George Lashway, murder suspect John Kinney’s father-in-law, testified that John didn’t support his family adequately (he and his young wife had three children), so Lashway was obliged to take care of them. In deep poverty and with nowhere to go, the family had recently moved into George’s home.
Lashway then told about an unusual incident involving his son-in-law. Kinney had asked to be awakened at 3 am on Wednesday, December 29, so he could go to his home (near Bouvia’s) and start a fire in the fireplace. When George went out to feed the horses at 6:30 that morning, he encountered Kinney, who said he had fallen asleep for a few hours after starting the fire. That absence identified a window of opportunity for Kinney to have committed the crime. Lashway also identified the gun that Kinney had borrowed for so long from George Trudeau, and had returned on January 2.
Other testimony addressed a key piece of evidence. When Kinney was arrested and taken to the courthouse, his request to use the toilet was allowed. The next morning, an officer found a set of keys that had been disposed of in the bathroom. Among them was one fitting the padlock that sealed Adolphus Bouvia’s house.
The last evidence presented at the inquest was the coroner’s report, which was quite graphic. The entrance to the house, the kitchen, and the dining room were splattered with bits of blood, brain, and skull pieces. There were indications that both an axe and a gun had been used. The sheriff and coroner called it the worst murder case they had ever seen.
On January 5, two days after Bouvia’s body was found, Coroner Carpenter closed the inquest. During the entire time, Kinney’s repeated requests to speak with his wife had been ignored. He asked the sheriff to bring her from Altona to the county courthouse, but it was neither a concern nor a responsibility of the county officers to do so. Those requests would later play a role in the case.
Five days after the inquest, the coroner’s verdict was announced: “That Adolphus Bouvia came to his death on or about December 29, and that death was caused by a gunshot wound, or by the use of an axe, club, or hatchet, and further, that Bouvia’s death was caused by John Kinney by criminal means, with deliberate and premeditated design to effect death.”
Kinney’s attorneys, Patrick J. Tierney and David H. Agnew, entered a plea of not guilty, and their client was held for grand jury action. In late April, he was indicted on five counts for the one murder, as allowed by a section of the criminal code permitting multiple indictments if the final cause of death remained unclear. In Bouvia’s case, the death weapon — axe, gun, or otherwise — had not yet been identified.
Little was known about thirty-four-year-old John Kinney. He was partially of Indian heritage, and his grandfather was widely reputed in Clinton County for his hunting abilities. When John Kinney was twenty-five, he married George Lashway’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Lena. They had three children, but one had since died. Two sons remained.
Kinney himself had a poor reputation, a fact underscored by his own father-in-law’s testimony regarding neglect of his family. The most publicized of his legal problems occurred at the 1902 Labor Day picnic at the nearby settlement of Jericho. Kinney and three others, including George Emery, were arrested for causing a riot. One of the victims suffered three broken ribs, three lost teeth, and other injuries, resulting in additional charges of second-degree assault.
Kinney’s trial began in mid-June 1910, with speculation centering on a plea of insanity. Supreme Court Justice Edgar A. Spencer conducted the trial, which included the testimony presented at the coroner’s inquest, and much more.
Plattsburgh Chief of Police Andrew Conners offered details of a conversation with Kinney, who claimed his wife’s relationship with Bouvia was the cause of his problems.
Conners: Is that the reason you killed him?
Conners: Why didn’t you take more money than what you took?
Kinney: That was all I could find.
When asked later if he had been drunk when he attacked Bouvia, Kinney said no. Many crimes of that nature were tied to alcohol abuse, but as troublesome as Kinney had been to many people, he was not known to have been a problem drinker.
Although he testified at the inquest, Kinney’s father-in-law, George Lashway, was a reluctant trial witness. He admitted it was rare for Kinney to rise as early as he did on December 29, and that it was several hours before his son-in-law returned home. It also came out that the only money Lashway had paid Kinney for sawing pulpwood was two dollars, even though Kinney claimed he had received twelve dollars. It was an important point; Kinney was trying to prove that he had money of his own, and that the cash he possessed was not taken from the murder victim.
Damning testimony on that point came from other sources, including Peter Hiter, Altona’s Overseer of the Poor, who testified that the town had been buying clothes and provisions for Mrs. Kinney and the children since January 11. If John Kinney had money, there would be no reason for public assistance, at least in the days shortly after he was jailed.
The evidence against him was considerable, and after nearly everyone had their say, the prosecution closed with the medical reports, which were presented with about as effective a backdrop as any district attorney could hope for. Carried into the courtroom and placed directly behind the witness stand were the front door and casing from Bouvia’s house, still littered with bloodied bits of the victim’s brain and skull.
As the medical experts gave testimony, his clothing was also displayed, including the blood-soaked coat and the hat with large gashes in it. But when Coroner Henry Carpenter described the inquest held at Bouvia’s house, a glitch in the prosecution’s case was discovered: Kinney had been asked questions before his legal rights were read to him. The judge ordered that any information provided to investigators before his rights were read must be stricken from the record.
Dr. Elmer E. Larkin, who handled the autopsy, said the victim had been dead for two or three days when the body was discovered. The fragmented condition of the skull was caused, he said, by “the explosion in the cranium due to the violent entering of the head of some substance.” The damage was so severe, he said, that “the brain in the right side of the head was missing.” In his opinion, a gun had been used to kill Bouvia, since it was doubtful that the body parts splattered on the outside wall had been propelled there by the blows of an axe. Dr. Owen O’Neil concurred with Larkin’s findings, after which the prosecution rested.
Attorney P. J. Tierney’s defense strategy came as a surprise. Instead of an insanity plea, he would attempt to prove that Bouvia had been killed by a high-powered rifle, and not a shotgun like the one Kinney had borrowed from George Trudeau. In his opening statement, Tierney said that if the jury believed him correct, they must find Kinney not guilty because the prosecution had made no mention of a rifle being in the defendant’s possession, or that a rifle had been used in any phase of the crime.
Dr. William S. Buck, an expert on gunshot wounds and blood spray patterns, provided extensive testimony and physical evidence, including impact samples taken from three to fourteen feet away. Fourteen feet was the estimated space separating Bouvia from his attacker. At that distance, Dr. Buck said, the extent of the victim’s skull damage could only have been caused by a high-powered rifle.
Weakening that argument were two significant issues. Dr. Buck had not actually viewed the victim’s skull, and instead based his judgment on descriptions provided by the coroner and the other doctors. Further, during cross-examination by DA Arthur Hogue, it was determined that the gun used to produce Buck’s physical displays was a different type from the one used to kill Adolphus Bouvia.
Note: Bouvia’s story, based primarily on official court records, is taken from my latest collection of true-murder stories, titled: Dannemora’s Death House: The Crimes and Fates of 41 Killers Sentenced to Die in Clinton Prison’s Electric Chair.
Next: justice is served.
Photos: Headlines, 1910