26 Mar 2024


Lost Capitol Hill: The Two Exhumations of John Sanford

John M. Sanford

John Munth Sanford was not the kind of guy to make news. He was born in Rochester, NY, joined the Navy as a young man and continued to serve in it through and after the Civil War, collecting numerous tattoos along the way. The most exciting moment came in 1873, when at the ripe age of 50, he broke his leg falling off a wall while on shore leave in Hong Kong, “completely under the influence of liquor,” according to the police who brought him to the hospital. He was at the time a member of the crew of the USS Yantic.

Sanford eventually made his way to Washington, where he worked at the Navy Yard. He fell on hard times and moved to Philadelphia, where he lived in a retired sailors home, before returning to DC, where he became a watchman at the Government Printing Office. The only time he was mentioned in the papers was when, in late August 1895, his pension was reissued. Sanford lived at 46 I St NE with his widowed sisters Emeline Young and Sarah Campbell.

Things went off the rails for Sanford in early October, 1895. One evening, he and Florida Fairfax Crupper, a 50ish self-proclaimed widow ––who was actually a divorcee–– and also worked in the GPO, took off for Baltimore, where they were married three days later. About the same time, Sanford made a new will, naming his bride as his sole heir.

And then, less than a week later, on October 9t, he died and was scheduled to be buried three days later in Congressional Cemetery.

So far, so good. While there was some reason for suspicion, having a 74-year-old die of gastritis is also not unheard of. It was what happened at the funeral that raised a number of red flags. Sanford’s sisters showed up and asked that, instead of his being buried, he be placed in the public vault so that a thorough post-mortem might be conducted. The new Mrs. Sanford refused, insisting that the funeral proceed as scheduled.

The USS Yantic, Sanford’s ship in the 1870s (Wikipedia)

While she prevailed in this case, the very next day, Sarah Campbell’s son from her first marriage, Joseph Richardson, appealed to D.C. coroner Charles M. Hammett, who agreed that something was fishy here. It did not help Mrs. Crupper’s case that Richardson also insisted that there was another Mrs. Sanford, from whom John Sanford had been estranged around the time he had moved to Philadelphia, but not divorced. Richardson also claimed that Sanford had rewritten his will so that the estranged wife not get any of his inheritance, that his sisters should be his beneficiaries. This will, however, had been superseded by the will written right after the marriage to Mrs. Crupper, in which she was given all his “personal property of all kinds whatsoever.”

On October 15, 1895, Sanford’s body was exhumed from the cemetery and taken to Lee’s undertaking establishment, at the time located at Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The autopsy showed that “the old veteran was affected with fatty degeneration of the heart and other serious ailments,” according to the following day’s Alexandria Gazette. That day’s Morning Times added that he also had “a severe form of kidney disease” and that the stomach showed evidence of his being a hard drinker, something his sister strongly denied.

Next week: Digging him up again.

What's trending

Comments are closed.

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com
Add to Flipboard Magazine.