July 13, 1885, San Jose Daily News
Margaret Risley Solves the Great Problem
She is Found Dead Among the Ruins of her Property in East San Jose
Margaret Ann Risley has resided alone in East San Jose on Monroe street and about two hundred yards south of Santa Clara avenue, during the past year and a half.
She was a native of Ireland and about fifty years of age.
She was found dead in her bed about 8 o’clock yesterday morning under circumstances which left no room to doubt that it was a case of suicide by strychnine poisoning.
Some time ago, Mrs. Risley said to Mrs. Shelbourne, her nearest neighbor: “When I get up every morning, I will open the backdoor immediately. If you do not see it opened there will be something the matter, and I hope you will come over at once.”
Mrs. Shelbourne attached no special response to the remark, for the reason that it seemed quite natural that Mrs. Risley might be ill at any time, and require assistance. About 11 o’clock last Saturday night, some of the neighbors heard noises at Mrs. Risley’s house as if someone was chopping wood, but nothing was thought of it, because it was known that Mrs. Risley was in the habit of cutting wood at night.
About 8 o’clock yesterday morning, a young lady residing in the vicinity was going to Mrs. Shelbourne’s for milk, and in passing the Risley house she noticed that all of the fruit trees surrounding the house were sawed off within a few inches of the ground; the chickens and ducks were locked in the chicken house, and there was no signs of life in the house.
The young lady gave alarm, and in a few moments a crowd has gathered at the house.
The Risley residence is a small unpainted redwood house containing two rooms; the front one being used as a kitchen and general living room, and the other as the bedroom. The doors were locked and the windows were securely fastened. One of the neighbors, however, looking through the kitchen window and saw the chairs, tables and other articles of furniture piled in the middle of the floor, broken and sawed to pieces.
One of the windows was immediately pried off and Eddie Ewing a compositor on the News who resides in the vicinity, climbed through the window and stepped to the door of the bedroom. He glanced quickly towards the bed and saw the stiffened corpse of Mrs. Risley lying upon it.
The hands were clenched and raised above the body, and the eyes were staring towards the ceiling. Eddie opened the front door and admitted the crowd. A messenger was sent immediately to the Coroner and the Sheriff, and Deputy Sheriff Stone was soon as the place accompanied by Coroner Harris. Officers Allen and Stewart came next and a thorough search of the premises was made. Two empty strychnine vials were found; one in the stove and the other in the kitchen. The photographs of a middle aged man and two young men were also found and identified as the husband and two sons of the deceased.
The body was at once removed to the morgue and an inquest held this morning.
Dr. Hammond who held a post mortem examination yesterday, stated that the lungs and brain were badly congested and in his opinion, death was caused by an overdose of strychnine. The jury found a verdict to that effect. The deceased resided for several years with her husband and children in a very comfortable home on McLaughlin Avenue about three miles southeast of the city. As the result of domestic trouble she was divorced several years ago and the two children were given to the husband who is now residing with the sons in San Luis Obispo County. It is said that a brother of deceased is a resident of San Francisco, and connected in some way with St. Mary’s College. The testimony at the inquest show that Mrs. Risley was a native of Ireland, and about 52 years of age.
It is believed that her object in destroying the trees and other property was to prevent her former husband from deriving any benefit from it.