Is This Michigan’s Earliest Recorded Murder?
Halloween approaches and thoughts of the dark and demented begin to creep into our minds. As fun as the spooky holiday is and can be, it can spark to mind some of the most disturbing aspects of our lives.
Unfortunately, murder is a part of everyday life, not just in America, but in the world. Sure, the news is often depressing and makes it seem as though things are getting worse, but the reality is man has killed his own for about as long as we've existed. But our records as a society only go back so far.
In looking into prominent serial killers in Michigan history, the question of what Michigan's first murder could be sprung to mind. The internet didn't have particularly easy answers to come by. Some of that is because of Google's search engine giving hits for the infamous Michigan Murders of the late 1960s. The rest is because it's just hard to say and sources are somewhat conflicted.
So, the question stands in the headline of this article, though I've done my best to answer it.
Michigan was admitted to the United States Union in 1837, the 26th state in America. The earliest recorded murder I could find in my research happened in 1879. The human condition and common sense would indicate Michigan's first murder as a state happened sometime within those 42 years.
However, the earliest recorded murder I could find was the Morris Murders of 1879 in Decatur, Michigan. Creepily enough, I'm writing this article on September 27, 2023 - one day short of the 144th anniversary of the crime.
Charles Henry Morris was the son of the county's (today Van Buren) first known white settler, Dolphin Morris. Charles and his wife, Esther Jones Morris, were killed by gunshot in their home in Decatur just after 9 p.m. Charles was found on the porch of his home, Esther in the bedroom. The couple were just 32 and 28 years old, respectively. Esther was pregnant at the time of her death.
The couple had nothing taken from inside their home, although the killer did steal a horse and rode it to or near South Bend, Indiana, where it was found days later exhausted and freshly branded on its left flank. Although the killer rode past a neighbor before 10 p.m. that night, the neighbor only relayed a "funny hat" the assailant wore to authorities. The murder of Charles and Esther Morris was never solved.
The heavily investigated murder, which even gained national notoriety, did have one accused suspect. Floyd Smith was accused by Morris's former handyman Riley Huntley once investigators grew suspicious of him. Floyd was reportedly tortured and suffered serious neck injuries as a result, though he never confessed to the killings, denying any knowledge of the murder to his dying day.
According to an archived MLive article, local Decatur legend tells of Charles and Esther's ghosts or spirits visiting their graves in Anderson Cemetery, near the foundation of their home, on the anniversary of their deaths.