Law & Order ~ For the Love of Ella

4.23.2023 [archived ~ originally published 1.4.2018]

In the spring of 1911, the actions of one man, for the love of a woman, affected the lives of many.  The murder, by gunshot, occurred on April 19th in the village of Stanley, better known today as Wirt, in northern Itasca County.

The Characters

James Wood – 47; Husband of Ella; The Wood family moved to Wirt to run a boarding house in fall 1910.  He left relationship (and area) approximately three months prior.

Ella Wood – 40; Wife of James and mother of their four children; Helping to manage a boarding house; living with her husband’s brother, Vincent for several months.  “Ella was a sister of Allen Whitt who was shot and killed by David Cochran, a Deer River attorney, about five years ago and was acquitted of the deed.  Her sister-in-law, Whitt’s wife, was a somewhat notorious character and was known under the name of Mary Whitt and Mary Rosin.” [GRHR 4-26-1911]

Vincent Wood – 25; Half-brother of James Wood; Accompanied his brother and sister-in-law to Wirt; single but living with Ella “as husband and wife.” [GRHR 4-26-1911]

Vincent Murphy – 37; Camp foreman for the Namakan Lumber Company; permanent address Minneapolis where his bride of ten months, Lillian resides.

Zade Cochran – Clerk for the Namakan Lumber Company who was residing at the Wood’s Boarding House, waiting for supplies, etc. for the spring run.

The Crime

Murder at Wirt ~ Itasca News 4-22-1911

“Another murder affair at Wirt has brought attention to that spot on the map forty miles north of Deer River, at the terminus of the northwest branch of the Minneapolis & Rainy River railroad.

The victim is Vincent Murphy an old woods and river foreman who of late years has been employed by the Namakon Lumber company and was in charge of that company’s log drive at Wirt when he met his death.

The report is that while Murphy had his crew and wangon [wannigan] in the town he was about the hamlet considerably.  On Wednesday evening he had been missing for several hours, and a search for him was instituted.  At about 9 o’clock of that evening, his body was found by Ole Nelson and another river driver, lying on a brush pile and partly concealed by brush on the edge of the right of way of the branch road running to Dora Lake, at a point about a hundred rods from the station.

The news of the tragedy was phoned by D.M. Price, superintendent for the Namakon company, to the M&R office, here, and a special train with Undertaker Herreid aboard was dispatched to the scene and brought the remains down yesterday.  The body is at the morgue, and the marks are plain that the bullet that caused his death entered his chest just below the throat from over the left shoulder and passed out right about two inches to the right of the right breast, lodging against the suspender buckle.  The bullet still clung to the shirt in a clot of blood where it stopped.

This morning by special train Sheriff Riley, Coroner Russell, Marshal Fraelick and others went to Wirt and made an investigation.  It was found that Murphy had his mackinaw on even though the day was warm; that he had no business to take him up that road; he was sober, and had been associating with one Vincent Woods and a woman living with him, Ellen Woods, people of unsavory reputation living at Wirt; two shots were heard in the direction of the spot where the body was found, Wednesday afternoon.

The sheriff and party returned by the special train this afternoon bringing under arrest as suspects Vincent Woods and Ellen Woods, and as witnesses, Jack Ebe, Charles Goreing and Zade Cochran.”

The Court Verdict                                                         

The trial of Vincent Wood started on November 9, 1911, in district court before Judge McClenahan at Grand Rapids.  Nearly two dozen witnesses were subpoenaed in this case, and two special venires needed to select the jury.  Opening statements began on Tuesday the 14th.  According to several local papers, even though there is only circumstantial evidence, there is definitive sentiment against Wood. 

The testimony of “Cochran was the strongest against Wood.  Others testified to hearing the shots and comparison of Woods’ guns made a strong chain of evidence against the accused.

He said he heard a murmur of voices in the bedroom below; that he could distinguish the voices of the defendant, Mrs. Woods and the chatter of her little children; that he could catch a word now and then when Mrs. Woods and the defendant talked. The floor of the room he occupied was also the ceiling of the barroom, the witness stated and that he became interested in when these words were mentioned and placed his ear to one of the cracks.

After that, the first thing he heard was Mrs. Wood saying ‘Vince, you never shot at him at all.  You shot up in the air.’

Woods then replied: ‘I didn’t.  I shot at him, and I shot to kill the—’

Mrs. Wood then asked, ‘Which side of the track was he on?’

Wood: ‘I know which side of the track he was on.’

Mrs. Wood: ‘I’m going to have some fun with Murphy in the morning when he comes back.’

The witness said the balance of the conversation was unintelligible, it being just a confusing murmur…” [GRHR 11-22-1911]

The jury began deliberations Friday evening November 17th and on Saturday at 9:00 o’clock, returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. Less than two hours later, Judge Clenahan sentenced the convicted and to serve the balance of his natural life in the state prison at Stillwater at hard labor. 

“It is presumed he [Vincent Wood] became jealous of Murphy believing he was paying too much attention to her.  The arguments were attended by a large crowd and much interest in the case had been taken through the trial. Wood took his sentence very calmly. [Itasca News 11-18-1911]

Vincent Wood was convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to life at the Stillwater Prison in 1911. He applied for parole on at least two occasions and was granted release sometime between October 1931 and June 1940.

The Continued Relationship

I followed this story from an article I found in the October 22, 1931, issue of the Deer River News.

“Sessions of the state board of parole at the Capitol last week in St. Paul caused considerable interest in this country because of the fact that this country because of the fact one of the applicants was Vincent Wood, convicted of first-degree murder at Grand Rapids twenty years ago next month.

The hearing on Wood’s application was held Wednesday of last week.  Associated Press reports named Stafford King as one of those who appeared.  On Saturday the board denied Wood’s application for parole.”

My research of Ancestry records surprised me.  Nearly thirty years after Vincent Wood killed a man, he thought was romantically interested in the woman he loved, they were together again. 

Evidently, Vincent Wood applied for parole again, because the 1940 United States census documents Vincent and Ella, married and living in Warren, Minnesota.  They are farming, and at the ages of 54 and 69, respectively, they had no children.

We can only speculate as to whether they stayed in touch during the intervening years. After the trial and imprisonment of Vincent, Ella returned to her husband James, and they made their home in Canada, at least for a while.  The 1921Canada Census indicates the family was together in Winnipeg.  In 1928, Ella returned to Minnesota.  James died in Canada in 1937. 

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