William Madaus was the father of Minnie Madaus Hannigan Moeckel and the family lived at 330 East 74th Street in the Yorkville area of New York City. William was a laboring man and worked at the Hotel Savoy on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City. While the accounts of what happened on the evening of March eleventh may vary, the tragic truth is that William died of a stab wound on his way to Presbyterian Hospital.
On March 11, 1902, William Madaus came home from work with hopes of dinner being on the table. Because he and his wife had been arguing the night before (according to various news accounts), when he came home from work and dinner was not ready, he struck her in the face and they struggled again, eventually falling to the floor. It was during the struggle on the floor that William got stabbed by his wife in the left chest. His wife had been peeling potatoes when he came home and the potato peeling knife was buried to the hilt according to several newspaper reports.
Lizzie Madaus was the mother of 5 living children and 3 additional children who had passed away in the 18 years and eleven months of their marriage. She was in about the sixth month of her pregnancy with her ninth child when this struggle happened with various news accounts describing her as being ‘in a delicate health’ when her husband came home. Later reporting indicated the baby was born just months after the struggle in the Tombs, the infamous New York City jail.
On the evening of the struggle, the responding police officer found William unconscious on the floor and Lizzie fainted on the sofa. She was taken to Bellevue Hospital for observation while her husband was taken to Presbyterian Hospital for treatment. He passed away en route and there are indications in the reporting that Lizzie was never told or her husband’s condition until her trial and she failed to realize her husband had been murdered even when standing before a judge to face charges for his murder.
The very next day (March 12, 1902) she was indicted for the murder of her husband (the quickest such indictment in NYC history to that time) based on the testimony of two daughters (Evelyn – 11 years old and Alice – 8 years old) and the responding policeman. The court ordered the daughters to be placed in the custody of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (New York Daily Tribune, Wednesday, March 12, 1902, page 4), while the other children remained at home in the care of their oldest sister, Minnie.
One news account indicated that Minnie (the oldest daughter) would visit her mother in the Tombs daily because she was employed in the shirt district industry located close by. The article went on to say the Minnie’s sweetheart had abandoned her in her greatest time of need. Denis Michael Hannigan (Minnie’s sweetheart) was in the US Army in South Carolina at the time and in October 1902 deserted from the Army post to return to New York and several months later married Minnie. Denis was killed in a train yard accident in April 1903 and their son Raymond was born in June 1903.
Following the birth of the ninth child in the Tombs jail, a trial date was set for early July 1902. Two children had been placed into the care of a charitable group (probably the 11 year old and 8 year old) and the other two younger children were being cared for by their oldest sister, Minnie. The two girls testified at the trial and after their mother testified for herself, the girls were recalled to the stand and indicated they might not have been present for all the time during the argument.
On July 16, 1902, she was acquitted of the murder of her husband and the chief recorder lectured the jury and her about despite the jury verdict, he believed she was guilty and got away with murder. Several newspapers picked up the Associate Press reporting and headlined articles about the lecturing done by the recorder.
Probably the best headline (well the article sub-head really) came from the Fort Worth Star Telegram: ‘A Woman Who had Butchered Her Husband With a Potato Knife, Acquitted by a Jury – Recorder Goff’s Remarks.’
In late July 1902 it was report that Mabel and Evelyn (the daughters who had testified against their mother) were returned to Lizzie’s care.