Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Murder

From: The Sunday Oregonian, 29 Jan 1893, page 1


W. H. Woolridge Brutally Murdered
by Frank Ohlegschlager


Murderer Arrested After Testifying
at the Inquest and the Crime

Frank Ohlegschlager is the confessed murderer of William Henry Woolridge. The crime was committed between 9 and 10 o’clock Friday night while the men were crossing what is known as the double bridge about six miles west of this city. --?-- hours later the murderer’s confession was wrung from him by the officers. It was a cold and cruel tragedy. The murderer was accompanying his victim to the later’s home when the dreadful act was committed.

The first news of the murder was brought to Coroner Holman yesterday morning by William Wallace Woolridge, son of the deceased. All he knew of the crime was what he had been told by Ohlegschlager. The men were going home so the story ran, and crossing the first part of the double bridge, when they observed a stranger approaching. It was snowing heavily at the time, and both men had their hats pulled down over their foreheads to keep the snow out of their eyes. Neither saw the man until he was within a few feet of them. Woolridge was walking near the guardrail, and Ohlegschlager was on his left hand. The latter drew out and the stranger passed between them. He walked past a few steps, and then turned suddenly and struck at Ohlegschlager with a heavy club he carried. Ohlegschlager dodged and the club struck a basket which hung on his right arm, and broke the handle. He looked around and saw the stranger strike Woolridge over the head. Ohlegschlager then ran away and did not look to see what the assailant did or where he went. He ran until he reached the cabin of the Woolridge boys and Ebbie Spencer, 1 ½ miles distant.

When he arrived there, W. W. Woolridge and Spencer were lying in bed reading. He rapped on the door and called, “Get up, Bill, get up; your father is dead.” Woolridge and Spencer jumped up and dressed and the three men started for the scene of the murder, which they reached in about 20 minutes. Woolridge ran to the center of the bridge, but could not find his father’s body. He found fresh blood on the snow and signs of a scuffle, and, looking over the railing on the south side, saw the body of his father in the gulch, --?- below. He went down, and with the assistance of his companions, got the man on his back and carried it up to the --?-. Laying it there he listened to Ohlegschlager’s story. When he heard that a man going toward Portland had committed the murder, he looked for footprints, but could find none except those of the two men. The three then carried the body to the home of the elder Woolridge and laid it on a lounge in the setting room.

Coroner Holeman was by no means satisfied with the explanation offered by Ohlegschlager and immediately sent for Captain Charles Gritsmacher, of the detective force. Constable Al Thomas, Deputy Sheriff H. C. Wood and Deputy District Attorney Lafferty. All the officers were inclined to believe the story very “flashy.” Coroner Holeman decided to visit the place at once, two witnesses whom he met on the way he set out for West Portland at 1:30 o’clock. The party took a West Portland motor, and in the face of a driving snowstorm, rode to Brown’s station, about five miles from the city. There they got off the motor and walked to the double bridge, three-quarters of a mile distant, through six inches of snow.

The double bridge is a lonesome place and one where a crime might be committed at night without any fear of detection. During the day the place is alive with woodchoppers, and it occasionally --?---- by sportsmen. Tall timber is there in abundance, and nearly all the residents of the section earn their living by wood-chopping. It is over half a mile to the nearest house.

The first part of the double bridge is straight. It begins at the county road on the east and is about 150 feet long. The ---?-- part is slightly curved about the --?-- length. It joins the county road which leads to West Portland. The road --?- of the first part is now being repaired. When James Ryan, one of the employees began work yesterday morning he found the same bloodstains and signs of the struggle that Woolridge had seen, and also some hair at the end of the bridge.

The coroner and his party viewed the bridge and surroundings, and then resumed their journey through the snow to Woolridge’s home, nearly a mile distant. The house is a simple affair, constructed of boards, with wide interatices, through which the wind blew incessantly. Several neighbors and friends were seated about stoves in two rooms, while the one in which the dead body laid was deserted. About 25 residents of the section, many of whom had never before seen a coroner, followed the party into the house and watched Mr. Holman’s movements with considerable interest.

