McDonough ILGenWeb ILGenWeb


In giving this history of some of the noted murders and other crimes committed in McDonough County, it is not the intention to represent its population as containing a large proportion of criminals or to prove that, as a whole, it is a blood-thirsty community; on the contrary, the county has had an unusually small percentage of violent deaths. But inasmuch as the youth have been told by their parents of murders here and there, in the early times, and the actual facts of the case have become quite mystical, this sketch is prepared from the public records and from interviews with those who actively participated in some of the stirring events narrated. The narratives cover four of the most noted murders in the history of McDonough County. It should be added that no hanging has ever occurred in the county.


The most sensational murder in the history of McDonough County was, without doubt, the killing of James Dye, a wealthy farmer living on what is known as the Prentiss farm in the west part of the county. The arrest of his wife as the murderess and Rev. D. B. Burress as an accomplice, charges of undue intimacy between them, theft, conspiracy by the sons to have their father murdered, the trial of the woman for her life, the escape of Burress from jail, went to make an event that, at the time of the deed, and for years afterward, for that matter, was the sensation of this and adjoining counties. James Dye was a well-to-do farmer living with his second wife, by whom he had three children, having had twelve children by his former wife. Trouble came up between Dye and his sons by his first wife, and they were practically disowned and, as a result, hard feelings arose between the parties. Others took a hand in the affair and there were anonymous communications and threats of various kinds passed around. Dye also had some trouble with Burress just the day before he was murdered, the difficulty arising over the planting of some corn. This was said to have been adjusted, but that was never known.

On the night of May 27, 1854, about 9 o'clock, the alarm was given that Dye had been murdered. The news was noised rapidly through the neighborhood. Suspicion at once rested on Burress and Mrs. Dye, and they were arrested the day following on the finding of the Coroner's jury, and were held in jail without bail. S. P. Ray was also held on the same charge, but was afterward released, as there was no evidence against him. When the neighbors were summoned, Dye was found in bed with his knees bent and his limbs then stiff. Burress had an alibi ready, as he attended meeting that evening. Ray was at the house and gave the alarm to the neighbors.


When they assembled Mrs. Dye was found crying and told her story. She claimed that that evening she and another woman, Mrs. Burress, were doing the milking, they became frightened at a man but could not see close-enough to tell who it was. The man opened a gate which attracted their attention. Dye was then in the house. They retired about 8 o'clock and she was awakened by a ringing sound in her ears. She saw her husband standing by the bed and grabbed him and pulled him down again. She heard a man running and heard a horse running afterward like the man had left the house and mounted the horse. She then gave the alarm. That was in substance, her story.


The evidence against the woman was purely circumstantial, which fact alone prevented her hanging and, even as it was, at one time eight of the jury were for conviction. The circumstances showed the relations between her and Burress as being very intimate. When the neighbors arrived the body was partly stiff. Then the wounds--which consisted of a slug shot in the body, supposedly from a big revolver, and the fracture of the skull--bled freely on the bed and yet there was not a drop of blood on the carpet, which would have been the case if he was standing when she awoke and pulled him back on the bed. Again, the blood from the gun-shot went to show that the slug was fired into the body after life had departed. The physicians also testified that the gun-shot wound was such that he could not have arisen after it was inflicted.

There were three savage dogs kept at the house and it was claimed the revolver belonging at the house was empty, but showed it had been recently cleaned.
Then the defense proved that Dye had received a threatening letter, and he had attributed it to his sons and had expressed fear from that source. The sons were active in the prosecution, and the defense claimed they had the old man killed to prevent his willing the property to the wife and her children--as he had had so much trouble with them, they expected that was what he would do.

The prosecution claimed it was the intention of Burress and the woman to do away with the old man and thus prevent trouble over their illicit relations, then they would get what money they could and leave the country together. There was always a question as to whether any of the old man's money disappeared on that night, both sides claiming that he always kept a large amount of money in the house and that it disappeared the night of the murder.

The prisoners endeavored to obtain their release on bonds by habeas corpus proceedings, which were held in Schuyler County. In this they were unsuccessful. Mrs. Dye then got a change of venue to Fulton County where her trial was held, lasting some ten days. The counsel comprised the very best legal talent in this part of the state. Goudy, of Fulton, Wheat of Adams, and Schofield & Mack, of Carthage, prosecuted, while Manning, of Peoria, Kellogg & Ross, of Fulton, and Cyrus Walker, of McDonough, defended. The trial was hotly contested from the start. The jury, after fifteen hours' deliberation, standing eight for conviction and four for acquittal, finally agreed on a verdict of manslaughter and the woman was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.

