This story just breaks my heart. The thought of an old lady being beaten in her own bed in the middle of the night by a young man is horrible.
Mollie Thornton was my first cousin, 4 times removed – so obviously not a close relation.
I was researching the Thorntons in Alton, Illinois and came across a series of newspaper articles pertaining to her attack, the following trial, and then a scandal involving the police officers who arrested the attacker. The fact that this happened in 1946 outside of St. Louis (Alton is across the river) and that the lady was white and the young man was black, makes me wonder if everything was done according to the law. (Well, it obviously wasn’t since the man was beaten. I’m just hoping that he was in fact the attacker.)
This is the first of the newspaper articles I found, from the Alton Evening Telegraph, dated 19 August 1946. The transcription follows after the images. I will post the rest of the articles in the coming weeks.
Man, 25, Held; Admits He Beat Aged Woman
Miss Mollie Thornton, 79, Hospital Patient in Serious Condition
Alton police hold a signed confession from Lucian J. Hopkins, 25, of 1306 Belle that he struck and beat Miss Mollie Thornton, 79, early Sunday in her bed after he had forced entrance to her home at Sixteenth and Belle, with robbery as his motive.
Hopkins was taken into custody by policemen at his home within a few minutes after the assault on Miss Thornton had been discovered and reported at 3:25 a.m. Sunday. He was held for investigation. Some blood spots on his clothing had tended to confirm police suspicions he had been the burglar-assailant of the elderly woman, Chief Barkley said.
Found By Neighbors
Found by neighbors, bruised and beated about the head, arms, and shoulders after she had collapsed in the side yard of her home near the “Five Points” where the Thornton family has resided 70 years. Miss Thornton was moved in the city ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital where her injuries were found to be serious. She suffered a possible skull fracture and abrasions and bruises of the face and body.
Police said that blood spots had been found on Miss Thornton’s bed, especially about her pillow, and on the floor of her bedroom.
According to a resume of the police investigation, Pinkie Sprite, a colored woman residing near Miss Thornton, heard screams of the elderly woman, and called another neighbor, William Brown of 1607 Belle who found Miss Thornton where she had collapsed in her yard. He carried her back into her bedroom, and in the meantime shouted to R.A. Rathgeb, 1603 Piasa, to telephone for the police. Policemen first at the scence called in turn for the ambulance.
Police Lt. Tuetken said that arrest of Hopkins as a suspect was made at his home within about 15 minutes after the attack on Miss Thornton was discovered. Suspicion had been directed to him because police on a patrol perhaps an hour and a half earlier than the apparent time of the attack had seen him loitering near Sixteenth and Belle, then move away in the direction of his home.
Policemen were told by Miss Thornton, who spoke with great dificulty because of the injury about her jaw, that she had been awakened, then struck just as a lighted kerosene lamp on a table near her bed went out, and that she thought she had retained consciousness, and shortly made her way to the dooryard.
Apparently nothing was taken from her home.
Hopkins first told police some blood on his underclothing was the result of a fight in which he had been engaged Saturday night at a drinking place, but police investigation failed to find any confirmation such a fight had occurred. Police were unable at the time to find a dress shirt worn which they said Hopkins admitted was bloodstained.
In his confession, signed before witnesses at 11:30 last night after being typed by Sgt. Roberts, said Chief Barkley, Hopkins said he went home from the Thornton place and removed his shirt on which there was blood.
Broke Through Window
He told in his statement of making around of drinking places Saturday evening, and finally going home early in the morning where a thought suddenly came to him of obtaining some money. He had heard an old woman living at Sixteenth and Belle might have money at her premises, he said, and went there by way of an alley, leading from him home, and entered by breaking out a screened window.
First he searched the rooom he entered, then moved to the room where the householders lay in bed and where an oil light was burning low, he related. When he attempted to feel under her pillow, Hopkins related “the lady awakened.” Fearing she would scream, he then struck her, “three or four times,” hastily put out the light and fled, returning to his home.
At home, he continued, he first removed his shirt, tossing it on a bed, then went to the kitchen and was eating a piece of cherry pie when policemen arrived and put him under arrest. Hopkins described himself in his statement as a steel mill worker.
Cheif Barkley said that Hopkins is a veteran of four years’ wartime service in the Navy, and that he was injured when struck in the leg by flying fragments from the force of the munition ship blast at Port Chicago, Calif., in mid-July 1944. Later, he was sent overseas, after recovery from the injury, and was discharged after return from South Pacific service.
Miss Thornton’s rooms are in a rear wing of the former Thornton store at 100 West Sixteenth, a landmark at the Five Points, and for most of its existence of about 70 years a city election polling place. She lived alone in two rooms of the ground floor. Otherwise the building was unoccupied. Miss Thornton long had served as judge or clerk of election, and last so served at the city election in April 1943. The store was not used as a polls at the last city election in spring 1945.