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


Chapter 1 - Initial Pinkerton Story

            Allan Pinkerton, the owner of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, entered into a contract with Franklin B. Gowen, the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad to investigate mine workers union activities against Gowen’s company’s mining interests in Pennsylvania’s anthracite region. Pinkerton had hired an undercover detective, James McParland to uncover the crimes and damage to collieries. The following account was published by Pinkerton just before the “Day of the Rope”. This is only an excerpt of the story regarding the murder of Police Officer Benjamin Franklin Yost of the Tamaqua Police Department.

“On the night of the 5th, or rather the morning of the 6th of July, 1875, one of the most atrocious crimes committed by this crime-dyed organization was perpetrated at Tamaqua, in the killing of Officer Benjamin Franklin Yost, while at his post of duty, by a couple of hired assassins accompanied by and under the guidance of one of the most notorious of the Molly Maguires, the now, widely-known and generally despised “Squealer, Jimmy Kerrigan.

            The facts of the case as nearly as they can be gotten at in the light of evidence given at the trial of the Yost murderers, are though condensed as much as possible in this narrative, substantially as follows:

            James Kerrigan, a resident of Tamaqua, and what is called a “Body Master” or presiding officer in the Molly Maguires, as became his office was a habitual brawler, a drunken vagabond who by virtue of the position he filled, though small in stature and naturally a coward, was withal a terror to the citizens of the town. He was continually getting into trouble, and his presence as a consequence graced the police court more frequently than did that of any other man in the borough. Officer Yost had arrested Kerrigan so often that he became tired of the job and often so expressed himself, but Jimmy remained the same inexplicable enigma. No sooner would he be out of one trouble than he would slip into another. At length one evening he and a man named Duffy, another sweet-scented scoundrel who was a resident of Reevesdale, a small mining village about two miles west of Tamaqua, met in Tamaqua and a drinking bout, in which they became intoxicated, ensued. While making their devious tour of the town they came across an inoffensive young man named Flynn, and as was their custom, first grossly insulted him and then assaulted him; the assailed man hurried away in the direction of his boarding place, the United States Hotel, followed by his assailants. Upon reaching the porch of the hotel his pursuers caught up to him and commenced an unmerciful attack upon him.

            Flynn being a lithe, wiry man defended himself to the best advantage possible with his hands for a time, but at last being knocked down, he drew a small pen-knife from his pocket and inflicted pretty severe punishment in the shape of stab wounds upon the face of Kerrigan. While this was going on Officer Yost appeared upon the scene and arrested Duffy, in making the arrest striking him over the head with his baton or club. Officer McCarron of the same force arrived immediately afterward and arrested Kerrigan, and the two desperados were marched away to the lockup, where they were confined until next morning, when they were released upon payment of costs.

            This was the beginning of the end. Duffy swore vengeance against Yost, and the preliminaries for his murder were entered into between Duffy, Kerrigan, a saloon-keeper named Carroll and a man named Roarty. The plot thickened rapidly, parties were chosen to commit the crime and the price offered and accepted by the contracting party, ($10.00 being the amount offered for the taking of a human life) and all things made in readiness for the commission of the outrage when the opportunity should offer.

            Yost was a doomed man, and though all unconscious of his impending fate it was as certain as he was a living man, for the edicts of the Body Master of the Mollies are as fixed and unalterable as were the laws of the Medes and Persians.

            The 5th of July arrived. A picnic was held outside of the borough, and a day of hilarity and pleasure was followed by the inevitable knockdown and drag-out manner of the Mollies in settling difficulties. In this afterwards learned, was to assassinate Yost, melee a man named McGeehan, who, it was one of the participants. The trouble at the grounds was finally settled and the whole party returned to Tamaqua, the conspirators repairing to the saloon of Carroll and commenced comparing notes as to the best plan to pursue in carrying out the details of their nefarious scheme. McGeehan and Boyle were to be the assassins. Roarty’s pistol, a most murderous looking weapon and warranted sure was given to McGeehan, and Carroll presented Boyle with a single barreled pistol which was not considered reliable, but would suit in a pinch. The parties then continued carousing in Carroll’s saloon until about 1 o’clock in the morning, when, under the lead of Kerrigan, they sought the appointed spot near the Cemetery, and then seated themselves to await the approach of their victim, who they knew would be obliged to come there for the purpose of extinguishing a street lamp, the last on his route, before retiring to his home, which was about seventy-five yards away.

