Murder on the Mountain

The Murder - The Name

Ye friends that weep around my grave
Compose your minds to rest
Prepare with me for sudden death
And live forever blest.

The naked, lifeless body lay by the gate in a puddle of icy water; bound hand and foot by heavy rope, with ugly bruises visible about the throat.  The coroner fixed the time of death at approximately one hour after midnight: "There were no mortal wounds on the deceased," he would testify at the trial, "but his throat appeared to be so hard pressed as to convince me that he had been choked to death."  The date was February 22, 1831, the place a small, modestly profitable farm and farmhouse on the mountain between the towns of Springfield and Summit, New Jersey.

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The victim's wife had witnessed virtually the entire brutal event.  “We were awaken [sic] at about midnight by a loud pounding on the door,” she testified, “and then the door burst open and two men came in and dragged my husband out of bed, punched and beat him, and took him out of the house.  They seemed to ignore me, but I could see the face of the larger man - a full face with large whiskers and light blue eyes.  I watched them tie my husband and choke him and throw him on the ground, and not knowing what to do, I hid myself in the woods and wandered about until daylight.  Then I went for help to a neighbor's house."

Returning with three local men, she found her husband's body near the gate; the house had been thoroughly pillaged, in an apparent search for money or valuables.  Two men, Peter B.Davis and Lycidias Baldwin, were obvious suspects:

Davis had made no secret in the community that he was in need of money; he had been openly asking around for someone to go with him "where we can get a thousand dollars,” and he had large whiskers and light blue eyes.  Davis was quickly taken into custody, but when Baldwin heard that he had been taken, he took a room in a tavern in a neighboring town and killed himself with an apparent overdose of narcotic.

At Davis' trial in Newark, despite overwhelming, albeit circumstantial, evidence, much of it ruled inadmissible by the presiding judge, the jury acquitted Davis of the crime.  However, according to a footnote to the transcript of the trial, he was then indicted on four charges of forgery (of which the court documents reveal no details), convicted on all counts, and sentenced to serve a total of 24 years, during which he died in prison.

The affair somehow caught the attention of the New York metropolitan newspapers which gave it wide and sensational coverage.  And the deceased farmer, one Baltus Roll by name, whose tombstone may be found in the Revolutionary Cemetery in Westfield, NJ, went to his final resting place unaware that his name - in a slightly contracted form - would be immortalized in the mountain where his home had been located and at the golf club of the same name.

- Marshall Lewis, reprinted from Baltusrol 100 Years.