Friday, April 23, 2010

Martha Jane Riley's Confession (that Tom did it)

In 1889, Tom Conder was hung primarily on the basis of this confession. As has been pointed out already by Justin, Martha had confessed early on during the investigation. Near the end of the file I found her written confession. Even without this confession, prosecutors were pretty convinced the two had conspired to kill Jack Riley.

Troy Obion County, Tennessee
Sept 15th 1888

      I, Mrs. Martha Jane Riley, do make the following confession and of my own accord and do [unreadable] affirm that I am in my right mind.

      In the spring of 1888, Thomas Condor, who was living with me and my husband A. J. Riley proposed to me that we should kill said A. J. Riley so that we, that is myself and said Condor could live togethr as man and wife. After making these proposals to me off and on during six months, I finally consented that Condor should kill my husband A. J. Riley. On the morning of the 12th of September 1888, Conder told me that he intended to kill Riley on that day. Riley and Condor had been making boards in the woods near by and on the morning of 12th September 1888, at about 10 o'clock, they returned to the house. Condor had a double barrel shotgun and went in the house and laid it on my bed. After dinner, between one and two o'clock p.m., Riley was sitting in the hall ju[st] on the left as you enter the bedroom. I was sitting on the right and infront of him and Condor was on his bed on the right entering the bedroom and in plain sight of me. Riley had dropped asleep as usual. I saw Condor motion his hand and I thought he was going to shoot and being afraid he would shoot me, when he went to shoot Riley, I moved over to his (Riley's) left. We had agreed that Condor should shoot him, Riley, and then we would spread a report that he, Riley, had committed suicide by shooting himself. I saw Condor get up off his bed, I saw him pick up the double barrel gun off my bed, I saw him [unreadable] the trigger cock the gun. He then stepped back out of my sight and immediately he fired. Staightway he stepped forward, and I saw Condor throw down the gun by the side of Riley. I saw Condor take hold of Riley, who had begun to fall and ease him to the floor. Just after Condor threw the gun down, he said, "Now, what'll I do?" and I said "Ease him down, don't let him fall off the chair."
Martha Jane [her X mark] Riley

This confession was made at the jail, in Troy Obion County Tennessee, on the 15th day of September 1888, in the presence of the undersigned.
J. M. Brice
L. M. Mahan
T. R., Robbins, J. P.

Notes in the trial documents recognized that Martha had made several contradictory statements prior to this confession, and that even during the confession her statements were erratic. She said that Tom had, by force of personality, compelled her to have an affair with her and that she went along out of fear for her life. It was only after the prosecutor offered to take the death penalty off the table for her that she began to co-operate and offered the above confession.

There are a few problems with her story. The "don't let him fall of the chair" is a little odd, but nothing earth shattering. Witnesses found the body near the front door with his head propped up on a barrel or something. Powder burns were found on the indoor side of the door panel and a pool of blood was found next to the body, and brain matter all over the room. Witnesses, at least ones I have read so far, do not describe blood near the bed where Martha said he was shot.

Next Tom's Confession

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