" THE MYSTERIOUS MURDER"
Rebecca A. Laird

Discrepancies in the eyewitness reports, hearsay as related by the many witnesses, and journalistic viewpoints provided by the Cleveland daily newspapers demonstrate this bias.  In these testimonies, as well as in court records and newspaper articles, it is possible to observe a sample of the social differentiation that existed during the time period.. In addition, the events and activities surrounding the attack and subsequent death of Rosa O'Malia provide insight into the everyday life of the Irish who made their homes in Cleveland's Irish Shantytown.  The concept of protection under the law as it relates to the protection of the accused parties is significant to this particular case as social, economic, cultural, political, and geographic influences affect the outcome of the Kelleys' trials.

Rosa O'Malia was brutally beaten on the afternoon of Thursday, December 15, 1859, in the shanty of William and Margaret Kelley located on West River Street at Detroit Street.  Dr. Robert S. Strong, M.D., physician, and surgeon was called to the Kelleys' shanty to examine the body at about 3:00 P.M on the day of the incident.  There he found a woman (Rosa O'Malia) lying on the floor of the Kelleys' shanty, "in an insensible condition, pulseless, with cold hands and extremities." He stated, "I discovered several cuts and bruises on both arms, both fore-arms,both hands, and both lower extremities... The doctor indicated the victim's left eye was extremely swollen and nearly closed from the beating.  According to his testimony, he believed Rosa O'Malia's skull had been fractured and that her chances for recovery were limited.  Margaret Connor provided further visualization of Rosa's serious condition in her vivid description, "...Her ear was hanging off, with the blood boiling out." Rosa O'Malia's condition fluctuated during the next five days.  She died just after midnight on December 21, 1859.  Dr. Strong's postmortem examination confirmed his original diagnosis--Rosa O'Malia's skull had indeed been fractured.  He further offered, "In all probability, the injuries were inflicted by a combination of blunt and sharp-edged weapons.  Messenger, a second doctor who had taken part in the postmortem examination of the body, concurred with Dr. Strong's findings.
 
         It was an established fact that a murder was taking place on that Thursday afternoon in 1859 when the watch was called.  "A woman was being killed....", at least that was what a man standing on the sidewalk on Detroit Hill told the Kelleys' neighbor Bridget Murphy. So, preferring not to get involved, she went to the watchhouse to summon the police. Burlison and James Rogers accompanied her back to the Kelleys' shanty.  City Constable L.N. Eastman also knew a murder had been committed. He informed Deputy Burlison, that "the woman was killed and he would go after Kellley." At this juncture, Constable Eastman clearly indicated William Kelley was suspect in the crime.  Shortly thereafter, Constable Eastman with William Kelley, arrived at the Kelleys' shanty where Mrs. O'Malia was lying on the floor. Eastman and Burlison then took William Kelley to the watchhouse for questioning.  When told he had killed Rosa O'Malia, William Kelley replied that he did not strike her, that it was his wife that struck her . William Kelley was locked up at the station house.

        On the day following the attack on Rosa O'Malia, the Kelleys were already judged in the newspapers for having committed the crime. The Cleveland Morning Leader reported on December 16, 1859, "Another Shocking Murder on the West Side ... A Woman Brutally Killed".  Although the names reported in the paper were incorrect (William Kelley's name was reported as John Kelley and Rosa O'Malia's name was incorrectly spelled as O'Malia), the association of the Kelleys with the O'Malia case and the crime of murder had been established.  Though The Cleveland Morning Leader explained that "Mrs. O'Malia was not yet dead, but was insensible.", she was already labeled a "dying woman".. This was graphically reinforced in the article which reported "all the facts' had been gathered "in relation to the shocking tragedy".  The Cleveland Daily Leader also referred to Kelley as "the author of the deed".  Table I provides a sampling of the graphic and judgmental words utilized freely in the article which appeared in The Cleveland Morning Leader on December 16, 1859.
 

