March 20, 2013
PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
"Book on the Infamous Wickham Murders to be Released 3/27"
SOUTHOLD, NY. The Southold Historical Society is pleased to announce the release of a new book - published by the History Press - documenting the history of the murders of Frances and James Wickham of Cutchogue, in 1854. The book, entitled "Murder on Long Island: A Nineteenth Century Tale of Tragedy & Revenge," was written by society Director Geoffrey K. Fleming and the society Collections Manager, Amy Kasuga Folk.
In the mid-nineteenth century, James Wickham was a wealthy farmer with a large estate in Cutchogue, Long Island. His extensive property included a mansion and eighty acres of farmland that were maintained by a staff of servants. In 1854, Wickham got into an argument with one of his workers, Nicholas Behan, after Behan harassed another employee who refused to marry him. Several days after Behan’s dismissal, he crept back into the house in the dead of night. With an axe, he butchered Wickham and his wife, Frances, and fled to a nearby swamp. Behan was captured, tried, convicted and, on December 15, 1854 became one of the last people to be hanged in Suffolk County.
"For years those of us with an interest in the murders could not find a detailed account of what had actually occurred in 1854," stated Geoffrey K. Fleming, the Society's Director. "The information we did come across was often incorrect, and so we embarked on this project to shine a light on and to reveal the truth about one of the most horrible acts ever committed in Suffolk County," he continued.
Fleming and Folk worked tirelessly to find source materials for the book. Of special interest was the discovery of the original hand-written witness statements and inquest testimonies, which had been filed away long ago at the county's records center in Riverhead, New York. These were crucial in helping to reconstruct what had happened in June of 1854 at the Wickham farm. In addition, numerous newspaper accounts - some of which were published as far away as Ohio - helped reveal much about the case.
Joseph S. Wickham, a descendant of James Wickham's brother, William, who was serving as the district attorney of Suffolk County when his brother was murdered, wrote a foreword to the book in which he noted:
"The story of the Wickham ax murders is much more than a lurid tale of sudden death. It is also an inspiring story of a grievously shocked community that united to track down a killer. It is a story about a family fortune teetering on the fickle fingers of fate. It is a story about justice triumphing over a heinous crime. Most importantly, it is a story about a humane couple named James and Frances Wickham, who made a courageous decision to protect a young woman from a bully and ended up paying the ultimate price."
This book - which will be released on March 27 - can be purchased through the Southold Historical Society's gift shop as well as online through Amazon.com.