Thursday, August 8, 2019

Mysterious Death of Annie Dorman 1897


Her death was reported in The Times of Philadelphia on October 6th, 1897. Her name was Annie Dorman. And the fact is, in a number of newspapers across the nation, her murder became national news.

Who was she? She was an American girl found dead with a whole lot of unanswered questions regarding her death. She was almost 18 years old, and was described as having a happy disposition. She lived with her older half-brother John, his wife Lizzie, and their children. She did so off and on since she was 13 years old. She worked for them as a maid and nanny taking care of their four children.

On the day of Annie's death, her sister-in-law Lizzie had supposedly left for Philadelphia. Annie's half-brother John was on the property, but was working outside at the barn located within a hundred yards of the house when she was killed. That's important to keep in mind. The barn where he was worked was a fairly short distance from the house where she was killed.

At noon, Annie was in the house watching the four children, and no one other than her and the children were there. A little after noon, it's believed Annie sent the three older children outside to play while she put the baby to sleep downstairs. After the baby was alseep, she tended to cleaning the house and doing chores.

At about 3:30 in the afternoon, her half-brother's hired hand who was working in the fields a few hundred yards away said that he heard four gunshots coming from the house. He said the first two shots seemed to be a minute or more apart, but the second two shots were fired in quick succession. And no, there is no mention as to why he didn't respond immediately after hearing the shots instead of apparently doing nothing and kept working.

To me, that sounds strange due to the fact that shots fired usually means something out of the ordinary is taking place. One would think, at the minimum, that hired hand's curiosity would have been alerted to make him drop what he was doing and go see why shots were coming from a place that they shouldn't be. But from what I gather, he didn't. As for why, who knows?

Strangely, almost an hour later at around 4:30 p.m., John was alerted to what took place in the house by one of his children. One of the older children went into the house and found their Aunt Annie. Then then located their father, John, who was in the barn working, and told him that she was dead.

John was supposedly completely unaware of the shots fired in his home, yet his farmhand in the fields further away heard the shot. Does that sound right to anyone?

In today's world, the world of 2019, someone wearing headphones while they are working, someone wearing hearing protection, someone working with a radio turned up so loud that they my drown out sounds coming from the outside of a building, that's not too hard to understand. But in 1897, there were none of that.

Besides, anyone reading this who has been raised or presently lives on a farm or ranch knows full well how quiet things are. On my property, my wife and I live in a house that is the equivilent to 2 football fields away from the main road at the entrance to our home, yet we can clearly hear a loud truck pass by or my horses in the front of our property. I can tell you when my neighbor a half mile away is target shooting. He can tell you when he hears me target shooting on my shooting range on the side of my garage. Gunshots are easy to hear in the silence of the country.

Supposedly John Dorman didn't hear anything until told what had taken place by on of his oldest children. It was then that he went to the house and found Annie in his bedroom shot dead. John called for the sheriff, who in turn called the coroner.

When the sheriff and coroner arrived at the Dorman farm, they found that Annie died of multiple gunshot wounds. One gunshot wound entered her by way of her jaw and another round entered her chest. It was later determined during the Coroner's Inquest that the round that struck her chest was the cause of death. It should be noted that two bullet holes were found in the ceiling. But also, there was a bullet hole in one of the walls. There was no evidence of what happened to the fourth round that was fired.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897
The coroner made notes stating that he found Annie’s clothing undisturbed. That is, except for her bodice, which was unbuttoned. A bodice is the close-fitting upper part of a dress that covered the chest and back above the waist. Edwardian era clothing hadn't change much from the Victorian era which called for modesty and covering. But, while that was the case, it was not usually for a woman to have such a fitted vest worn over a dress or blouse and unbuttoned in the September heat when she was alone.

While some may have attempted to make the fact that her bodice was unbuttoned sort of suspicious, the coroner's examination stated that she had not been sexually assaulted.

As the investigation into her death took shape, it appeared that there were more questions than actual answers. Because of that, some questioned if it was homicide or suicide. To support the notion that she killed herself, it was said that a revolver belonging to her family was found at Annie's side. As for the pistol, supposedly it sat loaded on a shelf in the bedroom for two years. Some say it couldn't have been the murder weapon since it was rusted and hadn't been fired for more than the two years that it was collecting dust on a shelf. 


The other thing that people started pointing at to support the notion that she claimed her own life was reports regarding her having been moody and falling into despair at times. So while she was seen as being "generally happy," people came forward to talk about her being "sensitive" and bouts of "gloomy periods."

The idea of her committing suicide had become more acceptable when it was found out that she had been having relationship problems with her boyfriend. This was coupled by the fact that it was known that she hated working for her half-brother’s family. In fact, it was reported many people witnessed her arguing with her sister-in-law over a number of issues. One report stated that their arguments actually turned physical at times. On one occasion, Lizzie choked Annie before chased her with a broom stick.