Table I: The Cleveland Morning Leader, Descriptive Journalism
 

Specific Descriptive Words Published 
Number of Times Word(s) Utilized
 
 
In Article
In Article
Kelly/He (or reference to Kelley)
5
Murder
3
Dying/Dead
3
Fatal
2
Killed
1
Bloody Fight
1

    The Kelleys had a bad reputation in Cleveland's Irish Shantytown.  Neighbors preferred to disassociate themselves from them.  For instance, Bridget Murphy spoke of William Kelley's "... very bad reputation; nobody went to him... Isabella Dyle asserted that the Kelleys' were "...people I never associated with." Frequent noise and disturbances were common according to the testimonies of neighbors.  Margaret Connor, as if speaking on behalf of everyone, summarized, "we did not like to meddle with them much." There were also several references to the excessive drinking habits of both William and Margaret Kelley.  Bridget McGuire spoke of seeing Mrs. Kelley stagger when she was buying the cabbages . Brogan spoke of Thomas Welch's assertion that Margaret Kelley was drunk.  Frank O'Malia, husband of the murder victim, spoke of William Kelley's drunkenness in an incident that occurred the year before.  It was obvious that the Kelleys had been involved in previous disturbances in which liquor had played a role because Deputy Burlison, during his investigation, reported finding about a quart of liquor stored in a flask inside a barrel in the shed.

    Harper's Weekly June 26, 1858; source: vassun.vassar.edu/~sttaylor/FAMINE   Prejudice against the Kelleys' could also be seen in comments eluding to the frequency of their associations with the police.  Mary Brogan testified that Kelley had been before the Police Court frequently.  Bridget Murphy said that William Kelly was "twice in the County jail" and that Mrs. Kelley was "in the watchhouse quite often." In Kelley's statement to the Police after being detained prior to being locked up for the attack on Rosa O'Malia, William Kelley told Deputy Burlison that he had just paid ten dollars to get his wife out of the watchhouse.  Clearly, the Kelleys were unpopular members of the Shantytown community and wen-known to city police.

        Rosa O'Malia's death resulted in a coroner's inquest.  According to a State law passed in 1824, it was the legal responsibility of the County Coroner to investigate any case that involved the death of a person by violent means. This law also required the Coroner to summon a jury to meet at the place where the body was situated at the time of the warrant. On the twenty-first day of December in 1859, Charles A. Hartmann, Coroner of Cuyahoga County, officially notified Constable L.N. Eastman of Cleveland Township to summon a jury of six residents of the County to appear at the office of Dr. A.C. Messenger. According to law, all witness testimony had to be submitted in writing. This is an interesting point in the O'Malia case since seven of the twelve sworn witnesses were unable to write (or likely able to read) as evidenced by the signing of names with marks (X or //) instead of signatures.  And, although Margaret Kelley provided testimony to the jury at the Coroner's inquest, her testimony was not sworn as she was suspect in the case. Margaret Kelley also signed her name with an "X" mark.  In addition, Michael Hogan or Murphy, child of age six or seven, provided testimony but was not a sworn Witness. No signature was entered on his behalf.

        The evidence presented in the case against the Kelleys was limited.  A.E. Burlison, after having taken William Kelley to the station house, returned to the Kelley's shanty.  He noted, "...the floor was covered with blood and the side spattered more or less, clear up to the ceiling." He then proceeded to get a light and to search the house. Much of the evidence reported found by Burlison seemed insignificant in that he seemed unsure of many of the details.  He said that he had found a small axe sitting in the left comer of the room.  (Detroit Street side).  Burlison indicated that there was "...a little blood on one end, and this was fresh in my opinion, though it is hard telling because the axe is rusty. He also indicated there was "...a club, two to three feet in length, and of a reddish color, which has since been lost" that "...was lying upon or under a table in the northeast comer of the house." Burlison indicated he did not examine the club closely but that there was no blood on it. He also found an axe with a larger handle in the shed-part of the shanty.  Again, there was no indication of any blood on this axe with the larger handle. Burlison himself indicated in his testimony that he was dissatisfied with the evidence he had found so he continued his investigation outside of the shanty.  In the meantime, Margaret Kelley was arrested by Officer Rogers and taken to the watchhouse.