            Time wore on until somewhere about 2 o’clock in the morning, when the conspirators heard the footsteps of Yost and his brother officer McCarron, approaching the fatal lamp, McCarron, turned down the street and Yost crossed over to the lamppost and placed his ladder against it. While this was being done, the murderers stealthily approached under cover of the shade trees which lined the sidewalk at that point, to about two yards of the victim, the wily Kerrigan remaining about thirty yards behind, and as the officer stepped upon the ladder, they fired simultaneously and Yost fell to the ground mortally wounded, while the cowardly wretches turned and fled back toward the cemetery accompanied in their flight by the Body Master Kerrigan, and all three made their escape, though Officer McCarron, when he heard the shots fired at Yost, turned and pursued the murderers, firing two shots after them, one of which was returned by the fugitives, none of them taking effect. McCarron seeing that pursuit unaccompanied by help would be useless, returned to his wounded comrade whom he found lying on the sidewalk, and who said, “My God, my wife, I’m shot.” Mrs. Yost, the wife of the officer, having by this time arrived, she assisted Mr. McCarron to take him to the house, but the wounded man pleading for a physician, they laid him on the sidewalk and McCarron hurried for medical attendance which was promptly rendered by Dr. Solliday.

                                            Tamaqua Police Officer Benjamin Franklin Yost

            The wounded man lingered in great pain for several hours, and then expired in the arms of the wife he had left in the full vigor of manhood such a short time before.

            Though he described the men as one being large and the other not so large, he could not identify either of them, and another case of murder most foul was involved in mystery; but “though the mills of the gods grind slowly they grind exceedingly fine,” and as the sequel will show, in due course the assassins were arrested.

            Of course the town, next morning, was thrown into the greatest excitement; everybody suspected Kerrigan, but so carefully had he matured his plans, and so adroitly had he managed the escape of his co-conspirators that nothing definite could be effected, and the community, contented to wait and hope for deliverance from the baneful effects of the Society which they knew to be in their midst and which, like the Upas which poisons and blights all which comes in contact with it, was working death and desolation and misery all around them, settled down to their wonted inactivity.

            Poor Yost was buried, followed to the grave by sorrowing relatives and sympathetic friends, and as the grave closed over the remains, many a prayer for his eternal happiness was offered up to the throne of Grace, and many a malediction was heaped upon the cowardly wretches who compassed his taking off.

            There was one, however, who was not inactive in the general inactivity. Mr. Shepp, a merchant of Tamaqua and a brother-in-law of Yost, at once visited Philadelphia and arranged for the services of a detective who was at once dispatched to the Coal regions, and who so thoroughly performed his work that he may be called the Nemesis of the Mollies, and to his untowered and untiring exertions are we indebted for the details which will follow in the evidence on the different cases submitted to the reader at the close of this volume.”

            Daniel Shepp had lived next door to his brother-in-law, Benjamin and Henrietta (nee Wertman) Yost, on South Lehigh Street. He was one of the leading businessmen, the wealthiest and most prominent citizen in the Borough of Tamaqua, having acquired a colliery and presiding as the President of the Tamaqua Banking and Trust Company. Just prior to the assassination of Officer Yost, Shepp had lost a coal breaker from arson, allegedly set on fire by the Molly Maguires during the long strike of 1875. This egregious crime angered Shepp and would sway his opinion of the Molly Maguires to come. Ironically, one of Daniel Shepp’s friends was none other than James Kerrigan. This relationship will have consequences later and make an impact on Kerrigan’s confession to authorities.

            Daniel Shepp visited the Philadelphia Office of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. There, he spoke with the Superintendent of that office, Benjamin Franklin. He was there to obtain the services of the Detective Agency. Fortuitously, for Superintendent Franklin and the Pinkertons, Shepp asked for assistance in solving the crimes in Tamaqua that also paralleled their investigations in the alleged crimes of the Molly Maguires. Mr. Shepp will be further examined because of his leadership in the Tamaqua Vigilance Committee, as well as his relationship with James Kerrigan, which has never been fully reconciled.

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