads, and Dr. Gillette concurred with him in every particular. At this point the inquest adjourned to 1.30 P.M. In the afternoon the first witness examined was Benjamin Rich, who was employed by, Sheriff Glen to search the Canandaigua outlet for Easterly's body. He told how he happened to find the body, and what was done up to the time of the arrival of Constable Albaugh, who corroborated the preceeding witness' testimony. The spectators and others then left the jury alone, and in ten minutes the following verdict was rendered.
Verdict : That Mary Easterly and Lydia Geer came to their deaths on Sunday evening, July 18th, 1880, at the residence of Solomon H. Easterly, in the Town of Lyons, from wounds upon their heads produced by an ax in the hands of Solomon H. Easterly; and that said Solomon H. Easterly came to his death on Sunday evening July 18th, by drowning himself in a stream to the town of Lyons, known as Canandaigua Outlet.
It had been decided to hold the funerals at the farm-house on Tuesday afternoon at 4 o'clock. Long before that hour, the house, the yard and the road were thronged with men, women and children. For nearly a quarter of a mile each way from the house, both sides of the road were lined with people, and vehicles of all descriptions. By an actual count, there were over two hundred and fifty carriages in the procession. There were certainly over a thousand people about the grounds, and of these not one-tenth could gain admission to the house. The crowd, although large, was unusually quiet, and bore itself with a reverential air. So large a concourse was never present at a funeral in Wayne County. In the unfurnished parlor were the three caskets containing the bodies of Easterly and his victims. The caskets were covered with black broadcloth trimmed with black velvet. On the sides were heavy silver handles. The bodies lay exposed to view through the glass in the tops of the caskets. Nearest the door lay the body of Easterly, clothed in a half dress suit, with flowers in a button hole of the coat. The features were remarkably natural. Upon the silver plate on the coffin top was engraved "July 18, 1880 - Solomon H. Easterly, aged 44 years. Next lay the casket containing the body of Mrs. Easterly. The gashes in her skull had been covered by her hair, and her head laid in a natural position. The eyes were sunken and the features very pale. On the casket-plate was engraved. "July 18, 1880--Mary H. Easterly, aged 37 years." Next to the casket of Mrs. Easterly lay Mrs. Geer's. There was a calm expression on her face, which lay toward the right. The plate on the casket was engraved, July 18, 1880-Lydia Geer, aged 58 years."
EARTH TO EARTH.
At about 4 o'clock Rev. Dr. A.A. Wood took his position in the front door, (in order that the crowd in the yard as well as those in the house might hear his voice) and commenced the exercises with a reading of Sections of Scripture. As the Doctor began his remarks his voice was broken with emotion. With deep feeling he touched upon the awful events that had happened on that spot Iess than forty-eight hours before. He admonished those present to guard their passions, and to thank God that their reason had been spared to them. In earnest and affecting language he warned his hearers against giving way to evil tempers, against bickerings and contentions, against irreligion, against strife--germs of the terrible fruits that lay before them, murder and suicide. His remarks occupied about twenty-five minutes, and produced a visible impression on the hundreds within hearing of his voice. At the close of the remarks, prayer was offered; and then the six bearers, Messrs. Hugh Jameson, Wm.Zwilling, M.H.Shuler, Wm. F. Ashley, Daniel Layton and C. D. Waldo, carried the caskets one by one out of the parlor into the yard, where the faces of the dead were looked upon for the last time by the multitude present. It was late in the afternoon when the funeral cortege, with the three hearses at the head, moved slowly towards the South Cemetery. The route to the cemetery had been selected by way of Alloway, and as the long line of carriages pulsed solemnly along, the length of the file was estimated to be over half a mile. When the procession reached the cemetery, a large crowd was already there, awaiting its arrival. The bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Easterly were laid side by side in the Easterly lot in the southeast part of the cemetery; and Dr. Wood having offered an impressive prayer, the procession moved on a short distance until it arrived at the Nathan Geer lot, where the body of Mrs. Geer was deposited in the earth by the side of her husband, who died several years ago. A prayer being offered at the grave, the grave was filled with earth, and the curtain fell upon the last scene in this drama of murder and suicide.
EASTERLY AS A CITIZEN AND NEIGHBOR
Solomon H. Easterly was born in Lyons, and had lived his whole life here. He was known to our people as a temperate, frugal, industrious man-- exacting from others the full measure of his due, and was careful to discharge every obligation of his own. He was not considered a quarrelsome man; indeed, barring the altercations with his wife and her mother, he lived on good terms with his neighbors and the world. Men who have worked for him speak highly of him telling of numerous instances where he kept his temper under the strongest provocation. Though by no means exonerating him from blame for the continued family quarrels in the Easterly household, the sympathy of the neighbors seems to have been largely on his side. He was quick tempered they say, but he was always ready and anxious to have the quarrel made up and peace restored-- apparently harboring no revenge. To his children he was uniformly kind. Only a week or two before his death he made a Will, devising his estate (the farm of 108 acres and his personal property with the exception of $50 to the little girl) to his son Charlie-- his neighbor Wm. Bradley being named as his executor. "We can't tell what may happen," Easterly said -- though of course he could have had no premonition of the tragedy of Sunday. He added that his wife had property (some $7,000 in all, we learn) of her own; and that if circumstances should make it desirable to change his will, it was very easy to add a codicil. The will gives his aged parents permission to live on the farm until their death. The will is before Judge Collins today for probate.
EASTERLY'S DOMESTIC AFFAIRS
Easterly was married to his wife in 1865, after a courtship during which there were numerous quarrels and reconciliations. At one time he was so offended at her that he resolved to leave Lyons for the west; but Mrs. Geer and her daughter followed him to the depot and coaxed him back. Soon after this they were married. Easterly was a man of ample means, and his wife possessed some property in her own right, bequeathed her by her father, the interest of which she expended usually in dress. Easterly, a close man in all his dealings, but, we believe strickly honest, was offended at this; and it was the cause of frequent altercations. Several times they separated, and as often came together again. Easterly often declared that he could not live without his wife, for whom he professed genuine affection; but that he could not get along with Mrs. Geer, who made her (home in his family much of the time. Last winter Easterly went to Florida for his health and was absent until spring-during which time his wife (instigated, Easterly said, by her mother) removed most of the furniture from the house and sold off the crops-and when Easterly returned, she had left the house for a time. He did not know her whereabouts. Returning to Lyons later, Mrs. Easterly instituted procedings for a divorce, and the case was referred to Hon. H. V. Howland. Early in the trial, however, Mrs. Easterly manifested a desire for a reconciliation; proceedings were discontinued; and under a stipulation signed by the parties, the suit was dropped. It should be added that during the whole period of their separation after his return from the South, Easterly did not cease for a moment to endeavor to induce his wife to return to his home. To a friend who suggested to him that it would be policy to treat her with a little indifference, he said--"No; if she is allowed to go on, some tragedy will take place. I love my wife, and I believe that but for her mother she would return home today, and we could live happily together." It had been stipulated that Easterly should support Mrs. Geer, and that she should be allowed to visit her daughter occasionally though the frequency and duration of her visits was not agreed upon. Her appearance there on Thursday last seems to have been a signal for a renewal of hostilities, culminating in the tragedy whose details are recited above.
We know from the article that Lydia Geer is buried here but as was common, there is no record of the burial at the cemetary. There is a blank space on the stone for her name but they must not have gotten around to engraving them on it.