        According to the continued testimony of Deputy Burlison, he then looked in a barrel inside the shed where he found a quart flask about two-thirds full containing liquor.  While searching the shed, a man unknown to Burlison, " discovered a shovel which he pulled out."  Although the condition of the shovel was not described by Burlison in the Coroner's Verdict, the written testimony explained that the shovel shown to the six jurors was the same one found in the shed and "in the same state".  A hammer was also found, however, Burlison was unsure if the hammer was on the same table as the missing club.  He did mention the hammer was broken. He also reported finding an iron spike.  In his testimony, Burlison said, "The iron spike was in the shed, I think; it may be that both hammer and spike were on the table.  On the other hand, Michael Hogan or Murphy, Kelley's son, provided the Coroner and jurors with some additional information regarding the shovel and ax.  Though not a sworn witness because of his age (6 or 7 years), Michael reported that "the shovel was near the rain barrel, in the sidewalk ... that it was not broke... when he had gone to get Kelley's boots from the shoemaker. Michael also indicated that "... the axe was with the shovel in the same place." Michael's testimony was somewhat difficult to follow.  It appears to have been related by a second party and includes personal comments.  One example of this refers to the finding of the shovel where the spokesperson relates, "... the shovel is now here broke..." This is more an editorial comment than testimony.

       During the Coroner's investigation following the death of Rosa O'Malia, thirteen people provided eyewitness testimony describing the events that occurred in Shantytown the afternoon of the murder.  Some of the facts provided by neighbors did not agree with facts presented by others.  For instance, Thomas Welsh indicated that when called by Mrs. Kelley to "... come out and see the fun...", he told her to "...go to the Devil."  According to Margaret Connor, Harper's Weekly June 26, 1858; source: vassun.vassar.edu/~sttaylor/FAMINE though, Tom Welsh did go to the Detroit Street door of the Kelleys' shanty, but was not there long. And in another instance, according to the testimony, Michael Hogan or Murphy was supposed to have gone to the shoemakers to get William Kelley's repaired boot.  According to the testimony of James Smith, it was William Kelley himself who came to get the boot. There also seems to be difficulty in establishing a real time for the attack on Mrs. O'Malia. Bridget Murphy remembered hearing the bell of the Cleveland Steam Furnace Company ring about one o'clock, when she was hanging up clothes in her yard.  She also remembered seeing Mrs. Kelley going to the wagon to get cabbages. Bridget McGuire's testimony confirmed one o'clock "as the approximate time the man selling cabbages from his wagon came to the neighborhood."  Charles Norton, however, indicated that he had been going down Detroit Street hill just after noon.  When passing by about 45 minutes later, he said he saw a woman lying on the floor.  Shoemaker, James Smith, also indicated that William Kelley, not Michael Hogan/Murphy, came to his shop between one and two o'clock to get the boot Michael had dropped off earlier. And, according to Charles Norton, he saw William Kelley leaving the Kelley's shanty shortly after noon, heading toward Detroit Street carrying a coat on his ann.  Dr. Robert Strong indicated that he was called to the Kelley's shanty at about three o'clock in the afternoon.

        Given the nature of the crime, even though alcohol may have been involved, it would be highly unusual for a person who is being beaten and cut with an ax or shovel to remain quiet without crying or screaming for help.  None of the witnesses reported hearing any noise the day Mrs. O'Malia was attacked in the Kelleys' shanty.  This is an amazing coincidence given the close proximity of the shanties in the West River Street and Detroit Street neighborhood. In reading the testimonies of the Kelley's neighbors, one gets the impression that everyone lived in very close proximity with one another in this neighborhood.  It also seemed that everyone knew what one another was doing most of the time.  The area also seemed to be well traveled with people continually coming and going - especially at an intersecting roadway.  It is also quite interesting that neither William or Margaret Kelley's clothing were splattered with blood, especially since blood was on the walls of the shanty. The fact that William Kelley did not have any bloodstains on his clothing was noted by James Smith when Kelley went to pick up his boot between one and two o'clock.

        It is also important to remember that there was a span of several days between the actual attack on Rosa O'Malia and her death.  The inquest was held on the 21st and 22nd of December, 1859. Given the period of time that elapsed between the two events and the nature of the community in which the incident occurred, there was plenty of time for the neighbors to collaborate, to compare, and discuss the events surrounding the beating. Another area of concern in the case is the potential for inaccuracies in the written testimony as sworn by those witnesses unable to read or write.  Given the nature of the Kelley's reputations, the time span following the attack on Mrs. O'Malia, and the potential for collaboration among the neighbors and police, there is a distinct possibility of opportunity to influence the outcome of the resulting murder trials.  This fact was presented by William Kelley during his court trial." But, in spite of all of these discrepancies, the jurors presiding at the inquest, determined that Rosa O'Malia died from wounds inflicted by different weapons used by William and Margaret Kelley.  They further determined that the "...murder was committed purposely and with deliberate and premeditated malice."

