The Notorious Roxana Druce/Druse Murder Case, Part 2

The First Execution in Herkimer County, NY

Reportage from Various Out-of-County Newspapers

Contributed by Marie McDonald

At this website: is an article titled: The Notorious Roxana Druce Murder Case, by Joanne Murray. I have additional information on this murder that may be of interest to readers of this site, and have attached a Word document with further newspaper references to the murder, giving additional information. When you read all the articles, both the attached, as well as those posted by Ms. Murray, you will see there are descrepancies in some of the details, which makes it interesting to read all the different versions.

I found these under the name of Roxalana Druse, although Ms. Murray uses the spelling of Roxaiana Druce. It appears the name was spelled both ways, although the newspapers most commonly used Druse.

An interesting offshoot of this murder case was the introduction of the Hadley Bill in the NY State Assembly in January, 1887 to abolish capital punishment and substitute life imprisonment for women found guilty of first degree murder. I wonder if her case may have been the impetus for this bill?

Marie McDonald
Troy, NY

[Site Coordinator's Note: out-of-town papers reporting the Druse murder case spelled the surname as either Druse or Druce, with variant spellings of Roxalana's first name. Roxalana Druse is the conventional spelling of her first and last name today, although in the censuses this family's surname was spelled Druce. Mrs. Druse's execution caused a public as well as official outcry, as it took approximately 15 minutes for her to die after the rope was yanked. In June 1888, New York State passed a law that replaced execution by hanging with electrocution.]

From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday morning, October 9, 1885 (Clinton County)

The Druse Trial.

Mrs. Druse Convicted of Murder in the First Degree at Herkimer.

The trial of Mrs. Druse for the murder of her husband December 18, 1884, closed at Herkimer at 12:30 a.m. Monday. The jury, after a trial lasting nearly two weeks, brought in a verdict of murder in the first degree. Mrs. Druse, who was sitting beside her counsel, heard the verdict apparently unmoved, but afterward said a great wrong had been done her, that she was not guilty of premeditated murder and had been unjustly convicted. The murder was the most brutal known in that part of the state and Mrs. Druse will probably be the first woman ever hanged in Herkimer county.


On Tuesday morning Judge Williams sentenced Mrs. Druse to be hanged Wednesday, November 25, 1885. Mrs. Druse never flinched nor showed any emotion until she was passing out of the court room when she burst into tears. Her lawyer will secure a stay of proceedings and appeal the case on a motion for a new trial.


William Druse, the murdered man, lived near Richfield Springs and disappeared mysteriously December 18, 1884. Stories of the unhappy domestic life of Druse and his wife caused rumors of foul play, and these were given foundation by the discovery in a pond of an ax which was identified as having been sold to the missing man. Mrs. Druse appeared as much mystified over her husband's disappearance as any of the other residents, and frequently sent dispatches to New York and other places inquiring for him. Frank Gates, eighteen years old and a nephew of Mrs. Druse, lived with the family. After persistent questioning by neighbors Gates finally made a confession, and with Mrs. Druse and Mary was arrested. Gates declared that at breakfast time December 18 Mrs. Druse sent him and her seven-year old son out of the house. A few moments later Gates heard a pistol shot, and Mrs. Druse called him in. He saw blood on her husband's neck. The woman told him to "finish him up" or she would shoot him. He shot the man, and the wife seizing an ax, cut up the body. Gates further asserted she put the head into the fire, boiled the body and fed the flesh and entrails to the hogs. Two stoves were kept going, burning the bones and other parts of the body, Gates attending to the fire. Neighbors noticing the offensive smoke called at the house and were denied admission. Newspapers were tucked over the windows. Temporary insanity was the defense made by Mrs. Druse at the trial.

From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday morning, October 16, 1885

Heading: News of the Week

Mary Druse, who helped her mother to kill, cut and burn her father in Warren, Herkimer county, pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree and was sentenced to the Onondaga penitentiary for life. George Druse, the young son, and Frankie Gates, the nephew of Druse who assisted in the murder, were discharged.

From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday morning, November 12, 1886

Heading: News of the Week

- Mrs. Druse, the murderess, was Monday re-sentenced at Herkimer by Judge Williams to be hanged Wednesday, December 29.

From: The Franklin Gazette, Friday, December 17, 1886

Heading: Local All Sorts

Mrs. Druse, the Herkimer county murderess, is said to be so confident that Governor Hill will commute her sentence that she gives no thought to her spiritual condition. She is reported as saying the other night to her guard: "By -- -, if I'm hung I'll haunt you all in my night clothes."

From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday morning, December 24, 1886

Mrs. Druse Reprieved to February 28.

Mrs. Druse, who was to have been hanged the 29th for the murder of her husband, William Druse, at Warren, has been reprieved by Gov. Hill till February 28.

