The Murder of Inez Williams
by Mary Demmy
The third week in April of 1912 began ominously. The sinking of the Titanic dominated the papers with tales of tragedy, heroism, families destroyed and fortunes lost to the northern Atlantic. President Taft and former President Roosevelt were viciously fighting for the soul of the Republican Party. Due to the unseasonable cold, rainy weather in Detroit, the baseball season's opening game between the Tigers and the Cleveland Naps had been canceled. In Cleveland, school children were being paid ten cents for every hundred flies they turned into the board of health, much to the consternation of some of their mothers. The city was preparing to fertilize some vacant lots, which were going to be turned into local "truck farms" encouraged by the "back to the soil movement" with the express purpose of helping cut down
on the cost of living. Cleveland, the sixth city, was expanding rapidly and attracting waves of immigrants from both Europe and other parts of the United States. Over the decades since the Civil War, African-Americans increasingly were attracted to the perceived opportunities which northern cities such as Cleveland held for them. Although the population of Black communities grew in number, the percentage of Cleveland's black population stayed relatively steady, between 1 and 2% of the total population. In 1910 there were 8,500 blacks in Cleveland, which equaled 1.52% of the population. This paper will look into the homicide of Inez William in order to paint a portrait of the lives of her acquaintances at the time of her death, to glean some information about their lives and to place it in a historical context.
April 17, 1912 was a cold grey day. The thermometer barely reached 40 degrees as Inez Williams, a 25-year-old black woman, left work, fastened her hat with a large pin and wrapped her coat tightly about her. It was a little after 6:00 when she reached Blee Court, a tiny one block downtown street where the north side was lined with frame boarding houses. She passed the back entrance to the auto garage, which fronted on Chester and crossed to 1117 Blee only to find that her boyfriend Louis Hallick, a forty year old bellboy captain at the Hollenden Hotel, hasn't arrived for their date. Unfortunately, she didn't decide to head back home to her room at 46th and Scovill, but headed over to her cousin's, Mrs. Hattie Davis, who shared three rooms with her husband a few blocks away on 12th Street. Inez thought she would wait there for Louis to pick her up.
She arrived at the Davis' rooms close to 6:30, and said she'd visit with them and give Louis until about 7:00 PM before she'd leave for home. Louis arrived close to 7:00 and they stayed for a half-hour having a few whiskey and gingerales with their host, Harry Davis. Louis was in a foul temper and Harry heard him mutter to Inez that they would both be dead inside 24 hours.
Meanwhile, Edith Morris, a friend and neighbor of Inez, was visiting with her mother up in their Scovill neighborhood. She decided to go downtown to meet up with Inez. On her way, she ran into Ludlough Burns at the street corner of 33rd and Central, and even though he was feeling a little sick, she convinced him to take the Cedar Street car with her downtown. She told him she was going to meet Inez and then planned on coming right back. When they arrived at Mr. Hallick's room at Blee Court, the door was ajar and Louis' coat was lying across the bed, so they decided to wait a few minutes.
Louis and Inez arrived in a few minutes and Edith asked her if she was going home. Inez told her she would go, but asked if they would wait a few minutes in the room, while she and Louis went to get a bite from a restaurant. Ludlough and Edith stayed on Blee Court as Louis and Inez headed over to Walnut & 12th Street to Ben Won Ting's. They ordered ham and eggs. Inez took a moment to talk to another black gentleman in the restaurant. This infuriated Louis and he slapped Inez across the mouth causing her to fall down the stairs of the restaurant. They never got to finish their ham and eggs.
When they got back to Blee Court, Inez was crying, and her face was covered in blood. She told Edith that Louis had struck her in the restaurant and asked her if she would go back and get her hat that she left behind. While Edith went after the hat, Ludlough asked Louis where he could get some water to clean up the blood on her face. Inez asked him not to leave, and stated that she was afraid of Louis. Even as he promised not to hurt her, Louis was drawing his hand back as if to strike her and Ludlough stepped in. Louis stated that he would not hit her and when Inez stopped crying Ludlough left to get a pitcher of water. As he went up the stairs, the door slammed and a few moments later, he heard a shot.
