The Ithaca Journal
March 29, 1870
Unprovoked and Brutal Murder
We mentioned on the briefest information last week, that a man and his wife named Lunger were burned up in their house on Sunday night, March 20th, near Goodwin’s Point.
This affair turns out to be a most brutal unprovoked murder, John Lunger or Jonathan Lunger, we believe his name turns out to be, lived in an old scow drawn upon the sand this side of Goodwin’s Point-in the town of Ulysses-the scow roofed, over and sided up in the most primitive and inexpensive manner. He made a precarious living by fishing and trapping for small game, and had a wife, or at least a woman with whom he lived, and a daughter by a former wife, a few days more than fourteen years old. His shanty was only reached by water or a foot path down the steep embankment on the landward side at the west.
After the fire had destroyed the shanty, the charred remains of what is believed to have been Lunger and his wife were found among the debris. The body of the man was almost wholly consumed by the fire, nothing being left of the lower portion except bones which dropped into ashes at the touch. The body of the woman was in a still worse condition than that of the man, their being no piece of her left together of any considerable size.
The bodies, or remains, lay side by side, as if the couple had been, in bed when the fire took place, and so had been consumed and dropped to the ground. On the body of the man was found a tobacco box, and in the ashes a ring, identified as belonging to Mrs. Lunger.
During the last year or more, a young man named Mike Furguson, about twenty-two years of age, has lived a part of the time with Lunger-not altogether a welcome guest it is said. He has been once at the Work House in Rochester, and bears a bad name generally. He was a relative-a nephew of Lunger. He had been there for the past two or three months continually. On Monday morning the shanty was burned, the charred remains found, Furguson and the girl Anna Lunger, missing. The girl was found in the stage by Under Sheriff Reuben Gee, on Tuesday last, on the way from Pony Hollow to Ithaca, and Furguson at the home of his mother at Mitchell’s Creek, Pa. a station on the Blossburgh R. R. seventeen miles from Elmira, on Wednesday, and brought to Ithaca Thursday, on a warrant issued by Esq. Emery of Trumansburg.
On Friday, Sheriff Root took the girl to Trumansburg, where an inquest was held by Dr. J. D. Lewis, in the Town Hall-the jury consisting as follows: Foreman, Lewis Halsey – Henry Lucky, John Willis, R. Wilcox, Samuel Riddle, A. J. Williams.
The following are the proceedings and evidence at the inquest:
William Carmon, sworn: I live in the town near Lunger’s residence; saw him last Saturday at vendue I was going down by the house at about half past eight o’clock, Monday morning and my little girl and Mr. Lunger’s house was on fire. I went down there and saw the house all burned out and I discovered two skulls there burning in the ashes about tow feet apart; all I could see was two forms all in the ashes. I then went down to the Point to see if Lunger’s skiff was there and I found it was gone. I got some men and came back. We then found his knife and tobacco box on each side of the body there were also some pantaloon buttons and some irons of guns I saw in the fire. Lunger’s wife’s name was Maria, and she went by the name of Lunger. Mr. Luckey and I came up to Trumansburg, to notify the Coroner. Mr. Lunger’s arms appeared to have been, when found, in an upward position. Some pieces of Flesh were afterward found in the snow near the fire, about four o’clock having, to all appearances been carried there by the dogs.
Edward Pratt sworn: I live near where Mr. Lunger lives; I was there about ten o’clock Sunday morning’ the family were all home. About four o’clock in the afternoon. I saw them out on the lake; I was acquainted with mike and Mr. Lunger, and never knew them to quarrel although I have heard them use hard words to each other. Mike, Lunger and the little girl were out in the boat going toward the house. The beds were ordinary bedsteads.