From: The Franklin Gazette, Friday, January 7, 1887

Governor Hill's action in the Druse case is very highly commended by Republican papers. The Utica Herald in commenting upon the case says: "What criticism can be urged against the position taken by the executive? If public opinion demands that sex shall be respected by the hangman, let public opinion assert itself by demanding a change in the statute. The commonwealth should not shrink from legally what it requests the executive to do without justification of law. This is Governor Hill's argument in brief, which is unquestionably strong as well as adroit. More than a third of a century has passed since a woman was executed in New York. A good many murders have been committed by women in that period. The tender hearts of jurors or the clemency of executives has preserved the guilty from the gibbet. Capital punishment has become a dead letter so far as women are concerned, and public opinion approves. The question may as well be faced whether it is worth while to retain on the statute books a law, general in its application, whose execution public sentiment requires to be decided by the sex of the offender."

From: The Franklin Gazette, January 28, 1887

A bill has been introduced into the Legislature abolishing capital punishment and substituting imprisonment for life to the case of women found guilty of murder in the first degree. Though this bill will not apply to Mrs. Druse, it is assumed, that since the Governor referred the petition for commutation to the Legislature, that should the bill become a law, he would permit it to be operative in saving the Herkimer county murderess from the gallows. Public opinion is by no means agreed touching this point, whether or not this pass. Doubtless an opportunity will be presented, that those who care to will be allowed to present their argument in such a shape as will reach the Legislature. The friends of the cause are now furnished with an objective point for their activity.

- Utica Press.

From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday morning, February 25, 1887

Mrs. Druse to Hang.

Mrs. Druse will undoubtedly hang at Herkimer next Monday. Nothing can be learned of the report of the experts who visited the murderess in jail last week, but it can be stated that Governor Hill regards the case closed so far as he is concerned. The defeat of the Hadley bill in the Assembly last Friday settled the fate of the unfortunate woman.

From: The Elizabethtown Post, March 3, 1887 (Essex County)

Mrs. Roxalana Druse, the Herkimer murderess, was executed in the jail yard at Herkimer, Herkimer Co., N. Y., at noon on Monday last. But few witnessed the execution, as a recent statute limits the number to, we believe, 25 beside the officers.

The following is a brief history of the case:

On the 18th of December, 1884, William Druse, a farmer, residing in the town of Warren, near Richfield Springs, Herkimer county, mysteriously disappeared, and suspicions of foul play began to be whispered about the neighborhood. The family consisted of William Druse and Mrs. Druse, the daughter Mary, aged nineteen years, the son, George, aged ten years, and a nephew, Frank Gates, aged fourteen years. Mrs. Roxalana Druse, the wife, was apparently as anxious as any one to find her husband, and the murder story was considered by some as a cruel slander; but there were hints of the sudden death of a former husband, and an ax being found in a pond near the village, wrapped in paper, and identified as one of a make known to have been sold to William Druse, started the story afresh, although Mrs. Druse was all the time searching for him, several times sending dispatches to New York and elsewhere. As the excitement grew, the neighbors plied Frank Gates with questions, until he finally, on January 16, 1885, confessed the crime. Gates and Mrs. Druse were arrested and taken to a neighbor's, where the woman also confessed.


She said a quarrel had occurred at the breakfast table on the morning of the homicide between Druse and herself. The deceased was still at the table, and during the quarrel of words she went into another room and took a loaded revolver which was there, and putting it under her apron, returned and whispered to the boys to go out of doors, which they did, leaving herself, the daughter Mary, and Druse in the room. Mary then placed a rope around her father's neck while he was at the table, and Mrs. Druse fired the revolver once or twice at him, wounding him, and he fell over sideways in his chair while she, being unable to make the revolver go off again called to the nephew Frank, who came into the house, together with the boy George, when she gave the revolver to the nephew, and, under a threat of killing him, compelled him to fire it off two or three times, and the deceased, being hit by the shots, rolled off the chair upon the floor, and then she seized an ax and hit her husband on the head with it, he exclaiming: "Oh, Roxy don't," and she continued hitting him on the neck until she chopped his head off—severing it completely from his body. Mrs. Druse then caused the head, as well as the body, to be taken into the parlor, and during that day and evening

The Body Was Cut Up With An Axe

and burned in the stove. She threatened to kill the boys if they told what had occurred, burned all her husband's clothes and made every possible effort to conceal the crime, causing the ashes in the stove where the body had been burned to be taken up and thrown, into a swamp, and the revolver and ax to be thrown in a pond, and had telegrams sent to friends in other places making false and misleading inquiries as to her husband and compelled the boys to tell everyone that her husband had gone away from home, she herself telling her neighbors falsehoods of every description as to her husband's whereabouts. During the evening, while Mrs. Druse and Mary were burning the body, in the parlor, the two boys were amusing themselves by playing checkers in the adjoining room, where the murder had been committed, thus showing the unconcerned and utter lack of feeling of the whole family. Mrs. Druse had previously made threats against her husband and boasted that she would be rid of him someday. The revolver had been procured and brought into the house under peculiar and suspicious circumstances, indicating felonious purposes. These and other facts, almost too horrible for description, marked the case as a plain one of deliberate and premeditated. There was scarcely a single mitigating circumstance surrounding it.

