Thursday, November 13, 2014

Contractor’s Claims Insufficient to Support Sodomy Charge

Was his neighbor a peeping tom?
On November 13, 1896, the Rock Island Argus reported that there was insufficient proof to sustain the allegations of sodomy that had been made against one John Matthey. The references to Mr. Matthey in the Argus form a brief span of three days, from the initial report of the charge on November 11, 1896 to the charges being dropped two days later.

Nor have the usual records been all that forthcoming. I’ve been able to establish that Rock Island didn’t publish a street directory in 1896, and Mr. Matthey doesn’t seem to show up in the others. His accuser does though. The claim that Mr. Matthey had engaged in sodomy came from one Stephen O’Connor, and I found lots about him.

I should pause here and note that our story has one character too few. We have an accused (Mr. Matthey), a witness (Mr. O’Connor), but while sodomy can be accomplished with a partner of the same or opposite sex, it is not a solitary activity. The records here is mute as to what exactly Mr. O’Connor claimed to have seen.

The first article gives us the bulk of the details:
John Matthey Being Tried on a Charge of Sodomy.
John Matthey, a bachelor of about 60 years of age, residing on Twelfth street and Eighth avenue, is being tried in Magistrate Schroeder’s court this afternoon on a charge of sodomy.
The complaining witness is Stephen O’Connor, 800 Eleventh street.
I’ve checked the map. They lived around the block from each other. Records on Mr. O’Connor show that he was a contractor, responsible for a number of digging and grading projects in Rock Island over the years.

The next day, the Argus gave its readers a line on the story without any real additional information:
The preliminary trial of John Matthey, charged with sodomy, is still on in the police court.
And then, finally, on the 14th:
The case against John Matthey, charged with sodomy was dismissed by Magistrate Schroeder yesterday afternoon. It was considered that there was not enough proof to sustain the allegations.
The allegations must have consisted of Mr. O’Connor claiming that he had seen something with Mr. Matthey claiming that Mr. O’Connor couldn’t have seen any such thing. As I noted, I haven’t found anything definite about Mr. Matthey, though there is ample documentation on Mr. O’Connor, who was frequently mentioned in the Argus, sometimes in connection with contracting jobs, and other times regarding various legal issues, including a case of mutual assault. He also ran for minor political jobs, apparently unsuccessfully.

While there is no word on the later story of the “bachelor of about 60 years,” it’s clear what happened with Mr. O’Connor. An obituary gives his birth as December 24, 1847. That means that when he accused Mr. Matthey of sodomy, he was 48 years old. He had been married for 27 years. He and his wife, Margaret, adopted two children, George and John. And he died on May 26, 1900, at the age of 52 years. According to the Argus, he was walking in the street when he became overcome by cramps, and died “of an inflammation of the bowels.” Less than four years after his unjust claim that a neighbor committed sodomy.

Sounds like divine retribution to me.
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