The Imagined Testimony of Rosa O'Malia
Jennifer E. Vincenty

This is a fictionalized account based on the historical record. It provides a
personal perspective on life in the immigrant community in nineteenth-century Cleveland.

The Thursday morning I was attacked started out like most others.  My husband, Francis O'Malia, left early for work. He was a day laborer in the neighborhood and would not be home until after dark. Our seven year old daughter, Celia, left for the girls' academy near home that was established by the Ursuline Sisters in 1853. We lived on West Riverstreet about halfway between the Columbus Street and Center Street bridges. I was a washerwoman.

I had heard the cabbage wagon was in the neighborhood, around the river bend on Detroit Street, so I ventured in that direction early in the afternoon About the time I reached the sharp intersection where Riverstreet and Detroit meet, the furnace bell from the Cuyahoga Steam Furnace Company rang, so I knew it was one o'clock. I met Margaret Kelley there.  She did not look well, so I went to assist her, picking out the best heads of cabbage and putting them in her apron." She was no great friend of mine, but I felt it was the right thing to do, seeing as she was not well.  I had visited her before, more than once, the first time, just to be neighborly, about two months prior to the assault, and the second time with a friend from Newburgh, about one month prior, to retrieve the washtub Mrs. Kelley had borrowed the day before. My husband was unaware of these Visit. Margaret and her husband William often fought and were loud, everyone knew, even though they had been married only a short while, not yet three years, I believe. She was married before, That is where the boys came from; they were not his. One of them, Michael, was roaming around the neighborhood.

We proceeded to her shanty, which had its gate on Detroit Street, but had a rear door on Riverstreet as well.16 She invited me in.  At first I was reluctant to go in, figuring she needed her rest.  Besides William was there, and I didn't want to witness one of their brawls, so I acted like I would go away.  Then I changed my mind and went in, for usually they had some good whiskey to share. I admit I had developed a taste for the drink, just once in a while.  My husband was gone so long those days, longer than he had been away before, and the liquor helped stem my loneliness.  I suppose he may have taken a liking to that Ellen Goff woman, they did wind up together so soon after I died. I wonder if he knew about my drinking.  Probably not, since I had helped him mend his ways from his bad whiskey habits, and he had joined the Father Matthew Temperance Society a few years back.

Inside the shanty, William had a gallon jug of whiskey, so he poured some out for himself, which he drank, then some for me, which I drank. He insisted several times that Margaret should take some, too, but she would not. She seemed edgy about the whole thing, like she disliked my being there.  Margaret Conner, a neighbor as well as a friend who came to tend to me after the assault, thought Mrs. Kelley was threatened by me, for she was a jealous woman, and Kelley himself was a handsome devil, in a rough kind of way. If I did anything to reinforce that notion, I do not recollect, but I seriously doubt I did.  One newspaper actually stated that I threw my drink at Mrs. Kelley's feet and leaned on his shoulder. I learned some of these details while I languished the few days after my husband brought me home. Mary Brogan, another neighbor, knew how to read and write, and she came daily to read the newspaper accounts of the Kelleys to me.  Later, after I died, I heard William say in court that I called Margaret a foul name to inflame her emotions, which is just not true. He said this just to put the blame on her, to say she attacked me out of a jealous frenzy, but really, they were both guilty.

get up to go home, but I fell, partly on the floor and partly on a bed mattress which was directly on The floor. Margaret was angry, although later she claimed she was not, but most witnesses at their trials insisted she was quite aqitated. How could she not be, given what Mr. Kelley then proceeded to do?  He took certain advantage of my inebriated condition while I was lying down, raping me.  I was quite helpless to prevent him from using me so terribly, but I did try, although in vain.  Mrs. Kelley was in a fix-, she had been abused by him she said, and I do not doubt it. William had been before the police court and in the city jail before; Frank had been instrumental in aiding the police in arresting Kelley when he was drunk and rowdy, slightly more than a year ago. I uppose he held a grudge against my husband ever since for this, although I did not know it at the time. If he had a grudge, he would not have been so cordial during my visit, unless he intended all along to get me drunk and take advantage of me, to enact his revenge on me.

