13 Mar 2017


Lost Capitol Hill: Daniel W. Jarboe, Murderer

Murder, sadly, has been part of our neighborhood from the earliest days. A particularly rough patch in this regard occurred during the 1850s. One particular murder had long-lasting repercussions, at least from a legal point of view.

The whole affair began quite innocuously. It involved two young men, both employed at the Washington Navy Yard. John R. Nally was accused by the other, one Daniel W. Jarboe, of having “seduced his sister” – according to the Washington Evening Star of May 16, 1856. This accusation had occurred around 1:00 PM on the previous day, while Nally was on his way to work. Jarboe then asked whether or not Nally had any intention of marrying Sarah Jane.

Nally’s reply is stated to have been negative or evasive, whereupon Jarboe advanced and fired one barrel of a revolver at Nally, the ball entering the left breast. Nally ran a short distance, the blood flowing from his mouth, when his brother caught him in his arms. Nally died in about ten minutes after receiving the wound. After firing at Nally, Jarboe said to his sister “Stand back till I shoot the other d—d son of a bitch,” meaning Nally’s brother. He did not fire again however, and the pistol, which was a five-barreled revolver, was upon examination to have loads in the four barrels.

Jarboe then gave himself up to the nearest police officer, and was sent to the county jail – where he may have been greeted by his father, who worked there.

Two days later, Nally was buried in Congressional Cemetery. On May 20th, Jarboe was examined in the guard room of the jail. The Star began by describing the prisoner as “of middle age, of youthful appearance, with blue eyes,” which was a bit odd, as Jarboe was all of 22 years old at the time.

A number of witnesses, including the owner of the house from which Jarboe had exited to confront Nally, as well as Nally’s brother, were called; all seemed to agree that the facts of the case were just as they had been written up in the Star previously. They certainly all recalled the fact that Jarboe had called Nally’s brother “a d—d son of a bitch.”

A five-barreled revolver as used by Jarboe. This from an advertisement that ran in 1856 in the Evening Star in Jauary, 1856. (LOC)

Testimony also came from Dr. Samuel A. H. McKim (pic) who had carried out the autopsy. The cause of death was also entirely clear: Jarboe’s bullet.

In short, it was about as clear-cut a case of murder as could be expected, and the “magistrate deeming the evidence sufficient to justify the detention of the prisoner, committed him for trial.”

The following day, a short errata explained the previous days discrepancy:

For “middle age” read “middle size,” in the description in yesterday’s paper of the appearance of Jarboe at the examination.

Other than the Daily American Organ of July 12 announcing that Jarboe was a Democrat – this to counter a claim that it was members of the American (Know Nothing) Party who were responsible for all crimes currently being committed – nothing more about Jarboe appeared in the papers until his trial in late July.

More on that and its surprising conclusion next week.

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