Thursday, August 29, 2013


I contribute posts to another blog about a book which I co-authored. The book is entitled Cross-Examination Handbook: Persuasion, Strategies, and Techniques. Although it's a technical book, it seems to be quite popular. Anyhow, here's my latest post to that blog.

Cross-Examination Blog: CROSS-EXAMINATION TO IDENTITY: How far has the art of cross-examination progressed in the last century? Has it progressed at all? We can get some indication from Illustrat...


ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S ALMANAC TRIAL: WAGON HAMMERS: When researching the Almanac Trial I came across a term which intrigued me. One of the witnesses talked about an "old fashioned wagon h...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013


It was Sunday, and most places were closed, so I decided to try to find the scene of the killing which resulted in Duff Armstrong's prosecution for murder. I knew two things about the scene: (1) It was somewhere near Salt Creek, and (2) it was in a place called either Walnut Grove, Walker's Grove, or Virgin's Grove. I had been told the approximate location of the place by one of the locals, and I felt I could find it. I was wrong. I found Salt Creek, which we in North Florida would call a river, but when I got to the place where Walnut Grove was supposed to be, all I found was a cornfield and a cemetery, and it was nowhere near Salt Creek. It was something of an Oddysey.

Salt Creek

Lane was very patient with me as I drove aimlessly through cornfields and small villages looking for Walnut Grove. It was something like going into a time warp back to the 1950's. We could have been in early twentieth century rural North Florida except that Florida corn cannot hold a candle to Illinois corn. Comparing the corn on the farm where I grew up to Illinois corn would be like comparing wild quail to farm-raised quail. Finally, I decided to give up and go back to the hotel. We needed gas, so I stopped at a gas station in a small town.

When I got out to put my credit card into the gas pump, I found further evidence that we had gone into a time warp back to the 1950's. There was no slot for a credit card. A quick check of the price displayed on the pump reassured me that we were still in the twenty first century, so I went inside the store to prepay. "Oh, you don't have to prepay," said the lady behind the counter, "Just pump the gas and come back and tell me how much it was." I did so. As I was paying, I asked her if she knew where Walnut Grove was. She didn't know, but she knew where I could go to find out. She directed me to a neighboring village and told me to check at the bar on the main street there.

We drove through more cornfields until we came to the small town, and then couldn't find the sign for the bar. I guess the locals knew where the bar was, so there was no sense in spending money on useless extravagances like signs. Using my finely honed detective skills, I deduced that the bar was the only building on the street which had cars parked in front of it. I pulled up and parked and asked Lane if she wanted to come in with me. She didn't.

The inside of the bar looked like the typical inside of a rural bar. I've visited many bars just like it, but when I visited most of those bars, it was in connection with a criminal investigation. I bellied up to the bar next to one of the patrons and the barmaid came over and asked me what I wanted. I told her, and she asked one of the patrons if he knew where Walnut Grove was. They told me that Duff Armstrong was buried in the Walnut Grove Cemetery and they knew where it was. Receiving my directions, I exited the bar, got back into the truck, and we were off to find Walnut Grove.

We found the cemetery, and there were some trees in the distance which could have been Walnut Grove, but there was mostly cornfields.

Walnut Grove (?) Cemetery

I put the question mark in the caption above because I'm not certain that the cemetery had anything to do with Walnut Grove. It did have Duff Armstrong's grave, though.

Duff Armstrong's Grave

The picture above doesn't do justice to the lush fields of corn surrounding the cemetery. Duff's grave marker did not bear his date of birth or date of death. It did give the military unit he served in during the Civil War.


By all the evidence I have been able to muster, Duff died a pauper. The headstone is  a generic headstone given to Civil War veterans. We tried to take a rubbing of the tombstone, but didn't have the proper equipment. Beside the headstone is plastic plaque which is somewhat more legible.

