Brodhead Murder: Part II Trial & Punishment

Monroe County jail as it looked in September 1875.  From left: unknown boy; Michael H. Dreher, Commissioner Clerk; Jonas Altemose, County Treasurer; John Appenzeller, Register and Recorder; W.T. Baker (later became sheriff), unknown; unknown; Thomas M. McIlhaney, Prothonotary; and Jacob K. Shafer, Sheriff.
Photo courtesy of Forrest and Claribel Sebring and Justine Sebring.

Note: This is the second of a two-part article. See previous story on the September 25, 1868 murder of Theodore Brodhead.

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association


Last month’s article focused on the Delaware Water Gap tragedy in which one man, Theodore Brodhead, was killed and another man, his brother, Thomas Brodhead, was wounded by William Brooks and Charles Orme. After being caught in Cherry Valley a few hours following the murder, Brooks and Orme were escorted to the Stroudsburg jail to await trial.

Three months later, on Monday, December 28, 1868, the murder trial of William Brooks and Charles Orme vs. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began. Judge Barrett presided over the trial along with Associate Judges Levering and DeYoung. Prosecutors for the Commonwealth were District Attorney Holmes, William Davis, and Samuel S. Dreher. The Defense Attorneys for Brooks and Orme were Charlton Burnet, John B. Storm, and David S. Lee. An all-male jury was selected; the twelve jurors were William C. Long, John Deiter, Abraham Butz, Jackson Stein, Jacob Learn, Samuel P. Storm, Jonas B. Miller, William M. Overfield, Andrew Hinton, Philip Learn, Harrison Doll, and Samuel Anthony.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, arguments began, and the Prosecution called numerous witnesses, starting with Thomas Brodhead. Thomas recounted, in detail, the terrible events of September 25, when Brooks and Orme had severely wounded him and had shot and killed his brother, Theodore. Evidence included Thomas’s stack of letters that had protected him from the bullet, Thomas’s clothing with a bullet hole in it, and a diagram of the scene. Following Thomas’s testimony, the prosecution called a number of other witnesses including Edward Brodhead, who was Theodore’s nephew and the first to arrive on the scene of the crime and Charles Staples, a 15 year old boy who worked as a clerk in the Stroudsburg hardware store that had been robbed by Brooks and Orme the day before the murder.

The defense had its chance to present Brooks and Orme’s side of the story on Thursday. No witnesses were called, and neither Brooks nor Orme took the stand in his own defense. The closing arguments took all day, and at 9:30 pm, Judge Barrett turned the case over to the jury with instructions that if they reached a verdict before midnight, the Courthouse bell would ring. At 11:45 pm, the bell rang. Brooks and Orme were led into the packed Courthouse.

In the very early hours of Friday, January 1, 1869 the verdict was delivered: Guilty of murder in the first degree. On Saturday morning, Brooks and Orme, convicted murderers, returned to the Courthouse to receive their sentence. The two men made short speeches in regard to the verdict. Neither man denied his guilt, but they did argue that their crime lacked premeditation or malicious intent.

After the prisoners spoke, Judge Barrett addressed the court. Barrett recapped the details of the crime and told Brooks and Orme that they did, in fact, mean harm and that the two men must live with the decisions they made that fateful September day.

Judge Barrett said, “The law makes the forfeit of your lives the penalty. You may think this hard; but, it is just what you meeted out to your fellow man. You will die to atone for a great crime.” Judge Barrett continued that both men “… be taken to the jail of Monroe County, from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, within the walls or yard of the said jail, and there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead – and may God have mercy on your soul.” William Brooks was 22 years old, and Charles Orme was 25 years old.

On February 1st, Pennsylvania Governor John W. Geary issued warrants for the execution of Brooks and Orme to occur on Friday, February 26, 1869. Brooks and Orme, through their counsel, filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reduce the sentence from death to imprisonment for life. The argument made by the defense was that the arrest of Brooks and Orme was illegal because there had never been a warrant issued for their arrest and that the crime was not murder, but manslaughter.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard the case and on April 1st upheld the ruling of the lower court. Brooks and Orme were to die for the crime of murder. With no other resources available, the two men became desperate.

On April 3rd the two convicted felons broke out of the Monroe County jail. According to reports, one of the prisoners pretended to have a seizure and fell to the floor. The other prisoner called for the elderly guard, Mr. Troch, to help lift the fallen man to the bed. When the guard came into the cell, he left the keys in the lock. The two men jumped up and closed Troch in the cell. Brooks and Orme escaped from the jail; however, in their excitement for freedom, they forgot to lock Troch in the cell. A few minutes later the alarms sounded, and the chase began.

Both armed and unarmed men scoured the countryside, looking for the two escaped prisoners. The Sheriff offered a $1,000 reward, and townspeople added to the reward amount. It wasn’t until the following day that the two men were discovered in a barn outside of Stroudsburg. Orme was caught, but Brooks eluded capture.

Nothing further was heard about the whereabouts of Brooks until May 12th, when a Mr. Lawrent encountered Brooks five miles west of Port Jervis, NY. Lawrent caught Brooks and was walking him to a nearby jail when Brooks jumped down a 30-foot embankment and disappeared. It was thought that Brooks most likely would have died soon thereafter succumbing to “the swamps from sinking or from weakness.”

On August 11th, Charles Orme was led to the gallows which had been erected in another cell in the jail. According to reports, forty-two witnesses (including two members of the clergy) were crammed into the 18’ x 18’ jail cell. The fist attempt to carry out Orme’s punishment was made at 11:00 am. Orme was led to the gallows by Sheriff Mervine who read the death warrant. The two clergymen, Rev. Ridgway and Pierce, protested the death sentence and convinced Sheriff Mervine to delay the hanging in hopes a pardon would arrive on the afternoon train. The Sheriff agreed to wait and Orme was returned to his cell.

The mail arrived on the afternoon train, but there was no reprieve. At 1:38 pm, Sheriff Mervine led Orme back to the scaffold to be hanged. The rope was placed around Orme’s neck and at 1:50 pm, Sheriff Mervine pulled the support. Orme fell through the drop and onto the ground; the rope had broken. The attending physician, Dr. A.R. Jackson, rushed to Orme and helped him up. Orme only suffered a scratch on his head.

Sheriff Mervine obtained a new rope (from a bed) and placed it around Orme’s neck. At 1:55 pm, Sheriff Mervine made the third attempt to carry out the death sentence. The trap was pulled and Orme was hanged. Unfortunately, the noose had slipped and it wasn’t until 21 ½ minutes later that Dr. Jackson finally pronounced Charles Orme dead.

Orme was the first person to ever be hanged in Monroe County. At 2:37 pm, the body was taken down and placed in a coffin. It is believed he is buried without a headstone in Stroudsburg cemetery.

About 22 years later, word reached Stroudsburg from the town of McMurry in the Washington Territory that law officials had caught William Brooks. According to the report, Brooks confessed to a “fellow ruffian” the murder of Theodore Brodhead. Officials in the Washington Territory forwarded a photograph, but the people involved with the case in Monroe County could not recognize the man because of the effects of aging. Nothing was ever heard again regarding William Brooks.

Assistance with the research for this article was provided by Rebecca Spang and B.J. Bachman.

Special note: The original jail was a wooden structure taken down in June 1875. There are no known images of the old jail. The Monroe County Historical Association and the Monroe County Archives are looking for a photograph of the wooden structure. Readers are encouraged to share a photograph of the old jail with MCHA and the Archives if they have one.