All the same, I struggled against him, but he was a strong, brutish man.  For those who thought I went there to instigate this sort of activity I can point to the many various wounds on my hands and arms as proof that what he was doing was definitely against my will.  Even when Drs. Strong, Messenger and Capener examined my body, they noted extensive bruising and deep cuts and abrasions on my person, including on my arms and across my hands. I was trying to push him away.  Then I did the same when he hit me with the shovel, all the while Mrs. Kelley was hitting me with the axe, nearly severing my left ear from my head. He struck me on the face, right above the left eye. Those were the main blows which accounted for my death.

Of course Margaret Kelley had a powerful motive for harming me, too; her husband was abusing me, and in her presence even.  What a perverse pair those two were.  Even the Plain Dealer accurately described the Kelley's, "They are a miserable couple," Bridget McGuire said Mrs. Kelley called me a "whore," and Margaret Connor stated Mary Ann Mackenay told her Margaret Kelly said I was "in bed with Kelley," implying that I aimed to get him there. Bridget Murphy, the neighbor who ran for the police, said she. heard Mrs. Kelley say the same thing to Mrs. Mack, the milkwoman. I think Margaret Kelley was trying to present herself as a victim, one of husbandry infidelity, and that I deserved the treatment I received, as his partner in the crime against her.  She wanted the court to view him and me as the filthy, guilty ones, and if so, then it was only plausible William could have done the beating, for how could she, being so wronged and innocent?  However, the statements made by all the others belie her protestation that she "did not feel offended" by his using me and that she "never had anything against Frank O'Malia and his wife." if she were not offended, why would that stranger, Charles Norton, while walking down Detroit Street, have heard her say to her husband, "You are a damned villain and have a decent woman of your own," he stated in court.

Both Kelley's had motives and were guilty.  They both acted with such speed.  Much of the damage was done with the shovel, but I believe she used the axe and maybe a club, which conveniently was lost, Mr.Burlison, the policeman, said, Mr.  Kelley claimed he would take his revenge out on me for what Frank did to him, but he also had to prevent, my ever telling Frank that he raped me. Learning all of this must have been quite a burden for Frank to carry, that he had inadvertently contributed to Kelley's attacking me, through trying to help the police.

After they assaulted me, William came to his senses and hurried out the door, up the Street. Officers Burlison and Rodgers, in conjunction with Constable Eastman, caught him after he fled to the Cleveland & Mahoning Railroad coal docks, where he put up a desperate resistance. He was quite a violent man: he had picked up a lot of rough habits since he came to the United States in 1850, so his wife had said he told her. He was thirty-seven, a laborer on one of those ore boats and came home filthy- The newspapers repeatedly referred to how tough a customer he was, and I can attest to their veracity first hand.

At their house, Margaret's son Michael came in.  What an awful sight for a young child to see!  Margaret began yelling for the watch, but I was slipping in and out of consciousness; so much is vague. Mrs. Connor came to my aid, washing my face, and I tried to speak to her, but I could only moan. Many people came to visit, but Drs. Strong, Messenger, Wilson and Hartman said I was beyond hope. I wonder about this, because if I had been a wealthy, Protestant Yankee woman, they probably would not have given up hope so soon.  However, I was only a poor, Catholic Irish woman, and we Irish experienced quite a bit of inequality in those days, sometimes even worse than that felt by the Black people of Cleveland.

A lot of those who stopped at our shanty kept asking which of the two assaulted me, and with what too], but I always replied the same, that it was Kelley with the shovel, for he did most of the damage. Mainly, though, it was difficult to speak much, even if I could understand others' speech.  Mary Brogan read the papers.  The Plain Dealer and Herald claimed I died only two days after, on December 17. Apparently we Irish are worth reporting about only when we commit offenses or are dead.  Only the Leader correctly, reported my lingering through the 20th, although they did call me "Stupid!," which was uncharitable. It was that evening I died, and I was buried the afternoon of Harper's Weekly, june 26, 1858; 21 St. My daughter Celia spent most of Sunday with me, but it was difficult to be with her; I was so sad for her. She must have been frightened by the sight of me, and then I was actually dying, as well.

