10 October 2012

Elmer Clawson, Boy Murderer, Part One

August 29, 1896.  Farmer Harry Hodgetts of Pluckemin, an Englishman who had been in the country three years and who had only just saved enough money for his wife and children to join him, had just finished breakfast and was heading outside to begin his day's work.  He was met unexpectedly by eighteen-year-old Elmer Clawson, a lad who had worked for him the previous season, but who he hadn't seen in over a year.

New York Times, 30 August 1896

Clawson set his bicycle down by the road and strode up to meet Hodgetts by the door of his home.  Clawson asked for work, and when Hodgetts refused, Clawson demanded to be paid wages that Hodgetts had withheld the previous year - an amount equal to what Hodgetts suspected the boy had been skimming from produce sales to local merchants.

When Hodgetts again rebuffed the youth, Clawson drew a pistol and fired three times - two of the shots hitting the farmer in the chest.


Elmer Clawson, before his execution in 1897
As Clawson sped away on his bike, Hodgetts did not drop, but instead pursued the boy on foot for seven minutes over the Somerset County countryside before finally falling dead.

Hearing the gunshots, Hodgetts' neighbors responded to the scene, and followed on wagon and bicycle the track of Clawson's bicycle tire clearly visible on the dusty Bedminster Township roads.

By the time the pursuers reached Far Hills four miles away, their numbers had grown to include more men on bicycles, wagons, and buggies.  At the Far Hills train station, Clawson overheard the station agent repeating a phone message that included his description, and regaining his bicycle made a mad dash for Bedminster.

The closing vigilantes forced Clawson to ditch his bike and take to the underbrush at the side of the road, but the posse cajoled him out of his hiding place.  Word of Hodgetts death having reached the mob, they considered lynching him on the spot.  Only Constable Thomas Moore, riding up through the crowd at a full gallop, dissuaded the men from committing an act that would surely leave a black mark on Somerset County.

more tomorrow....

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