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The Militant, 21 March 1949

Bill Smith

Truth About Trenton Frameup

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 12, 21 March 1949, p. 3,
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


TRENTON, N.J. – An unmatched tale of police brutality, Stony justice and race hatred surrounds six men who sit today awaiting death in a dreary Trenton cell. They have no hope, these men. Because they are Negroes.

They are charged with a murder they could not, from the evidence, have committed. They were indicted by a Trenton press, which rendered its verdict the day the men were arrested. They were convicted by an all-white jury on the basis of confessions some never remember having seen before.

Details of the Crime

William Horner, a 72-year old furniture dealer, was killed the morning of Jan. 27, 1948, in his shop, 213 Broad St. The murder weapon, police said, was a bottle wrapped in a stocking. He was beaten to death in the presence of his common-law wife, Elizabeth McGuire, who was herself badly beaten.

The murderers rushed into the street and into a parked car, in which they escaped. Seconds later Elizabeth McGuire staggered, bleeding, to the door. She and. her husband were rushed to the hospital.

Among the people who saw Miss McGuire come to, the door were a cigar salesman, Frank Eldracher, and a woman, Virginia Barclay, who was looking through a window across the street. Both had seen the murderers; both agreed there were only two, and that both were “'white or light.”

Miss McGuire, questioned by police when she regained consciousness, could describe her assailants only as being “slant-eyed.”

The murder made the headlines, and Trenton’s hard-pressed police department received “shoot to kill” orders from the commissioner, with a directive to “ find the murderers.”

Man Hunt

This is the way they found them: A man, George English, walked out of jail the day after the murder, and couldn’t find his car. He notified police, who found that the car was being driven by English’s son, Collis.

The brilliant police remembered suddenly that Horner had been killed by men who fled to their car. So the masterminds put two and two together.

What had Collis English been doing with the car the previous day? Well, during one part of the day he went riding with a friend, Ralph Cooper. Police were elated. Two men in a car. This fit the murderers perfectly. They held English, and went to look for Cooper, whom they found in the home of a friend, Horace Wilson. So they arrested both Cooper and Wilson.

Meanwhile, English’s mother was worried about her son. He was in jail, she knew, but she did not know what for. So she called in a friend, McKinley Forrest, and asked him to go to the jail to see what was wrong. Forrest called at the jail – and was immediately thrown behind bars.

The next day, police, continuing their roundup, added a man named James Thorpe to the list. It was a few days later that they picked up John McKenzie – apparently just because he was a nephew of Forrest, and resided at the same address.

The two witnesses, Frank Eldracher and Virginia Barclay, were brought in to have a look at the suspects. Both stated these were not the men they saw rush from the house; and both repeated that there had been only two.

Witnesses for All

Undaunted, police asked the six men for alibis – which all had.

Collis English was helping his mother with the wash at the time the murder occurred. Mrs. English testified to that, as did a next-door neighbor.

Ralph Cooper was visiting a girl friend. The girl friend testified to that, as did a postman who sought to deliver a special delivery package.

James Thorpe, who is one-armed, was helping his father repair a car. The father swore to this on the witness stand, and so did no less than three neighbors who passed the parked car.

McKinley Forrest was working at a slaughter house, and his employers testified as to his whereabouts at the time of the crime.

Horace Wilson was working. His foreman, a company official and several employees testified that they saw him.

John McKenzie was working at a chicken house. Six persons testified to his whereabouts.

At about this point, another element entered the case. It was discovered that a roomer, Jerry Griswald, who had lived at the Horner establishment for some time, had disappeared about the time of the murder. Bloodstains were found on his cot. And to this day he has not been apprehended by police.

So the story seemed complete. Witnesses had agreed that two men killed William Horner, and the police had arrested six. Witnesses had agreed that the two men were either white or lightskinned Negroes, and these men were dark-skinned. Police had charged that robbery was the motive – yet more than $1,500 was found in Horner’s pockets, and no money was taken from his cash register. A logical suspect was at large, and blood had been found on his cot. And, to top it off, every one of the six men had a perfect alibi.

Confessions extorted

But police wanted a conviction, and at the trial came up with trump cards – confessions! Somehow, police had obtained admissions of guilt from every one of the men, except Wilson, who steadfastly refused to sign.

The true story of these confessions may never be known. Three of the men admit they allowed police to give them “injections” to calm their hearts! Two admit, they signed only to escape, the terror of a third degree.

These were strange confessions ... containing odd contradictions, and peculiar phraseologies.

At the trial the six denied the validity of these confessions. They told the jury how they had been extracted.

Police denied they had used force.

The prosecuting attorney asked the jury a simple question: “Which do you believe, these six men, or the entire Police Department, charged with the protection of your welfare?”

The jury gave its answer in its verdict, following a 55-day trial. It decided: “Guilty!”

Today the “Trenton Six” languish in the death house, awaits ing action on their appeal.

For them life or death now depends on the amount of mass protest that can be aroused to prevent this legal lynching.

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