 During the trial, I could see many other Irish people from the neighborhood, not just the witnesses.  My murder caused quite a stir, and the courtroom was packed. The Kelley's created a terrible fuss, repeatedly blaming each other while trying toexonerate themselves.  They even commenced to kicking each other one time. Certainly, the newspapers have nothing good to say about us Irish, unless we conform to traditional Yankee ways, like when Frank quit the whiskey.  Of course, I was portrayed as a slovenly drunk.

The Kelley's ceased to attract attention once the grand jury indicted them and Coroner Hartman charged them with committing the murder "purposely and with deliberate and premeditated malice." Nothing made the news for two months, except the City Sexton's Annual Report, in which I was one of the dead buried in the "Catholic Cemetery," meaning St. John's and Joseph's Cemetery. The Record of Death stated I came to my death by accident! However, the Sexton's report stated there was one woman, who died from beating, and I imagine I was she.

I also noticed that there was no mention of my being raped in the sentences or verdicts, either in the Coroner's Verdict or Criminal Record, except for my neighbors' testimonies in the former and one account in a newspaper. Not that I personally wanted to make a large fuss over such a shameful occurrence, but William Kelley never had to pay an extra price for this terrible crime.  It is almost like it never happened.  Were I a rich lady from the other side of town, I am sure it would not have been so lightly considered, As it was, the Kelley's were found guilty of the exact same crimes; the only difference I could find was that he had a much greater court fee to pay than she, over twice as much the fine.

Finally, the petit juries found both William and Margaret Kelley guilty of murder in the second degree, in separate trials, one after the other, in early March 1 1860.  I have been told about the Criminal Records of both trials, that they were tried for the same offense, for assaulting me on the head with an axe, shovel and another unknown tool, causing a wound five inches long by two inches deep, which eventually I died from. Both Kelley's were sentenced to hard labor, without solitary confinement. Also, both entered the plea of not guilty and filed for retrial, but were overruled. I noticed the charge was reduced to second-degree murder, as the Criminal Records stated time and again that the murder was not deliberate and premeditated, in contrast to the Coroner's Verdict. There was no way those two drunk Kelley's could have planned my steps that day.

As for my family, Frank did bring that Ellen Goff, a domestic, into the house to live with him and Celia. Frank had wanted to return to Ireland, ever since his younger brother)john, was found washed up on the shore of Lake Erie last June, after having been missing for months from Cross & Perry's Coal Yard." As if that were not enough sorrow for one man, then he loses me, his wife of nine years. I was only twenty-seven years old. Frank's father, still in Ireland, wanted us to return home, but I was against it, for we were better off here. At least Frank had work, and Celia had school in Cleveland, unlike in Ireland, where there was just famine and starvation. However, once Celia entered a boarding house when she was older, he must have decided she was mature enough to take care of herself and was therefore secure, so he returned to his father before she was twenty. She married a few years later one Thomas McLaughlin when she was twenty-four, on 8 May 1875. How much older she was than when f married!  I was only eighteen. Frank returned to Ireland alone, without that Goff woman.

Never would I have imagined that stepping over the threshold into the Kelley's shanty that day would result in my death.  It often gives me pause to wonder how life would have been, were I to have agreed to return to Ireland, as Frank had wanted.  It all matters little, though. However, I felt it was important to finally tell my story of the eventful days leading up to my death back in December 1859, to clear my reputation and set the record straight, and to show the true motives of my assailants.


1. Coroner's Verdict  and Testimony on the Body of Rosa O'Malia, No. 372, Charles A. Hartman, coroner, 24 December 1859.

2  Ibid.

3  The State of 0hio vs.Williaim Kelley, Doc.1.310, Criminal Record Book No.1, Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court, pp. 447-451; The State of Ohio vs. Margaret Kelley, Doc.1.311, Criminal Record Book No.1, Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court, pp. 45 1-455.