Mrs. Dye was taken to the penitentiary, but, on the recommendation of the Warden, she was pardoned long before her time had expired. She returned to this city and made this her home the rest of her life. She died in 1874.

In the meantime, Burress had procured a change of venue to Warren County. On the night of August 11, 1855, he escaped from the old log jail here, but, after being absent some ten days, returned and gave himself up. He became dissatisfied again, however, and on the night of November 10, 1855, again escaped. He was tracked to Indiana but eluded the officers and was never heard from again.


The second murder in the history of this county, but the first of which we have any authentic particulars, was the murder of John Wilson by the McFaddens. Elias McFadden was one of the earliest settlers near Macomb. His son David, and his son-in-law Wylie, were also near neighbors. From what can be learned of them they were of a quarrelsome disposition, and had considerable trouble with their neighbors.

One of their neighbors was John Wilson, a bluff, good-natured man and utterly fearless. Some trouble arose between the McFaddens and Wilson over a piece of timber land, and the latter was warned to look out for them, as they were dangerous. Wilson, however, was fearless and gave no heed to the warnings, not thinking the cause was enough to incite any deed of violence.

About the first part of November, 1834, Henton & Robinson, two merchants of this place, secured judgments against Elias McFadden and an execution was procured and placed in the hands of Deputy Sheriff Nelson Montgomery. The McFaddens lived on the farm just south of the St. Francis Hospital, the house being near the site of the one now located here. On the day in question Wiley was not at home and as it afterward developed he was in Rushville consulting with an attorney to see if they had a right to kill Wilson if they found him on their land. This fact, that he was away from home, alone saved him from the same fate that the other two McFaddens met.

On the road to the McFadden homestead the officer passed the Wilson residence and asked him to take his team and accompany him, as he wanted to haul back the things on which he levied. Wilson, thinking nothing of danger, accompanied him. The two got in the wagon and drove to McFadden's. They met the old man there and the officer informed him of his errand. McFadden made some remark and succeeded in decoying the two men to the north side of the house. As the wagon stopped a shot was fired from the window of the house. Wilson reeled and, with a gasp, fell toward the Sheriff, who caught him in his arms and tenderly laid him down. He then removed him to the wood house and rushed off for aid.

Soon a crowd assembled and, as they approached the house, found the old man McFadden fixing a fence, as unconcerned as though nothing had happened. Wilson was found lying where the officer had left him. He was seen to be mortally wounded, but had received no care whatever from McFadden during the absence of the officer. McFadden was at once placed under arrest and a search of the premises was instituted. An examination of the house showed that a pane of glass had been broken in the north window. Near it stood an empty rifle and on the window sill was a book, both the sill and the book showing plainly recent powder marks. No trace of anyone could be found, but a trail was followed which tracked David to his own house where where he was found coolly working at his shoemaker's bench. He too, was placed under arrest and, on his return,
Wylie was also charged with the crime.

In May, 1835, the case was called at Rushville--the McFaddens having obtained a change of venue. Cyrus Walker, one of the best known lawyers of the early days, prosecuted and Judge Minshall defended. The trial was hotly contested, but a verdict of guilty was returned as to Elias and David, but Wylie was discharged. The day for the execution was a sort of holiday, and a big crowd assembled to see the two men dropped into eternity. The scaffold was built in a large hollow near Rushville by Thomas Hayden, who was sheriff, the banks on the side forming a sort of amphitheater. The deputy's son acted as hangman and pulled the drop. For this work he presented a bill for $1.50 to McDonough county. There was always some trouble over the bills for the trial and execution of these men, but if all the bills were as reasonable as this one, they certainly should have been paid.


The killing of W. H. Randolph by the Bonds, at Blandinsville, in the fall of 1864, was the most notable murder in the history of the county. The affair took on a sort of political nature and, as partisan feeling was running at the boiling point--the Presidential election being but a few days off and the country in the midst of a great war--for a time it seemed as though a collision with all its fearful attendant bloodshed would break out among our own

citizens. It is to their everlasting credit that the level-headed ones on both sides prevailed over the excited feelings of the hotspurs, and only one murder was committed where our citizens were close face to a hundred.

