The Notorious Roxana Druse/Druce Murder Case, Part 1

The First Execution in Herkimer County, NY

Reportage from the The Franklin Gazette, Malone, NY

Contributed by Joanne Murray

From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, October 9, 1885

Mrs. Druce Sentenced

Utica, Oct. 6 - Mrs. Druce, who murdered her husband, with the aid of her son, daughter and nephew, in Warren, Herkimer County, last December, and cut up and burned the remains, was today sentenced by Judge Williams to be executed Wednesday, November 25. No woman has been executed in central New York for over forty years.

The courthouse was crowded by people of both sexes and all ages. At nine o'clock Mrs. Druce was escorted into the court room by officer Wilson. She looked haggard and worn. On the opening of court, Counselor Luce made a motion for a new trial, which was denied by Judge Williams.

The prisoner was told to stand up. She arose and Judge Williams pronounced the sentence.

Mrs. Druce never flinched or showed any emotion until she was passing out of the court room, when she burst into tears.

Counselor Luce will secure a stay of proceedings and appeal the case on a motion for a new trial.

From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, July 9, 1886

At the general term of the court held at Utica last week, the appeal of Mrs. Roxana Druce convicted of the murder of her husband in Herkimer County was decided adversely and she was sentenced to be hung August 19th.

From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, November 12, 1886

Mrs. Druce Resentenced

Utica, NY, Nov. 8 - In the Court of Oyer and Terminer, at Herkimer, today, the case of Mrs. Roxaiana Druce, convicted of killing and afterwards burning and boiling the body of her husband, came up before Justice Williams, upon the motion of District Attorney Sheldon, the Court of Appeals having confirmed the conviction by the lower courts. The news of the motion soon spread and the court room was crowded. When the condemned woman was brought into court by the sheriff, she looked pale and nervous. After the motion by the district attorney, the court recounted briefly the story of the revolting crime and the subsequent trials. The murder was committed in the town of Warren, December 18, 1884. The trial began September 21, 1885, and sentence was pronounced October 6 that the murderess be executed Nov. 25, 1885. An appeal was taken, first to the Supreme Court and second to the Court of Appeals, both reviewing and finding no error. The court asked the usual questions of Mrs. Druce, as to why sentence of death should not be passed upon her, to which she replied: "I have nothing to say". The court then fixed the date of her execution for December 29, 1886. Mrs. Druce then broke down and wept bitterly. Her counsel will appeal to the governor to commute the sentence.

From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, December 24, 1886

Mrs. Druce, The Murderess

Herkimer, Dec. 18 - No case in the history of New York State has attracted the same interest as the cold-blooded murder of William Druce by his wife Roxaiana Druce, in Warren, Herkimer County, in December 1884, on account of the horrible brutality of its details. The murdered man was what might be called a shiftless, lazy, good-for-nothing farmer, who was possessed of some property. His slayer is a frail, little woman of about forty years, who, from appearance would not hurt a dove. Her companions in the crime were her daughter Mary, aged nineteen, her son George, and a half-witted nephew, aged thirteen years. The two boys turned State's evidence. Mary on her own confession, is confined in the penitentiary at Syracuse for the term of her natural life, and the inhuman wife and mother is counting the hours when the hempen rope will encircle her neck, with a faint hope that the Governor may commute her sentence, and that hope grows dimmer as the days pass by. At the trial a year ago the counsel for the prisoner based their only hope on the plea of self-defense, but owing to the brutal disposal of the remains of the murdered man the jury did not for an instant take it into consideration. The story of the crime, as proven on the trial, is that the mother and daughter slept in the parlor and the boys and the victim slept upstairs. On the morning of the crime Druce came down and built the fire and went about doing the chores at the barn while the women soon after arose and began preparing breakfast. The boys and the two women sat down to eat as soon as it was ready and had finished their meal when the father came in. In the mean time the mother had told the boys not to go far from the house, as she might want them. A quarrel arose between Druce and his wife about some groceries that had not been paid for, and Mrs. Druce went into the pantry. When she came out soon after she carried a loaded revolver beneath her apron. Mary, her daughter, had procured a rope during the quarrel, and at a signal from her mother she threw it around the body of her father and tipping him backwards in his chair, tied him to the floor. Mrs. Druce immediately placed the revolver close to his head and fired. After the first shot was fired the boys came into the room and Mrs. Druce directed Frank Gates to shoot, which he did twice, each shot taking effect. Not satisfied with this, the wife procured an ax and began chopping off her husband's head, her husband pleading for his life, saying "Don't, Roxy, don't." After the husband and father was killed the two boys were instructed to close all the doors, and then they were sent upstairs and told to remain quiet. Mrs. Druce and Mary, with the help of a man who is free at this writing, proceeded to cut up the body, part of which was burned in the fire and part fed to the pigs. The part put in the stove was afterwards taken and hid, some in a millpond and some in a sap house a few miles distant. Suspicion did not become awakened until about a month after Druce disappeared, the neighbors supposing he had gone away, as he was frequently in the habit of doing. Frank Gates first told what had become of Druce while on a visit to his father, who resided a few miles from the Druce place. A Coroner's jury was immediately summoned and the above facts elicited, whereupon the four were arrested and confined in the Herkimer jail, where they were indicted by the Grand Jury in May 1885. The trial of Mrs. Druce began Sept. 29, 1885, and lasted over two weeks. The jury, after being out about two hours, returned with a verdict of guilty. Her counsel immediately appealed to the Supreme Court and Court of Oyer and Terminer, and the same judge before whom she was tried again Nov. 8 this year, re-sentenced her to be hanged Dec. 29.

