Unraveling the Mystery of One of Illinois's Most Infamous Crimes
Publication Year: 2013
In June 1882, when young schoolteacher Emma Bond was brutally gang-raped and left for dead in her country schoolhouse near Taylorville, Illinois, an enduring mystery was born. The case was covered by newspapers across the country, but some of the injuries inflicted upon the victim were so appalling that the press refused to print the ugliest details, referring to them only as “nameless indignities.” Emma’s life hung in the balance for months, but she survived. Eighteen months went by before three of the six suspects were finally brought to trial. Citizens expected a swift conviction but were shocked to learn of the defendants’ acquittal.
What should have been the end of the Bond story was actually just the beginning. Permanently crippled in the attack, Emma spent time in a sanitarium and was stricken by amnesia. In the years that followed, new theories on the crime emerged. Some suggested that she had concocted her story as a cover-up for an unwanted pregnancy or abortion. Doctors labeled her as a mentally unstable hysteric and a malingerer who purposely lied. Within a decade, the tides turned against Emma and her life began to crumble as she tried to cope with the demons of her past.
At the time, educators, editors, politicians, lawyers, and doctors eagerly weighed in on the case and its ramifications. Doctors of the Victorian era couldn’t agree on anything of a physical or a psychological nature, and as a result, Emma paid dearly. The crime also took a toll on local residents, pitting families and neighbors against one another. The fact that the case was never solved gave it staying power, with unanswered questions and intrigue persisting for decades.
Elmore spent years digging through historical newspapers and documents, trying to crack this whodunit. In the process, she uncovered startling new facts about some of the defendants and based on those discoveries developed her own theory on what really happened. Her theory concludes Nameless Indignities
Published by: The Kent State University Press
Series: True Crime History Series
Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Quote
Much family history is handed down by word of mouth. It was through this very tradition that I first learned of a tragic episode in my own family’s past. In 1977 my mother interviewed her aunt, Delia Sabine Greene (then in her mid-eighties), to record her reminiscences for posterity. During that interview,...
In a small and quite ordinary town in central Illinois, the August day began like any other. Yet by nightfall, what was about to unfold there would put the name “Taylorville, Illinois,” on the lips of men and women everywhere. Although local residents would argue that taking justice into their own hands had been the...
On the night of Wednesday, June 28, 1882, a violent electrical storm swept across the prairies of central Illinois—damaging buildings, tearing off rooftops, turning fields into mud. Despite the tempest’s savagery, the clouds moved out quickly and the sun—just days past its zenith—made its appearance right on schedule the next morning, around four-thirty. Local farmers were in the middle...
To call it ordinary is not to imply Taylorville was an unappealing place—quite the opposite, really, for it had its fair share of neat streets, modest clapboard homes, well-tended yards and gardens, four schools, and several churches. In all aspects, it was the typical American town of its day—a place of friendly, upstanding citizens going diligently about their business, raising their families,...
The last day of June 1882 was forever linked to the fate of presidential assassin, Charles Guiteau. On that Friday, June 30, his countrymen were awaiting news of his hanging in the nation’s capital. Six months earlier, Guiteau had been tried and convicted of the shooting death of President Garfield. During the previous summer, the man had entered the train depot in Washington, D.C., walked ...
Sheriff Haines knew what the people of his jurisdiction wanted, and he wasted no time in giving it to them. Within twenty-four hours, he had three local men in custody for the horrendous crime against Emma Bond. The accused had themselves, more than anyone, to thank for their speedy arrests; their strange behavior and remarks the day after the crime suggested a possible involvement....
In 1880, Christian County was home to 28,227 mostly law-abiding citizens. In just thirty years, the pioneering souls who had come to settle there had increased its population tenfold. The jailhouse in use that year was the county’s second. Completed in 1870, it was a more than adequate facility, considering the disposition of the people it served....
Tuesday, August 8, 1882. Christian County’s residents had had enough of all the hearsay and conjecture about the Bond crime. They were more than ready to learn the real truth in a court of law, and a good many of them were about to descend on the county courthouse to do so....
Wednesday, August 9, 1882. The throngs and excitement that had marked Tuesday’s session were much more subdued the following day. The atmosphere on the streets was one of tentative composure as stores went back to business as usual and many residents resumed their normal routines. Farmers could ill afford...
Thursday, August 10, 1882. Many believed Wednesday’s evidence had turned slightly in favor of the defendants. However, any advantage thus gained was about to go the way of a spring snow on freshly turned earth. Prevailing opinion held that Thursday would be the last day of testimony; as a result, the turnout was up again....
