McDonough County, Illinois
James Dye Murder

The crime of murder has been rare in this county; in fact, we believe that in proportion to its population there has been less crime in McDonough than in any other county in the State. Occasionally we are shocked with the announcement of a terrible murder committed in our midst. This was true on the morning of the twenty-eighth day of May, 1864. On the evening before at about nine o'clock the alarm was given that James Dye, a wealthy farmer living in the west part of the county on a farm known as the "Prentiss farm," was murdered. Neighbors of the deceased at once gathered, and an investigation was made, when it was discovered that Mr. Dye had been killed while lying in bed. An inquest was held upon the body by P. H. McCandless, the coroner of the county. After examining the body and care fully investigating the matter, the jury returned it verdict that the deceased came to his death by violent and unlawful means; by the hands of his own wife Rebecca, assisted by two accessories, David B. Burress and S. P. Ray, all of whom w.ere immediately arrested and committed to the county jail to await a hearing before the Circuit Court. On the tenth day of October following the grand jury of the county found a true bill of indictment against the above parties. The case being called in the Circuit Court, a continuance was granted until the next term of the court. At this term a change of venue was granted to David P. Burress, to Warren County, and Mrs. Dye, to Fulton county. A nolle prosequi was entered in, the case of Ray and be was discharged from custody. Mrs. Dye was duly tried at the April term of the Circuit Court of Fulton county, the trial lasting nine days. It was probably the most exciting one that ever took place in that county. The court room was crowded at every session, many ladies being constantly in attendance. The counsel for the people were Messrs. Goudy, of Fulton, Wheat, of Adams, and Schofield & Mack, of Hancock. For the defense, Mrs. Dye secured the services of Messrs. Manning, of Peoria, Kellogg & Ross, of Fulton, and Cyrus Walker, of McDonough. Probably a better array of counsel could not have been secured in the entire State of Illinois. They were all able men. William C. Goudy opened the case for the people. He told the jury that they "were called upon to discharge the most solemn duty that ever devolved upon man, in the discharge of which involved the life or death of a human being". The evidence they had to offer was purely circumstantial. No living being was known who saw the inhuman crime committed. But circumstantial evidence, in many cases, was better than positive testimony the guilty mind always acts inconsistent with its innocence, and this marks out its own accusation. This is one of God's marks upon crime. To hunt out, follow up, and arrest a criminal are its daily uses. By its aid the police of our cities are constantly bringing to light and arresting the perpetrators of evil deeds, who would otherwise,continue their crimes unmolested. The prisoner before you is indicted for the murder of her own husband. The deceased came to his death by a blow upon the head from an axe or hammer, or from a slung-shot in the breast, or from both. Three persons are named in the bill of indictment, but you have only to inquire as to the guilt of the prisoner before you. We expect to show acts and words between Burress and the prisoner that will show their connection with the murder, and bring to your mind uncontrovertable evidence of the prisoner's guilt. Should we do so, you have but one duty to perform, and that we shall expect at your hands."

Cyrus Walker, for the defense, opened the Case and spoke substantially as follows: 'The arrangement has been made by the counsel for the defense that I should make the opening statement. I agree with the gentlemen that this is an important case. You, gentlemen, are to decide a momentous question. The Emperor of the Russias possesses no more power over the life of his subjects than you have over the life of that lady. Her life is in our hands. You can hang her up between the heavens and the earth, or you can send her home to her children, from whom she has been torn by the iron rule of the law. You must expect the case will be somewhat tedious; the issues involved are such it cannot be otherwise. That woman before you,whose life you hold in your hands, is accused of an unnatural crime. The difference between murder and manslaughter has been fully and accurately stated to you by my -friend, and it is in your province to find her guilty of either, if the evidence should thus convince you. Certainty, beyond a reasonable doubt, is required in all criminal cases the law rejects preponderance. James Dye, the deceased, was a man between seventy and eighty years of age. He was married twice. By his first wife he had twelve children. Six years ago be was married to the accused, by whom he had three children, one at the breast at the time of his murder. On Saturday, the twenty-seventh of May last, he was found dead in his bed, shot through the breast, and his skull fractured just above the left eye.
As is very natural in such a case, there was much anxiety to find out the perpetrators of the deed. Suspicion took the smallest circumstance and magnified it; and the natural disposition in every community to find out the cause that restless, eager energy that seizes every point directed attention toward the accused. I warn you, gentlemen, against such restless eagerness, against that suspicion that blights without investigation,and condemns without proof. There is no contest here, but as to who murdered Dye. James Dye was a large farmer, a hard working man. I am bound to do justice to the living. I must speak of the faults of the dead. The deceased was an honest, industrious man, but he sadly neglected the education of his children-their moral and intellectual training was unprovided for; while his great aim was to accumulate property. He had frequent quarrels with his sons, fights and law suits. These engendered a bitter feeling between them, which often led to violence. After the old man's death, the boys were active to show the prisoner's guilt-they charged her with the murder and hinted of circumstances to cast suspicion upon her. The old man died intestate. There was a large dower coming to the prisoner. They had various motives to induce, them to be forward in settling opinion against the accused. Knowing their previous quarrels, they sought to divert suspicion from themselves, and have sought every means to throw the guilt upon the prisoner. The prosecution has stated the rules of evidence. I wish only to add, as the enormity of the crime increases, so the character of the proof should be more certain. There never was a greater error committed than that from the pen of Dr. Paley, when he said that circumstantial evidence could not lie. It was a fine theory and having received the sanction of so great a mind, has been handed down as incontrovertible. One ounce of sober sense upon such a point is better than the speculative wisdom of the world. Remember, you are not to enquire who murdered James Dye, nor, if she didn't, who did? You are only to decide as to the prisoner's guilt."

Some eighty or ninety witnesses bad been summoned and were duly examined. As outlined in the remarks of the attorneys, the prosecution end endeavored to prove criminal intercourse, or at least criminal intentions, on the part of Burress and the accused and that they might more surely and securely carry out their evil designs, it was necessary to get the old man out of the way. That they made a strong case against the accused cannot be denied. The defense, on the other hand, brought forward witnesses to prove the good character of their client, showing how she many, times acted as peacemaker between the old man and his sons how the old man regarded her as worthy of all confidence, giving her all the money she wished for, and making her his "banker," as he said; how that, in nature, he could live but a little while, and,that his intention was to leave all his property to the accused and her children ; that the supposed facts, as set forth by the prosecution, was entirely inconsistent with the state of affairs as they existed. The case was ably argued on both sides. After being out fifteen hours the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, and sentenced the accused to five years in the penitentiary. It is said that on the first ballot the jury stood four for acquittal and eight for conviction, and the verdict, as given, was a compromise. Mrs. Dye was in due time removed to the State's prison, but on account of uniform good conduct, and on the recommendation of the Warden, she was pardoned long before the expiration of her term. As to the guilt or innocence,we are not prepared to judge; suffice it to say, that, on receiving her pardon, she returned to Macomb, where she resided for many years, enjoying, we believe, the respect of all who knew her. She died in the year 1874.
With reference to Burress, arrested for the murder of James Dye, his trial was never held. On the night of August 11, 1855, he escaped from the county jail, at Macomb, but returned, after an absence of about ten days,and gave himself up to the authorities. On the evening of the tenth of November, following, he again escaped. A reward of one hundred dollars was offered for his capture. He was traced to the State of Indiana, and a party went in pursuit of him, but,when they reached the place where he was seen, he was gone, since which time he has never been heard from. Whether guilty of the crime charged against him will probably never be known.
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