Mr. Randolph, who was a leading citizen and, at the time, owner of the Randolph House of Macomb, had been appointed Deputy Provost Marshal to superintend the drafting of soldiers in this county. John Bond, among others, had been drafted. He was opposed to the war and refused to come into the recruiting headquarters, as he should, and Randolph went out to Blandinsville to arrest him, as in those times a man who failed to report after being notified that he was drafted was the same as a deserter. Bond was a powerful man and recklessly bold. Randolph, though small, knew not the word fear, and went alone to make the arrest. Bond had publicly declared Randolph could not take him and, when that officer placed his hand on his shoulder and told him he was a prisoner, and knowing the officer's determination, Bond drew a pistol and fired it at Randolph and ran. Randolph returned the fire and followed after his man. John met his brother Miles coming to his aid with a gun, and both fired at Randolph, who went a few steps and fell, with four wounds, from which he died some hours afterward. James Bond, a third brother, was also charged with abetting the killing, but did not fire a shot. The three Bonds, immediately after firing the fatal shots, mounted horses and fled. Although a reward of over $5,000 was offered for their capture, nothing was heard of them for years. Finally Frank E. Fowle, a citizen of Macomb and in detective service, succeeded in locating and capturing Miles Bond at Sonora, Hardin County, KY., in June 1868, where he was going under an assumed name. He was brought to trial the following October term, took change of venue to Schuyler County, where the following May he was tried and acquitted on the following grounds: First, there was no record of the draft kept; second, the quota was full before John Bond was drafted; therefore, Randolph had no right to arrest John Bond; third, in attempting to arrest, Randolph transcended his duties and John Bond had a right to resist; fourth Miles, the accused, seeing his brother's life in danger, under the law was justified in shooting his antagonist. There was much discussion, pro and con over the justness of the verdict, but it was the end of the law.

Two years later, in 1870, Macomb was surprised one morning by a man coming into town with James and John Bond in custody, he having arrested them, as he said, in Missouri. It was the general belief that the two men, having grown tired of being fugitives and seeing that their brother had been cleared, voluntarily surrendered so as to get back and risk acquittal. At any rate, they were two as peaceable prisoners as were ever confined to jail. They not only gave no trouble to J. E. Lane, then the Sheriff, but made themselves useful in doing any chores that he desired them to do, and were ready to assist him in the prevention of any outbreak of any other prisoners who might have attempted it. In 1871 at the September term of court, their trial came off. In addition to the same defense that was made in Miles' case, that individual went upon the stand and swore that he fired the shot that killed Randolph, as he had been acquitted, his testimony greatly strengthened the case of the brothers, John and James, who were also declared "not guilty" by the jury. The only one of the brothers living now is Miles, who resides in the northwest part of the county, a law-abiding citizen, and today probably regrets the awful tragedy as much as anyone.

Mrs. Jane Randolph, of this city, "Aunt Jane" as she is familiarly called by all who know her, is the widow of the murdered man, and she, above all others, has been the wronged and stricken one over the death of her husband, whose patriotism and courage was a model, even in those heroic days when men were iron with nerves of steel.


he most prominent murder in what may be called later years--having occurred March 16, 1882--was that of Thomas Edmonson, a well-known citizen of Good Hope, who was shot by Edward Gick, the only man ever sentenced to death in this county, but who escaped, through the fact that Judge Shope, the presiding judge, did not want to sentence a man to die.

To sum up the story of the killing which is still fresh in the minds of many, two men named Gick and Payne, and possibly another, named Davis, had been behaving in a shameless manner in Good Hope the day previous with a notorious woman. Edmonson was a law-abiding citizen and denounced the affair in strong terms, and it is said, threatened to have them arrested. On the night in question, Gick was looking for Edmonson, and boasted that he intended to "slug" him. Gick and Payne claimed they were going toward Dr. Sanders' residence, Gick having charge of his horse, when they met Edmonson, and Gick asked him in a friendly way "what he had it in for him for." At that Edmonson turned, and drawing his knife, said he would show him. Gick then shot three times, inflicting a wound from which Edmonson died in a few minutes. Jule Davis was with the other two, being on the way to his home, and had been on intimate terms with both.
Other stories of the affair differed materially. There were two bruises on Edmonson's face which were made by some blunt instrument and could not have been inflicted when he fell, for he dropped into the arms of Mark Clark who had just separated from him. Edmonson called out after he was shot, "Oh, Mark, come quick, arrest that Gick, he has shot me. I'm dying." Mrs. Yeast, who lived nearby, said she heard Edmonson say, just before the shooting, "Don't you give a man a chance to defend himself?"

From these statements it was generally considered that Gick and Payne, and possibly Davis, had intended to slug Edmonson; that they had not intended murder; but the shot took effect, and death ensued.