Friday, August 11, 1882. Court was to resume at eight o’clock but started a half an hour late; it took that long for all the bodies to squeeze into the courtroom and settle down. As soon as Justice Ricks appeared, the noise in the chamber dropped to hushed whispers and then absolute silence. The State’s attorney was directed to begin his closing arguments....
The malcontents working Taylorville’s square on Friday night expected support to arrive from the outlying areas. But when no organized parties appeared, the mob grew restless and began edging toward the jail. There, just minutes past nine o’clock, a group of angry men approached the jailhouse door, demanding that the sheriff hand the prisoners over to the people. When the door was ...
As if the Bond case didn’t present enough bewildering circumstances, another showed up via the postal service—in the form of an intriguing letter. It arrived at the Bond farm on Wednesday, August 16. Upon returning home that evening, Mr. Bond sat down, weary from his day, and glanced at the envelope. He noted its Chicago postmark, its two two-cent stamps, and his own name and address...
With the grand jury not scheduled to take up the Bond case until late November, everyone half-expected the story to die down for awhile. Fueled by the public’s insatiable curiosity, however, it did not. On the day after his return home, John C. Montgomery set out for the Republican’s office in Decatur with his brothers-in-law J. C. Paxton and George Pettus.1 The suspect had more than...
Decatur’s Herald perfectly expressed the question on everyone’s mind that November: “The situation presents an opportunity for the vindication of our jury system. Will Christian County accept it?”1 Meanwhile, friends and loved ones of the accused were trying their best to convey optimism, maintaining that there would be no indictment. And even on the outside chance that there was...
With the indictment in, the waiting began. It was going to be long but hardly uneventful. Nine days after the Bond indictments, the second-floor courtroom again filled to capacity. This time, the matter was a simple one: the defense team was seeking a change of venue for the accused—Vermillion being the only exception. The reason for the defense’s request was, foremost, that none of the...
As winter slowly faded, the sun began to trace a higher arc through the sky, and the frozen earth softened underfoot. With the promise of spring embracing every living thing, it was hard not to feel better—even for Emma. Wisely, she had put her marriage on indefinite hold, at the recommendation of her family and friends, who had urged her to take all the time she needed. And her fiancé,...
As the days and weeks of summer passed, Emma’s health continued to improve. Naturally, that kind of news didn’t make for the best of headlines. So with the trial still several months away, press coverage of her story grew even more sporadic— until July, when the two biggest intrigues of the spring suddenly resurfaced. In March, a loyal family friend had tried to put the fuss over the cabinet card to rest,...
Monday, December 10, 1883. It was a mild winter day by all standards as the victim and her family moved swiftly and discreetly through the throngs of train passengers in Hillsboro. They headed straight for their private lodging, where Emma was tucked safely away. Her father then reappeared and was immediately overtaken by reporters. At first, he was reticent to answer their barrage ...
Thursday, December 13, 1883. It was the day Emma’s family had long been dreading— she would have to tell her side of the story. Her stepmother, Delia, and at least one of her sisters planned to be with her constantly. But having to watch helplessly from the pews while his daughter relived her nightmare would verge on the excruciating for her greatest protector, her father. That was probably why ...
Monday, December 17, 1883. The second week of the trial was slow in getting underway. Knowing that many of the trial’s participants were going home for the weekend, Judge Phillips had announced on Friday that court would not resume until eleven o’clock on Monday morning. Of course, he had no way of knowing that half a foot of snow would hit the region, that in its wake temperatures ...
Wednesday, December 19, 1883. If the defense was even half as efficient as the State, there was still a good chance the trial could wrap up by year’s end. The State’s third witness was called back as the first witness for the defense. Laurence Heinlein entered the courtroom again, looking haggard. The State had put him through the wringer the previous Friday. His inquisition at the hands ...
Friday night, December 21, 1883. Court let out a little early, and a mass exodus began. Everyone—attorneys, witnesses, and spectators alike—couldn’t wait to get home. The holiday season would be a welcome, tranquil interlude. Unfortunately, the departing throngs were met with great frustration, due to the sheer numbers trying to get out of Hillsboro. As a result, many were forced to delay...
Wednesday, December 26, 1883. The holiday break over, Christmas was quickly downgraded to a warm memory. Evidently, the widely read Tribune had jumped the gun with its McFarland prediction. The Republican set the record straight: “Dr. McFarland will be remembered as the Illinois physician who offered to testify at the Guiteau trial at Washington. It is said that he has a theory that the ...
Friday afternoon, December 28, 1883. When Emma was called as the first rebuttal witness, she was nowhere in sight. Her father stood, saying he would have to get his daughter, who was resting nearby. As if on cue, spectators began pouring into the courtroom, taking up every last inch in the gallery. As the room buzzed in anticipation, the room’s rear door opened. All heads turned—expecting to...
