Crime scene investigation seems like a modern development but a murder trial in 1872 in Greene County shows such analysis was actually done years ago.
The murder happened on October 30, 1872. William Fogwell was returning from Dayton to his home in Greene County when he was shot. The murderer was concealed in a corner fence row near the road. Fogwell did not die immediately. He shouted, “Murder!” several times. Some neighbors responded to his calls. Fogwell was carried to his father’s house which was nearby. There Fogwell said he had seen William Ritchison in the flash of the gun. The weapon was a double barreled shotgun loaded with balls. Fogwell lingered for several days but died on November 8.
Authorities obtained evidence from the crime scene and the suspect’s house. A wheat field and clover pasture near the scene of the crime contained soft clay. Boot tracks were in the soil leading from the hiding place to Ritchison’s house. When Ritchison was arrested he was wearing boots. His boots were taken to the crime scene and inserted into the prints. One man testified, according to a November 1872 issue of the Xenia Gazette, “they fitted every time like a mold”.
The nails on the sole of the boot were unusually placed, some close together and some wide apart. The prints in the ground corresponded exactly with those in the boot.
Scrapes of paper were found at the crime scene. The edges were scorched and they were printed with words in columns. The paper had been used as wadding for the bullets in the murder weapon. At Ritchison’s house a “haversack’ was found. It contained “some gun caps, an old spelling book without covers and the leaves torn, and some paper wads”. The bullets extracted from Fogwell matched the balls found in Ritchison’s sack and the paper at the scene matched the spelling book. The shotgun at Ritchison’s house was examined and found to have been recently fired. Tests were done which showed it was possible to see a shooter’s face in the flare of the gun fire.
It was known, by several people, that the two men had had various arguments over the course of about five years. The most recent quarrel had been about some turkeys that belonged to Fogwell which Ritchison had shot. Fogwell had demanded payment for them. Ritchison refused. Fogwell, a township constable, had obtained a subpoena to serve Ritchison. It was in his shirt pocket when he was shot. Someone had warned Ritchison about the subpoena.
Ritchison was found guilty at a trial. Another trial was ordered because it was claimed a juror from the first trial had talked about the case outside of court before a verdict was reached. Ritchison was again found guilty at the second trial.
Ritchison tried to escape. When the escape failed, he hung himself in his jail cell. He was buried in his own yard, in an unmarked grave.