In her sleep she is oppressed by the horror of her condition and is very restless, beads of perspiration standing out on her forehead and her hands clutching nervously. Her latest assertion and one that the superstitious people of this community are afraid she will carry into execution, is that if she is hanged she will return in spirit and haunt all those who have had any part in the affair. Only fifteen days yet remain before the execution will take place and already Sheriff Cook is making preparations. The death watch has already been placed over the condemned woman. With as many murderers as has been convicted and sentenced in this county, all of whom have thus far escaped, this frail little woman will be the first to suffer the full penalty of the law if the Governor does not interfere.

From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, February 25, 1887

It is understood that Governor Hill will take no further action in Mrs. Druce's case, and that she will be executed at Herkimer next Monday.

From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, July 9, 1886

At the general term of the court held at Utica last week, the appeal of Mrs. Roxana Druce convicted of the murder of her husband in Herkimer County was decided adversely and she was sentenced to be hung August 19th.

From: The Franklin Gazette (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Friday, March 4, 1887

At noon on Monday the law which calls for a life for a life was fulfilled at Herkimer, and Mrs. Druce expiated upon the gallows the awful crime of which she stood accused. As the first execution in Herkimer County, and because of the fact that the criminal was a woman, the hanging has created great excitement throughout the county and the state. The ends of justice, the warning to evil doers, and the lesson of the sacredness of life, were all the better subserved by the great solemnity of the event. The spectators were strictly limited to the number provided by the new statute, and the demeanor of the officials, the victim, and her advisors, was free from any semblance of sensationalism.

Further research by Joanne:

I took a quick look at the census records and found the family on the 1870 and 1880 census in Warren, Herkimer Co., NY. William was there in 1860 as well. He was a bit older than his wife. From the censuses:

William Druce, b. abt. 1828 in NY
Roxana, b. abt. 1846 in NY (parents born in RI and CT)
Mary, b. abt. 1866 in NY
Ellen, b. abt. 1869 in NY (probably died before 1880 as she is not listed on that census)
William D./S. (George, in article), b. abt. 1875 in NY (he would have been about 11 years old at the time of the murder)

The 1870 census reports that William had property worth $16,000 and personal worth $3,000. That's quite a bit for 1870!

There was a William Druce of the correct age on the 1850 Springfield, Otsego Co., NY census. He appears to be the son of Stewart and Dorcas Druce, and appears to have 3 younger sisters.

I wasn't able to find Mary Druce (the daughter) on the 1900 census; I would assume that she was still in jail in Syracuse. I couldn't find her younger brother either. The articles do not mention what became of him or who cared for him while his mother was in jail awaiting trial.

The Ticonderoga Sentinel mentioned the case in a 1925 article about Mrs. Soper (another murder case). It said:

"If Mrs. Soper is put to death she will be the fourth of her sex to expiate her crime by the supreme penalty in the State of New York. Mrs. Roxilla Druce was hanged at Herkimer Feb. 28, 1887 for the murder of her husband... ."

I was surprised that I could only find this case mentioned in the Malone paper. I thought that Ticonderoga, Elizabethtown and Syracuse would also run articles, but wasn't able to find any. I'm sure a Herkimer County paper would have covered it in detail, but I don't have access to any papers from there.

new 7/19/05  Also contributed by Joanne Murray.

From: Athens Messenger (Athens, Ohio) 7 July 1887

The ghost of Mrs. Roxalana Druse, The Herkimer (N.Y.) County woman who was hanged for the murder of her husband, now pays nightly visits to the cell in which she was confined and frightens all the jailers by moaning from midnight till dawn. Or so the jailers say.

[Coordinators' Note: if you have access to local Herkimer County accounts of the trial, we'd like to add them to this site. To contact the site coordinators about a contribution, click here.]

new 1/28/06   From: The Hunterdon County Democrat, 3 February 1885 (Flemington, New Jersey)

Killed and Burned Her Husband

William Druse, a farmer in moderate circumstances, living in the town of Warren, Herkimer County, three miles from Richfield Spring, N.Y., has been missing for a month. He had had frequent quarrels with his wife, and for several days it was rumored that his wife had murdered him, cut and burned the body and placed the bones in a swamp. An axe, owned by Druse, was found rolled in paper at the bottom of Weatherbee's pond, on Saturday last. A nephew of Mrs. Druse, named Gates, aged 18 was "squeezed" by the neighbors and confessed that she had shot her husband while he (Gates) and her son were out of the house. Upon Gates' return, Mrs. Druse put a rope around his neck and compelled him to fire into the body. The remains of the murdered man were then burned and the bones which remained were buried. The odor of burning flesh was noticed in the vicinity of Druse's house December 18. It is said that the woman has admitted her guilt. Mrs. Druse has a brother in New York.

More newspapers articles about this murder case

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Created: 6/27/05
Updated: 1/28/06; 7/19/05
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