Likeable Fort Johnson man shot by girlfriend in 1919
Likable but boisterous William H. Marshall Jr. was shot twice through the head at suppertime on Wednesday, March 12, 1919 at his home in Fort Johnson.
Marshall was separated from his wife and children; they were living in Oneida County. The fatal bullets came from a revolver held by a woman the newspapers described as Marshall’s paramour, Nellie Bostwick Dery.
Marshall died soon after arrival at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam. He never regained consciousness and therefore could not tell police how he had been shot. Bostwick Dery swooned after the gun was fired, had to be tranquilized and hospitalized at Amsterdam City Hospital that night.
District Attorney Newton Herrick concluded Marshall’s death was a homicide, with the motive being that Bostwick Dery had become jealous of attentions Marshall supposedly was giving to another woman.
Nellie Bostwick was born in Perth, the daughter of Robert and Ada Bostwick. Her age became an issue at her trials but apparently she was in her middle or late 30s at the time of the shooting.
Nellie married William Dery of Amsterdam in 1902, according to a Recorder account. The couple had a daughter name Mildred. The Derys separated and approximately in 1917, Bostwick Dery and Marshall began living together.
The dead man was born in Fort Johnson and lived there his whole life. He was almost 28 years old when he was shot. He had been employed in Amsterdam knitting mills but toward the end of his life worked with his father in a gardening business.
Bostwick Dery phoned the victim’s father, William Marshall Sr., almost immediately after the shooting, saying, “Come over right away. Something awful has happened.”
The victim’s father and other acquaintances said Bostwick Dery and Marshall were happy together. At her trial Bostwick Dery testified that if her companion was seeing another woman, she did not know about it.
Defense attorney A. Howard Burtch said of Marshall, “A big good natured fellow, rough in his manners, rough in his play. They [William and Nellie] were frequent attendees at the vaudeville and burlesque shows in Amsterdam. They were always together and always happy up to the time of the accident.”
Bostwick Dery’s version of the shooting was that she and Marshall had been annoyed by rats on an ash pile in the backyard where garbage was dumped during the winter. She took the revolver to Marshall so he would either shoot the rats or show her how to use the weapon.
She carried the gun in her right hand and had a comb in the other hand as she wanted to comb Marshall’s hair. In her effort to give him the gun as he sat in a chair, she said she accidentally discharged the weapon not once but twice.
The first trial at County Court in Fonda resulted in a deadlocked jury in July of 1919. The Gloversville Morning Herald reported five jurors were for conviction on second-degree murder, one was for manslaughter and six were for acquittal.
In a second trial in April 1920, there was difficulty getting enough jurors, all male, as many potential members did not want to serve on a jury deciding the fate of a female murder defendant. The defendant was found not guilty.
The Recorder reported that Bostwick Dery made something of a scene after the verdict in her expressions of thanks to the jurors who hurriedly left the building.
Bostwick Dery, according to her obituary, later worked as a dressmaker and married a Mohawk Carpet Mill employee, Wallace Smalley. The Smalleys lived on Devendorf Street in Amsterdam. She died in 1958 and was buried at Hagaman Cemetery.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or email@example.com.