Newest Book Comes Closer & Closer:
Not long ago I handed my murder book for Lorain County, Ohio, to the proof-reader. The pre-publish checklist grows shorter by the week. Plans are to make it a slightly larger format than my Crawford County book to keep the length to something reasonable—around 400 pages, give or take.
Why the extra space? First: There are 'way more people here than over in Crawford County, PA. More people equals more murders. Second: The county's criminal court records are not only complete, but easily accessible. I have a much better list of prosecuted crimes. Third: The "newspapers of record" from Elyria, Ohio (the seat of Lorain County), are all on-line. This gives me more information for each crime I describe. It also lets me find more of the non-prosecuted murders.
The end result is 110 more killings over a time span that's shorter by 20 years. Almost every case includes detail that I could only dream about finding when researching Crawford County.
1899, September 7:
Thick-set, with graying black hair and mustache, Clevelander Franklin E. Wheeler has been in Lorain for about two months, doing a good business as a sales agent for the New Jersey Mutual Life Insurance Company. His unassuming and intelligent manner makes him seem about a decade older than his 43 years. He is popular and has many friends.
Granted, the divorced Wheeler is no saint. He does have a temper and is a frequent customer of Lorain native, 25-year-old Philip Meyers, of Livingston Avenue, who runs the bar adjacent to the Franklin Hotel, in Lorain's 2nd Ward, where Wheeler has a room.
The evening of Thursday, September 7, Wheeler and Meyers bump into each other in the hotel's dining room. Meyers takes the moment to publicly remind the older man that he owes a bar tab of $4.00 ($105 modern). Franklin strenuously denies the bill. The young, yet veteran barkeeper persists. He knows unpaid bills are bad for business. The two men exchange a few harsh words, then go their separate ways.
Bartender Meyers takes a seat and orders dinner. Wheeler leaves the hotel, walks across the street to Chapman and Hill's general store. He tells the clerk he wants to "kill a cat" and purchases an Ivers Johnson, double-acting, .38 caliber, 5-shot revolver. Wheeler asks the salesman to load the weapon and then buys five extra cartridges, paying a dollar ($26) in total and promising to return to take care of the balance.
Pocketing the revolver, Wheeler returns to the hotel and takes a seat in the dining room where he displays "unusually loud and boisterous" behavior, including singing and otherwise disturbing his fellow customers. The waiter refuses to serve him and leaves the room to report the matter to the hotel owner, Mrs. McElroy. When she arrives to admonish Wheeler, he is gone, following Meyers, who left his seat at another table to return to his work.
Meyers enters his saloon. He takes a seat at the far end of the otherwise empty bar, and reopens the book he's been reading, Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling. Wheeler strolls in a few moments later. Without a word, he walks about half-way across the room, takes quick aim with his brand new revolver and fires two shots at Meyers. The first goes wide. The second flattens itself against the brick wall near the seated barkeep who, recovering his senses, leaps to his feet and dashes to the closest door, the one that leads outside.
Wheeler shoots three more times and Meyers is struck: In the left arm, halfway between the elbow and shoulder. In the back through the left shoulder blade where the bullet strikes a rib and stops near the breast bone. The third shot passes through the back, below the shoulder blade, near the spine, and pierces the heart.
Those outside hear five gunshots in rapid succession. The saloon door bursts open. Out reels Philip Meyers, blood gushing from his nose and mouth. He falls upon the sidewalk and with a loud groan, dies.
Lorain's Dr. Kiplinger and Chester O'Neil are almost struck by the dying man as he collapses to the ground. They carry him to a back room of the bar, summon doctors Mean and Van Tilberg, and alert the police.
Franklin Wheeler is no place to be found. He has wandered a few blocks to the home of Lorain's Dr. Garver. When told the doctor is not in, Wheeler says to the person answering the door, "I have just shot a man and I want to sit down here and wait for the police." When the doctor does arrive, Wheeler is sitting, twirling the revolver in his hand. He appears neither excited, nor intoxicated. He is arrested and placed in the Lorain City Jail.
Lorain Police Chief Meister examines the revolver and finds all five chambers discharged. Wheeler exhibits "absolutely no emotion when questioned." When asked why he did it he says, "I intended to get even with him, but I guess I got a little too even."
A noisy crowd forms at the Franklin Hotel and begins making threats against Wheeler. Two or three hundred angry men gather at the Lorain City Jail where they are told that the shooter has been taken by buggy to Elyria. This is a lie meant to mislead as Wheeler is, shortly after, taken down the alley behind the city jail to Bank Street and then on the electric street car to the county seat. Wheeler tells his escort, Chief Meister and five uniformed police, that if the mob finds them, to let them have him. Wheeler says that nothing or nobody should be put at risk on his account because, "perhaps a man might be killed whose life is worth ten such as mine."
"Unprovoked and cold-blooded murder" is what the papers call it, "for cold blooded deliberation, [this crime has] never had an equal in the criminal history of the country."
During his first few days in jail, Wheeler stays in his cot with a blanket hung in front of the door to keep out the light. He refuses all visitors and finally asks the sheriff not to admit them.
When arraigned, Wheeler is the coolest man in the room as he waives a hearing and pleads not guilty to murder in the first degree. He make no arrangement for counsel, saying his friends will take care of him. It's as if he either doesn't know, or doesn't care about the consequences of his actions.
Wheeler is indicted on charges of murder in the second by the Lorain County Grand Jury. As his criminal trial grows near, Wheeler keeps his lack of fear over the consequences of his actions. "I am not afraid. I have but one life to live and when that is gone all will be over with me. I am not sure but the sooner it ends, the better."
His sentence is life in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus.
1901, May 23: The Elyria Republican reports that Wheeler has been appointed superintendent of Ohio Penitentiary schools and, though he's "still a prisoner," feels his treatment in the pen has been good. "To those who know of Wheeler's educational advantages as brought out in the evidence at his trial, his success in teaching is no surprise."
1902, January 8: Wheeler is given a watch as a Christmas present by his companions and teachers in the penitentiary school.
1905, February: A petition is circulated, endorsing a pardon for Wheeler. He is a model of behavior and said to be "one of the most intelligent and trusted prisoners there." With ex-wife and kids in Michigan, his father and mother are still living and all are anxious to see him free.
Two years later, outgoing Ohio Governor Herrick commutes Wheeler's sentence from life to fifteen years. Wheeler's lawyer, L.B. Fauver, then applies for a full pardon and in May of 1907, less than eight years after committing murder, Franklin Wheeler is free of the Ohio Penitentiary with the condition that he makes a monthly report there for the next two years.
Wheeler's victim, young Philip Meyers, remains dead.