Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Bizarre Story of False Witness and Punishment

In the process of searching old newspapers to learn what happened to the remains of Fred W. Jones, which were reported to have gone missing, Gossips stumbled upon this story of false witness, abuse, and denial. The first item appeared in the Hudson Daily Register on June 14, 1901.

Has Been in Hudson Reformatory Five Years, 
and Now the True Thief is Known.
A peculiar case came to the attention of the Poughkeepsie police yesterday, and as a result of a story told by a dying man, it was revealed that Elizabeth Doyle was sent to the Hudson Reformatory five years ago for a crime that she did not commit.
In 1896 Julia O'Brien had a gold ring stolen from her, and the police at the time caused the arrest of Elizabeth Doyle, charged with the theft. She was found guilty and sentenced to the Hudson Reformatory, where she has been for five years and still is in that institution. A year ago, Edward Doyle died, and on his death bed he stated that Elizabeth was not the girl who took the ring, but that it was taken by Maggie Allen. The facts were just made known to the police Thursday, and Chief McCabe made an investigation. He ascertained that the ring was taken by the Allen girl, and she was summoned to the police station to tell her story. She admitted to the chief that she took the ring, and the police will now apply for the discharge of the Doyle girl, who is in the reformatory.
This story raises several questions. What was Edward Doyle's relationship to Elizabeth Doyle? Why did he accuse her if he knew someone else had been the thief? Why did it take a year for Doyle's death bed statement to be be reported to the police?

On June 26, within two weeks of the report of Elizabeth Doyle's innocence, this story appeared in the Daily Register. What seems most remarkable about it is the final paragraph, which not only seems to confuse the falsely accused Elizabeth Doyle with the real culprit, but asserts that, in the course of the few hours that passed between the story appearing in a "New York city 'yellow'" in the morning and the Register coming out in the evening, sufficient investigation had been done to declare with confidence that the story was "false from beginning to end."

Girls in the House of Refuge at Hudson.
A Sensational and Untrue Story in 
a New York Yellow This Morning--Every Detail 
Is Said to be False.
Under the caption, "Girls at Hudson Crazed by Cruelty," a New York city "yellow" publishes the following:
Poughkeepsie, June 26--Elizabeth Doyle of this city, who has just returned from a five years' sentence in the House of Refuge at Hudson, where she was sent from here for a theft which was committed by Maggie Allen, tells a startling story of alleged harsh treatment of women prisoners in that institution. She told to a Journal reporter today:
"The white cell is a bad torture. It is a room the size of an ordinary cell and is painted white with a glass ceiling like [a] hothouse. The girls are put in there upon the least provocation.
"If one breaks a dish or anything by accident she is confined in this room. The first day or two she is handcuffed to the floor, so that all she can do is to lie down or sit up. She is fed on bread and water for a day or two and then has soup and bread until the end of the first week, when she has the regular meals again, but those are so coarse that many times the girls cannot eat them for several days at a time.
"I have helped carry girls from the light room after they have gone out of their heads and later had brain fever. Four who received this treatment were sent to Matteawan to the State hospital while I was at Hudson.
"At night bright electric lights are turned on and the girls have to endure these all night. Few can stay in this room long without having fearful headaches and going out of their minds.
"Some of the matrons are very good and others are very bad and never lose a chance to put a girl in the light room. I was never in the light cell, but once my privileges were cut off for a month and I could not write home, as I had with two other girls sung in my room one night something about old maids.
"Most of the matrons are old maids, and I suppose this accounts for the fact that we were treated so severely for nothing. The food, as I said before, is coarse, and we had only twenty minutes in which to eat it. If a girl had not finished in twenty minutes she had to go without the remainder of her dinner.
"My health is ruined for my life at Hudson. I am weak and run down and have fainting spells."
To this assertion the mother said that on Monday afternoon, while sitting in the yards her daughter fell to the ground in a dead faint.
From the best information the Register is able to obtain, the above story is false in every detail, with the exception of the fact that in the House of Refuge there are light cells instead of dark cells used for the punishment of refractory girls. However, Maggie Allen never was in one of these cells nor was she ever confined in the House of Refuge. She has been in the Rochester Industrial School, but never in the State institution for women in this city. The girl referred to is, no doubt Elizabeth Doyle, who was recently released because she was committed for a crime committed by Maggie Allen. It is unnecessary to deny the above story in detail. It is sufficient to say that it is false from beginning to end.
The House of Refuge closed in 1904, to be replaced by the New York State Training School for Girls.

Historic photograph courtesy Historic Hudson

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