Savage murder in city of Marquette

This is The Mining Journal headline from Nov. 30, 1887. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — At the time, the murder scandalized the city. Now, it’s just a forgotten footnote in local history.

Marquette has been home to some rather infamous killings over the years, but one that occurred on a Saturday evening over 130 years ago may have been one of the most gruesome. In fact, at the time The Mining Journal called it “a brutal butchery.” Yet today no one recalls the night that Larry Finn beat his wife to death.

Larry Finn was born in Ireland and came to Marquette during the Civil War. He met a young local woman named Margaret Higgins, and after getting married they settled, along with many Irish immigrants, in South Marquette. They had one child, Mary Agnes, who died from sunstroke at the age of four.

In 1887, their home, across the street from the then Hampton Street School, had recently burned down and they were living in a two-room shack nearby.

By all accounts it was not a happy marriage; neighbors said they frequently heard fights between the two. So when they heard another argument between the couple on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 28, 1887, which included Margaret yelling “murder,” they didn’t think to alert the authorities.

One neighbor, Richard Miller, later told The Mining Journal he wished he had.

Despite the fact he had been arrested several times on charges of public intoxication, and despite the fact that bars in Marquette had been told by authorities not to sell liquor to him, Larry Finn was drunk that evening. As far as authorities could tell, he came home as his wife was making dinner and had a kettle of hot water boiling on a wood stove.

As the fight broke out, Finn grabbed the kettle, hitting Margaret with it repeatedly until, as a Mining Journal article floridly put it, “Her head was a shapeless mass.”

When police officers finally arrived at the home, they found “traces of a desperate struggle, broken dishes and furniture telling the fury of their fight.” They also found Larry Finn with burns down his right arm, suffered as boiling water ran out of the kettle he used to viciously strike his wife.

Finn was taken to the Marquette County Jail, where an inquest jury of six residents — including Sidney Adams — was impaneled. The jury went to the Finn house the next morning to visit the site of the murder, while at the same time two reporters from The Mining Journal went to visit the accused in jail.

There, he claimed to remember everything up until he started for home after drinking that Saturday, then forgetting everything else that had happened until he woke up in jail Sunday morning. The Mining Journal reporters thought he was telling them that in an attempt to save himself.

It was also discovered by those reporters that the day before her death Margaret Finn had visited a lawyer’s office to see about the possibility of leaving her husband.

The jury found Finn guilty of the killing of his wife and he was sent away. According to U.S. Census records, Finn was still an inmate at the Jackson State Prison in 1900, after which it appears he moved back to Marquette to live with a brother. No known records exist of his death or burial.

In the 134 years since the incident, memories of the killing have been lost to the community, but at the time it occurred, the murder of Margaret Finn stood as one of the most scandalous incidents in a city that had been founded less than 40 years before.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stories about murders, prison escapes, and the strange incidents that occur when people drink too much will be among the highlights of “Cops & Robbers: True Crime Tales from the Frivolous to the Mysterious to the Deadly,” a fundraiser for the Marquette Regional History Center. The show takes place at Kaufman Auditorium at 7 p.m. Thursday. It will feature historical photographs & movies, and several special guests. Tickets are available at the Marquette Regional History Center, on their website at marquettehistory.org and will be available at the door. The show will also be available in a recorded format soon after the presentation.


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