William H. Marshall, Jr., 27, was shot twice in the head at suppertime on Wednesday, March 12, 1919, at his home in Fort Johnson.
The fatal shots came from a revolver apparently held by Nellie Bostwick Dery, a woman in her 30s who had been living with Marshall for two years. He was separated from his wife and children who were living in Oneida County.
Nellie Bostwick, born in Perth, was the daughter of Robert and Ada Bostwick. She married William Dery of Amsterdam in 1902. The couple had a daughter named Mildred. Nellie and William separated in 1917.
Almost immediately after the shots were fired, Bostwick Dery phoned William Marshall Sr., the victim’s father, saying, “Come over right away. Something awful has happened.”
The gravely wounded man had worked in Amsterdam knitting mills but recently had joined his father in the garden business.
When his father arrived he found his son still alive, sitting in a chair, bleeding profusely. His father called a doctor, Richard Canna, and police. Bostwick Dery was hysterical and was tranquilized with a shot from a hypodermic syringe when the doctor arrived.
She was taken to Amsterdam City Hospital. Her lover, who never regained consciousness, was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital where he died 15 minutes after being admitted.
The Fort Johnson shooting was front page news the following day in the Amsterdam Recorder. Another front page story worried that although World War I was over, civilization was facing chaos from Russia’s Bolshevik revolution. More men were arriving home from the Great War.
The Fort Johnson case went to trial in July. District Attorney Newton Herrick argued that Marshall’s death was a homicide, with the motive being that Bostwick Dery had become jealous of attentions Marshall was giving to another woman.
The defendant stated that if Marshall was unfaithful to her, she did not know it. Her version of the reason for the fatal incident was that she and Marshall had been annoyed by rats on an ash pile in the backyard. She took Marshall’s revolver to him that night so he would either shoot a rat she had just seen 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 unkempt hair. In her effort to give him the gun, she accidentally discharged the weapon not once but twice.
Defense attorney A. Howard Burtch said Marshall was, “A big good natured fellow, rough in his manners, rough in his play. [He and Bostwick Dery] 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.”
The trial at County Court in Fonda resulted in a deadlocked jury. 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, as many men did not want to serve on a jury deciding the fate of a female murder defendant. Women were not common on juries until the second half of the 20th century.
In the second trial, Bostwick Dery was found not guilty. She made a scene after the verdict in her impassioned expressions of thanks to the jurors who hurriedly left the court house.
After her acquittal, Bostwick Dery worked as a dressmaker and married a Mohawk Carpet Mill employee, Wallace Smalley. The Smalleys lived quietly on Devendorf Street in Amsterdam. She died in 1958 and was buried at Hagaman Cemetery.