Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Murder of Clevie Tedder


“Deland, Fla., April 11, 1910. A jury today brought in a verdict of murder in the first degree against Irving Hanchett, the boy that stabbed Miss Clevie Tedder to death on February 12. The judge immediately pronounced the death sentence. Hanchett met Miss Tedder on the road and made improper proposals and when she refused him and threatened to tell, he set upon her with a knife and stabbed her sixty-three times.” Fort Wayne Sentinel.

Although this murder happened in the backwater town of Glenwood, Florida a hundred years ago, it had all the ingredients of today’s headlines: sexual violence, an incorrigible juvenile, and the age-old question of what to do with a teenaged killer.

On the morning of February 12, 1910, thirteen-year-old Clevie Tedder was riding her bicycle to school when she was attacked. Glenwood, an unincorporated town of 400 souls, was a few miles north of DeLand, home of Stetson University. Most residents worked for Bond Lumber Company.

The Tedder family was well-known and well-liked in the community. Irving Hanchett, on the other hand, was a “juvenile delinquent.” He was currently on parole from the Connecticut State School for Boys in Meriden. The sponsor of his parole, William Woolsey, owned an orange grove near Glenwood and had sent the boy to Florida for a fresh start.

An article in the Atlanta Constitution relates some of the details of the case. “A bicycle,” the article reads, “which the girl was riding, was found 100 yards from where her body was discovered, indicating that her assailant had struggled with her for this distance after knocking her from her wheel. In the body of the girl sixty-two (sic) knife wounds were counted. She was literally cut to pieces.” It was obvious to observers that Clevie had fought her attacker almost to the end. The blood trail, shoe prints, and ripped clothing strewn along the trail attested to the violence of the attack. In addition to the knife wounds, the girl had been brutally beaten.

Volusia County Sheriff E. L. Smith was called to the scene. He quickly organized a posse to search for the killer. As the searchers fanned out, the Washington Post reported that “the sheriff secured bloodhounds, and followed a trail to the orange grove of William Woolsey, where young Hanchett was employed. In the room of the boy were found bloody clothes and the knife with which the murder is believed to have been committed.” The blade was bent, and Hanchett had cuts on his hands. In addition, his shoes fit the prints of the assailant found in the sand near Tedder’s body.

Hanchett was lucky he wasn’t lynched then and there. As soon as the searchers heard that he’d been arrested, they rushed to the Volusia County jail intent on stringing him up. Sheriff Smith was barely able to avert a lynch party by sneaking the young suspect out the back door to a waiting car. He took the boy to Orlando, fifty miles south. There Hanchett was placed in a more secure jail, as much for his own protection as for that of the community.

Two months later, Hanchett went on trial. Judge Minor S. Jones, a flamboyant Confederate veteran and circuit-riding judge who had once presided over the divorce of Henry Flagler, held court. Hanchett took the stand and confessed in graphic detail to the horrific attack. It was said that he sensationalized his account in order to be found insane.

It didn’t work. Instead, he was found guilty of murder in the first degree.

A few days before Hanchett was to be hanged, the Syracuse New York Post Standard editorialized about the case: “Sentence of death for a boy of 14 (sic) seems like an outrageous working of criminal law. It is revolting to human nature to think of leading a child to the scaffold, no matter how heinous the crime, and for any other crime than that for which Irving Hanchett has been accused the courts of Florida would doubtless have refused to convict him. Concerning that crime law in the South does not claim to be judicial.” The article continues, becoming more condescending and more muddled, eventually concluding that unlike New York, Florida and Connecticut were barbaric – Florida because the state planned to hang the murderer and Connecticut because its juvenile justice system rejected “the teachings of Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, Judge Lindsay, and William R. George.”

The article never mentioned the victim’s name, nor the probability that a few years in prison was unlikely to rehabilitate the killer.

The last chapter was written by the Chicago Daily Herald in a brief, one-sentence squib: “DeLand, Fla., May 7, 1910 – Irving Hanchett, the 15-year-old Connecticut boy who was convicted of the murder of Clevie Tedder, a girl, 13 years old, near this place on the evening of Feb. 12 last, was hanged here.”

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