The room where the body lay was devoid of furniture, with the exception of a lounge, table and a bed. Here Coroner Holman impaneled a jury, composed of Al Thomas, H. C. Wood, Charles Gristmacher, E. S. Wood, James Wood and J. Reed. Frank Ohlegschlager, who lives about a mile from the Woolridges was sent for, and arrived shortly after the jury was selected.

In making an examination of the body Coroner Holman found that the skull was fractured, and there was a triangular gash on the right side of the forehead. The gash was not made by a revolver or a club, but evidently by falling upon a “dead” --?-- under the timbers of the bridge and near where the body was found.

Andrew Neff, proprietor of the South Portland saloon, on the northwest corner of Corbett street and Bancroft avenue, was the first witness. He stated that when he went on duty about 6 o’clock Friday night as --?- Woolridge, Ohlegschlager and another man playing cards for drinks. Woolridge drank one glass of beer and took several cigars; Ohlegschlager drank two glasses of beer and took some cigars. About --?- o’clock both men left, intending to catch the West Portland motor and go home. They missed the car, and returned to the saloon, where they played cards until ? o’clock, but neither one drank anything. Then Woolridge arose and started to go. His companion evidently pressed him to stay, for Woolridge said: “No, I won’t; I promised the old lady to be home early and I’m going.” He drew a sack of money from his pocket and walked to the counter to pay for some drinks. So far as Neff could see the money was all silver. He thought than Woolridge had about $30 in all. Neff saw two holes in the sack and told Woolridge to be careful or he would lose his money. Woolridge did not reply and Neff gave him a cloth tobacco bag, and threw the old sack away. He returned the money to his pocket, and Neff thought Ohlegschlager watched him curiously. Both men then left the place.

Frank Ohlegschlager was then called upon for an explanation. He said he worked on his father’s farm, beyond Fulton, and was 23 years of age. His story conflicted somewhat with the one he told young Woolridge. He said that himself and the murdered man were walking home together and conversing about a tree which had recently fallen, when they reached the bridge. The old man remarked, “That’s more wood for the country.” Ohlegschlager was about to reply when he observed a stranger within a few feet of him. Here the witness contradicted himself. The man, he said, passed between Woolridge and the railing and then turned and struck him. After striking Woolridge, he tried to his the witness, but only broke his basket. The Ohlegschlager ran away. The rest of his testimony did not vary an iota from the story he told young Woolridge.

Ohlegschlager held his head erect and maintained a rather firm front when Coroner Holman examined him regarding the facts of the case. But when the officers interrogated him, and the jurors plied him with questions about various points, he grew nervous. His eyes roved about the room in the evident hope of finding something upon which to fix his attention. He clenched his hands almost involuntarily, then looked like a schoolboy who is about to be punished for an offense which he had committed, and then doubled his fists and assumed a defensive attitude. All of which did not escape the observation of the officers.

When Ohlegschlager finished the coroner asked him to sign his statement. He replied, “I cannot write.” The statement was signed b y the clerks and Ohlegschlager made his mark, which was witnessed by Mr. Lafferty.

Captain Gritsmacher, Constable Thomas and Deputy Sheriff Wood then held a conference in which Deputy District Attorney Lafferty became enraged. The result was a sort of a cross-questioning by the officers, apparently without any concert of action. Another consultation was held, and then Mr. Lafferty asked Ohlegschlager whether he received any pay from his father for working on his farm.

“I do not,” he replied; “father gives me a half dollar or a dollar when I want it, and that is all.”