One newspaper theorized that it had to be suicide since "smaller details point to suicide." The small details that they saw as factors of suicide was the "fact that the dogs hadn’t barked, implying no stranger had entered the home. Or that the room was in nearly perfect order, and that no blood had been tracked through the bedroom or house."

Of course who can argue with such keen detective work as saying it must be suicide since a dog hadn't barked, or the scene of the crime was in perfect order with no blood tracked out of the room? Then again, I couldn't find anything that said if blood was even tracked at all, or if the dogs were there at all or with John at the barn. And as for a crime scene being in perfect order, it is believed that Annie's half-brother John Dorman cleaned up Annie's blood and burned her clothes before the evidence could really be investigated. Why did he do that?

As for the revolver, those who believed it was murder pointed out that the gun was an old model and extremely hard to cock. They also point out that no one knows if she was even familiar with firearms, or at least familiar enough to use on to kill herself. Another thing about the pistol, I couldn't find a mention as to whether the gun had been fired or if it was found with empty shells in its cylinder.

Then there's the idea that Annie could have used it to shoot herself twice after firing the other shots into the wall and ceiling. Remember, the farmhand heard four shots fired. If she shot herself, she had to have done so after firing the first two shots almost a minute apart. Then decide to shot herself in the jaw and then the chest? That sounds questionable to me.

So the basic question is pretty simple: After shooting herself in the jaw, would Annie have been able to shoot herself in the chest as well?

As for my trying to research how many times suicide victims shoot themselves twice. Yes, I did look it up. And believe it or not, as strange as it may sound, multiple gunshot suicides actually take place. From what I gather, there are cases where people have shot themselves more than once when trying to commit suicide. 

But, in most cases, it's "when a person commits suicide by inflicting multiple gunshots on oneself before becoming incapacitated." It's rare, but has been done. In fact, according to one source, a study of 138 gunshot suicides, 5 involved two shots to the head. Each of course had one thing in common, the first shot fired always missed the brain and they were not incapacitated enough to stop. In a suicide by firearm, immediate incapacitation is usually achieved by direct disruption to brain stem tissue.

While shooting yourself in the head is an almost sure fire a way of killing yourself, I was amazed to find out that someone by the name of Frank Stanford, he is described as having been a poet, used a pistol to put three bullets into his own heart in 1978. 

As for Annie Dorman, while there are those who really believed that she was able to shoot herself in the jaw and while in a massive amount of pain then shoot herself in the chest as well, all after firing shots into the ceiling and a wall.

At the Coroner's Inquest held on October 5, 1897, the coroner's jury didn't buy it. The coroner's jury gave a verdict that didn't surprise many. Their ruling simply stated that Annie had died of wounds "inflicted by some person or persons unknown."

Sadly though, even though murder had not been ruled out, the investigation into Annie’s death died due to a lack of evidence, funds, and manpower to pursue it. Because of that, the 1897 murder of Annie Dorman is still unsolved. And her murderer, he or she was never brought to justice.
Perhaps the closest that we will ever get to an explanation of Annie's death is the scenario proposed in an Philadelphia Inquirer editorial below, October 10th, 1897:


Roxanne Dorman was born in 1878. At the age of 18, she was found on the bedroom floor in a pool of blood after being killed on September 1st, 1897. She was found with two bullet holes and no answers. She was buried in Millsboro Cemetery, Millsboro, Sussex County, Delaware.

So why was the death of an unknown teenage girl big news even in the West in 1897, especially since she was killed in "the rural outskirts of Philadelphia"?

The answer to that question goes to the unanswered questions dealing with her death. Sensationalism being what it is, and nothing new even back in the day, there was the big question as to whether she was murdered or did she commit suicide?

There was speculation that she was not murdered and that it was a suicide. Yes, some there at the time actually considered it a possibility that a young girl was capable of committing suicide by shooting herself twice to get the job done. Frankly, I still don't believe it. And for those of you, who like me think the coroner's jury got it right, I agree. It's just too hard to believe that she shot up the room, shot herself in the jaw, and then shot herself in the chest all before anyone came a running to find out what was going on.

As for the unknown killer, or killers, I find it fishy that her half-brother John stated that he didn't hear gunshots coming from his house but his hired help did. And since he and his farmhand were supposedly the only two there since Lizzie supposedly left the farm earlier that day, and the children were outside when it happened, the list of suspects is a pretty short one.

Of course, though it was never officially solved, we can only hope that the person or persons who murdered Annie Dorman received their just rewards when it was their day to answer for such an act.

Tom Correa






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