Anna Lunger sworn: I am fourteen the second of March. I lived with my father and mother at the Point and Mike Furguson with us. Mike is 22 years of age, he has lived with us most all winter, he has been in the habit of being there, off and on, all winter, he was there that morning about half past ten. I went to bed Sunday night about eight, my father had not gone to bed then. Mike had not gone to bed, he was playing checkers with my father, my mother was not doing anything. I went immediately to sleep, I woke up and saw my father getting up about two o’clock in the morning, we had a clock, my father said it was two o’clock, my mother was in bed, Mike was out door, my mother was almost dead and breathing hard, my father tried to wake her up and couldn’t, I could see her, she seemed as if she’d been hurt-the bed clothes were bloody all around her. She made no noise, but was breathing loud, my father went to the door and asked what he had been doing, he raised up the axe, my father and I were both at the door, Mike was right by the door. Mike made no reply then, my father asked him to come into the house, he wanted to talk with him. Mike came in, my father then told Mike he was cold and Mike built a fire, Mike stood by the stove and father asked him to go and get the doctor for his arm was bleeding. I suppose the report of the gun woke me up. Mike said he didn’t like to be going after doctors through the wet, father then put on his clothes to go out the doors to see what was the matter with his house, my father took down his hat and put on his watch and started to go out the doors and Mike told him to it down, he didn’t sit down. Mike drew up the axe and told my father to take off his hat, my father took off his hat and told Mike he had taken it off, my kept backing up and Mike after him with the axe in his hand and struck at him with the axe and missed him. Mike struck at him again and ht him on the side of the head with back of axe. It knocked father down and father said nothing, he struck him as hard as he could with the axe, my father did not move after he fell down on the floor by the side of my bed, after he struck father than he said t me come it’s your turn. I told him not to kill me, he said if I would get up and follow him he would save me. I told him I would, he took the things he wanted, he took my father’s rifle, tin box of my mother and all that was in the box, and a little box with glass cover with candles and other things and my mother’s pocket book containing two cents, and a gold dollar and some silver money-these were in a trunk. He took the watch out of my father’ pocket, he told me to get it and I wouldn’t so he got it himself. I would know the watch if I saw it, it was a hunter case silver on a black cord, he took father’s brass handled knife but he had another in his pocket that he didn’t take. Mike then set fire to the house at the corner of the bed. I did not know then whether my mother was dead or not. After setting fire to the house, I and Mike went t the skiff and crossed the lake, he threw the axe in the middle of the lake, saying he threw it so it would not be seen. We landed opposite Frog point ferry landing on the east side of the lake, we then went on the hill and stayed by a hay stack until morning. Mike asked me if I noticed how my father acted. I said nothing and he told me not to say anymore about it., he said he was going to Pennsylvania and he didn’t want me to say anything about it, we started about sunrise and walked to Ludlowville, and road from there to Ithaca and finally to Cayuta. Mike took the gun with him and said if I SAID ANYTHING I would fare just as hard, he loaded it where we stopped to get something to ear at Ithaca, he didn’t say what he was going to do with the gun (tabacco box and knife found in the ruins were here shown to Anna and she recognized them as her father’s. Mike said he would like to serve Uncle Nathaniel and Aunt Margaret the same way after he got on the hill by the haystack.
The jurors say that one Mike Ferguson did with a certain axe in the town of Ulysses, on the 20th day of March 1870 feloniously and of malice aforethought kill and murder Jonathan Lunger and Marie Lunger and thereupon Coroner Lewis signed a warrant remanding the prisoner to jail to wait the action of the grand jury.
Mr. Swartwout, who keeps the hotel in Pony Hollow, in Newfield, where Mike stopped over night, did not like the appearance of things, and took the girl away from him and sent her back in the stage for Ithaca, from which she was taken by Officer Gee, as mentioned above. The jury having brought in a verdict of murder, Mike has been committed to await the action of the grand jury which met yesterday and the girl is detained as a witness.
On Saturday morning last, our reporter interviewed both the prisoner and witness. The girl is nothing but a child-does not look more than twelve or thirteen years old. Looks and acts like a child-innocent and frank. Has evidently “run loose” but does not appear vicious, and converses freely and frankly and like any ordinary young girl, and the idea of guilt either of complicity in the murder or of unlawful association with Mike, is dispelled wholly on the part of those who see her. Her face is tanned by exposure-complexion dark, grey eyes full, pouting lips, low forehead and an abundance of brown hair which hangs naturally over her shoulders. She produces a pleasant impression a visitor notwithstanding her wild, uncultivated condition. The story that this child occupied the same room with Ferguson at the hotel is wholly untrue.
Ferguson is anything but prepossessing in appearance. He is evidently ignorant, mulish and vindictive. Average in height, sharp thin face and nose running to a point, sandy complexion, blue eyes, shaves smooth, reddish beard low narrow forehead and a tendency not fully developed of the head to run to seed at the back. Does not converse much, and told reporter he did not know yet what answer he should make to the Court when asked “what he had to say about it.”
So far no motive seems to have been developed for the murder further than to possess himself of Lunger’s rifle and the little plunder taken away. He looks like the kind of man with whom human life would be about as valuable and sacred as that of the little animals for whom Lunger set traps. Not that we mean to say he looks like a human monster-a living fiend, or anything of that kind-but that he has no convictions-no appreciation of the reality and responsibility of human action-no care or thought for anything but to live-to exist as any other animal, and to gratify the whim or the passion uttermost at the time.
Sheriff Root, Under Sheriff Gee, of Ithaca, and officers Dean and Fish of Trumansburg, were enterprising and judicious in hunting up the criminal. Gee and Dean brought back the fugitive. Poor Master Hale gathered up the remains of the dead and had them decently buried.
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