Long after Cain killed Abel, Upper Merion’s Emma Kaiser and West Pottsgrove’s Mary Talap were murdered by their husbands, 7-year-old Israel Goldman was bludgeoned to death by Joseph O’Brien in Whitemarsh, and Conshohocken Police Officer Eugene “Chick” Lucas died after mere hours on the job, shot by a career criminal nicknamed “Black Mike” on Lower Fayette Street.
All four victims met their end in Montgomery County amid circumstances Conshohocken historian Charles Kelly will discuss during his upcoming “Capital Sin: Murder in Montgomery County” presentations — the latest installment in the Historical Society of Montgomery County’s “Making History Greater Series.”
Kelly’s talk is scheduled to take place at the Historical Society of Montgomery County’s headquarters, 1654 DeKalb St., Norristown, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14.
The lecture is free and open to the public. A half-hour social gathering with light refreshments will precede the start of the program at 6:30 p.m.
As part of his presentation, Kelly will also review the infamous local murder of Mary Ann Mitchell in 1959 and the subsequent execution of Elmo Smith, the man found guilty of the crime.
The case made ongoing headlines in area media and, Kelly observes, is “a good example of people’s endless fascination with … and the reasons why people commit murder.”
That said, his tales cross multiple timelines and demographic boundaries. Their perpetrators’ declared or assumed motives? Just as diverse.
As Kelly tells it, Emma Kaiser, shot in the face in King of Prussia in October 1896, was a victim of attempted insurance fraud by her husband and two of his friends, one of them, the cliché “other woman.”
Mary Talap’s husband killed her in August 1913, “because he thought she’d been unfaithful.”
Israel Goldman died a month later. The boy’s battered body was found on the grounds of Whitemarsh Country Club, miles from his home in Philadelphia. The defendant’s attorney described his client as “insane.”
Eugene “Chick” Lucas was filling in as a temporary police officer when he took a bullet to the neck in August 1917. He and another officer were attempting to serve a warrant on “Black Mike” who’d been accused of non-support and abuse by his wife.
Kelly’s other subjects range from 15-month-old victim Blakely Coughlin in Plymouth Township in June 1920 — a case dubbed the “crank kidnapping” — to the “honor slaying” of Lower Merion’s Francis Donaldson who was shot by his girlfriend’s brother in November 1931; the murder of Upper Dublin’s Wilma Carpenter in December 1937 by a 20-year-old Ambler youth during “a burglary gone bad”; and the “puppy love murder” of Abington teen Edith Snyder by a 16-year-old classmate in April 1940.
It’s just as tough to pigeonhole the legion of actual or fictional killings that have filled television and movie screens and inspired countless books and games over the years.
Whether it’s an iconic Agatha Christie whodunit, another round of Clue or a playful murder mystery dinner, murder and mayhem sell.
“There are probably as many reasons for why people are interested as there are people (who attend the lecture) … everything from discovering ways to avoid becoming a victim to learning more about how the court system works,” guesses Kelly, a Historical Society of Montgomery County officer who founded the group’s Civil War Roundtable.
Michael Poniatowicz from Conshohocken Historical Society reasons it might boil down to a general interest in seeing how the other half lives — the same basic instinct that makes TV shows like Bravo’s Housewives franchise or TLC’s “90 Day Fiancé” so popular.
“I think it’s just that people are intrigued by lives that are outside their own,” Poniatowicz says. “When you look at people who’ve committed murder … done out of jealousy, revenge, sex, greed … so many reasons. Most of us have experienced at least some of those emotions, but most of us don’t resort to murder. So, what motivates the people who do? It’s interesting to look into other people’s lives, even if we can’t understand why they do what they do.”
Additional information about "Capital Sin: Murder in Montgomery County" and other Historical Society of Montgomery County programs is available at 610-272-0297 or www.hsmcpa.org.