Brutal Murder on the Water Front

Image of Irish Hill – San Francisco in the 1890s from the PIER 70 San Francisco website.


Brutal Murder on the Water Front.


The Supposed Murderer Is Safely in Custody.


But the Police Believe They Have Without Doubt Captured the Guilty Man.

A horrible murder was committed in the rear of the Grizzly Bear Saloon, 11 East street, last night.

A woman about 30 years of age, whose name is unknown, was stabbed to death and left dying in the little apartment by a man who is supposed to be Martin O’Neil, chief of the galvanizing department of the Union Iron Works.

O’Neil entered the saloon with the woman about 9 o’clock in the evening and called for drinks. They retired to the room in the rear and remained there for several hours.

About midnight one of the proprietors. whose suspicion was aroused, went into the room, and as he entered heard a door leading to an alley close.

The woman was lying unconscious upon the floor. A pool of blood flowing from wounds in her abdomen and thighs surrounded her.

The patrol wagon was summoned and she was sent to the Receiving Hospital, but died upon the way.

The owner of the saloon and several of his friends pursued the man who had left the dying woman on the floor.

They captured him and turned him over to the police.

He said his name was Martin O’Neil ; that he lived at the Potrero, and that he is employed in the Union Iron Works.

He is a short rather corpulent man.with a bloated face, reddened by intoxication.

He declared that he met the woman and took her into the place to drink, but could not recollect what had taken place between them there. O’Neil’s shirt sleeves were covered with blood and there were gory stains upon his coat and vest.

No weapons were found upon him and he was thrown into the tanks of the City Prison.

He will probably be charged with murder to-day.

When O’Neil was searched in the prison papers were found upon him showing that he had lived in Oakland, and that his wife had been divorced from him on account of his cruelty.

O’Neil’s face was scratched in several places and blood was found under the finger nails of the woman.

An examination of the body at the morgue failed to disclose the name of the victim.

The only clew was furnished by a ring, on the interior of which were engraved the letters “K. J.”

The proprietor of the saloon says the woman was a frequenter of his place and was there known as “Kitty.”

Some small change, a key, a breastpin and a return ticket to Oakland were the only articles found upon her.

This ticket would seem to indicate that she had come from Oakland with O’Neil.

The saloon-keeper also said that he had heard that the woman was the daughter of some Judge, but he had forgotten the name and could only recall that it began with the letter “P..”

The Morning Call (San Francisco, California) Jun 28, 1893

Image of the Union Iron Works docks – 1890s from the Found sf website.



The Wife of a Newspaper Man Enticed Into a Saloon and Murdered by Her Drunken Companion. — The Fiend Arrested.

SAN FRANCISCO, Cal., June 29. — One of the most atrocious murders ever committed in this city occurred at an early hour Wednesday morning. The full details of the crime did not become known until late last night and are too revolting to admit of extended mention. The victim was Mrs. Kate Griffes, wife of a reporter employed on one of the local papers, and her murderer was Martin O’Neill, foreman of the galvanizing department at the Union Iron Works. The woman was found in a dying condition in a private room of a saloon on the harbor front early yesterday morning and died while being removed to the hospital.

It was known that O’Neill had been in the saloon with her, and he was accordingly arrested, though it was believed for some time that the woman had died from natural causes, as no marks of violence were found upon her. An autopsy was held later in the day and it was discovered then that the wooden handle attached to a bouquet of flowers, had been thrust into her body and bent and twisted until a great gash had been torn in the flesh and her internal organs mutilated in a most horrible manner. Parts of the bouquet were found embedded in her stomach. The fiendish work of the murderer had induced internal hemorrhage, which resulted in death in a short time.

Mrs. Griffes formerly lived in Philadelphia, but came here some years ago and had been living in Alameda, across the bay, with her husband and 6-year-old daughter. She was a young woman of very attractive appearance. Recently she had become addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors and had been in the habit of visiting the saloon in which she met her death.

While coming to San Francisco on the ferryboat Tuesday evening she met O’Neill, with whom she had a slight acquaintance. He is 50 years of age and has a family. He invited Mrs. Griffes to the saloon and they remained there together several hours, during which time they drank a great deal and became very much intoxicated. It is not known definitely just how the crime occurred, but there is every reason to believe that O’Neill, frenzied by liquor, attempted an assault. O’Neill was in a drunken stupor when arrested and claims he remembers nothing of the tragedy.