Found Guilty of Murder

Mrs. Druse was indicted for murder in the first degree and her trial began before Judge Williams at Herkimer, September 21, 1885 and lasted nearly two weeks. The defense attempted to prove that Druse abused his wife and had threatened to kill her and Mrs. Druse was temporarily insane when she committed the crime. The jury returned a verdict of guilty at twelve o'clock on Saturday night, October 3, 1885. Judge Williams sentenced Mrs. Druse the following Tuesday, October 6, to be hanged November 25, 1885. The conviction was appealed, both to the General Term of the Supreme Court and to the Court of Appeals, and was affirmed by both courts. Both courts held that the verdict fully justified the evidence, and refused to interfere with the sentence of the law. Mrs. Druse was again sentenced to be hung December 20, 1885. An appeal was made to Governor Hill as a last resort to commute Mrs. Druse's sentence, which he refused to do, but on December 22, the executive granted a reprieve until the 28th of February, in order that the legislature, if it felt disposed, could change the law regarding capital punishment as far as it affected women. The bill was introduced in the last assembly by Mr. Hadley, but was defeated Friday, February 18.

From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday morning, March 4, 1887

Hanging of Roxalana Druse.

Her Terror Shown at the Last Moment.

Mrs. Roxalana Druse was hanged at Herkimer, N. Y., on Monday, for the murder of her husband. After sleeping an hour about midnight, Mrs. Druse wrote letters of thanks to Sheriff Cook and Deputy Sheriff Bartley Manion. She also wrote out a request to the Sheriff that he would give her body, after death, in to the charge the Rev G. W. Powell for Christian burial. Again she lay down and fell into troubled sleep from which she awoke in hysterics. A visit from Irving Terry, superintendent of Onondaga Penitentiary who brought the farewell message of Mary Druse, proved very exciting to the condemned woman. She wept most of the forenoon until the time for the hanging. She went to the gallows leaning on the arm the Rev. Mr. Powell and knelt under the rope while Mr. Powell offered prayer.

Mrs. Druse maintained her composure until the black cap was drawn over her head, when she shrieked so loudly that her voice could be heard in the street outside of the jail yard. The trap was sprung at 11:48 a.m. and the woman was pronounced dead at 12:03 p.m. The body remained hanging for twenty six minutes and was then taken down. The physicians stated that the neck was not broken and that death was due to strangulation. Only twenty-five persons witnessed the hanging. The streets in the neighborhood of the jail were crowded, however, with people, who had come from far and near, drawn by a morbid curiosity. The approaches to the jail were guarded by the 31st Separate Company, National Guards, and by the sheriff's deputies. The body of the dead woman was placed in the vault at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Before her death Mrs. Druse, in compliance with the request from her daughter that she should not leave a blot on her name, made the following affidavit:

I, Roxalana Druse, in my last moments, do hereby solemnly swear and affirm that my daughter, Mary Druse, who is now confined in the Onondaga Penitentiary, had nothing whatever to do with the killing of her father, William Druse, or with the disposition of his body. This statement I have repeatedly made and always adhered to at the inquest, and since my confinement. My daughter, Mary Druse, is absolutely innocent, and was in no way connected with her father's (William Druse's) death.


Mary Druse, who is serving a life sentence in the penitentiary at Syracuse, for complicity in the murder of her father, when told that her mother was hanged, broke down and the feelings which she had up to that time held under more or less restraint, were manifested in a frantic outburst of grief. Within the last week her sufferings have been terrible, and fears are entertained that she may lose her reason as the result of the fearful strain under which she has been laboring. She said that she had neither "hand, act, nor part" in her father's death, and that she was as innocent of it as a child unborn. Her story in most respects was similar to that obtained in her mother's confession, except that she denied all knowledge of the burning of the body. She called heaven to witness that she knew nothing about the burning of any part of it, and she denied with equal emphasis that she had, as charged, held the rope around her father's neck. The authorities are a unit in the belief that she had no part in the murder, and it is thought that a petition for her pardon will soon be sent to the Governor.

From: The Fort Covington Sun, July 7, 1887 (Franklin County)

Heading: Note and Comment

A HERKIMER correspondent claims that the ghost of Mrs. Druse now haunts the cell in the Herkimer jail in which she was last confined, and tells of moans and murmurs and cries of "Oh! Oh!" such as Mrs. Druse uttered when the black cap-was drawn over her head.

From: The Plattsburgh Sentinel, July 3, 1891

Governor Hill has denied the petition for a pardon for Mary Druse, sent to prison for life at the time her mother, Mrs. Roxana Druse, was sentenced to death for the murder of William Druse, the husband and father. The petition was made on the grounds that there was no distinct proof that the prisoner was implicated, and that furthermore she was not given an opportunity to say a word in her own behalf.

Back to Town of Warren Section

Back to Herkimer/Montgomery Counties NYGenWeb

Back to New York State GenWeb

Created: 1/27/06
Copyright © 2006 Marie McDonald
All Rights Reserved.
This site is a county site of the USGenWeb Project!