Ludlough returned and knocked on the door. Louis asked him what he wanted and Ludlough told him that he had a pitcher of water for Inez. Louis asked him to get away from the door. At this point, Edith returned with Inez' hat. Ludlough shouted down the stairs to her not to come up and told her that he thought that Louis might have shot Inez. Ludlough returned to the door with Inez's hat, knocked, and said he had come back for his coat, which he had left in the room. Louis didn't let him in but instead brought his coat out to him. As Ludlough returned Inez' hat, he asked Louis if he had shot her. Not surprisingly, he claimed that everything was all right and that he had merely tried to frighten Inez.
Ludlough escorted Edith home on the Scovill car. She was very upset and pleaded with Ludlough to go back and see if Inez had been hurt. Wisely, Ludlough decided not to go alone to confront an angry drunken man with a loaded gun. Ludlough acted like a true gentleman, here he had been feeling sick, but being chivalrous had decided to escort his single lady friend downtown and back. Now after seeing Edith safely home, he found himself embroiled in this sad domestic drama. He stopped at the Elks Club and found a fellow to accompany him on his mission. They proceeded back downtown to the Hollenden Hotel and found Louis' roommate, Mr. Hughes, to help them out. When the three of them returned to Blee Ct., the door was locked and Louis answered weakly, but was unable to get up to unlock the door.
At this point, Ludlough thought it was better to get a patrolman, rather than to have them force the door. He found an officer on 9th street and brought him back. When the officer broke open the door, both Louis and Inez lay on the bed. Inez was already dead with a gunshot wound to her chest. Louis had also shot himself in the chest, and was barely alive. They took them both to Lakeside hospital.
What is possible to learn from the lives of this particular cast of characters? What insights can they give into their times and how does this particular domestic tragedy fit into the homicide trends that are addressed in Roger Lane's book, Murder in America? The second half of this paper will discuss what primary sources can reveal about these witnesses at the Inez Williams' inquest. In addition, this paper will explore other source materials and what they can reveal about he life in the Cleveland African-American community in 1912. Finally, the homicide of Inez Williams will be analyzed as to how it concurs with or differs from national homicide trends.
On April 18th, 1912, the day after the murder, both the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Cleveland News, had small articles covering the incident in their back pages. The Plain Dealer's piece appeared on the second page of the sports news with a fairly large caption. It is written more in a story form than the much smaller Cleveland News item, which mainly recites the bare facts. The Plain Dealer refers to the two as Negroes, whereas The Cleveland News identifies Lewis Halleck as colored, and doesn't state anything about the race of Inez Williams. Maybe her racial background is assumed, this might be leaping to conclusions here, but in this time period a black man killing a white woman would probably be a larger news story. In both stories they state Halleck's occupation as a bellboy at the Hollenden Hotel, but the Plain Dealer identifies him as the bellboy Captain.
The disparity in the media coverage between the races is exemplified by the size of the article on another murder/suicide by a white farmer in Parma. That story not only rated the whole left hand column of the front page of the Sunday Plain Dealer, April 14, 1912, but also had pictures of the deceased and elaborate diagrams of the scene that took up a full half page in the first section of the paper. It is only fair to note that the Inez Williams murder occurred only a few days after the Titanic disaster, which monopolized much of the newspaper copy. However, no matter where the story was placed in the paper, the amount of copy was miniscule when compared with the coverage of the white Parma farmer who while drunk, killed his wife and himself with his shotgun.
During this period there was an African-American weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Gazette, which had been publishing since August 25, 1883. It is evident from viewing a number of their four page issues that the main purpose of this paper was to serve as a vehicle to both uplift the race and present African-Americans and their achievements in a most positive light. A full quarter of the front page of the April 20, 1912 issue is filled with a fashion section featuring pictures of spring hats. Another prominent front-page article's caption reads, " Colored Man Guided Great Violinist to Fame".
The second page contained sports, local and Ohio news, and assorted announcements. This page would be a logical place for the Inez Williams murder to be covered, but it was conspicuous in its absence. The story did not appear anywhere else in the paper.The third and fourth pages were filled with a women's section that covered sewing and recipes, a Sunday School lesson, classified adds and advertisements which prominently featured a number of hair pomades. It is obvious that this journal to not want to feature stories that negatively reflected on the black community or that might feed racial stereotypes.
