Agnes Hamnett

Agnes Hamnett

Death 29 Apr 1874 (aged 39–40)
West Mifflin, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Burial Munhall, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Memorial ID 126980612 · View Source
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Aged 40 years.

A Dreadful Tragedy

A Whole Family Murdered!

The House Burned to Conceal the Butchery

Escape of the Supposed Murderer

A shocking tragedy was developed yesterday morning in Mifflin Township, about eight miles above this city, on the south bank of the Monongahela River, and a mile and a half from Homestead, on the line of the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railway. At first it was reported that the dwelling of Mr. John Hamnett (a well-to-do farmer residing at the place stated) had caught fire during the night, and was destroyed, the inmates having perished in the flames. The family consisted of Mr. Hamnett, his wife, two children, a bound boy named Robert Smith and a German farm hand. That the house had been burned was too true, and that the bodies of those comprising the family had been roasted in the ruins was a sad reality. Yet an examination of the bodies showed that they had not been burned to death by accident, but

Brutally Murdered

and the house fired by the murderer to conceal his dreadful work of blood. The fire was discovered about half-past three o'clock in the morning, by a German named Schultz, living about a mile and a half from Hamnett's. He aroused some neighbors, and they hastened to the burning dwelling. Mr. Francis Ackerman, living on the adjoining farm, also helped to gather assistance, but it was found that all attempts to put out the flames would be utterly futile. The pump, which stood near the house, and furnished the only means for getting water, was also on fire, and the work of destruction so far progressed that it could not be stayed. The flames continued to burn until the woodwork of the interior was consumed, the floors having fallen in.

The Dwelling

The house was of brick, built on a hillside, so that the southern side was two stories high, while the north was but one story, the floor of which was about on a level with a lawn in front. There were four rooms, two up and two down. The members of the family all slept in the upper rooms. Mr. Hamnett and wife, and two children occupying one of them, and the bound boy and hired man the other. As none of these persons were seen by any of the neighbors who had assembled, the dreadful thought forced itself upon the mind that all had perished in the flames. This was a rather improbable theory, in face of the fact that escape from the sleeping rooms would have been a very easy matter, especially for the adults, who would only have had to kick out a window and jump out, or escape through the door. A search through the ruins, for the bodies of the missing, led to the discovery that a most

Fiendish Wholesale Butchery

had been perpetrated by some one, and suspicion soon fell upon the German farm hand, Ernest Love, whose body was not in the ruins. In the basement, under the room in which the parents and children slept, were the bodies of Hamnett, his wife, and one of the children. Under the other room, was the body of young Smith, the bound boy. These were all more or less consumed by the flames, but bore unmistakable evidence of murderous violence. The remains were one by one removed to a tool shed near the house, where they were subjected to a close examination by those who had the courage to essay the task.

The Death Wounds

Sickening as was the sight of four charred, shapeless trunks, with the oder peculiar to the wasting of human flesh, there were marks of wounds the sight of which were more harrowing.
The skull of John Hamnett, thought half consumed, showed that it had been broken in by a fearful blow. Near by where he lay were the remains of his little daughter Ida, aged about six years, her skull showing similar fractures.
The body of Mrs. Hamnett was easily distinguished from the fact that it was surrounded by the metal rings or hoops which she had been in the habit of wearing. The flesh was nearly all consumed, but there was a mass of burndt feathers about her, which indicated that she must have been in bed when murdered, or placed thereon after the bloody deed had been done. Her skull, like those of the others, had been crushed in.
Robert Smith, the bound boy, aged about twelve years, was not so completely burned up as the others, and two deep cuts were plainly perceptible upon his throat, although the skin was crisped and hard. The entire side of the skull was dreadfully hacked and mashed.
The remains of the fifth victim, little Emma, a daughter aged about two years, were not found. It is probable that they were so situated as to be entirely consumed.

