Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Assault on Elsie Ough

One chilly December morning in 1893, a Miss Elsie Ough, the daughter of a prominent Canadian architect, was driving her father to work along the New Cut Road, which is today, Reservoir Road, through Georgetown and all the way to 14th and F Streets in the City, where his practice was located. 

She drove her open buckboard wagon all the back through Georgetown

The family home was said to be a pretty little cottage which sat on the left side of Conduit Road, past the water holding tank--at about two miles out the New Cut Road.  Once outside of town, she would have trotted through open farmland where sheep and cows grazed, past the College Woods and the forests and meadows of what we now know as Glover Archibald Park. 

She had just crossed a little stream at Foundry Branch when she felt her buggy jerk.  Before she knew it, a man had leapt onto the back of her vehicle and had his hands about her throat.   Elsie tried to cry out, but he carried a knife and threatened to use it on her if she made another peep.  She would later tell the court that the man made indecent proposals to her.

The brave young woman resisted him and did scream; however, the area was so rural at the time that none could hear her.  As the man and girl continued to struggle, her horse continued his trot toward home—and the feeding trough, no doubt. 

They made it to the site of the Dolly Barber Tree*.  At last, someone heard Elsie’s cries; Lazarus Whetzell was an elderly widower who happened to be working in his garden at the top of a rise above the water. 

Elsie’s assailant, seeing that there was a witness, jumped down from the wagon and began to run down the road.  However, he suddenly changed his mind and ran back toward the wagon.

Elsie lashed her poor horse as hard as she could and managed to race home before the stranger could get to her.   She arrived home in a state of hysteria.  Her shocked family summoned the police, to whom Elsie gave a description:  The man had been wearing a blue coat with brass buttons—suggesting he might have been a naval cadet.  He had run back in the direction of Aqueduct [Key] Bridge.

Once word got out, the rural neighborhood was outraged.  Their excitement had not even begun to die down when another girl was assaulted.  This time it was 13-year-old Annie Drury of Foxhall Road and her 15-year-old girlfriend and neighbor, Kitty Babcock, who were assaulted.  They had been walking together when the man came from nowhere and made some of the same indecent proposals to them.

The description given by all three girls matched a certain young Georgetown resident, Milton Chamberlain.  Police issued a warrant for his arrest, and just a few mornings later, Milton’s father James, a Thirty-Second Street grocer, hearing that one of his sons was suspected, brought both his sons to the Seventh Precinct Station House—Milton and Robert.  When the girls positively identified Milton, Robert was allowed to return to school.

Police charged Milton with four counts of assault, battery and indecent language between the three girls.  He was taken to Police Court, where Milton’s father was able to make the $500 bail Judge Miller ordered. 

At the February 13 trial, Elsie testified as to the alleged attack on her by Milton Chamberlain back on December 18.  Milton’s lawyer, a Mr. Campbell Carrington, argued the charge of criminal assault because no clothes were torn.  However, the prosecution, Mr. Mullowney, countered that there was legal precedence for charging a man with criminal assault solely on the basis of his indecent remarks.

In March, the case went before Judge Cole’s criminal court.   Milton’s mother Louise Chamberlain stated emphatically that he had never owned a blue coat with gold buttons.  Family and several school friends and all came forth to speak for Milton.  His one-time teacher at the Jackson School, Ms. Sarah M. Farr, wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, pleading his case, reminding the public that he was only a few months out of knee pants.  “Think of the innocent, fifteen-year-old boy sent to jail for ninety days, to be a companion of thieves, murderers and assaulters  Mothers, tremble for your boys!  Any one of them may be seized at any time to be a scapegoat of offended public feeling.”  (Post, April 2, 1894, p. 5)

On April 4th, the jury found Milton guilty of simple assault.  He was sentenced to ninety days in jail—however, his attorney, Mr. Carrington—or so it was initially reported--brought the matter to the attention of the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland.  On or about May 14th, President Cleveland granted a full pardon and signed for the release of lucky young Milton, stating he believed the entire matter had been a case of mistaken identity.

Several days later, a presumed attorney by the name of Milton Myers wrote a letter to the editor of the Post.  It stated that Carrington had nothing to do with bringing the matter before the President, that it was, in fact, Miss Farr and two other of his teachers who had petitioned the White House. (Post, May 17, 1894, p. 7)

Milton would go on to work as a clerk in his father’s grocery—and later, its butcher.  He would marry a girl named Lucy; they would have a child who they would name Milton, Jr.  He was a fireman at the Bureau of Mines at American University by age 40, when he registered for the World War I draft.  After that, only his son Milton shows up in  the records. 

Elsie Ough never appeared again.  Her family either moved away or she married soon thereafter.

Nothing more is known about Annie Drury.

Kitty Babcock remained living with her parents William and Gertrude in their house on the now obsolete Ridge Road, near Foxhall, for at least another fifteen years.  After that, she too disappears.

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