The next sources of information are the witness statements and documents from the Coroners' Inquest. The murder took place in a boarding house room on Blee Court. Louis Hallick shared this one room with Mr. Hughes, another employee at the Hollenden Hotel. Blee Court was a one block street off of 12th Street and consisted of a few frame houses facing the back of some Chester avenue commercial buildings. According to the 1910 census, it was a tiny working class neighborhood of boarding houses where mainly service industry workers lived in close proximity to their jobs. Although, predominately white with a fairly even mix of Italians, Polish, Irish, and Natives, there is one address that seemed to have exclusively housed older black service industry personnel, such as maids, cooks, and waiters.
Louis Hallick worked at the Hollenden Hotel, which Russell H. Davis in Memorable Negroes in Cleveland's Past claimed "opened as Cleveland's finest in 1888... the gathering place for Cleveland's business and political leaders, lawyers, and bankers." The Captain of the Hollenden bellboys would be a relatively high status job for an African-American male of the period. The Hollenden Hotel was located on 6th and Superior and would have been an easy walk from Blee Court.
The Hollenden Hotel was the location of one of the most prosperous and influential black owned business in Cleveland. George A. Myers was the proprietor of the Hollenden Barber shop, which led to his connections with some of the most powerful business and political leaders. Later, he even turned down political appointments by both McKinley and Marcus A. Hanna in order to concentrate on his business. As was true even in the period before the civil war, Barbering was one of the few professions open to blacks where they could accumulate capital and a modicum of prestige, but most importantly, be their own boss.
It's sad to note, that in the years following the civil war, while other groups such as the Germans and the Irish moved up the social scale, accumulated capital, moved into professions, and gained degree of political power, Northern Blacks remained frozen in lower end jobs. Although often they were educated alongside whites in the public school system, the majority was excluded from almost any work that would allow for upward mobility.
The only witness who lived in the downtown area was Harry Davis, who shared three rooms with his wife at 1309 East 12th Street, which was one block from the notoriously seedy and vice ridden Hamilton Avenue. Mr. Davis could not be located in the 1910 census, which would not be unusual given the transient nature of many in the black community at the time. Inez Williams, Edith Harris, and Ludlough Burns all lived a streetcar ride away in the Central-Scovill neighborhood.
In 1912, this area was still racially diverse, and according to the 1910 census, contained a mixture of Easter European and Russian Jews, Italian and Poles. However, over the next decade, this neighborhood was on the way to becoming exclusively black, as stated in Kenneth Kusmer's book, A Ghetto Takes Shape about this area in 1910.
Although no ghetto existed, the groundwork for future concentration had been laid. A definite trend toward the segregation of the city's black population was evident and about 80% of lack Cleveland resided within four well-defined areas of settlement. Most significant was the emergence of the Central Avenue district as a potential black belt. By1915, this area with its cheap lodging houses, deteriorating homes, and vice conditions, housed a majority of the Negro population under conditions that were decidedly inferior to that of most of the city's residential sections.
Ludlough Burns lived at 3273 Scovill. According to Kusmer, between 1905-1915, this area was in the process of replacing Hamilton St. in infamy. He states, "a second, larger red-light district developed, this time in the vicinity of East 30th and Central in the very heart of the developing black community." Both Kusmer and Lane note that the political powers and the police basically forced the "vice districts to develop in Black communities" and as a result "the association of blacks with vice amounted to a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of the white population."
During these years, it was especially difficult for single black women to find decent housing. Both Inez and Edith had rooms near Scovill and 46th, which at this time was a predominately Jewish neighborhood. Inez lived around the corner from the Kenneth- Israel Congregational Synagogue. Jane Edna Hunter, the founder of the Phyllis Wheatly Association, arrived in Cleveland in 1905 and chronicles in her autobiography, A Nickel and a Prayer, the frustration she experienced in finding mostly substandard and overpriced housing. She comments on her female friends who "had to return...to dark, little room under the eaves; lumpy straw mattresses; dim gas lights, which had to be turned off at ten o'clock and surly land ladies to whom women lodgers were nuisance to be put up with."
Neither Inez nor Edith is found in the 1910 census or in the City Directory. Actually, none of the characters in this drama were able to be located in the census or, the City Directory, which speaks to the transience of their lives and jobs. This group of people was characteristic of the Cleveland black population as a whole. According to the 1910 census approximately two-thirds of this population fell between the ages of 15-54. This was due to the fact that many blacks had migrated to the city from other parts of the country. However, unlike many east-coast cities, black women did not significantly outnumber black men. In his writings, The Black North, W.E.B. DuBois mentions that young blacks could not afford to marry and therefore stayed single years beyond the age they would have married in rural regions. This holds true for our characters as well, who with the exception of Harry Davis, were all single.
