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



    I was born and raised in the Roxborough-Manayunk section of the City of Philadelphia, with a certain identity of a proud German heritage. My family attended to a traditional ethnic German Catholic Church, with German traditions and food. When I answered my nation’s call to service in the military, I was given service orders to Germany, wherein I spent the rest of my three and a half years of my military career. I had a penchant for bratwurst on brotchen, with hot German potato salad. Still do. I eat French fries with mayonnaise, for God’s sake. I had visited the Hessian home of my Great, Great, Great Grandfather, in the small village of Hosenfeld, to understand the background of his emigration to America, in 1847.

    I was always interested in my family’s genealogy. Recent advances in DNA testing allows anyone to test their own DNA with millions of other results, to provide ethnic clarity. I was interested in testing my own DNA to see what genetic makeup was given to me. To my surprise, my results came back as: 66% from Connacht and Donegal, Ireland; 18% Germanic Europe; 14% England & Northwestern Europe; and 2% Scotland.

    Irish! Most of my DNA is Irish! Who knew?!

    That test was taken two years ago. In the meantime, I have delved into my family’s history from the Emerald Island. I knew that a part of my father’s family left from the parish of Killasser, County Mayo in 1889. There are a number of my father’s relatives still living in the same townsland. I have visited them every chance I can get and exchange holiday cards during the Christmas season. But, Donegal. Who from my line was from Donegal?

    In my mother’s family, there is an Irish side. My Great, Grandmother was born into an Irish family. Her name was Mary Boyle. In all of my genealogical research, no one within my family knew anything about her branch of the family tree. Absolutely nothing.

    I am retired, now. Previously, I had worked in the Northampton County (PA) Sheriff’s Department. My last position within the Sheriff’s Department was the Sergeant of the Criminal Division. My responsibilities included finding absconded defendants that the Court of Common Pleas had issued a bench warrant. I was good at tracking people down and arresting them, so that they would have their day in court. I transferred those skillsets to my hobby of genealogy.

    Through due diligence and tenacity, I traced my Great, Grandmother, Mary Boyle’s family, not from Philadelphia, but to a small borough in the coal region of Pennsylvania. My Great, Grandmother was born May 7th, 1863 in Lansford, Carbon County, Pennsylvania. Her immigrant parents, Frank Boyle and Mary Givens lived with Frank’s widowed mother, Margaret Boyle on West Bertsch Street, within the Borough of Lansford. This was known as the Storm Hill section of Lansford, before the borough was incorporated. My Great, Great, Great Grandmother, Margaret Boyle maintained a boarding house to make ends meet during the rough years between the 1860’s and 1870’s. Her husband, Patrick had died shortly after arriving in America, leaving her to raise my Great, Great Grandfather, Frank and his younger brother, Patrick.

    Margaret had rented the house from her brother-in-law, Dennis Boyle, who had lived next door. The progenitor of the Boyle family, my 4th Great Grandparents, Patrick and Hannah (nee Sharpe) Boyle lived on the opposite side, next door to their son, Dennis. An additional sister to Dennis, her name was Ann (nee Boyle), married Charles O’Donnell and lived next to Patrick and Hannah Boyle. So, within four contiguous homes, the Boyle’s from County Donegal had settled.

                        West Bertsch Street near the intersection of Sharpe Street in 1875 (Beers)

    Dennis Boyle married Margaret Gallagher and begot five children: Bridget, John, James, Mary and Anna. Researching these children began my current quest and the reason for this investigation. Dennis and Margaret’s third child was James Boyle. Born in the Storm Hill section of Lansford in 1856, I found out that James died on June 21, 1877, from the hangman’s noose in Schuylkill County Prison. He was convicted of the murder of a police officer in the Borough of Tamaqua, five and a half miles from his homestead. I later understood, that this murder was one of many alleged crimes designed and perpetrated by the Molly Maguires.

    This fascinated my imagination. A member within my family, convicted of murder, given the death sentence and forever labeled a Molly Maguire. I needed to know more. I grabbed every source of information that I could find on the Molly Maguires. However, the more I read of the confrontation between the Molly Maguires and the Coal Companies, that ran daily life in the coal region, the more I found inconsistencies within the evidence provided at the trial of James Boyle and others that were convicted alongside him. These inconsistencies needed to be explored and vetted, so that a complete picture of the murder of Officer Yost can be put into perspective.

    The story of the murder was first told by the local newspapers that were under the influence of Franklin Gowen, Asa Packer and Charles Parrish. Each of these men where the oligarchs of the coal region of Pennsylvania. Franklin Gowen had owned the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad which also included mine operations in the region. Asa Packer owned the Lehigh Valley Railroad along with vast coal mine operations. Lastly, Charles Parrish was the owner of Lehigh Valley & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company, among other coal operation assets. The social/political influence of these three monopolists upon the daily lives and thoughts of thousands of mine workers was exasperated by the journalists who campaigned for the coal companies against the mine workers.

    Finding contemporary accounts of the murder was difficult, if not impossible, for many original sources were missing. Original court proceedings are missing within the confines of the archives of Schuylkill County. I had to rely upon other sources to understand, what had actually occurred on the corner of Lehigh and Broad Streets of Tamaqua on that fateful night of July 6th, 1875, when Officer Yost lost his life. As a former law enforcement officer, I had come to suspect the narrative set forth by the prosecution in the case, because of inconsistencies in the evidence presented.

    That is the journey, I would like to take in the succeeding pages. I would not allow the contemporary narrative dictate the events of that night, nearly 140 years ago. I would collect whatever evidence I could, to piece together a more truthful and accurate portrayal of that murder. If the evidence was consistent with the conviction of James Boyle being one of the murderers, then so be it. If the evidence pointed in another direction, than who killed Officer Yost?