The Davenport Tribune (Davenport, Iowa) Jun 30, 1893


Martin O’Neil Accused of the Crime.


Two of the Victim’s Female Friends Doing Their Best to Avoid Unnecessary Publicity.

A charge of murder was entered on the books at the City Prison yesterday morning against Martin O’Neil for the killing of Mrs. Kate Griffes.

He positively refuses to talk, always giving the same answer that he is acting under the advice of his attorney. He looks sullen and dejected and appears to fully realize the gravity of the position in which he is placed.

The police are diligently hunting up his record and every little detail in connection with his meeting with Mrs. Griffes and what took place subsequently.

EEK! Sound the alarms!

O’Neil’s wife has been the mother of sixteen children to him, only three of whom are now alive, and yet he treated her harshly and cruelly. It is known that he had many intrigues with other women, and old as he was he considered himself something of a rake.

Every effort has been made by the police to find the instrument with which the fatal blow was dealt, but without “success. There is a growing impression that the terrible wound was caused by the stem end of the bouquet which Mrs. Griffes carried in her hand when she entered the Grizzly Bear saloon with O’Neil.

Detective Bohen in Breaking of this theory yesterday said: “I believe he inflicted the fatal blow with the bouquet, which contained many large stems, and may have been made around a small stick for a handle. The shock. I think, killed her instantly, and when he saw the blood on his hand and that she was apparently dead he fled from the room. There had been no struggle, I think, for the woman’s clothing was not torn. Her body must have been exposed when the fatal blow was struck, for her clothing was not penetrated, and this is further supported by the condition of her clothing as she lay on the floor after falling from the chair.

“It is, of course, difficult to say exactly what was used to inflict the wound, but it looks to me as if nothing but the stems of the bouquet did it. The blow that made the wound drove flower-stems and leaves into it,and they were found there when the autopsy was made. It would have been almost impossible to have stabbed her first and then thrust the flowers into the wound, for the external cut was too small for that. If O’Neill had any weapon it was held in his hand with the bouquet when the blow was struck.”‘

As partly bearing out this theory, when the woman’s clothing was carefully examined at the Morgue yesterday, no sign of a tear or cut could be found, but there was a broken twig nearly as large as an ordinary lead pencil and about five inches long sticking in the clotted blood on the clothing that covered the wound.

There is one thing that puzzles the police. When it was first told O’Neill after he had been arrested that the woman was murdered, he said, “Well, somebody will be glad of it.” From that remark the police, infer that O’Neill must have met her before Tuesday night, and they are making diligent inquiries to find out what O’Neill really meant by bis remark.

Mrs. Griffes has quite a number of intimate friends in this city who became acquainted with her about eighteen months ago, when she lived at 803  Golden Gate avenue.

Mr. and Mrs. B.F. Bates and Mr. and Mrs L.H.” (Laura) Bricker were in ‘this house at the time, and the three women became very close friends and were together a great deal. After leaving the Golden Gate avenue house Mr. and Mrs. Griffes moved to Alameda, and Mr. and Mrs. Bricker soon followed them. The three women k«pt up their friendly connections until a few months ago,” when Mrs. Bricker and Mrs. Griffes had a falling out and have not been on speaking terms since. Mrs. Bricker was in the city early yesterday morning and called on Mr. Bates at his office, but she returned to Alameda and was not to be found again. She informed Mr. Bates that she never heard of O’Neil before, and did not think Mrs. Griffes knew him.

A CALL reporter called at Mrs. Bates’ residence, 299 Hyde street, yesterday afternoon and was told by both the landlady and Mr. Bates that Mrs. Bates had crone to Alameda to get; some clothing for Mrs. Griffes.

There must have been a misunderstanding on the part of the landlady and Mr. Bates, for when the reporter called in the evening on Mrs. Dr. Burns at 1223 Market street it was learned that Mrs. Bates had been there all day. Mrs. Burns is Mrs. Bates’ mother, and was greatly distressed to think that her daughter’s name has been drawn into the affair. Mrs. Bates could not be seen, but her mother, who knew the murdered woman well, stated that Mrs. Bates never heard of O’Neil until the name appeared in the newspapers.

