Of Things Evil,
came less swiftly to Stirling. Incarcerated at Moyamensing Prison in South
Phila-delphia and diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis) and "other
diseases," he lost 50 pounds and was pronounced mentally and physically
unfit to face trial, which was twice postponed. It finally took place
on April 29, 1901.
Perry, as a witness for the prosecution, repeated
the basic elements of his confession: he met Ivory and Stirling near the
Market Street Bridge, went with them to Buffalo Bills Wild
West Show in the North Philadelphia trainyards, back to eat at the Market
Street restaurant, back again to the show grounds, then back once more
to murder Whitesome 12 to 15 miles of walking. Perrys confession
included one detail so unlikely as to be strangely convincing: while standing
guard during the robbery, at 10 oclock in the evening, he heard
the distant strains of music from an Italian organ grinder.
contrast, Ivory dropped a bombshell the following day. When asked to tell
the truth and protect his immortal soul, he replied: "Ill tell
the truth so far as I know. What I dont know I wont say nothin
about." "Well," asked the district attorney, "what
do you know?" "All I know is I wasnt there, and I dont
think Stirling was there either." Ivory even denied that he had signed
the two confessions.
repeated that he was in Harrisburg at the time of the murder. This claim
was supported by Sarah Gray, proprietor of a Harrisburg restaurant, who
recalled him asking for a free meal, which she refused, only to have it
paid for by "a colored regular," Robert Boone. Philadelphia
detectives, however, said that when they first showed her Stirlings
picture, she could not recall him. Boone could not clarify the matter.
He had died three weeks before the trial.
jury kept up the suspense for a bit, deliberating for three hours on April
30, then retiring before handing in their verdict at 10 a.m. on May 1:
guilty of murder in the first degree.
October 8, 1901, Ivory and Perry ascended a scaffold for the first double
hanging in Philadelphia in 50 years. It was not a shining example of the
gallows art. Neither mans neck was broken in the simultaneous drop.
Ivory was relatively lucky, noted the Telegraph reporter; he fell
immediately unconscious. Perry struggled and strangled in his harness
for 17 minutes before suffocating.
followed them on February 27, 1902. At his hanging the press unearthed
their "terrified-Negro" image, noting that his knees shook and
that he required two men to assist him up the stairs to the gallowsconveniently
forgetting that they had earlier described him as so mentally and physically
wrecked by disease and prison life that he was barely able to walk. This
time the hangman had done his homework. Stirling died of a broken neck.
elements of this case lie like shards of glass
from a hundred broken containers, impossible to reconstruct. Whatever
the objective truth of the case, it is clear that Justice kept both thumbs
on the scales. Perry and Stirling were most likely innocent; nothing ties
them to the crime but the presence of a watch (Perry) and three highly
suspect eye witnesses (Stirling). A convincing case could be made for
Ivory as lone murderer, attempting to foist blame on a non-existent partner.
For what its worth, I believe Roy White was murdered by Henry Ivory
and Ward Knight, his boxcar companion and (possibly) Wilmington neighbor.
Why the police kept an uncharacteristic distance from Knight will remain
forever a mystery.
have not yet uncovered a single reference to the police and court proceedings
in Dean Lewiss voluminous office correspondence, which includes
numerous references to his personal sense of loss at Whites death
and to any number of more frivolous matters. (Lewis seems to have saved
copies of every letter or note he ever made.) I wish there were some way
to know how those at the Law School reacted to such a blatant miscarriage
of justice done in the name of White and of the law.
Certainly, Whites death reverberated across
the campus in a personal sense. Though the Pennsylvanian (the earlier
incarnation of the Daily Pennsylvanian) seems to have largely ignored
a case amply covered in the city dailies, it did carry a letter from Raymond
Alden of the College which attempts to catch the special quality of White:
"I am sure there are many members of the University who, like myself,
knowing him only in the way of cursory acquaintance, yet found that acquaintance
a real pleasure and uplift. There are a few men from whom it is a happiness
to have a smile and a passing word, one does not precisely know why."
At a memorial service arranged by Roy Whites
students, Dean Lewis delivered this eulogy: "He died just as the
struggles of his earliest manhood seemed about to bear rich fruit. And
yet I think his life was long enough to some of those who knew him to
leave a lasting influence, and to be for us all a lesson. Roy White was
... of things evil as simple as a little child."
Derek Davis C61 is a writer in Philadelphia.
All background materials for this article can be found at the University
of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center. The major source is two huge
scrapbooks, compiled by an unknown hand, holding virtually every local
news report of the case over its two-year existence.