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Of Things Evil, continued

JUSTICE 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 Bill’s 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 White–some 12 to 15 miles of walking. Perry’s confession included one detail so unlikely as to be strangely convincing: while standing guard during the robbery, at 10 o’clock in the evening, he heard the distant strains of music from an Italian organ grinder.
   
By contrast, Ivory dropped a bombshell the following day. When asked to tell the truth and protect his immortal soul, he replied: "I’ll tell the truth so far as I know. What I don’t know I won’t say nothin’ about." "Well," asked the district attorney, "what do you know?" "All I know is I wasn’t there, and I don’t think Stirling was there either." Ivory even denied that he had signed the two confessions.
   
Stirling 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 Stirling’s picture, she could not recall him. Boone could not clarify the matter. He had died three weeks before the trial.
   
Stirling’s 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.
   
On 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 man’s 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.
   
Stirling 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 gallows–conveniently 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.

The 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 it’s 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.
    I have not yet uncovered a single reference to the police and court proceedings in Dean Lewis’s voluminous office correspondence, which includes numerous references to his personal sense of loss at White’s 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, White’s 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 White’s 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 C’61 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.

 

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