The murder of Lillian Madison

He died at the end of a silken rope. Hence, when Thomas J. Cluverius swore his innocence until the very end, his female sympathizers made sure his demise was as comfortable as possible. Or was it? The trail of Cluverius was sensational and Chesterfield as was all of Richmond exited as news of the trial, which began the first week in May in 1885.

Cluverius was accused of killing Fanny Lillian Madison, whose body was found dead in a local reservoir - she was eight months pregnant.

It took a while to determine who Ms. Madison was, and if she committed suicide or was murdered. When it was determined as being murder, her cousin, a successful attorney was charged.

“The indictment against Thomas Cluverius was based entirely on circumstantial evidence,” according to “The Body in the Reservoir: Murder and Sensationalism in the South.” And in the period between the murder and the beginning of the trial, the city of Richmond became bitterly divided between those who believed Cluverius was guilty of murder and those who believed Lillian Madison had committed suicide. He was found guilty of first degree murder.

Cluverius’ spiritual counselor Rev. William Hatcher of Chesterfields’ then Manchester District was not sure of his claim of innocence.

“At one moment I fear that he is guilty and will die with a lie on his lips; the next I think that he may be innocent and I fear that it will be judicial murder,” Hatcher said.

When Cluverius dropped through the trap door on January 14, 1887, the silk rope stretched until Cluverius’s feet were just inches from the ground. The loop extended nearly eighteen inches above his head and it took ten minutes for him to slowly strangle to death. Over 300 people had gathered to watch. He was buried in the in a local family burial plot.

Madison was buried with her baby at Richmond’s  Oakwood Cemetery.


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