Cudmore: Bar owner charged in patron’s death


A 22-year-old mill hand, James Major, died after his skull was fractured following a night of heavy drinking in Amsterdam on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 1913. 

James P. Mullarkey, Jr., 32, the owner of the barroom where Major fell, was charged in the death.

Major was a bachelor of French-Canadian ancestry who lived with his parents and six siblings at 222 Forest Ave.  He went drinking that night with his friend Arthur Whitney.  Both worked at McCleary, Wallin & Crouse carpet mill at Forest Avenue and Lyon Street. 

Major and Whitney ended up at Mullarkey’s saloon at the corner of Church and Reid streets.  Mullarkey, Jr. had taken over the establishment from his father, James P. Mullarkey, Sr. 

Major and Mullarkey, Jr., apparently had words.  Major may have insulted Mullarkey’s brother.  Major and Mullarkey could have argued over calling a taxi.

Mullarkey pushed Major away according to one account.  The district attorney argued that Mullarkey punched Major, causing him to fall, resulting in the skull fracture.  The Major family believed Mullarkey hit Major over the head with a bottle.  Mullarkey’s defense said Major had fallen numerous times and no one saw the alleged fatal blow.

After Major fell, he ended up lying outside the tavern.  He was seen in the early morning by two residents of the neighborhood’s growing Polish community. 

When Mullarkey’s father came early to open the tavern, Major’s friend Whitney showed up.  Whitney prevailed upon the elder Mullarkey to bring Major back inside, saying he did not want to take his friend home to his mother in his current state.

They propped Major up in a chair but he kept falling to the floor.  They laid him on the floor with an old coat for a pillow.

Major’s need for medical attention became more clear.  His father arrived.  When a doctor could not make it immediately to the tavern, a taxi was summoned and Major was taken home about 5 p.m.  A doctor came and declared him gravely ill.  Another taxi took the stricken man to St. Mary’s Hospital at 7 p.m.  He was pronounced dead at 2 a.m.

After an autopsy, Coroner Howard Murphy ruled that death came from bleeding in the brain, caused by a skull fracture resulting from violence.  Major also had bruises on other parts of his body.

Police charged Mullarkey, Jr. with manslaughter.  He was freed on bail and trial took place in March 1914 in Fonda.

The jury of 12 men deliberated for hours.  They had a dinner break and asked for cigars.  At first the judge refused but when they asked again, the judge ordered the jurors be given cigars.  Foreman John Voorhees told the judge the jury was deadlocked, six for conviction, six for acquittal. 

The case was retried in October 1914.  After 40 minutes, the new jury found Mullarkey, Jr. not guilty. 

One of the victim’s nephews and his namesake, James Major of Greenfield Center, said his father, Alfred, was 15 when his brother died.  The younger James Major and his father once saw Mullarkey, Jr. in downtown Amsterdam in the 1940s. Alfred Major gave some thought to confronting the man but let the moment pass.  Mullarkey, Jr. died in 1957.

By then the tavern at 161 Church St. was owned by Anthony and Anna Lenczewski.  Historian David Pietrusza, author of the memoir “Too Long Ago,” was related to the Lenczewskis.  The Pietruszas lived over the tavern the first 10 years of David’s life.  The building was sold in 1960, torn down and a bank was built there.  The bank building has been empty for several years.

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