Another consultation followed and then Ohlegschlager was told to step aside. He started out of the room, apparently much relieved, but was called back by Mr. Thomas and told to stand in one corner of the room. There was some excitement among the 30 or 40 spectators who had crowded into the house. All wanted to know if he was the murderer. There was a whispered conversation between two big, determined-looking fellows, and then both tried to push their way into the room. Fearing trouble, the officers stated that Ohlegschlager was only an important witness and would be taken to Portland to testify. This explanation was satisfactory, and there was no further disorder.

William Wallace Woolridge and Elfe Spencer, woodchoppers by occupation, testified, but their statements were only in regard to the first story told by Ohlegschlager, which was all they knew of the matter. Young Woolridge said that both men had been drinking, as he could smell liquor. Woolridge, two of his brothers and Spencer have a cabin about a mile from the Woolridge home. W. W. Woolridge is about 25 years old and Spencer 19.

Francis Marion Reed, of West Portland, a farmer and mechanic by occupation, was the last witness. He said he was in the grocery store and postoffice station on the night of the murder until 9:30 o’clock. There were lights in the store until that time and it was not closed until he left. If Ohlegschlager passed the place at 9:30, as he said, he certainly would have seen a light. The witness said that the distance from the cabin of the Woolridge boys to the double bridge is about 1 ¼ miles, and could be covered by a runner in about 20 minutes.

It was late when Reed finished, and the jury had to adjourn in order to catch the last train to town. It was decided to hold a meeting at 2 p.m. today, in the coroner’s office, to agree upon a verdict. Then the party left the house and started over the hills through a driving snowstorm for West Portland, a mile distant, followed by a crowd of men, all anxious to know what was to be done with Ohlegschlager. The prisoner took maters very coolly, as did his brother Adam, who accompanied him. While waiting for the train, the party enjoyed the luxuries of a West Portland dinner at the expense of Coroner Holman.

Ohlegschlager was allowed to run about so that his arrest would not be suspected and trouble caused. However, the officers kept a constant watch on him, and he had no chance to escape. At the grocery store the two men who had tried to get into the room where Ohlegschlager was arrested had another meeting.

“We cannot let this pass, or we will have a murder every night,” said one.

“Yes; we should certainly make an example of this fellow,” replied the other.

“Do you mean the murderer of Woolridge?” asked a reporter, who overheard the conversation. “Do you suspect anybody of the crime?”

“No,” he said, winking at his companion as a signal for silence.

“Has such a man as Ohlegschlager been seen about here?”

“No; and there has been no such man out here, for I have made diligent inquiries.”

Then the party came to Portland on the West Portland motor, and Ohlegschlager was taken in charge by Constable Al Thomas and Deputy Sheriff Wood. They took him to Mr. Thomas’ office and “worked” him. Ohlegschlager is an extremely ignorant fellow, but could realize the enormity of his crime and the penalty, and refused to talk. The officers questioned him for some time without any result. Then they agreed upon a clever plan of cross-examination and the prisoner became confused. A direct charge of murder broke him down, and he confessed.

“I had a bottle of whisky and Woolridge had a bottle of port wine when we left Neff’s saloon,” he said. “When crossing the bridge we quarreled over the whisky, and the old man hit me with a thin stick, breaking the handle of my basket. I got mad and hit him with a stick I carried. It was as thick as my wrist. He struck me back, and then I got behind him and hit him over the head. He fell, and I went through his pockets and took his money and then pushed the body under the railing and into the gulch.”

W. H. Woolridge lived in Portland about 17 years. He came to the Northwest 25 years ago, and was a soldier at Vancouver barracks for a number of years. He was 46 years old, married and leaves 10 children.

Ohlegschlager is a son of John Ohlegschlager, a farmer living near Fulton. For many years, the family lived on the old McAdam road. There are several children. Frank is of medium height, dark complected, with brown eyes and black hair. He is not a vicious-looking fellow.


Areas referred to in the article

Click on image to enlarge and print

* Neff's Saloon located on the northwest corner of
Corbett street and Bancroft avenue.

* Macadam Avenue.
Runs in a northernly direction parallel to the river.

* The community of Fulton

1 comment:

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