Famous Unsolved Murder: Hall-Mills 1922

Famous unsolved murder of the 1920's was Hall-Mills murder. Until the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped in 1932, this was the Crime of the Century. An Episcopal priest and a choir girl lay dead beneath a crab apple tree. Who killed them?

Eleanor Mills was dressed in a red polka-dotted blue dress and black stockings. Her blue velvet hat lay beside her body. Around her throat she wore a blood soaked, brown silk scarf. She lay stretched out at her lover's side, her left hand resting on his right knee. Rev. Hall's Panama hat covered his face and his right arm was under Eleanor's shoulder.

She was 34 years old and he was 41 in September 1922. Leaning against the sole of his left shoe was his own business card. Scattered between them were torn up letters and cards. One of them, from her to him, said, "Oh, honey, I am fiery today. Burning, flaming love."

He was the Reverend Edward W. Hall, the pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in New Brunswick, New Jersey; his wife was Frances Noel Stevens, heiress to some Johnson & Johnson money. Eleanor Mills was a singer in the church choir, her husband the sexton at St. John's.

Dr. Hall and his choirgirl had met on a Thursday evening for a romantic tryst beneath a crab apple tree on abandoned farmland on the outskirts of town. The bodies weren't found until Saturday morning and by then her neck was crawling with maggots. He had been shot once over the right ear. She was shot three times in the right temple, under the right eye, and also over the right ear. Her tongue had been cut out after she was shot and her choir singer's larynx removed.

A 32-calibre cartridge was found nearby. Another bullet fell out of Hall's coat at the morgue. More bullets would be found at a later date, once a witness known as the "Pig Woman" came forward with her story. But first, there would be one of the messiest, most scandalous, and most complicated murder cases in the history of the State of New Jersey.

The affair had been an ongoing one for four years before the murders and was common knowledge in the parish. A neighbor testified that Hall and Eleanor met every afternoon at the Mills house. The Halls' maid testified, and so did Mrs. Hall, that Eleanor had called the house at 7PM on September 14. Rev. Hall left, saying he was going to see Mrs. Mills about a medical bill. The next morning, the brother-in-law, Willie Stevens, a 50-year-old, who was considered mentally deficient, told the maid, Louise Geist, that something terrible had happened during the night.

Eleanor Mills's husband said that his wife left their home after dinner that night to make a phone call to Dr. Hall. She returned and soon left again, daring him to follow her, if he wanted to know where she was going. Mills went to the church at 11PM looking for Eleanor and again at 2AM. When he went to work at the church the next morning, he asked Mrs. Hall if she thought their spouses had eloped. Mrs. Hall answered that she thought they were dead.

In the rectory Mills found an article about ministers and divorce that he and his daughter knew his wife had clipped from his own newspaper. Hall had confided in the pastor of the Hungarian Reformed Church that he intended to elope with Mrs. Mills. He also told the other minister that a relative of his wife's had threatened to kill him.

Logical suspects included Mrs. Hall's brother, Willie, who owned a 32-calibre pistol, and another brother named Henry, who was an exhibition marksman. A cousin of the Halls, Henry Carpender, was implicated, when not a week after the murders, Willie Stevens asked a cigar storeowner to deny any rumors that the family, citing the Halls, the Stevenses, and the Carpenders, were involved in the murders.

The couple that found the bodies came under suspicion, and a friend of theirs, Clifford Hayes, was falsely arrested. (At this point, Mrs. Gibson, the Pig Woman, tried to tell her story to the police, but claimed she was ignored.) The Ku Klux Klan was even rumored to have executed the couple for immoral acts. Eventually, Mrs. Hall, her brother, Willie Stevens, and their cousin, Henry Carpender, were investigated for and charged with the double murder.

The case was so confused and mismanaged, it was all but dropped by 1926, when the Halls' maid's husband filed for an annulment. He claimed that Louise Geist had received $5,000 from the Hall family to keep quiet about having told Mrs. Hall on September 14, 1922, that her husband had plans to run off with Mrs. Mills. Later, a state trooper who had been on the investigative team would also claim to have been paid to leave the state by Mrs. Hall's cousin, Henry Carpender.

The Pig Woman, Mrs. Gibson, testified that on September 14, 1922, her dogs barked at a man in her cornfield. When she followed the intruder, Mrs. Gibson came upon the scene beneath the crab apple tree. She recognized all the parties involved and witnessed the killings. She identified Carpender as the shooter, accompanied by Mrs. Hall and Willie Stevens. Later, she claimed to have returned to the scene and witnessed Mrs. Hall crying over her husband's dead body.

This was her story in 1926.

Unfortunately, in 1922 she had told her tale in the newspapers of seeing four people beneath the crab apple tree: two women and two men. In 1926, she was saying she saw six people: the Episcopal priest, Eleanor Mills, Mrs. Hall, her two brothers, and their cousin.

The jury did not believe the Pig Woman and the defendants walked.

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