An early murder in Rockford’s Past

By Kathi Kresol
Contributor

When the word spread that William Moore and Terrence Donnerie were involved in another scuffle, no one in Rockford was surprised. The men had several altercations in the past that had been witnessed by many of their acquaintances. William and Terrence knew each other from working at the American House, a local inn that included a tavern. Terrence worked as a bartender and William’s father ran the local establishment in August 1853.

Terrence Donnerie also worked at another hotel in Rockford called the Rock River House. It was while Terrence was at the Rock River House on August 22, 1853 that he spoke of his hatred of William Moore. People who witnessed this tirade would later testify that Terrence became quite enraged.

As for William, he also startled people with his declarations of hatred for Terrence. During one particularly nasty rant, he was seen waving a club and shouting that, “he would knock the Irishman’s head off.”

It was 7 p.m. on August 23, 1853 when William kept his promise. Terrence had been seen drinking most of the day and was clearly intoxicated. He was nursing a drink when William came in. Terrence turned and met his stare. The two men locked eyes when Terrence, in an act of disdain for William, slowly turned his back toward him. It would prove to be a fatal mistake. William sprang into action and used the club in his hand to bash Terrence’s head.

William struck Terrence again as he fell. There was one final strike when Terrence hit the floor. William stood over Terrence for just a moment before turning and walking out the door. William returned shortly this time without the club. People who witnessed his return assumed he had hidden the club.

Terrence regained consciousness and staggered to his feet. One of the witnesses helped him home and called a doctor. The doctor visited Terrence at home that evening but the man refused to let the doctor examine him. According to the doctor, Terrence was agitated and bent on revenge.

There would be no further attack, however. The damage to Terrence’s head was too great and he fell into a coma during the night. Dr. Charles Clark was summoned in the early hours of August 24. Terrence’s breathing was strained and his left pupil was dilated. Dr. Clark realized that only drastic measures would save Terrence and he decided to attempt trephination. This was a technique used by doctors where a hole is cut into the skull to expose the brain. Dr.Clark found pieces of skull embedded in the brain from the severe beating. He removed those that he could reach safely. It was to no avail, however, and Terrence died at 9 a.m.

At the Coroner’s Inquest, William Moore pled not guilty. Witnesses were called to testify about the men’s hatred for each other. There were also many people who had witnessed the final altercation and came forward to testify.

The actual trial was conducted in late November 1853. The State’s Attorney was William Brown and the main defense lawyer was Jason Marsh. Most of the townspeople felt that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. William Moore’s threats had been heard by many men and even more had seen the brutal attack.

The courtroom was packed beyond capacity for the entire trial. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorneys did a remarkable job according to the newspapers of the day. The defense stated that no murder had been committed and this was a case of self defense on the part of William. The prosecution, of course, had plenty of evidence to exhibit and witnesses to testify to the contrary.

The evidence was presented and the case went to the jury late in the evening. The court reconvened at 11 a.m. the next day with the announcement of a verdict. The jury found William guilty of manslaughter and he was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary with six of the days to be in solitary confinement. The verdict and especially the light sentence outraged and shocked everyone in the courtroom. That outrage grew as news of the verdict spread throughout the city.

Within a few days, the businessmen of Rockford called for a special meeting at the City Hall. The meeting was titled an Indignation Meeting. The goal was to express their opinion about the verdict and sentence of William Moore. They drafted a list of resolutions to show that they considered the verdict as an “outrage to the people and a disgrace the county”. The meeting was covered extensively in the newspapers but did not change the verdict.

After William Moore served his time, he enlisted in the Michigan 6th Infantry during the Civil War where he served with honor. He died in Evanston, Illinois in 1913.

Kathi Kresol, organizer of Haunted Rockford Events is proud to partner with Heath D. Alberts, local author and co-owner of Digital Ninjas Media to celebrate the release of the new book Forest City Stories. This book is a combined work of many talented writers, artists and poets. It shares some of Rockford’s historic tales, personal stories, poems, art, and photography.The event will feature presentations by several of the contributors to the book including Heath D. Alberts and Kathi Kresol. There will be copies of the new book available for purchase, and other titles by Digital Ninjas Media will be available as well.

Forest City Stories – Book Release Party: Saturday, January 14 from 2-4 p.m. at the Command Post Restaurant and Camp Grant Museum 1004 Samuelson Road in Rockford.

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