4. Verdict No. 372.

5.  Ibid.: Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, City of Cleveland No. 536.

6.  Eighth Census of  the United States, 1860, No. 536; Charles Irwin, Irishtown Bend: A Study of Movement Patterns of Irish and Hungarian Immigrants from 1880-1900, thesis, Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University, 14 May 1989,  p.21.

7  CIeveland  Daily Herald, 16 December 1859.

8  CIevland Daily Plain Dealer, 15 December 1859.
  9. Coroner's Verdict No. 372.

10. Ibid.; G & M Ownership Map of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, S.H. Matthews, publisher, 1858.

11. Coroner's Verdict No. 372.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid

18. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, No. 536.

19. ClevelandDaily Plain Dealer, 16 December 1859.

20. Coroner's Verdict No. 372.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Cleveland Morning Leader, 17 December 1859.

24. This can be ascertained from the fact that Mary Brogan signed her own name on the Coroner's Verdict after making her statement, rather than just leave her mark as most of the witnesses did.

25. Coroner's Verdict No. 372.

26. Ibid.

27. bid.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.; The State of Ohio vs.William Kelley, Doc.1.310; The State of Ohio vs, Margaret Kelley, Doc.1.311; Cleveland Daily Herald, 24 December 1859.

33. Coroner's Verdict No.372, The State of Ohio vs.  William Kelley, Doc.1.310; The State of Ohio vs.Margaret Kelley,
Doc. 1.311.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid.

36. CIeveland Daily Plain Dealer, 20 December1859

37. Coroner's Verdict No. 372.

38. Ibid.

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid.

4l. Ibid.

42. Ibid,

43. Ibid.

44. CIeveland Daily Herald, 16 December 1859; Cleveland Morning Leader, 16 December 1859.

45.Cuyahoga County Naturalization Records, Cuyahoga County Archives.

46. CIeveland City Directory, 1859-1860: Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, City of Cleveland, No. 2302; Coroner's Verdict No.372; Nelson J. Callahan and William F. Hickey, Irish Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland, Cleveland State University, 1878, pp. 77-78.

47. Cleveland Daily Herald, 16 December 1859; Cleveland Morning Leader, 16 December 1859.

48. Coroner's Verdict No. 372.

49. Ibid.

50. Ibid.; Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, 16 December 1859

51. Coroner's Verdict No. 372.

52. Cleveland Daily Herald, 17 December 1859; Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, 17 December 1859.

53. Cleveland Morning Leader, 21 December 1859.

54. Cleveland Daily Herald, 20 December 1859; Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, 20 December 1859.

55. Coroner's Verdict No. 372.

56. Cleveland Daily Herald, 29 December 1859.

57. Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, 27 December 1859.

58 Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, 16 December 1859; Cleveland Morning Leader, 17 December 1859.

59. Coroner's Verdict No. 372, Grand jury verdict.

60. Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, 4 January 1860; Record of Deaths for Cuyahoga County, 1859, No. 303.

61. Cuyahoga County Record of Deaths, 1859, No. 303.

62. Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, 4 January 1860.

63. Cleveland Daily Herald, 24 December 1859.

64. The State of Ohio vs.William Kelley, Dec.1.310: The State of Ohio vs. Margaret Kelley, Doc.1.31 1.

65. Ibid.

66. Ibid.

67. Ibid.

68. Ibid.

69. Ibid

70. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860,  No. 536.

71. Cleveland Daily  Herald, 16 December 1859.

72. Coroner's Verdict No. 372.

73. Cuyahoga County Record of Deaths, 1859, No. 303.

74. Cleveland Daily Herald, 16 December 1859.

75. Charles Irwin, Irishtown Bend thesis, pp. 6,9.

76. Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, City of Cleveland, No. 4041.

77. Cuyahoga County Marriage Records, Vol. 19, p. 25.

78. Coroner's Verdict no. 372, Record of Deaths for Cuyahoga County, 185 9, No. 303.

79. Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, No. 1920.