As the Cecil County website (Window on Cecil County’s Past) once reported, the 1905 execution of John Simpers was the last hanging at the old Elkton jail, executed for the murder of prominent Cecil County lawyer, Albert Constable, Sr., who was shot and fatally wounded on a public road near Elkton. It very nearly could have been John Holland to have died for that crime.
Constable was shot reportedly during a robbery on August 18, 1904, on a public road on the top of Grays Hill early in the evening. He was shot, robbed and left for dead. Even the earliest account I located, the August 19th edition of The Baltimore Sun reported that, “Mr. Constable was unconscious when found by John Holland, colored, who hastened to town and spread the report. Upon the arrival of Drs. John H. Jamar and H. Arthur Mitchell, Mr. Constable regained consciousness and told of the shooting.”
There were other suspects, but nonetheless, attention narrowed on Holland and he went on trial in January of 1905. Had Constable died without describing his assailant, chances are that Holland would have been found guilty, even though early on he was shown to come to Constable’s assistance.
But at Holland’s trial, Dr. Mitchell testified to his conversation with Constable about the assailant, before Constable died. Constable had said to Dr. Mitchell,
“Art, I can’t see why I could not say what color the man was. He was a white man, for I had a little chat with him.”
Dr. Mitchell had said to him, “You don’t mean to say he talked with you?”
“Yes,” answered Constable, “he said he wanted my money. I then said, ‘You are not going to let me die here alone?’ and then asked him to go and tell the colored people on the hill to come down to me. He said he would.”
And so it was Holland who would come to Constable’s aid, yet he was tried for the murder, even though Constable’s deathbed description was known early on. But finally, on January 11th, Holland was found not guilty. Another black man, William Hopps, was indicted for the same crime, but declared not guilty the day after Holland’s acquittal.
But soon the suspicion turned to John M. Simpers who eventually was tried and hanged for the crime in October of 1905. This is a tale of just how dangerous life was for African Americans at that time, for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or coming to the aid of an injured white man, could get you executed, or worse, and yes, there could be worse.
Thanks, Mike Dixon, for those articles of yours bringing the stories to light. Reading them had me looking back at my notes on this case.