William Prentiss was the Prosecuting Attorney. The verdict of the jury was murder in the first degree and hanging the penalty. The judge did not sentence Gick for a few days thereafter, and the sentence was finally "the penitentiary for life". The murderer served a sentence of some six or seven years, when he was pardoned, returned to the county and thereafter was a peaceable citizen.


Two of the most noted outlaws this county ever produced, and who at one time attained a national reputation by their murderous deeds, were the Maxwell brothers who were raised in this county and who here commenced their career which ended in the lynching of one, but not until after he had killed many men and defied an entire company of militia.

Along in 1869 or 1870, a mover with two boys and a girl stopped near the residence of Elijah Hicks in Macomb, and wanted to occupy an unused house near their place for awhile, as he wanted to find work. The privilege was given him and he remained, not only for a time, but for years. This mover's name was Maxwell, the father of Ed and Lon. The boys as youths did not attract any particular attention unless it was the adaptability of the younger in learning scripture, he having won a prize for having committed 3,000 verses of Scripture. The teaching of the verses he committed did not seem to have much effect on him, however, as at an early age the boys would steal chickens for cooking while out on a lark and commit petty depredations.

On February 10, 1874, Ed Maxwell first commenced his career of crime which ended only when he was lynched by an infuriated people, and most of his subsequent years were spent in the penitentiary. On the day mentioned the clothing store of Dines & Co., of which Charles Dines, for years County Clerk here, was one of the proprietors, was robbed. Maxwell was suspected of the robbery, just why it was not learned, and a day or two later Dines and another man went to the farm where Maxwell was employed, to investigate. Maxwell was evidently looking for them, or at least recognized them, for he disappeared as they rode up and tied their horses, both being on horseback. They entered the house and there found the missing articles. Then Maxwell gave the first evidence of that spirit of deviltry and bravado that afterward earned him a national reputation. He slipped up to the horses, while the men were in the house, mounted the best one and with a whoop and yell was off on the full run. Then followed a chase that was the talk of that section of the county for some weeks. The other rider hurried to Blandinsville and organized a posse and gave chase. Through Blandinsville, Sciota and Emmet Township went the fugitive and the pursuers, there being some twenty armed men in the hunt. At last Maxwell struck for Spring Creek and followed it to where it empties into Crooked Creek. Here he found the creek too high to ford and turned north again, but the pursuers thought he had forded. The horse was later found at Good Hope and from that place he was traced to Roseville, where he was arrested, brought back to Macomb and sent to the penitentiary for three years.

Up to this time the Maxwells were unknown, so to speak, being quiet and never having done anything to particularly attract attention except the one escapade of Ed's, and as he had offered no resistance at that time, his desperate character was unknown. After he had served his time, being released in 1876, he returned to this county and then commenced the worst reign of terror as to thievery this section as ever undergone. He had for a pal, a man supposedly named Post, but who, in fact, was his brother Lon. The two would steal a couple of horses and strike out through the county robbing houses. They scoured Emmet, Sciota, Blandinsville and Hire Townships, and continued their depredations on into Henderson and Hancock Counties. They would make a trip like Santa Claus, starting in the night, visiting nearly every house on their road, steal what they could and then disappear, selling the horses or turning them loose. They visited La Crosse in daylight, defied arrest, subdued the officer with their revolvers and left at their pleasure.

On one of their last trips they stole two horses from E. S. Smith, a farmer of Sciota Township, the animals being found some time later near Hamilton, Ill., badly used up. They raided the houses of a John Isom, F. Ferris, S. B. Davis, L. English, James D. Griffith, and others, receiving a considerable amount, taking money from under the pillow at one place while a man was asleep. This last raid, however, awoke the community to a state of action and a man hunt was started, a reward of $500 being offered for their capture. The hunt was unsuccessful, however, but it served to keep them away until they were brought back in irons by an officer.

For some time the outlaws eluded the officers but they heard from them occasionally. The Maxwells supposed the officers did not know Lon was the big man of the two, but thought they were looking for a man named Post. At last the officers received a tip that they were going down the Illinois River in a boat, so they waited for them at Beardstown. The boys landed there and Ed went uptown to buy some supplies, Lon remaining in the boat. The officers waited until Ed entered a store and they stepped in after him. They grabbed him when he was off his guard, but at that he put up a desperate fight, kicking, biting and cursing and it required the combined strength of three officers to hold him. At last he was ironed, however, and the others went after Lon. Lon was still in the boat and seeing the men, asked them if they did not want to buy the skiff they had attached to the other boat. They said that they did and came down to look at it, that giving them the desired opportunity. They jumped on Lon when he was not looking, but he grabbed a revolver and fired one shot but was disarmed before he could do any harm. An examination showed both boys to be heavily armed with revolvers and knives and they had rifles in the boat. At Bushnell they were ironed together but quietly slipping off their boots they made a dash for liberty while chained together, and it required about a seventy-five yard sprint by the officer to bring them back. They were then landed in jail without further trouble.

