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Thomas William Simpkin

New York Times Reports
Monday 19 April 1920

The following text is copied from the archives of the New York Times and reports events following the murder by Thomas William Simpkin of the prominent New York surgeon, Dr. James W. Markoe.

Victim of Cancer Was Hard Worker in Richmond and Employers Helped Him.
Special to the New York Times.

RICHMOND, Va., April 18. - Letters dated April 17 and bearing postmark of the same date indicate that Thomas W. Shelley, or Simpkin, was in Richmond as late as Saturday. The man was seen on Thursday by a nurse who had attended him while he was a patient in a hospital there.

Shelley, as he was known here, came to Richmond on Aug. 25, 1919, from Duluth, where he had been an inmate of a hospital for the insane. He got work with the Baughman Stationery Company, Inc., as a mechanic, and worked until about Nov. 1, 1919, when he was stricken with stomach trouble and was sent to the Memorial Hospital, where on Nov. 23 he was operated upon for cancer, the growth being removed. Later he was removed to the Retreat for the Sick, where he was operated upon twice. Subsequently, his money having been exhausted, he was taken in by the Sheltering Arms Hospital, a semi-charitable institution.

Being discharged from the hospital on March 15, Shelley disappeared, and on April 3 the family with whom he had boarded reported to the police that he had not returned there for his effects and that no trace of him could be found. This report was published in local papers, and the following day a letter was received by the family stating that Shelley was in the Eastern State Hospital for the Insane, Williamsburg, Va., and that he was doing fine. Shelley, as he styled himself here, is an Englishman, and is reported to have been a man of fine bearing and high education.

He told acquaintances he had been a newspaper editor and also an actor, it being said that he was a comedian. While in Duluth he lived with his wife and two children before being committed to the asylum. His family was sent to Canada and thence to Hounslow, England, by a charitable institution.

His former employers have been endeavoring to find him ever since the report of his disappearance, with the view of again giving him work. During his illness the head of the firm contributed to his expenses and just before he was discharged as cured gave him $35, to which his other friends added a similar amount. As far as known, this was all the money he had.

Letter Indicates Insanity.

Evidently, on being discharged Shelley sought a haven at the Eastern State Hospital, at Williamsburg, where he was admitted. Later he was discharged. It was not suspected by physicians at the time that he was mentally unsound, although subsequent letters indicate that he was insane. One of these letters, dated April 17 and received yesterday by Dr. Trice, his physician, follows :

Dear Daddy Longlegs : Here is a letter you have been waiting for, although not a very long one. You might put it down as “junk,” as you did before. Now, “junk” is a Chinese boat, and the boat I made you captain of is no Chinaman. So beware the “junk.”

Please do not be offended at me not calling and seeing you, one reason being that I accredited you with being more intelligent than the other people I told I “was down visiting for the day.” If Satan can’t tell a lie, who can? And I did not want you to betray a widow’s son. It will be a bad day for anyone that does. He’s got more friends that there are parish churches.

I am still running on schedule. “Jonah was thirty days and nights in the belly of a whale.” That’s nothing; his days were not the same as yours. The world was made in seven days (not your kind of days). Each day was a period, and the periods are seven days (and you know, Doc, man comes into the world when the “periods” are finished). And the world was man. That’s how the world was made.

No doubt you know what I am striving at. Well, “God made man and he rested, then he made woman,” and neither God nor man has rested since.

And I’m trying to give man a rest and woman something to do. There is not anything that I can think of in the way of civilisation but that man hasn’t put there. And I’m after the women, Doc. (Sounds terrible, doesn’t it - after the women?); if they don’t let hell loose one of these days, I’m not the “imp of hell.” We’ve got to have our house put in order, and that’s a woman’s job. Spring cleaning. Men will think it’s hell, as usual. Well, I must be closing now. “Tarry thou till I come.”

The Wandering Jew

Although not signed by his name, Dr. Trice readily recognized the writing and the writer. Similar letters signed “The Wandering Jew" have been received by Richmond newspapers recently.

A letter written from the hospital to Mrs. Chardick, with whom he had boarded, follows:

Having noticed in yesterday’s Times-Dispatch that the police had been asked to locate me, I am writing to relieve your mind and stop the police from overworking themselves on such an unworthy individual. I came here of my own free will to accept all that a benevolent State had to offer in the way of a good, long rest. I am being well looked after, having gained seven pounds in weight and being out in the air all day.

Am getting as brown as a red cent, and please be concerned on my behalf, and should I see double-column headings in the newspapers shortly announcing to all the world that I am squirrel fruit, I shan’t be at all offended. So that the last of that stinking English pride seems to have disappeared. In fact, I’m not sure that I don’t feel flattered that I should have brought before the notice of the dear public.

Though I don’t think I can forgive you for giving my age as 45. You’re spoiling my chances (I’m years younger). Should there be any mail for me I would appreciate if you would forward it to me here. Sincerely yours,


A postscript said : “Ain’t the newspapers wonderful?”

Dr. G.W. Brown of the Eastern State Hospital for the Insane at Williamsburg, stated last night that Shelley was discharged at his own request on Thursday. He had voluntarily applied for admission on March 30, and was not believed dangerously insane. He was pronounced parandic (paranoid) by the physician. Under the law, a person who voluntarily asks for admission to such an institution is permitted to leave whenever it is deemed that he is not dangerous.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. April 18. - Records of the State Hospital for the insane here show that Thomas W. Simpkin was admitted for treatment, at his own request, March 15, after declaring that he had escaped from a Western institution, and remained until last Thursday, when he left without permission. He was not under restraint at any time.

Simpkin Escaped from Minnesota Asylum Two Years Ago.

DULUTH, Minn., April 18. - Thomas W. Simpkin came to Duluth with his wife and three children from Calgary, Alberta, in September, 1916. He was employed in several job printing plants. He is on the rolls of the Duluth Typographical Union.

In April, 1917, he was adjudged insane in a court here and sent to the State insane asylum at Fergus Falls. He escaped from that institution a year later and the asylum authorities failed to find him. His wife continued to live here until, April 1919, when she was deported to England as a dependent British subject.

Simpkin went under the alias of Shelley, which was his wife’s maiden name. Persons in Duluth who knew Simpkin said he took good care of his family. He talked continually on religion.

FERGUS FALLS, Minn., April 18. - Thomas W. Simpkin, also known as Thomas W. Shelley, had been an inmate for some time of the Minnesota State Insane Asylum here up to two years ago, when he escaped. He was committed to the asylum from Duluth. His mind, it is believed became affected through the study of spiritualism. He had a wife and two children in Duluth, who returned to England after Simpkin’s committal to the asylum.

Before he escaped, which he did by knotting bed clothing together and lowering himself from a third-story window, he had made two ineffectual attempts to get away.

Simpkin was not regarded as dangerous here, having a cheerful disposition. He professed to be in communication with spirits and showed a religious leaning.