The Instrument of Death

was found near the house, and consisted of an ordinary hatchet. The cuts on the throat of Young Smith, in the judgment of those who examined them, could have been made by the blade of the hatchet, which the indentations in the skulls of the victims were undoubtedly made by the hammer-face.

Spectulations Regarding the Murder

The circumstances above detailed lead irresistably to the conclusion that Ernest Love is the sole perpetrator of this quintuple murder, Wednesday evening. Mr. and Mrs. Hamnett had gone on a visit to the family of Samuel G. West, a brother of the ex-coroner at Homestead, and returned home about half-past ten o'clock. They had left the children with Love and the boy Smith, in both of whom they had the fullest confidence, having no thought of the dreadful fate that awaited them. Doubtless Love had contemplated the murder, and when he found the parents both absent, the inclination became irresistable. The bound boy would be first dispatched; and, this dreadful struggle over, the helpless and innocent little girls would fall easy victims to his hellish fury. The work of pillaging the house would then follow; or perhaps the fiend, not satisfied with the bloody record he had already made, and fearing he might be taken unaware, chose to lay in wait for the father and mother. Knowing their habit of entering the house, he would station himself in such a position as would enable him to strike down the husband before he could become aware of the intended assult. Mrs. Hamnett would thus be the last victim, and when her shrieks for help or supplications for mercy had died away, the monster could then have an opportunity to possess himself of whatever he coveted in the house.

The Motive

It was generally supposed that Hamnett had considerable money about the house, and Love had no doubt either heard the story, or had seen something during his stay to confirm this belief. Money seemed to have been the only motive for the dreadful crime. Hamnett was thrifty and close in his dealings, and probably kept money about the premises. The murderer must have been possessed of an extraordinary amount of nerve to carry out to the end this fearful tragedy. Most men would have been appalled with the blood of three persons upon their soul, and fled in terror from the scene before the arrival of the other two; but this monster was not to be thwarted in his purpose. The butchery is one of the most dreadful and cold-blooded in the annals of the State.

The Coroner Summoned

Coroner McCallin was notified at an early hour, and at once proceeded to the scene of the tragedy. He summoned a jury, and after viewing the remains of the deceased adjourned the inquest until today. He engaged the services of Dr. Wood, of the South Side, for the purpose of making as careful an examination of the bodies as is possible under the circumstances, with a view to testifying before the inquest.

The Murderer

Love is described as a heavy set man, with dark goatee and moustache, and about twenty-five years old. He had been in the employ of Mr. Hamnett for about six months, and while the neighbors know little or nothing of his previous history, there is no evidence that he was a man of bad character. When the coroner left last evening for the city, no tidings had been received as to his whereabouts. It is not known what direction he took.
Chief of Police Irwin, and detectives Long and Scott, were at once detailed to work up the case, and it is hoped that the murderer will be speedily apprehended.
There is intense excitement in the neighborhood, and if Love is caught soon, it will be difficult to prevent the people from laying summary hands upon him.

Return of the Officers

Chief of Police Irwin and the other officers returned at a late hour last evening, having so far as possible investigated the circumstances of the case. It does not appear that they have much of a clue to go upon, but it is understood that every effort will be put forth to bring to justice the supposed murderer or murderers. The idea is advanced that Love had an accomplice, and that he took away with him the younger girl Emma.
There is here an opportunity for Chief Irwin and the detectives under him to show their quality, and they will be fully credited with all endeavers to bring to light the truth about this horrid atrocity.

Pittsburgh Commercial, May 1, 1874, page 4

Family Members



In their memory
Plant Memorial Trees


  • Created by: Richard Boyer
  • Added: 27 Mar 2014
  • Find a Grave Memorial 126980612
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Agnes Hamnett (1834–29 Apr 1874), Find a Grave Memorial no. 126980612, citing Anne Ashley United Methodist Church Cemetery, Munhall, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Richard Boyer (contributor 47459668) .