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Stone killer

The 1887 Hayward Avenue horror

During the summer of 1887, Rochester’s population was about 50,000 but rapidly on the rise. KodakBausch and LombFrench’s, and Sibley’s were all in their infancy. Downtown, where the Erie Canal crossed the Genesee via what is now the Broad Street viaduct, was already densely urban. But only a mile or so to the east, the landscape was still largely rural. Blocks had been gridded out, and lots divided, but houses remained scarce. In the next ten years those lots would fill, but that summer you could often take the beeline from one place to another. “Going crosslots,” they called it. 

Alonzo “Lon” Stone, an industrious tinsmith, his young wife Ada, and their three-year-old son, redheaded Raymond, lived on the east side, in a cream-colored single-story cottage with well-tended nasturtiums straddling the front door. Their lovely home was on dusty Hayward Avenue, which then as now ran parallel to East Main, one block to the north. 

Ada Stone (née Horner) was a pretty, blue-eyed woman who’d graduated from the Rochester Free Academy. She sang with the Rochester Opera Club with whom she’d appeared in several shows, including The Musketeers. She had met Mr. Stone in the club, as he was a member of the chorus. 

The Stones were outgoing and popular, as show people tend to be, and were very close friends with another couple, John and Isabella Jones. The Stones and the Joneses often did things as a foursome. The two couples had lived in the Fourth Ward, the Stones on George Street, and the Joneses on South Union, and both couples moved at the same time to the neighborhood then known as Hayward Terrace. Once, Isabella visited the Stone house and left a shoe behind when she departed. 

Just east of the Stones’ cottage was a lovely duck pond and a clump of woods. The nearest house was 150 feet away, a home under construction, and it was there that on August 16, Lon and his best friend, John Jones, were hard at work, ventilating and putting in pipe. 

At the Stone house, Ada was doing the laundry and watching little Raymond. It was a perfect summer day. Not a cloud in the sky. Temperature in the high seventies. 

When Lon walked home from work that evening, half the length of a football field, he found his son alone. 

“Where’s Mommy?” 

“Papa, Mama’s gone.” 

“Where did she go?” 

“Maybe down city.” 

Lon took the boy to a neighbor’s house and returned home to search his home more thoroughly. The baby carriage that usually rested atop the cellar trap door had been moved. Lon opened the trap door and climbed down. There, on the southwest corner of the cellar’s sandy floor lay the clearly deceased form of Ada Stone. 

Lon touched his wife. She was cold. He ran for help. Police came and inspected the body with greater care. It lay on its back with head turned to the left. Her hair was in curlers. A flour sack, now bloodstained, remained tied tightly around the neck. 

The face was discolored into a dirty yellow. The features were swollen, bloated. The tongue protruded slightly with a bloody froth exuding from the mouth. There was a puddle of blood under the head, mostly coming from a large gash down to the bone on the right side of her forehead, at the hairline. The wound was made by a roundish blunt instrument. A bloodstained stake, the kind used by surveyors to mark lots, was found thrown hastily behind the Stones’ wood-burning stove. The victim remained fully clothed, but her skirts had been “hiked up.” 

Lon, in a state of shock, was arrested, and jailed for the murder of his wife. The thinking was: who else cared enough to kill the woman? 

Oddly, public reaction wasn’t so much grief over Ada’s death, as fury over Lon’s arrest. On August 17, an “Indignation Meeting” was held at the Park Avenue Baptist Church by Lon’s many friends and supporters. The meeting had the desired effect. Lon was released for lack of evidence. He was met in the courtroom by dozens of friends, whose presence he tearfully acknowledged. 

At the inquest, Coroner Kleindienst thought it worthy of examining the relationship between Lon and Ada and John and Isabella. Apparently, he’d heard the whispers. Mrs. Jones was called as a witness and grilled. She denied that she and Lon conspired to get rid of Ada. She did admit to once leaving her shoe behind. “Sometimes I like to walk barefoot,” she said. The coroner determined that the victim had been stunned by the blow to the head with the stick, then killed by ligature strangulation. 

Then, suddenly, all thought of domestic juiciness was forgotten. News came that a sixteen-year-old boy named Edward Deacons, a former resident of the orphan asylum who’d tramped around the Erie Canal for the past six years, had been arrested for the murder. 

