By Jared Olar
In our column last week, we presented the Pekin Daily Times account of how Albert Wallace murdered his sister Belle and attempted to murder Belle’s husband John Bowlby, also injuring others at the Bowlby’s farm and causing a fire in the Bowlby home. This account was published in the March 14, 1896 edition of the Daily Times, published the day Wallace was hanged for his crimes.
The Pekin Daily Times report from that day has been reprinted in the November and December 2016 issues of The Monthly, newsletter of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. That day’s newspaper also told of Wallace’s trial and conviction, sentence, and appeals, under the headings “INTERESTING CASE,” with the subheadline, “Murderer Lived Between Hope and Fear For Over a Year”; “LEARNED HIS FATE,” with the subheadline, “Said He Preferred Death But Would Like to Have Fooled His Enemies”; and “LAST HOPE DESTROYED,” with the subheadline, “Why the Governor Refused to Commute the Sentence to Life Imprisonment.”
Here follows the Daily Times 1896 account of the legal aspect of these tragic events:
The first legal step after the shooting was the preliminary examination of Wallace before ’Squire Rhodes, Wednesday, February 20th . There were three charges against him, all for assault with intent to kill and murder. He waived examination and was bound over to the grand jury in the sum of $1,500. Early Thursday morning, February 21st, one of his victims, Belle Bowlby, died.
The coroner’s inquest was conducted Friday, February 22d, by Coroner Bailey. The principal witness was Lawrence Lyman, who said he was positive that it was Albert Wallace, who did the shooting. The verdict was to the effect that Belle Bowlby came to her death from the effects of gun shot wounded inflicted on her person by Albert Wallace. The jury recommended that he be held without bond to await the action of the grand jury.
The grand jury returned an indictment at the May term, 1895. The court appointed W. L. Prettyman and W. A. Potts, attorneys to defend. Then came the arraignment and plea of not guilty; next a motion for continuance on the part of the defendant was made and continuance was granted. The cause was continued until the September term of court at which time the case was heard. After a fair and impartial trial, in which a sensation was sprung by the defence (sic) resting their case without calling any witnesses to testify, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty and fixed the penalty at death. The jury was composed of A. M. Chapman, foreman; David S. Birkett, Sebastian Minch, J. M. Sharp, F. M. Gragg, B. B. McClellan, John Umdenstock, Chas. Bailey, George Kent, Louis H. Wehner, S. H. Robison, Frank Webb. The verdict was reached on the third ballot.
At this stage of the case Mrs. Quinn, of Tremont, a sister of the murderer, interested herself in behalf of her brother and engaged G. B. Foster, of Peoria, to assist Messrs. Prettyman and Potts to obtain a new trial.
The case was argued before Judge Green, and a new trial was refused, and Wallace was sentenced to be hung on the 25th day of October, 1895. His attorneys appealed to the supreme court, at Ottawa, and was granted a supersedeas and a stay of proceedings until the case could be heard by the court of last resort.
When the case was heard, the supreme court, at Springfield, found that Judge Green had erred in fixing the day of execution at more than twenty-five days from the day of sentence, and ordered the court to re-sentence Wallace. Judge Green re-sentenced him on the 19th of February, and March 14th, 1896, was set as the day for his execution.
Since that time his attorney have worked faithfully to have his sentence commuted to inprisonment (sic) in the penitentiary for life. Affidavits, in regard to the insanity of his parents, were procured, and petitions of citizens of the county were presented to the governor, asking him to commute his sentence to imprisonment for life. Counter petitions were procured by States Attorney Saltonstall and T. N. Green, and the case was argued before the governor on the 13th day of March, 1896.
The governor, after hearing the case, decided that he could not interfere, and the law must take its course.
He said, “I am satisfied that if this evidence of insanity were presented to a jury it would fail. As to the grandmother of the condemned man having been insane, it is conclusive; and Mrs. Quinn’s evidence that his mother was insane was strong, but it is shown that the father of Wallace was a rough, drunken man, who abused his family, and a woman treated in the way she was might act in such a way as to cause doubts regarding her sanity. Even if it were reasonably proved that the mother was tainted with insanity, the evidence in the case of this man does not show him insane. The affidavits of people living in the neighborhood, while they indicate that his mind might have been slightly affected, do not show that he could not discriminate between right and wrong. While I think this evidence should have been presented to the jury, I do not believe it would have affected their verdict.”
Governor Altgeld was positive in his decision not to interfere in Wallace’s case. He had been sick at Chicago but when he finally got back at his desk in Springfield, and called the attorneys together, he gave it an exhaustive hearing, commencing at 11:30 o’clock yesterday morning and concluding at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
He inquired closely into the details and seemed desirous of getting the case thoroughly in hand before he took up the critical matter of a commutation. When he had the history of the entire case as he wished it he gave attention to the affidavits, petitions and declarations.
He said it was a peculiarly distressing case, owing to the many tragedies that had brought the Wallace family into public notice, fate seeming to pursue it with a relentless fury and remarkably fatality. First a son was instantly killed by the accidental discharge of a gun, while he was hunting, then Andy Wallace, the father, was shot and killed by Connelly (sic), then came the tragic death of Mrs. Belle Bowlby, and last Albert Wallace, expiating a crime on the gallows. Nevertheless the governor said that he could do nothing.
He held that the matter of insanity should have been tried in the courts. Both the circuit and supreme court, he said, had handled the case and he did not think it right to interfere.
The attorneys for the defense were seen by a TIMES representative on their return from Springfield and said they were not surprised.
When Attorney Foster was asked if anything further would be done, he said, “We have reached the limit; every effort within reason has now been made and it would be foolish to attempt anything further.”
Next week: Wallace’s last night