Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Madman Assaults Belleville

On a Tuesday morning in January of 1899, a madman armed with a club assaulted Belleville leaving a trail of injury and ruin. A crowd pursued him but none could stop him until finally, one man subdued him and then rescued him from a lynch mob. This is a story best told by those who saw it happen. Here is a contemporary account :

Belleville, N.J., Tuesday, Jan 31, 1899 - Thomas Reynolds, a brawny laborer, ran wild in Belleville this morning.

Reynolds had been sick for some days at his home on Williams Street. His mother and brother, with whom he lived, noticed that he acted queerly, and determined to keep a close watch on him. About 11 o'clock this morning, he escaped. Arming himself with a club, started for the center of the town.

Reynolds entered John Manning's place, on John Street, where he beat two children into insensibility and smashed the furniture and windows. He started down William Street. Near Bridge Street he struck down Nellie Flanagan, twelve year old daughter of James Flanagan, badly injuring her. A crowd of about a hundred began following him.

Near the Stamar residence, Reynolds struck down Mrs. Coyne, making a deep gash in her head, and beating her black and blue about the body. He continued down William Street, and met Mrs. Cummusky. He struck her on the arm, breaking it. Mrs. Cummusky managed to get away from him before he could harm her more. At the Belleville Building and Loan office, Reynolds smashed the whole store front of plate glass. John Ashworth's store was similarly treated. Reynolds struck wildly at Ashworth, who threw up his arm and kept the blow from descending upon his head. Before Ashworth could grapple with Reynolds the latter had run away.

Peter Truester, a barber of William Street had just left his shop when Reynolds began a fierce attack on him. The barber received several severe knocks on the head before Reynolds turned and ran away.

The crowd increased, stones were hurled at Reynolds without effect. No one would attempt to capture him, none of the town officials were in sight. Reynolds broke the windows in Haggerty's Hotel on the corner of Washington Avenue. He crossed the street to Jaroleman's butcher's store where he smashed in the store front.

Jaroleman ran out to stop him. Reynolds struck at him with the club. Jaroleman is a stalwart man and closed with his antagonist. Reynolds wrenched himself away and continued down the street.

Reynolds went to Bennett's bicycle store, where he broke all the windows. Mrs. Bennett, who was in the store with the children, fainted when she saw him, and the children were badly frightened. Mrs. Mary Hannon, who was standing near by, received a blow on the head which knocked her down.

Reynolds went to Blake's store. The crowd stoned him. He turned and started back up Washington Avenue. Near William Street, John McGuirk ran up behind him and tried to snatch the club from him, but Reynolds turned and nearly severed McGuirk's thumb with a knife he also carried. He then went to John Street , turned and continued up the hill.

Jay La Faucherie, the son of Justice of the Peace La Faucherie, finally got near enough to make a grab at the fugitive. Reynolds turned and swung his club at La Faucherie, but the latter eluded the blow and leaped upon the madman. There was a short, violent struggle, in which La Faucherie was aided by several men in the crowd, and Reynolds was overmastered. A rope was procured and Reynolds was tied.

Someone said the Flanagan child was dead. There were cries of lynching. Someone brought a rope and tried to put it around Reynold's neck. The cooler heads in the crowd tried to prevent the others from hanging Reynolds, but they were thrust aside and the madman's chances looked slim. A wagon happened to be passing, and La Faucherie and two others suddenly grabbed Reynolds and threw him into it. The horse was whipped up and driven to the jail. Reynolds is now in a padded cell in the county jail.


The new book, "A Dutch Christmas in Old Second River" is now available at