A bizarre series of events began in 1827 when John Whipple, the owner of a large estate outside Albany, New York, hired a man named Jesse Strang to work for him. Strang had recently deserted his wife and child and was broke and deeply in debt, so he took the job under a false name, Joseph Orton.
Elsie Whipple, the owner’s wife, took a liking to Strang and promoted a love affair between them. She then suggested that her lover kill her husband. Strang agreed and first tried killing Whipple with poison he found in a barn on the estate. That attempt was unsuccessful, so Strang shot his boss through a window as he prepared for bed on the evening of May 7, 1827. Strang and Mrs. Whipple cooked up a story to tell authorities about a passing drunk who killed Whipple by firing off a random shot.
Hanged in August
That cover story unraveled quickly and Strang confessed to the murder. He was found guilty and hanged in Albany that August. His co-plotter, Mrs. Whipple, was acquitted, and she retired to a life of leisure on her dead husband’s estate.
Strang’s execution was a public spectacle and drew a large crowd from the surrounding area. Among the gawkers who rode in was Levi Kelley of Cooperstown, New York.
After witnessing the gruesome event, Kelley returned home and told his friends and family and anyone else who would listen that “no one who has ever seen such a horrid spectacle as the hanging of Jesse Strang could ever commit a murder!”
Lame delivery boy
That feeling of revulsion at the thought of violence didn’t last long. Just 10 days later, on September 3, 1827, Kelley had a collision with a lame delivery boy and went sprawling. One of Kelley’s boarders, Abraham Spafard, stepped forward to prevent Kelley from clobbering the boy. Kelley then whipped out a pistol and shot Spafard dead.
Kelley was hanged in Cooperstown in November after a short trial. When a spectator stand built for the hanging collapsed under the weight of several hundred people, killing two of them, local authorities decreed that Kelley’s execution would be the last public hanging in Otsego County, New York.