It is probable that O’Neil and Mrs. Griffes met some time before their last and horrible spree.

While there is no direct evidence to that effect, it is believed that O’Neil went to Oakland Tuesday evening for the purpose of meeting some woman. One of the drivers on the Fifth-street line, with whom O’Neil rode to the city from the Union Iron Works that evening, told a man at the works yesterday that O’Neil said he was going to Oakland to meet his “trash.” It may have been Mrs. Griffes or it may have been some other woman. If, however, O’Neil and Mrs. Griffes returned to the Grizzly Bear Saloon at the hour mentioned by the bartender it is almost certain that he did not go all the way to Alameda to meet Mrs. Grilles.

Mrs. Beggs denies the published statement that her daughter told  the police she saw O’Neil, as she thought, with a tall blond woman entering the waiting-room at the foot of Market street to go to Oakland on the 12:15 p. m. boat on Tuesday. She states that neither she or her daughter ever knew O’Neil.

The inquest will be held to-morrow at 10:30 o’clock.

The Morning Call (San Francisco, California) Jun 30, 1893

The Griffes Inquest.
Special to GAZETTE.]

SAN FRANCISCO, July 1. At 11 o’clock this morning Coroner Hughes commenced an inquest into the death of Mrs. Kate Griffes, who was killed in the Grizzly Bear Saloon by Martin O’Neil. A large crowd was in attendance, many being attracted by the desire to see O’Neil and hear his story of the crime. He appeared in his shirt sleeves, attended by Robert Ferral, his counsel. After the jury had viewed the body the remainder of the day was spent in examining witnesses.

Weekly Gazette Stockman (Reno, Nevada) Jul 6, 1893

The Morning Call (San Francisco, California) Jul 4, 1893

Charged with Murder.
Special to the JOURNAL]

SAN FRANCISCO, July 3. — After an investigation of the circumstances attending the brutal murder of Mrs. Kate Griffes in a water front saloon last Tuesday night, the coroner’s jury this evening brought a verdict charging Martin O’Neil with murder.

Daily Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) Jul 4, 1893

O’Neil’s Trial Commenced.
Special to the GAZETTE.]

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 20. — The trial of Martin O’Neil, the man who is charged with the revolting murder of Kate Greffes in a private room of a water front saloon on Jun 28th last, was commenced before Judge Wallace this morning. The work of empaneling a jury was commenced.

Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada) Nov 20, 1893

Again Postponed.

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov, 22. — The jury-bribing cases of Frank McManus and W.J. Dunn were again continued yesterday morning until Thursday noon by consent, the court and District-Attorney Barnes being engaged in the trial of Martin O’Neil, charged with the murder of Mrs. Kate Griffes last June.

Decatur Daily Republican (Decatur, Illinois) Nov 22, 1893


A Jury Not Yet Selected for O’Neil.


Not Easy to Get Men Who Are Unbiased.


Forty Citizens Examined Yesterday – The Dead Woman’s Husband in Court.

Meanwhile the defendant sat throughout the proceedings, his wife beside him, with the old restless downcast stare, and the same nervous twitching of the hands. Once or twice he looked up, and once or twice he spoke, but it was not until the weary day’s work was over that the unhappy man was seen to smile feebly at some cheery remark made by his counsel, Carroll Cook. And the gaping crowd have stood, wondering to themselves, if “that feeble-looking spectacled old wreck” can be the diabolical villain they had read of.

The Morning Call (San Francisco, California) Nov 22, 1893


A Jury Secured in Martin O’Neil’s Case.


The Testimony That Has Been Offered Thus Far.


From the “Ladies’ Entrance” to the Wineroom— The Dead Body on the Floor— The Arrest.

After three days spent in securing eleven jurors in the case of Martin O’Neil, who is charged with the murder of Mrs. Kate Griffes, the twelfth man was accepted yesterday in less than an hour after court was called, and the jury finally empaneled consists of S. W. Dixon, the last one chosen, and David Keil, Charles Ashton, Arthur Patterson, Lawrence Felvey, Manfred H.Heyneman, W. F. Muller. Charles Benjamin, W. T. V. Scbenck, W. B. Isaacs, Monroe Greenwood and Julius Steinberger.

