Pioneer Town Murder in Lake County
A very twisted tale of inappropriate affections led to murder on November 22, 1863 in Lake Zurich during pioneer days. The murder of a sixty year old woman, Ruth Briden, by a hired hand who had the hots for her teen-age daughter and a disgusting plot to take the daughter as a bride and inherit the land from the elderly widow concocted by William Bell, led to the first execution in Lake County in the summer of 1865.
Mrs. Ruth Briden was found dead by the neighbor, Mr. Morley, who found her lying dead in the cow-yard near her house on her farm. One side of her head had received a stunning blow from the flat of ax and the left side of her neck was severed at the jugular vein. Part of the head was decapitated. A razor that belonged to Mr. William Bell, was in her hand.
Tracks were found leading from the front yard in the light snow to the place where William Bell was chopping wood. William Bell tried to deny it and blame it on the neighbor, but the tracks proved otherwise.
Ms. Almeda Briden, the 16 year old daughter, had refused to marry William Bell and told him he was too old for her and she was not interested in him. He had also abandoned a wife and ten-year old daughter back in Vermont. He felt that Almeda's mother stood in the way of a marriage. Almeda was at school in Wauconda, when the murder of her mother occurred.
Before he was hung, William Bell made a rambling speech claiming he was innocent.
"When I took Mrs. BRIDEN's place, she, and also her daughter, forbade me having Mr. MORLEY come into the place, and she said she wanted nothing to do with him. Didn't want that I should change works with him; said if I did she wouldn't board him, and I never did; never had him on the place. He testifies that he never had any difficulty with the old lady, that they were on good terms. The neighbors, all the neighbors that knows old MORLEY knows better than that. There is nobody that tells that MORLEY's family had threatened to 'burn the old lady's house down and wring her d -- d old neck,' and that they said that 'she kept a whore house.' I present these, gentlemen, just as Mrs. BRIDEN told me, and that she had a notion to have them arrested for abusing her with slander. Nobody tells that old MORLEY had a son that was corresponding with this girl of Mrs. RUTH BRIDEN; but, 'I killed the old lady in order to get the girl, because I had asked her the question some time during the Summer, and she answered that she wasn't so hard up as to have an old married man.' Mr. MORLEY started a story that Mrs. BRIDEN's girl was coming down to Waukegan to get a license to marry BELL, and reported it about the neighborhood. The old lady came in contact with him about it, and he owned up in the presence of neighbors there, that he made up this and reported it, which he confessed was false. Wasn't he trying to injure me, gentlemen, in making such remarks as those, because I was living on Mrs. BRIDEN's place? There was no motive for nobody but me to kill Mrs. RUTH BRIDEN. His son couldn't have got the property there if the old lady was out of the way. That could not have been a motive, could it gentlemen? I don't say, gentlemen, that Mr. MORLEY killed that old lady, but, gentlemen, I say I did not kill that old lady. (This he uttered with great emphasis, elevating his right arm at the same time toward Heaven.) Nobody tells that that Copperhead BRIDEN and the old lady was at variance and had been for years. Nobody tells that. Nobody tells that he hadn't been on the place but once while I was there, and that was in the case of the death of one of his children, and the old lady said if it was him, she would not go to his funeral. No one tells that he was owing the old lady a hundred dollars, and that since her death he has tried to break her last will that she left on this earth. Wouldn't a man that would do that, wouldn't he cut a woman's throat to get her property, a man of such a disposition as that? Would'nt he be as likely to do that as poor BELL, beceuse he was living on her place. Wouldn't there be a motive there, gentlemen? I understand since I have been in here in this prison below, that she had made her will and he was trying to break that will. That was the first I ever knew that she had made a will. I want you to take it for granted, gentlemen, that this matter is wrong. I believe, gentlemen, that there was a motive for some one to kill that old lady. I did not say that JOHN BRIDEN killed that old lady, but, gentlemen, I say that I did not kill that old lady (using the same venemence and gesture as before.) Nobody tells that this old lady's daughter and her used to quarrel and fight, beyond my language to express, gentlemen. It was nothing for her to call the old lady an old liar or anything else she wished to call her. She treated the old lady worse than I could a dog, but I don't say that the girl killed the old lady, but I say, gentlemen, that I did not."
There are still some doubts as to whether William Bell really was the murderer.