Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The McGlincy Family Massacre

Shots Before Midnight

Two eyewitness reports and a criminal investigation headed by Sheriff James Lyndon have recreated the night of May 26, 1896, in the palatial house of Colonel Richard McGlincy.

The McGlincy Home, with the barn to the right

At approximately 10:00 p.m., James Dunham approached the house, either by bicycle or on foot.  The house was dark: McGlincy and James Wells were out at a meeting of the American Protective Association -- and Ada, Hattie, a housemaid named Minnie, and the baby boy had all turned in for the evening.

After grabbing an ax from one of the outlying storage buildings, Dunham entered the house quietly and crept up the stairs to the second floor and into the room Hattie was sharing with their 3-week-old baby.

Hattie was no doubt alarmed at waking to the sight of her husband carrying an ax, and some type of argument ensued.  The maid Minnie, sleeping in an adjoining room, was awakened by the noise and, after stopping to put on a robe, ran to Hattie's room.  Once inside, according to the Mercury, Dunham took the blunt side of the ax and "the weapon descended, crushing Minnie's skull.  As she was falling, or as she lay on the floor, Dunham hacked at her four times [with the sharp edge of the ax] before he felt satisfied that she was dead."

Turning to his wife, the Mercury went on, "he gagged her, then grasped her by the throat and dislocated her neck by a sudden wrench to one side."  Found later at the crime scene on Hattie's dresser was a handwritten note reading:

Please say good-bye for me to my dear mother, brother and stepfather.


At first Sheriff Lyndon believed this note to have been written by Hattie in her final moments, but later it was determined to have been forged by Dunham, for purposes unknown.

Hattie's mother Ada McGlincy, whose bedroom was on the first floor, was also awoken by the noise upstairs and got up to investigate.  When she got to the door of her bedroom, however, Dunham lunged at her, crushing her skull with one swing of the blunt edge of the ax and then, as he had with Minnie, hacking at her four more times with the ax's blade.

Next, the Mercury conjectures, "Dunham knew that the men would not be home for nearly an hour, and he busied himself preparing for their reception and his subsequent flight.  He went through all his effects, taking a number of papers, all the cartridges he could find and two revolvers, one of 38 caliber and the other a ferocious-looking 45.

"He went through all the photograph albums in the house, taking all likenesses of himself and thrusting them in his pocket.  A large picture of himself, which was hanging in the front room, was removed from its frame and disposed of in some manner yet unknown.  Only one picture, a small tin-type, escaped him."

Shortly after 11:00pm, Colonel McGlincy and James Wells returned from their evening meeting in a buggy driven by George Schaible, one of the two McGlincy farmhands.

Reaching the front of the house, McGlincy told George to put the buggy and horse into the barn, and he and his stepson headed toward the front door of the dark and quiet house.

According to the Mercury, "James Wells walked in first, closely followed by Colonel McGlincy.  The murderer had his ax raised, but allowed Wells to pass.  The weapon was then brought down on Colonel McGlincy, striking him at the outer edge of the right eye, making an ugly cut.  As McGlincy fell, he screamed, and Wells, turning around, grappled with the fiend, who was intoxicated with the lust of blood.

James Wells

"Wells had but recently been severely injured in a bicycle accident and was still weak, but he made a desperate struggle.  The two men swayed to and fro, Wells being forced back into the front room.  Dunham vainly endeavored to use the ax.  Twice he struck the wall, as is shown by the dents in the plaster and by particles of plaster clinging to the ax when it was found.

"He then dropped that weapon and got hold of his revolvers, both of which were used on Wells, who received three 38 and two 45-caliber bullets.  The pistols had been held close to his body and the powder set his coat on fire."

Cut off from the front door by the struggle between Dunham and Wells, the bleeding McGlincy staggered to the kitchen and crawled out of a window and into the yard.  The closest shelter was the small bunkhouse that George Schaible shared with the other farmhand, Robert Briscoe.  McGlincy staggered toward it as Dunham, finished with James Wells, came out the front door and fired a volley of shots, hitting McGlincy twice.

The rest of the bloodbath was witnessed by George Schaible, who, hearing the shots inside the house, scrambled up into the barn's hayloft and peered out through the loft's main door.

McGlincy made it into the bunkhouse and, according the Mercury, "Dunham [went] up on the porch of the bunkhouse.  McGlincy was holding the door and the murderer shot several times through the boards.  He then shouted: 'Come out, Mac, come out!  I've got to have you.'

"'Don't shoot me any more, Jim,' pleaded McGlincy, 'I've got two bullets in my body now.'

"'Come out of that, Mac,' was the only response.

"'Put up your pistol, Jim, and I'll come out,' said the wounded man.

"Dunham then reloaded his pistol and sent a few more shots through the door.  He pressed the door open a little, and putting the muzzle of the weapon in the opening, fired again.  McGlincy was terribly wounded by this time, but he grasped a chair and opened the door.  A bullet struck the upraised chair and then Dunham stepped back from the porch and shot McGlincy again, the bullet reaching the heart.  McGlincy walked about thirty feet toward the barn and fell dead."

Robert Briscoe, the other farmhand, awoke during the commotion and, seeing his escape route blocked by McGlincy, jumped through a window in the back of the bunkhouse.  Dunham, hearing the noise, ran in that direction and fired two shots into Briscoe's heart and lung, killing him instantly.

Dunham then began hunting his next prey.  George Schaible told the Mercury, "Dunham came back to the front of the bunkhouse and shouted, 'George! George! Where are you? Come out here.'  Receiving no response, Dunham went in the cabin, and lighting a match, searched [for me]. When he came out he went into the barn, and bringing out a little buckskin mare, vaulted on to her back.  He had taken time to bridle her, but evidently had not looked for a saddle.

"Thinking that I had run for my life, Dunham rode toward the lane to the west of the residence.  As he passed the house, he probably threw the 45-caliber revolver on the porch, which was found by the neighbors when they entered the house.  He rode down the lane a short distance, but not finding me, he came back and rode off the other way."

The first gunshots had awoken neighbors at nearby farms and ranches, and some raced off to find help.  By the time Dunham left the McGlincy estate, gossip was already spreading almost as fast as the bullets had.

Charles Sterrett was one of those who had caught wind of some kind of disturbance at the McGlincy home and was heading in that direction.  Details were sketchy, and when a man on horseback came by, Sterrett called out to him.

The horseman pulled his horse closer to where Sterrett stood in the shadows and called out to Sterrett, "Did you see George?"

Sterrett recognized the rider by his voice as James Dunham, and told Dunham he hadn't seen George, which Sterrett presumed to mean George Schaible.

"Did you see a man on horseback?" Dunham asked.  Sterrett said yes and, for confirmation, asked the rider who he was.

"Who are you?" Dunham asked.  "What is your name?"

In the dim light Sterrett saw Dunham "pull his hand up from his side, as if he had a pistol."

Sterrett stalled and asked him about the trouble at the McGlincy house.

There was a pause and then Dunham asked, "Who is McGlincy?"

Sterrett said he had overheard another horseback rider say that there was some kind of trouble at Colonel McGlincy's home.

"Who told you?" Dunham asked.

Sterrett repeated that someone passing by had told him and, after a pause, Dunham turned his horse and headed south leaving behind six bodies at a mansion that now held just one living being: his infant son.

The bodies of the victims were laid outside in a row, with the axe (sketch by Nathan MacDicken)

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