As soon as the work of securing the jury was:completed Assistant District Attorney Black opened the case for the prosecution by relating the story of the crime and all the attendant circumstances. He stated that the prosecution would introduce evidence to prove that O’Neil and Mrs.Griffes went to the Grizzly Bear saloon on East street together on the night of June 28 last, and that they occupied a private room there from about 10 p. m. until after midnight; that during that time they were frequently served with liquor; that about 1 o’clock O’Neil suddenly left the saloon alone, while at the same time Mrs. Griffes was found dead in the wineroom from wounds, which the circumstances would show had been inflicted by O’Neil.

J.H. Griffes, the husband of the deceased, was the first witness called by the prosecution. He testified that the last time he saw his wife alive, was at their home in Alameda on the morning previous to the day of her death. He said that the deceased was at times fond of liquor, and that periodically the appetite was almost uncontrollable. Her absence from home on the  fatal night had not caused any alarm, as he supposed she was with friends in this city.

William H. Davies, the proprietor of the Grizzly Bear saloon, occupied the afternoon with his testimony.

“I was standing at the end of the hallway which forms the ladies’ entrance to the saloon, about 10 o’clock in the evening, when O’Neil and the woman whom I afterward knew as Mrs. Griffes came in together,” said he.. “They took a wineroom, and I took their order, and at first each ordered lager, but as I started toward the bar O’Neil said to make his a whisky. and after I left the room he followed me and said, ‘Make it two whiskies.’

“I served the drinks, and from that time up to midnight I served them with five more. When I brought in t:he first order Mrs. Griffes said to me, “I guess you don’t know me. I’m Mrs. Bates, friend, Kittie.’  and I then remembered that I had seen her there before.”

“At this time, as indeed all during the evening, the conversation was of a pleasant nature, and  I heard nothing which would indicate a quarrel of any kind.

The wineroom is so situated that any unusual noise could be heard in the barroom, or in next door, which is separated only by a door, which is now nailed up.

“About half past 11 I was serving them with an order, and I asked them if they were going back to Oakland or Alameda that night. Mrs. Griffes replies that she was going to stay with Mrs. Bates’ mother that night. I took in another round of drinks about midnight, in which I had asked them to join me, and then I went out for my supper. When 1came back, a .half hour later, I was busy making up my cash, and at other work about the saloon, until a man named Ferris who frequents my place, mentioned to that the man was leaving the wineroom alone, and   I at once went to the door, but could not push it back more than six inches, but I stuck my head in far enough to see that the woman was lying on the floor with her head on a chair and her feet against the door, and that there was blood on the floor.

“I at once called to Ferris and said, ‘For God’s sake, don’t let that man get away, for I think he has murdered this woman.’ I followed out a moment later and overtook Ferris and O’Neil at the corner of Clay and East streets, where some officers had also arrived by this time. When O’Neil was told that Mrs.Griffes was dead he said: ‘Oh, that’s all right. It will all come out in the wash.’

“We then returned to the saloon and found the floor covered with blood, while the loose bouquet of flowers which had been carried by Mrs.Griffes was scattered,  part of it being on the table, but much of it strewn on the floor and mingled with  blood.”

“If there had been any outcry of any kind or any unusual noise I would certainly have heard it, for even the moving of the chairs in the wineroom can be heard at the bar, but I heard nothing at all which attracted my attention.”

At the close of Davies’ testimony the court took an adjournment until Monday at 10 a. m.

The Morning Call (San Francisco, California) Nov 24, 1893


Martin O’Neil Receives the Full Limit.


Judge Wallace Speaks His Mind Freely.


Absurd That One Who Committed Such a Deed Should Get Off With a Few Years in Prison.

Martin O’Neil was sentenced by Judge Wallace yesterday to ten years’ imprisonment for the killing of Mrs. Kate Griffes.

The occasion afforded Judge Wallace an opportunity to express his views upon the present system of criminal procedure. Wearied and disgusted by numerous futile attempts to see that each offender receives an amount of punishment proportionate to his crime, the Judge in addressing O’Neil yesterday, and using the case at bar for an example, commented strongly upon the manner in which the hands of justice were tied by the constitution as it at present stands. He also took occasion to remark that in his opinion the verdict of manslaughter was hardly borne out by evidence at the trial, in that such evidence pointed, at least, to a verdict of murder in the second degree.

