Who killed Police Officer Benjamin Franklin Yost? A Mollie Maguire Story


Chapter 14 - Buying Witnesses

Allen Pinkerton insisted, that the detectives within his employ, must recognize that secrecy is the prime condition for success – “It is the chief strength which the detective possesses beyond the ordinary man.” Indeed, he went on, “It frequently becomes necessary for the detective, when brought in contact with criminals, to pretend to be a criminal; in other words, for the time being to assume the garb of crime.” Pinkerton recognized that this was one of the most sensitive of all his principles. He said it is “unfortunately necessary to resort to these deceptions.” He explained that “the detective has to act his part, and in order to do so, he has, at times, to depart from the strict line of truth, and to resort to deception, so as to carry his assumed character through.” Moralists may question whether this be strictly right,” he continued, “but it is a necessity in the detection of crime, and it is held by the Agency that the ends being for the accomplishment of justice, they justify the means used.” The operative, when the ends of justice were accomplished, would “return, of course, unblemished by the fiery ordeal through which he has passed, and take his place once more in society (Broehl, Page 136). This meant that any tactic could be used, including false testimony, would be tolerated, as long as the conviction of the accused was certain.

James McParland had boasted that the railroad had the money to buy any witness it needed in order to convict the Mollies, and would do that if necessary (Campbell, page 50). It is important to note that General Albright was the legal advisor of the coal company and participated in the prosecution of the defendants, has said the prosecution was openly backed with the money, the power, and the influence of the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company (Bimba, page 87).

Robert Breslin, who testified at the trial, that early in the morning of July 6th, he had met McGeehan and Boyle, on an out of the way path near his father’s house, and that they had told him they were returning from a ball at Mauch Chunk. His evidence, which hardly seems very conclusive on its face, was, however, discredited when the defense charged, and he himself admitted, that it was being paid for, by the Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company, with the promise of a position, as mine boss (Bimba, page 96).

Another witness statement was given by a man named Fenton Cooney. Emigrating from Ireland to New York City, on June 23, 1865, aboard the ship, Hibernia, 22-year-old Fenton Cooney set out to create a new life in America. Cooney had married 17-year-old, Elizabeth O’Haren, daughter of Thomas and Catherine (nee Knowles) O’Haren of New York City, in 1870. Settling in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, Cooney supported his family by becoming a laborer within the mines. By 1875, the Cooney’s had three children. During this time, Detective McParland had boarded with the Cooney family during the tumultuous years of the violence in the coal region.

In a letter, dated September 17th, 1876, Mr. J. H. Butler writes to Franklin Gowen, the following correspondence, “Dear Sir, John W. Ryon asked James Kerrigan last Friday did not he tell Fenton Cooney, that he was the man that shot (Yost). Kerrigan, I will give an idea with respect to that question before the first Yost trial. Fenton Cooney made his statement in Mr. Ryon’s office, in my presence. It was that, at the time Bull Doolan died at Schuylkill Haven. He was taken to Tamaqua for burial. He, Cooney, went to the funeral, when it was over, he put up his horse and walked down town. He met and was introduced to James Kerrigan.”

The letter continues, “He, Cooney, talked about Tamaqua and about the killing of Yost. Kerrigan asked him was it not a good job? Cooney said it was. Then Kerrigan said, I am the man that shot Yost. I can’t see how Pat Duffy can have money to hire Ryan & Bartholomew at the last Yost trial. He did not have money to pay Cooney’s fare to Pottsville. Cooney was to swear that McParland called him out doors and told him he would give him fifty dollars……(text is missing, because of tear in original letter)…his family, if he…..that he.”

The end of this correspondence appears to suggest that Detective McParland is actually committing witness tampering and/or bribing the witness, Cooney.