Then followed the escape from jail by Ed., particulars of which are given in the account of the escapes from jail given elsewhere. Lon was sent to the penitentiary and Ed was afterward recaptured at Stillwater, Minn., his .dare deviltry attracting attention up there, and investigation was made as to where he was wanted, there being a reward of $350 offered for his arrest. He was decoyed into a stable and arrested, brought back to Macomb, taken from the train to the court house, pleaded guilty and was off for Joliet in less than twenty-four hours to serve a six years' sentence.

After serving their time they were released and came back to this county, but except for one short trip of robbery through this part, they did not remain long, being too well known. On their last trip they stole a horse, then a horse and buggy, and drove from here through to Fulton County and disappeared. Their description was sent all over the country by this time, and an effort was made to capture them for horse-stealing, they having stolen a horse in Henderson County which they drove through here. At Durand, Wisconsin, two men named Coleman attempted to arrest them on suspicion of their being the men wanted here for horse stealing, and both were killed. This was the first murder directly traceable to them, although they were accused of killing a Sheriff in another county in this State. A posse was called to arrest them for this double murder, but they whipped the posse off. The militia were ordered out to arrest them, and they too were beaten back by the two outlaws. By boat, foot and stealing horses they at last eluded all their pursuers and disappeared for months.

So daring were their deeds that they gained a national reputation and were the subject of stories in the dime novel trash. They were known in Wisconsin as the Williams brothers, and under this name were the heroes in the novels. The capture of Ed was affected at Grand Island, Neb., November 9, 1881, and was the result of more of an accident than anything else. The boys were representing themselves as hunters and were both heavily armed. Their actions aroused suspicion and the officers being notified, visited the house where they were staying and approaching them unawares, grabbed Ed and overpowered him. Lon was alarmed and got one shot at the officers, but notwithstanding his wonderful skill, missed his man. The officers then ran for him but he turned and ran and was never afterward seen alive.

Ed was fully identified as the man wanted, although he denied his identity. Brothers of the murdered men in Wisconsin accompanied the officers and positively identified him as the man who killed their brothers. He was taken back to Wisconsin, November 19, 1881, and taken to the court house for trial. The work was short and swift, however, and justice speedily meted out. He was surrounded by a mob of men who threw a rope around his neck and started down stairs supposedly to hang him to a tree. This was done but he was dead long before he reached the tree, as he was dragged down stairs at the end of the rope. The coroner's jury viewed the body, examined the necessary witnesses and returned a verdict that he came to his death by falling down the court house stairs, with which verdict the courts were well satisfied.

Lon's death was not so sensational but well did he pay for his misdeeds. He died in a box car in a western city, alone, unattended, with a black past to view and a blacker future to contemplate.

Both of these boys were remarkably fine shots with gun and revolver. Lon was particularly skilled, and stories of their remarkable powers are told. Ed feared nothing, was more like a panther than a human. He was small and swarthy and as treacherous as the animals whose actions he imitated. He was an inveterate liar and naturally mean and vicious. Sometimes he expressed a claim of intended reformation on account of the love he bore some woman, but he never gave evidence that he had adopted a better life.

Lon was an arrant coward when not with Ed and gave evidence of it when Ed was captured. Had it been Ed who got away instead of Lon, the officers making the capture would never have reached the jail with their prisoner. Lon was big and strong, and effeminate in his actions.

Much space has been given to the notorious Maxwell boys, for the reason they were the most prominent examples of the worst element of this section of the country. They were great readers of the yellow-covered literature, and became fully possessed with the idea that they were Dick Turpins, James Boys, and all the other list of degenerates. This account is given at length to show the natural end of such violent, reckless lives.

Source: The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of McDonough County, compiled by Dr. Newton Bateman, and Paul Shelby, 1907, pages 795-801. First portion transcribed by Joanne Scobee Morgan, second portion extracted 30 Jul 2016 by Norma Hass.

McDonough County ILGenWeb Copyright