The prisoner sat quietly in the courtroom, apparently unconcerned, but betrayingly the restless twitching of his hands that he feared the ordeal before him. His wife sat beside him as before and sought by her loving presence to do what she could to help him bear his fate.

As soon as Judge Wallace had taken his seat the case was called and O’Neil ordered to stand up. Judge Wallace then laid some manuscript before him, adjusted bis spectacles, and proceeded as follows:

“Martin O’Neil; you were accused of the murder of Kate Griffes; to this accusation when read to you here you pleaded not guilty; upon trial, and after an elaborate and able defense, the jury found you guilty of the crime of manslaughter; have you any legal cause to show why judgment should not be passed upon you upon the verdict.”

Carroll Cook, on behalf of the prisoner, called attention to the fact that his client was drunk at the time and oblivious to what was going on. He insisted that the punishment should be light.

Judge Wallace then resumed: “The necessary import of the verdict, is that you did in fact feloniously take the life of the deceased woman, and by the disgusting and brutal means shown in the evidence; you were, therefore, plainly guilty of murder; that yon were drunk when you did the act afforded no defense as against the charge of murder in the second degree, and as the entire jury appear to have been satisfied that you committed the act charged, you should at least have been convicted of that offense —the offense of murder in the second degree; it is understood that some eleven of the gentlemen of the jury were of that opinion, too. Among the twelve, however, one was found who, while he, like the others, was convinced that you feloniously took the life of the woman, nevertheless refused to concur in a verdict of murder, and so the others of the jury were forced either to adopt the views of their one dissenting associate or find no verdict at all.

“It is provided by the constitution that in civil cases three-fourths of the jury may render a verdict, but in criminal cases absolute unanimity is still required by our law. The conspicuous failure of substantial justice which has thus resulted in your case may possibly suggest to thoughtful men the advisability of changing the constitution, so as to permit a number of juror*less than the whole to render a verdict in criminal as well as in civil cases.

“The verdict here, as already observed, is a verdict of manslaughter; the extreme measure of punishment mentioned in our statute for that offense is imprisonment in the State Prison for a term not exceeding ten years in duration. And then, under the law of this State, even should this extreme penalty be now adjudged against you, the term of your actual imprisonment is subject to material reduction, for a sentence of ten years’ imprisonment formally imposed here will probably turn out by mere operation of statutory law to be an imprisonment of no more than six years and six mouths in actual duration, to say nothing of the interposition of the executive authority to still further reduce the term or to pardon the offense outright. For wantonly and feloniously taking the life of a defenseless woman six years’ and six months’ imprisonment! In fact, the system of criminal administration at this time established by our constitution and laws would appear wholly inadequate to deal properly with crimes such as yours.

“The jury having found you guilty of the crime of manslaughter, the sentence of the court is that you be imprisoned in the State Prison for a term of ten years.”

The unhappy man’s wife on hearing the sentence burst into tears, while O’Neil sat with his hands closed together and his eyes bent on the ground, while his mind doubtless traveled back through circumstances and events in the past which, through his own fault alone, led to the utter ruin and desolation of his home. He was quickly led from the room and the court proceeded with the regular business of the day.

The Morning Call (San Francisco, California) Dec 19, 1893


What’s that old saying? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?

Young Martin O’Neil.

Martin O’Neil Jr., the son of the man now incarcerated in the San Francisco prison charged with the murder of Mrs. Kate Griffes in a water-front saloon, was tried before Judge Allen yesterday and convicted by the jury after a few minutes’ deliberation on a charge of battery, committed on an old man named George Creverling on May 14 last.

O’Neil,  Jr. was drunk at the time of the beating and kicking. He pleaded his own case, claiming that what he aid was done in self-defense. His old mother sat by him yesterday in court.

Young O’Neil is a hard enough working fellow when sober, but he has been in trouble before through his drinking, and always heretofore his mother has been able to get him out of trouble. He will be sentenced to-day.

The Morning Call (San Francisco, California) Aug 24, 1893

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