        William and Margaret Kelley blamed each other for the crime.  Neither would admit guilt or participation in the attack.  It was obvious that the newspapers enjoyed reporting this murder.  As previously mentioned, The Cleveland Morning Leader on December 16, 1859, had already reported the murder and named Kelley the murderer. Their graphic depiction of the crime scene as a "wretched hovel" in the West side known as "Irishtown" further provided negative press against the Kelleys.  Murder was an uncommon occurrence in Cleveland in 1859, as seen Table II.
 

Table II.
Convictions January 1, 1859 - December 30, 1859
 

Crime
No. convicted
Total Years Sentenced
Burglary and Larceny
33
129
Grand Larceny
12
29.5
Burglary
1
1
Passing Counterfeit bank bills, fictitious
2
6
Arson
2
8
Kidnapping
1
3
Murder - 2nd degree
2
For Life
Assault w/ Intent to Rape
1
3
Robbery
3
13
Horse Stealing
1
3
Attempt - Passing counterfeit bank notes
1
5
Concealing Stolen Gelding
1
3

   The Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer reported on December 29, 1859, one week following the Coroner's Verdict, the Kelleys "...will both, doubtless be indicted by the Grand Jury for murder." And as the trial got underway, the newspapers provided commentaries of the proceedings.

        The jury which presided over the Coroner's Verdict determined William and Margaret Kelley had deliberately planned to murder Rosa O'Malia.  In the court trials of William and Margaret Kelley, the County Prosecutor changed the charges saying the Kelley's had committed the crimes" unlawfully, purposely, and maliciously, but without deliberation and premeditation." They were tried separately by two different juries during the months of February and March in 1860. William Kelley was charged with several crimes, including, assault in menacing manner with a certain ax, a certain shovel, which he held in both of his hands to strike, beat and penetrate with the ax in and upon the left side of the head one mortal wound of the length of five inches and depth of two inches to kill and murder Rosa O'Malia.  He was also charged with assault using an unknown instrument and weapon to beat the head, breast, and shoulder of Rosa O'Malia" Margaret Kelley was charged with making an assault, beating, and striking, and inflicting mortal wounds "...in menacing manner... but without deliberation and premeditation... " She was, in actuality considered an accomplice of the crimes against Rosa O'Malia.

 
        The juries of the Common Pleas Criminal Court, presided by Judge Thomas Bolton, found both William and Margaret Kelley guilty of the murder of Rosa O'Malia. Though both tried to appeal the court's decisions, neither were granted a retrial. Each was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Ohio Penitentiary and sentenced to hard labor.  Neither was sentenced to solitary confinement in prison.  

William and Margaret Kelley were convicted of murdering Rosa O'Malia. They were convicted of crimes for which little criminal evidence could be produced.  Both the jury serving the Coroner's inquest and the jury called for the Common Pleas Criminal Court trials of the Kelleys were presented primarily with evidence in the form of personal opinions and hearsay.  The criminal evidence was minimal, though given the period of time, was probably considered sufficient.  It is obvious that the neighbors and acquaintances of the Kelley's thought themselves to be at a higher level and of better standing than the Kelleys although they all shared much of the same economic, cultural, and social standing. The juries also were familiar with the O'Malia case since murder in Cleveland was an uncommon occurrence. They had the luxury of having read the accounts and outcomes as suggested and reported in the Cleveland dailies.  The police needed to solve the murder of Rosa O'Malia for their credibility, and, having an opportunity to convict the Kelleys to rid themselves of an ongoing problem was attractive.  The events and activities described in the Coroner's inquest provided a vivid and colorful description of every day life in Cleveland's Irish community as seen through activities and heard in testimonies.  That the Kelleys were unruly and disrespected members of a poor neighborhood was significant to the case and the trials of the Kelleys.  The lack of protection and rights the Kelleys' should have expected as promised by law were significantly limited because of their social standing in the Irish community and discrimination against the Irish in general found in the City of Cleveland as related to their cultural background, their lack of economic security, and the political influences of the newspapers and law enforcement.  The combination of all of these factors culminated in the Kelley's conviction in the crimes against Mrs. Rosa O'Malia.

Author's Judgement 

Bibliographical Information