After bouncing around the east side of Rochester on the day Ada was killed, he’d hopped a freight train in Rochester and was picked up by authorities in Canandaigua. A few weeks later, the news got better: he’d confessed to killing Ada Stone. He’d entered her house, he said, and she caught him. He said he wanted food. She said no and called him a dirty tramp. He lost his temper, hit her with a stick, dragged her downstairs, and choked her. He denied attempting rape. 

The trial would hinge on the validity of that confession, obtained before Deacons had counsel and after being held for weeks in solitary in the otherwise empty women’s jail. 

The instant Deacons lawyered up, he withdrew his confession. He just made it up, he said, because police told him confessing was the only way to avoid the noose. 

Nice try, said the district attorney’s office. The details of that confession were too specific and included things only the killer could have known. Deacons said they were all details he picked up from the questions he was asked. 

Ada’s funeral drew a big crowd, mostly women—all rosaries and morbid curiosity. Occasionally, the curtains at the home of Ada’s parents at 72 William Street would twitch as someone peeked at the growing crowd.

In the front parlor, Ada’s open casket lay covered with white broadcloth with silver trimmings and surrounded by flowers. By 4 p.m. the crowd was estimated at 1,500 persons, but that thinned as the body was transported to Mount Hope Cemetery for burial. 

A grand jury indicted Deacons on October 25, 1887. There were five counts in the indictment: 1) murder by manual strangulation, 2) murder by strangulation by suffocating her with a cloth bag tied around her neck, 3) assault with a club inflicting bodily harm, 4) assault with the intent to commit a rape, and 5) criminal trespass, entering the house without the permission of the owner. 

For the trial, Deacons’ mother was in the courtroom, but he would not look at her. A nervous, boney woman, she wore a hat with an orange feather, and she fidgeted during the proceedings with a gray shawl wrapped around her. Deacons’ sister sat with the mom. As shows of support go, this one epitomized too little too late. As a teenager who’d been in an orphan asylum, his relationship with his mother and siblings must’ve been complicated. The defendant seemed spooked at their presence, bad shadows from his long ago. 

The prosecution established that Deacons discussed the murder with policemen before he could have heard news about the murder and that during the time Deacons was held, he was prevented from learning details about the murder. 

The jury took only a few hours to reach a verdict: guilty, murder in the first degree. 

At the sentencing, Judge Rumsey looked upon the guilty boy and solemnly said: “The law is that you be taken from this place to the County Jail of Monroe County and there committed until Thursday, the fifth day of April, on which day, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., you be hanged by the neck until you are dead.” 

Three hours before the execution, a pride of wretched newspapermen was paraded past Deacons’ pathetic cell. Deacons feigned happiness, laughed on the verge of hysteria. A reporter asked what was so funny. 

“It’s funny because I didn’t even do it. I never did it,” he said. 

“Guess you never will,” the scribe replied with a laugh of his own.

In a makeshift gallows, erected in the lobby of the police station, Sheriff Hodgson pulled the noose over Deacons’ head, then the black cowl over his face. The sheriff stepped back and pressed a lever with his foot; the spring door opened, and Deacons fell through until his feet almost touched the floor, snapped to a stop, and kicked three times. With a grotesquely broken neck, the body hung limp and was lowered to the floor. The cowl and noose were removed, and two doctors sprang into action to officially declare the prisoner dead. The body was taken out of the county jail on a gurney. A thousand persons were outside the jail, trying to get a glimpse. Only Deacons’ sister and Sheriff Hodgson attended his funeral. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. 

Of course, there were those who would never be convinced that there wasn’t funny business going on in that cottage on Hayward Avenue long before the teen tramp Deacons wandered into the vicinity. 

Now that Ada was dead, what would happen to the remaining threesome of intimate neighbors, Lon Stone and John and Isabella Jones? Time has erased many of the details, but we do know that on January 2, 1890, John C. Jones told Isabella that he was going to Palmyra on business and would return in a day or two. But he didn’t. Turned out he was deeply in debt and never came back. On January 9, Deputy Sheriff White appeared at Jones’s hardware store at 195 Monroe Avenue and padlocked it closed.

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