J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

“Mr. Weed should give to the world the facts”

The argument over whether Thurlow Weed should disclose his information about the alleged murder of state jurist John Lansing four decades earlier naturally prompted more attention to the mystery of that man’s disappearance.

On 18 Dec 1870, the New York Times announced news that broke upstate the day before:
The Schnectady Star this evening contains an article relating to the mysterious disappearance of Chancellor LANSING. The writer says that the Chancellor hung himself in his room at the City Hotel, New-York [shown above]; that his body was secretly removed to his brother’s, buried in the family vault in that City, and that the manner in which he came to his death was hushed up. Insanity, caused by the loss of his property, is ascribed as the motive for his suicide. The writer’s information was obtained from a minister of this city, who expressed himself sincere and confident that the assertions made are true.
However, on 26 December, the Times ran a smaller item in the middle of a column:
Upon further investigation, the Schenectady Star finds that the statement in regard to the alleged suicide of Chancellor LANSING cannot be sustained.
That upstate paper said sheepishly that its informant had heard the suicide story “nearly thirty years ago,” and had no reason to doubt it, but had “no clear evidence or proof to sustain this version.”

On the other hand, the Star said:
we have the statement made by Thurlow Weed that the Chancellor was murdered, and that he, Weed, had evidence in his possession which, in his own opinion,…is sufficient to establish the fact not only that he was murdered, but to convict certain persons now dead, of the crime. . . .

Mr. Weed should give to the world the facts in his possession, and we hope the press of the whole country will continue to demand this of him, until public opinion forces the “old man” to divulge.
Instead, Weed sent a letter to the Commercial Advertiser refuting that suicide theory and dismissing another “story about the misapplication of trust funds, as well as that of alleged pecuniary difficulties.” But he offered no other information.

TOMORROW: Taking the secret to the grave?


Chris said...

Assuming that the true murderer was never revealed, did your research reveal Lansings political enemies at the time he disappearance? Did any of them die shortly before the original date revealing the secret being kept about his murder?

Talk about a "cold case"

J. L. Bell said...

You’ve spotted the only lead Thurlow Weed’s story left us: that somewhat shortly before August 1869, a person died after having years earlier confessed some involvement in the Lansing case to Weed.

Lansing had been out of public office for years before he disappeared, but he was still a practicing lawyer. Therefore, if he was killed, the reason probably had to do with money and business, or his personal life, rather than politics.

But there’s very little to go on, isn’t there?