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


Chapter 11 - Fannie Kerrigan’s Testimony

            During the first Yost murder trial conducted in the county seat of Pottsville, Schuylkill County in May, 1876, the list of prosecution witnesses included the wife of James Kerrigan. Fannie Higgins was the third daughter of George and Margaret Higgins of Tamaqua, born in January of 1847. Fannie’s other siblings were William, George, John, Catherine, Joseph, Margaret, Daniel Rosanna and Mary. Fannie’s youngest sister, Mary was born circa 1753. Fannie Higgins had married James Kerrigan around 1866, after James returned to Tamaqua from the Civil War. By 1870, James and Fannie had three boys, Michael, George and James. The marriage was tumultuous throughout the marriage, due to domestic violence and alcohol abuse on behalf of James Kerrigan. Fannie’s father, a Colonel with the 16th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War, disliked his son-in-law and had told McParland, he had never visited his daughter’s residence as a guest.

A little sensation was created by Mrs. Kerrigan’s testimony, when she refused to go and see her husband in prison because he had done such a crime as the killing of Yost, and turned informer against the poor innocent prisoners to suffer for his crimes. (Harrisburg Patriot). Mrs. Kerrigan’s testimony was perhaps the most startling and important introduced by any single individual during the trials. Drab and miserable, in terror of her husband, and yet somehow fierce and even noble, she stood on the witness stand, to charge her husband with “the crime of Yost” and to declare that he was trying to send innocent men to the gallows to save his own hide.

Mrs. Kerrigan said her husband had shot Yost. “He left the house with a pistol at dusk on July fifth and returned before dawn the next morning and told me he had shot Yost.” She visited with him in jail until she heard he “confessed”. She never went again. On the witness stand she said: “I didn’t send him his clothes because he wants innocent men to suffer for his crimes. Why should I go see a man guilty of such a crime as that of Yost’s murder? Yes, I lived with him after the crime. If I had disclosed him, he would have shot me. He threatened me and said he would blow out my brains. I treated him as a wife until he turned informer.” (Barrett, page 134).

What is printed below is taken verbatim from the court records:

Q – Was your husband the owner of a pistol?

A – Yes sir.

Q – About how long had he owned the pistol?

A – I think about one year.

Q – What did your husband do after he came? After you let him in?

A – After I let him in?

Q – Yes.

A – Why, he had his boots in his hand when I let him in, and he said he shot Yost (Bimba, page 95).

Gowen took Mrs. Kerrigan under cross-examination, and the following testimony took place:

Q – You have never been to see your husband since that time, have you?

A – No sir.

Q – Have you refused to send him clothes?

A – Yes sir.

Q – And do anything for him?

A – Yes sir.

Q – Did you not come down to Pottsville, voluntarily, and of your own will, some time ago to make a statement or affidavit that your husband had killed Yost; did you not do that of your own motive?

A – I made my statement before I came to Pottsville.

Q – You made it before Squire O’Brien?

A – Yes.

Q – You went there voluntarily?

A – Of my own accord.

Q – To get your husband hung?

A – To tell the truth.

Q – To have the father of your children hung?

A – Not when I was telling the truth.

Q – Why did you not send him his clothes when he was lying in prison?

A – Why, because he picked innocent men to suffer for his crime.

Q – Because he picked up innocent men to suffer for his crime?

A – Yes sir.

Q – Why did you refuse to go and see him when he had sent word that he wanted to see you?

A – Because any man that does such a crime that he done, why should I turn around then, and –

Q – And what; go on.

A – That’s all.

Q – What crime had he done?

A – What crime did he do?

Q – Yes

A – The crime of Yost.

Q – The murder of Yost?

A – Yes sir (Bimba, page 96).