On the coroner's report, Inez occupation is listed as H.W., which probably stands for housework. It is possible that she worked in private residence or at a hotel. At the inquest, Edith Harns was not asker her occupation, but only if she was related to Inez. Another interesting note on the coroner's report -- Inez Williams's nativity is listed as African. She was 25 in 1912 so that it is extremely doubtful she was born in Africa. It would be hard to believe that they would put down a foreign nativity for a third or fourth generation white person. Since none of the witnesses were found in the census, it is impossible to say in which states they were born or estimate how long they had lived in Cleveland. However, a page from the 1910 census of part of 30th Street between Central and Scovill gives some inkling of the makeup of the black community. There was a fair representation from the nearer southern states such as Virginia and Maryland.
Finally, how does this crime fit in with the homicide trends outlined by Roger Lane in Murder in America? It fits into a few trends. First as to instrumentality, according to Lane, the proportion of gun deaths in the early twentieth leaped up over 40%. The jump is the clear result of a population shift, the upsurge of immigration, and especially of murder indictments among African American and Italians, two groups more likely than others to carry lethal weapons.He later states, "African-American men and women were especially vulnerable to gun deaths, and across the country, as earlier in Philadelphia, accounted for proportionally more of them than any other group". The problem in the black community was that "the weapons carried for protection against gangs and strangers turned too often against family and friends."
At first blush, Louis Hallick seems to qualify as a member of Lane's "bachelor subculture" who lived in a rooming house and committed an impulsive act of violence under the influence of alcohol. However, this crime does not totally fit Lane's pattern. His "bachelor subculture" was generally made up of transient, marginally employed, young white males, who were often recent immigrants. Louis Hallick was 40 years old and held a relatively high-status job for a black man.
As Lane states the (African-Americans) "were not only denied a chance to grab at the fabled American ladder of opportunity' but in many cases, actually kicked off". He continues, "The effect of denial and despair, of being confined to medieval jobs in a modern world, was ominous." This statement implies that those frustrations combined with guns were a lethal combination. It might be that Louis's frustration at being forty, unmarried, unable to buy a decent home, and condemned no matter his ambition to an eternal life as a bellboy, led him to explode. Domestic violence motivated by jealousy has probably existed since relationships began. Guns simply have served to make it more deadly. This crime seems to fit into Lane's pattern of murder-suicide, which usually involved older men of respectable status who due to "passionate love, jealousy, or domestic despair" snapped and took their loved one with them.
If Louis managed to escape death by infection, he would be more likely to be executed for his crime than his white counterparts. Drawing on the information provided by the over the top prose in Palace of Death, by H.M. Fogle or as the title page states, "A Human - Interest Story of the Incarceration and Execution of Ohio's Murderers," with a Detailed Review of the Incidents Connected with Each Case."
Mr. Fogle wrote detailed vignettes of the crimes and executions of the 60 men executed in the Ohio Penitentiary Annex from 1885-1907. From 1892 when the first black man was executed until the end of 1907, 15 black men were hanged or electrocuted compared to 45 white men, therefore 33% of the convicted murderers executed were black. This trend was also reflected in the statistics from Philadelphia where of the 24 men executed between 1900-1916, eleven were black. Lane states that "the Philadelphia story mirrored national trends: it was always easier to condemn black me to death than white".
The extent of this disparate treatment is exemplified by the case of William Nichols, a civil war veteran. Fogle makes a point of relating the fact that a white civil war veteran, who was a triple murderer, had his death sentence commuted to life by the Governor, whereas poor William Nichols was executed right on schedule.
The murder of Inez William allows a window into the world and lives of a small group of African-American in 1912. This glimpse shows a difficult world of tiny rooms, in tough areas, limited economic opportunities, and hardship. Also, if a black man made a serious mistake and ended up in the criminal justice system, the treatment was likely to be much harsher. Overall, the lot of African-American in Cleveland improved little from the Civil War until 1912 and unfortunately life in this community was on the eve of a much harsher time.