The saga of our notorious Judge Slagle resumes with newly-discovered information about the first recorded murder in Livingston county in 1853. It was the shotgun killing of an unarmed, banjo player named Benjamin Collins--- by our own Judge Joe Slagle. A highly-biased account of this incident was detailed in the 1886 history. It is easily obtainable from your web search engine should you be interested in reading all about it. Unfortunately, this account has been treated as gospel in subsequent retellings of our history over the last 160 years.
As stated in Chapter Two, portions of the “Official 1886 History” were sanctioned by Joe himself and do not match with other reliable sources on certain key facts. The Preface of this book raised concerns from the compilers about conflicting stories from some contributors without specific attribution. Some significant data were distorted or intentionally omitted in the official account:
Joe didn't allow the book include his fifth wife whom he married on May 4,1851 according to Livingston County records. This bride was named Elizabeth Crawford and she was the half sister of Joe's fourth bride that passed away suddenly on 8/7/1849 at age twenty-one. In the 1886 historical account, she was simply called “Miss” Crawford. This lady was also called Elizabeth Crawford! It turns out that their father (Mason Crawford) had thirteen children by his first wife (Polly). After Polly died in 1827, he sired seven more by his second wife (Susan). According to the 1850 census, Mason’s second family lived in Livingston County but then must have moved back to Quincy, Illinois at the time of the murder.
Although he was eventually acquitted of the killing in 1854 at his second trial, Joe didn't get off “Scot Free" as some could surmise from the official history. After the indictment, Joe's first trial was declared in essense a mistrial. Joe subsequently served over a year in the Livingston County jail! A special hearing was held and Joe had two very good friends post a bail of $4000 cash. These rich and powerful men had a current year CPI-adjusted equivalent of $130,000 in their pockets! None of this information was mentioned in the official history.
The sister's half-brother (Benjamin Collins) was murdered in cold blood by Joe in early 1853 after he had made repeated, public death threats against Joe’s life on several occasions prior. Mr. Collins was upset because he believed that foul play was involved in the first Elizabeth Crawford’s death in 1849. He may have had legitimate concerns, but he went about it all wrong! Collins probably didn’t own a gun, while Joe packed his shotgun at all times. The history’s account concerning Benjamin's bad character and drinking habits were obtained from court records submitted by Joe's defense attorney-- at his first trial. Benjamin was dead, so there was no rebuttal!
Incidentally, Joe’s defense attorney was arguably the most prominent hero of our county in the nineteenth century; then Captain William O. Slack was a veteran and local hero of the Mexican War of 1848. A few years later General Slack would lead his Livingston County men into the Civil War on the Confederate side. He and many cohorts would die at the Battle of Pea Ridge (Arkansas) in 1861.
There was an interesting Livingston County land transaction recorded in September, 1854 between Elizabeth Crawford II and four men named Collins!
From that point, I found no record of her existence in ensuing years. Note that Joe had been found innocent just months before and had returned to the farm. There was no indication that any children were born of this marriage. Of course, this wife was not buried with her sister.
Once again, in my opinion Joe was hiding something very important. He emptied both barrels of his shotgun into an unarmed banjo player who had decided give up his war of words and to set out for California. A mounted Joe just happened to overtake Collins as he was walking into Chillicothe. I believe Benjamin Collins knew too much about Joe and was most certainly a boastful "loud mouth." A recount of this story written in the local paper fifty years later termed him an ignoramus!
All this information begs an answer to this question: Why would Susan and Mason Crawford allow Joe to marry Elizabeth II if they thought Joe had murdered Elizabeth I a few years prior? I have no answer.
Next up, I will tell you about Joe's sixth and most successful wife--- Charlotte Parent Slagle. I use the term “successful” in that Lottie outlived old Joe by twenty years and was not buried in that spooky cemetery!