Saturday night, December 29, 1883. The State had used four days to present its case, the defense six. Opening arguments and rebuttals had consumed one day each. And though much of the witness testimony had been riveting, the summations were expected to be the climax of the entire show. With those set to begin right after the evening break, the courtroom emptied out quickly,...
The citizens of the county, the state, and the entire nation expected the trial to clear up at least some of the puzzling aspects of the Bond case. They were sorely disappointed when it didn’t. Sonny’s death, of course, only added to the intrigue. So closely intertwined were the two stories that the Herald called his death “the most sensational feature of the whole case” and one that “adds wonderfully to ...
After Sonny’s funeral, Emma and family went into seclusion on their farm to grieve the death of their relative and the disappointing verdict. To the public’s credit, its displeasure with the verdict quickly mellowed into something more constructive. Even before the acquittal, there’d been talk of assisting the Bonds in whatever way possible. Now, an altruistic plan was taking shape in Wisconsin: ...
Life went on, leaving the victim and her family to fend for themselves in the aftermath. While the word “victim” is usually reserved for the person against whom a criminal act is committed, in a very real way, the victim’s closest family members are victims as well. The Bonds were no exception, and, not surprisingly, A. D. Bond took one of the hardest hits. For eighteen months, he’d put up ...
By the mid-1880s, change was in the air. Although rural dwellers still arose before dawn and still retired at sunset, the industrial revolution was in full swing, and with it came some remarkable new inventions. The big change for Decatur arrived on February 20, 1886. As one of the major cities in central Illinois, it had prepared itself for the coming of the newest convenience. Towers had ...
Maggie Sabine was relieved to be back in Illinois, where her two youngest sisters had reached marrying age in her absence. In 1891, Josie wed a local boy named Obadiah Baughman. Two years later, Francie married Joe Henson—a popular Taylorville man. By February 1893, A. D. Bond’s grandchildren numbered fourteen. The family missed Emma terribly; her sudden departure from...
As the 1800s drew to a close, the Emma Bond case and its central figure drifted into relative obscurity. In time, she did marry her lover, Johnny Jorden, but there was no record of the couple’s whereabouts between 1892 and 1900. They appeared in the 1900 U.S. census in Kansas, listed as Emma and John H. Jordan. 1 Under the column “Number of years married,” the census taker entered...
Despite Emma’s obscure deathbed recantation, her world was left to ponder what really happened on June 29, 1882—the day her life came crashing down. Today, the Bond case still raises the same questions that captivated the nation more than 125 years ago. Who did it? And why? Or was there some truth, perchance,...
Private Hobbs was the last to be arrested and the first to be cleared. During the 1882 investigation, very little was written of the laborer turned soldier. His name didn’t even surface until August 1, a full month after the outrage. In fact, he was mentioned in fewer than ten news articles before he was released from the Taylorville jail in September, when he was sent back to his army post, never ...
Hobbs, an Indiana native born in 1861, appeared in the 1880 census in Omaha, where he was working as a teamster and living in a large boardinghouse with dozens of other young men who did similar work.1 Strangely, the census trail for Hobbs went cold after that year. His name did not appear in any subsequent federal censuses through 1930 (the most recent one released to the public)....
In view of these surprising discoveries about the Hobbs brothers, it isn’t hard to envision a scenario that may have unfolded something like this: While working as a farm laborer in Christian County, Hobbs took a fancy to the young schoolteacher named Emma Bond. He may have flattered her with attention, and she may have been smitten by his charismatic ways. However, her parents were not...
It was fairly remarkable how Elliott’s and Ellsworth’s lives followed such parallel paths over the years.1 As Emma faced her final wretched days, they surely knew nothing of her struggles nor cared in the least. Indeed, they seemed to care very little about the own wives and children. Although the 1900 census hinted at a future for Elliott and Lena, that was not to be. Soon after that, the couple parted...
Two deaths, Sonny Bond’s and John Hill’s, were blamed on the circumstances surrounding the case, even before the verdict was in. The premature death of stenographer John T. Montgomery in March 1887 was the third, and the first to occur post-trial. The usual particulars were noted in his obituary: age thirtynine, married, no children, a Methodist, a Republican, a former teacher who’d...
I trust that readers will approach this story with an unbiased eye and in so doing draw their own conclusions. As to which “facts” in this case can be believed or not believed, it is hard to say—simply because too much time has elapsed, too many clues have been lost, and nobody alive today can claim any firsthand knowledge of the affair. Those who lived through it are deceased, and those ...
Principals in the Bond Case