Brown Bag Lecture Begins With A Bang

The Fenton History Center’s Brown Bag Lecture series started with a bang Wednesday, as attendees delved into a notorious 1871 murder that occurred just around the corner.

The story of Charles Marlow, a local brewery owner who brutally murdered an Ohio businessman named William Bachmann, has indeed captivated many for its savagery and sheer proximity to the Jamestown community.

Retired Jamestown Police Department Lieutenant Steve Johnson – also a Fenton History Center trustee – recounted the story for attendees, beginning first by showing how Marlow’s brewery used to be located in the area of 13th and Main streets.

“It was a very notorious thing to have happened to a little place like this,” Johnson said. “There was a lot of ‘skullduggery’ going on.”

In 1871, Marlow lived in the brewery with his wife, two kids, sister-in-law and mother-in-law. He was also deeply in debt after owning the place for two years.

When Bachmann, a known liar and braggart, came into town claiming that he had $6,000 in cash and was interested in purchasing some new property, Marlow’s curiosity was piqued.

He brought Bachmann back to his brewery and later to the cellar, where he was overheard by a brewery worker-Valentine Benkowski-firing a gun.

Benkowski claimed that Marlow came out of the cellar with blood on his forehead and on his boots. He also claimed that the cellar stairs were thoroughly washed and that a large fire had been burning in the furnace.

When Benkowski informed police, Marlow was arrested. Police searched his brewery and found pieces of bone and other body parts amidst the ashes in the furnace. They also found a blood trail and some ivory studs and vest buttons similar to those worn by Bachmann.

A trial was held in the county court at Mayville on Sept. 20, 1871, where prosecutors presented a strong case that included Benkowski’s testimony and the testimony of neighbors who claimed they smelled rancid smoke coming from the brewery the night of the murder.

Marlow’s attorney, however, claimed that Benkowski could have easily misheard the sound of a gunshot from where he was standing upstairs. More startlingly, he argued that it was Marlow’s mother-in-law who killed Bachmann after the businessman forced himself onto her daughter and tried to choke her.

With a shred of doubt at hand, the jury was deadlocked.

A second trial on Jan. 15, 1872, proved more definitive and ended with Marlow being convicted of first-degree murder.

After a number of fruitless attempts to escape from the county jail, Marlow formally confessed to murdering Bachmann by first poisoning him and them striking him in the head with an iron bar. He them chopped up the body with an axe and threw the pieces into the furnace.

Marlow’s wife apparently assisted in disposing the ashes.

On March 29, 1872, a huge crowd gathered to watch Marlow’s hanging.

“At that time, things like this were kind of a morbid form of entertainment,” Johnson said. “It was quite the event.”

The next Brown Bag lecture is May 14 at noon. Representatives from the newly opened Lawson Boating Heritage Center will present the history, current plans and future endeavors of the center.

The talk will take place on the first floor of the Fenton History Center, 67 Washington St. The program is free, but donations are welcome.

Visit fentonhistorycenter.org or call 664-6256 for more information.