Tuesday, April 10, 2012

John Harrigan: Who Done It?

For those of you who read my blog post about the death of John Harrigan (found with his throat slit), you may have noticed that I mentioned John's son, Henry Harrigan, a couple of times. While I didn't exactly point the finger at him, I would be lying if I told you that I didn't consider him the primary suspect.

Before I go further, let's take a step back. The household at the time of John's death consisted of: John, age 45, his wife Mary (41), and their children, Mary (18), Henry (17), Charles (15), Frank (7) and George (3). I think we can safely eliminate the two youngest children from suspicion. As far as I can tell from newspaper accounts (and the Ross Coller file), all of the family led unremarkable lives with the exception of Henry and possibly Charles (who cheated his elderly mother out of some money, or tried to until she sued him, but that's a story for another blog post).

So why have I focused on Henry, you may ask? Well, for one thing, most murders are committed by a family member. And in cases in which a child kills a parent it is most often a teenage son. [1] In the U.S. from 1976-2005, 4950 cases were reported in which a father was killed by his son. Of those, 53% were killed by a son aged 15-25. Seventeen-year-old sons topped the list with 353 patricides (7%). Henry Harrigan just happened to be seventeen when his father died, though this hardly proves his guilt.

One thing I would like to submit into evidence are the signatures of Henry, Charles and Daniel (John's brother) Harrigan from the coroner's inquest. Keep in mind that the inquest was held at the Harrigan home mere hours after John's body was found by Charles in a blood-spattered room. While thankfully I have no personal experience here, I can only imagine that I would be quite shaken if I were asked to give testimony under these circumstances, especially after seeing the room and body. Before I go any further, take a look at the signatures.  Click on the image to see a larger version.

Did you notice anything interesting about Henry's signature? Unlike Daniel's which appears shaky (especially for a man of 36), Henry's looks almost like calligraphy to me. Ask yourself this: is this the signature of someone at all disturbed by the bloody death of his father just a couple of hours previously? Even if they didn't get along I find it difficult to believe that Henry's signature could look so, well. . . perfect.

As I am hardly a handwriting expert, I decided to consult Paula Sassi (a certified graphologist) to get an informed opinion. For those of you who listen to Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems Podcast, you may recognize the name from episode 116. If not, you can watch Paula analyze a handwriting sample for Lisa here.

I sent Paula a copy of the coroner's inquest statements which included the signatures of those questioned. Beyond this, I did not provide her with any other information about Henry or John.

Paula's analysis is as follows: “The signature represents the public self-image of the writer and does not provide a full representation of the personality as seen in the handwriting.
Henry's signature, considering the circumstances and timing of this signing, appears to be very controlled with little emotional upset. His writing shows intelligence and an ability to maintain secrets as seen in his retraced “e.” The first capital “H” also has a beginning hook at the bottom which can be an indication of someone who has acquisitive tendencies. He wanted to acquire wealth for himself and this is further evidenced by the full lower loop of his “y.” This can be seen as a money bag, and along with the full “g” loop, shows that he had strong material and physical desires. Becoming wealthy and well connected was probably important to him. He had a good intelligence for a young man and could be logical and analytical in his thinking along with having some intuitive ability. His i-dot indicates that he had a good eye on the future and was moving forward in a steady and controlled fashion. The flourishes at the top of the H's may just be an affectation of the writing style of the time period, but also indicates some cover and self protection.”

The personality traits Paula discerned from Henry's signature actually fit quite well with what I know about him. There is too much to include here so I'll present it in a future post. As for Henry's signature, it is obviously not sufficient to say whether or not he killed his father (or was even capable of cold-blooded murder), but once I actually looked at his signature in context, it certainly made me think twice about the possibility of his guilt. Stay tuned for the rest of the story.  You can view John's gravestone and see if you can decipher the inscription.

To learn a little more about Henry Harrigan and his brushes with the law read my post here

1. Homicide Trends in the U.S. FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1976-2005. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Released Jan. 2007

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