Even in 1884, distressing economic circumstances were blamed when a father attempted to murder his four children, and then attempted to kill himself (the father and one child survived). This was the case with father DR. JOHN MAXWELL. However a careful reading of this case reveals the work of a coolly rational, deliberate killer with no remorse for his actions.
From the archives of the New York Times, November 28, 1884.
A COWARDLY FATHER'S CRIME.
HE KILLS THREE OF HIS FOUR CHILDREN AND ATTEMPTS SUICIDE.
Dayton, Ohio, Nov. 27.--The most distressing tragedy that ever occurred in this section was enacted last evening in Springfield by a father whose victims included his own children, three of whom he deliberately killed.
The inhuman father is Dr. John Maxwell, who recently moved from Selma, a small place in the country, to Springfield. His family consisted of a wife and four children.
Adversity had crossed the path of the doctor, and one of the main reasons of his removal from Selma was his arrest on a charge of criminal libel by another physician. Since locating in Springfield his finances have gone from bad to worse, until the worst of his poverty has been staring him in the face. This and other troubles have preyed upon him until he became despondent and at times desperate. He has of late been seen in public with tears streaming down his cheeks, brooding over his troubles, but no one is known to have heard him utter a threat against himself or his family. It appears, however, that he has for a week or more been contemplating killing his entire family.
Last night he sent his wife to town on a pretext, and in her absence he tied cloths, strongly saturated with chloroform, over the mouths of his four children, two boys and two girls, ranging in age from 13 to 4 years. He then drank a quantity of the drug himself, and, applying a cloth to his nostrils, lay down on the bed beside them all to die.
When Mrs. Maxwell returned home and found her husband and children lying on the bed unconscious. The sight drove her nearly frantic. She aroused the neighbors, and medical help was summoned, but before the physicians arrived Blanche, age 12, was dead. All means of restoration were used in the case of the other children, but Arthur, the youngest, died shortly after midnight, and Kenneth, two years older, died at 4 o'clock this morning.
Grace, the oldest child, and the father, are still alive. The daughter is in a very precarious condition, but may recover, and the father's recovery is assured by the attending physicians. He is now in jail charged with the triple murder.
When he recovered consciousness sufficiently to speak his first question was about his children. When told that three of them were dead he dropped his head in his hands with a groan. He has expressed himself as only sorry that he was not more successful in his work. He does not seem to be mentally irresponsible.
The physicians' report that before chloroforming the children he gave them a mixture of aconite and chloroform, compiled with such pharmaceutical cunning as to baffle attempts to find an antidote.
The wife and mother, frantic with grief ever since last night, refuses to be consoled. It is now feared she will not survive the terrible tragedy, and is she does she will probably be a maniac.