Friday, September 28, 2012

Murder in The Church - The Death of Dr. James Wright Markoe

My wife's North American roots are deep. I can trace her ancestors in what is the United States and Canada back to about 1628, just a few years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. My family, in contrast, immigrated to North America in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. It is likely for this reason that most of the MyHeritage record matches with Find-A-Grave memorial pages involved Ellen's ancestors.


One of the several bits of information that I discovered about Ellen's ancestors through their memorial pages involved a fifth cousin, twice removed: Dr. James Wright Markoe (right, as he was pictured in the New York Times in 1920). James and Ellen share great grandparents, John Faulkner and his wife, Sarah Abbott. John and Sarah are the 4th great grandparents to Dr. Markoe and the 6th great grandparents to Ellen.

On Dr. Markoe's Find-A-Grave memorial page is a biographical note stating that he died after being shot at church. I couldn't resist exploring that story and found that it was, in fact, true.

Dr. James Wright Markoe was the personal physician to J. P. Morgan, the very wealthy financier and industrialist. It was this friendly relationship that lead J. P. Morgan to financing New York City's Lying In Hospital which Dr. Markoe founded and oversaw for a number of years.

The New York Times reported that on Sunday, April 18, 1920, Dr. Markoe was one of a number of ushers who were taking up the collection during Sunday services at St. George's Episcopal Church, near Stuyvesant Square in New York City. As Dr. Markoe proceeded with the collection task "a lunatic, recently escaped from an asylum, arose from a seat towards the rear of the church, fired a revolver and mortally wounded" Dr. Markoe. Some reports have suggested that the murderer had misidentified Dr. Markoe with his real target, J. P. Morgan, Jr.

The 'lunatic', as the newspaper referred to him, was apprehended by men who were also attending the church service and turned over to the police. He was later identified as Thomas Simpkin of Duluth, Minnesota. Simpkin's version of events is that he had no particular target but rather he was dismayed because the "preacher in his sermon at the church told them to be good to strangers but no one spoke to me, and I resented it." Simpkin as it turns out had moved his family from England to Canada about seven years earlier. He told police that he had joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in World War 1. According to Simpkin, just prior to departing Canada for the war, he learned that his wife was again pregnant and when his request to be stationed closer to his family was denied, he deserted and moved the family to the United States. The attestation papers for Thomas Simpkin indicate that he lived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada when he was inducted into the military in 1916.

Dr. Markoe's murder prompted a flurry of calls for changes in the way the U.S. courts dealt with those who at the time were considered to be 'insane.'

As for Dr. Markoe, he was laid to rest in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery following a funeral service that took place in the chapel of the very church in which he had been killed. The New York Times described  the funeral as a "quiet, simple service except the dismal beating of the rain on the tin roof which at times almost muffled the droning of the prayers for the dead." The funeral was held under police guard with admittance controlled by admission tickets. Among the mourners were Dr. Markoe's widow, Annette, as well as family and friends including J. P. Morgan, Jr. as well as a police honour guard provided in recognition of the work Dr. Markoe had done for the police of New York City over the years.

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