“Beware lest he take thee away with his stroke”. These were the words spoken over the grave in the Cherry Valley Cemetery in 1879 during the funeral of Marshall Pritchard.
Marshall was born on February 18, 1844 In Chenango, New York to parents, Myron and Mary Pritchard. He was 34 years, 11 months and 6 days old when he met his fate at the hands of a “brutal assassin.”
Marshall Pritchard was a man well thought of in his community. He served in the Union infantry during the Civil War. In fact, Marshall lost his only brother to disease when he too was called away to fight for the Union Army.
Marshall was a man of many talents. One only needs to look at the variety of jobs he held to see that. He was a carpenter by trade but also worked as a druggist. He was elected by Cherry Valley to serve on the school board and also to work as a tax collector. Marshall was married to Emma Hathaway in 1867 the couple had a little eight year old son when Marshall was killed.
The facts of Marshall’s death are still, to steal a quote from the newspaper of the time, “shrouded in mystery.” We do know that he was killed on the streets of Rockford at around 11p.m. on that Friday night, January 24, 1879.
The village of Cherry Valley was so upset by the death of this popular man that the paper reported that the entire male population of the town went in masse to Rockford after his death was reported. Witnesses to the killing reported that they had heard men talking, a shout and then a gunshot rang out at around 11p.m. on the night of January 24. Unfortunately, in the Rockford of that day, much like the Rockford of today, a gunshot ringing out in the evening would not have been a cause for alarm.
Marshall’s body was found by a man who was leading his cow down to the watering tank in the area of downtown Rockford. Marshall was found on the side of the road, already dead. This man noticed the body was cold and there was a cut in the back of one ear; there was also a small hole on the left side of the head with a much bigger hole on the right side. There were a few pennies by Marshall’s body that might have fallen out of his pocket. A revolver was lying about three feet from his feet. There was a tuft of the victim’s own hair on his chest.
A few friends of Marshall testified at the inquest that he was always cheerful and didn’t have an enemy in the world. The only concern they expressed was that since Marshall had been elected as a tax collector, he would stop to have a few drinks every night when he went into Rockford to deposit the money collected that day. Marshall’s friends were afraid for him because of the danger of robbery. In fact, the evening before this tragedy took place one man had seen Marshall in Rockford, completely inebriated.
The local paper states that this crime was discussed at some length in the days following the murder. In fact it states that so many rumors and stories were told that it t seemed “there were one hundred men killed in a hundred different ways.”
The jury found that there was enough evidence from the witnesses to state that Marshall was murdered. The jury also stated that because of the sounds heard on that night that Marshall was probably lured away from Main Street, possibly toward the old cemetery where the ghastly deed would have been committed. But apparently, Marshall became suspicious and refused to go further. The murderers then shot him there probably for the money they assumed he would be carrying. The paper describes the crime as follows: a struggle, a clutching of the victim’s hair and then the shooting.”
The paper also stated; “Such and other are the various theories in regard to this midnight scene of blood. It seems impossible that the bold homicide can be lastingly shrouded in impenetrable mystery. Enough is already known so that the bold and hideous fact must soon be unveiled.”
Sadly, the newspaper got it wrong and Marshall’s murder was never solved. No one was ever brought to justice for the taking of this man’s life.
Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events