Accused Slayer Of
Preston Metzker
May 7, 1858
Freed By Lincoln In
Almanac Trial

Before we left, we found another headstone that I thought was worthy of a photograph. The gentleman buried beneath this headstone certainly had a nice sense of humor.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Nobody really knows how the courtroom was set up when Lincoln tried his famous case there. It is believed that the judge's bench is the same as it was in 1858, and maybe the rail which divides the audience from the working area. They have tried to recreate the layout, and it looks like a fairly reasonable setup for a courtroom. When you walk in the door, here is the first thing you see:


Why they would have a witness stand on both sides of the judge's bench is somewhat of a mystery. It seems that the witness stand on the right would better be set up as a clerk's workstation. On the left side of the courtroom sits a row of six chairs, which I assume represents the jury box:

The jury box panel is missing, and there are only half enough chairs. In Lincoln's day all juries consisted of 12 jurors. On the wall behind the jury box you see a painting of Lincoln showing the famous almanac to the jury.

Looking to the right you see a table surrounded by chairs. This is probably where the clerk sits when the courtroom is used to hear cases. On the wall on the right side, you see a reproduction of the ambrotype photograph which was taken of Lincoln on the afternoon of the trial. The original ambrotype is now located at the University of Nebraska. This ambrotype is unique in that it is the only known photograph of Lincoln wearing a white suit.

If my memory serves me correctly, I believe that our guide, Corky Kinstle, told me that the seats in the audience were discarded pews from a local church. On the back wall of the courtroom hang a number of exhibits, including a reproduction of the derringer used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Lincoln. A more pertinent exhibit is a framed 1857 almanac turned to the page showing the moon wasn't where the eyewitness said it was. You will also see a reproduction of Norman Rockwell's painting of Lincoln holding the almanac as he cross-examines the eyewitness.

In the files of the Library of Congress, I found a 1937 photograph which gives us a possibly more accurate layout of the courtroom:

The bench and rail look the same as in the current layout, but the jury box looks much more like a jury box, with more seats and a panel in front of the seats. On the right is the clerk's workstation, which looks much more functional than the table now which sits in the right corner of the courtroom. There is only one counsel table, probably because the jury box and clerk's work station take up too much room to allow for two tables. In my early days as a lawyer, I tried many cases in a courtroom which easily accommodated only one large counsel table. It was somewhat awkwark to be sitting at the same table as your opponent, but we adjusted and made do. Finally someone realized that we could sit at separate tables if the one large counsel table was removed and replaced by two smaller tables. This was probably how the courtroom was set up when Lincoln defended the Almanac Trial--two smaller counsel tables rather than the one large table in the photo. Eyewitnesses to the trial described the lawyers as sitting at separate tables.
There are a number of websites devoted to the courtroom:


One thing a prosecutor always wants to do when investigating a murder is to visit the scene of the crime. When I went to Illinois researching my book on the Almanac Trial, I couldn't find the scene of the crime, but I did find the scene of the trial.

When Lane (my wife) and I arrived at the courthouse in Beardstown, it was a Saturday and the courthouse was closed. I was disappointed that I wasn't going to be able to see the courtroom, because we had a busy schedule during our time in Illinois and weren't going to be able to come back. I decided that I could at least take a photo of the plaque that the Beardstown Woman's Club had put on the front of the building.

Plaque commemorating the Almanac Trial
The plaque reads "The Beardstown Woman's Club erected this Tablet February 12, 1909, In Memory of ABRAHAM LINCOLN Who for the sake of a mother in distress, cleared her son, Duff Armstrong, of the charge of murder, in this Hall of Justice, May 7, 1858."

We were getting ready to leave when Lane suggested that she take  photo of me standing at the front door of the courthouse.

Me in Front of the Cass County Courthouse

I am a compulsive reader, so while I was at the front door, I read the signs taped inside the window. I learned that the courthouse museum was open on Saturdays, but that we were just too early. We waited for the museum to open. Around 9:00 a gentleman by the name of Corky Kinstle soon arrived to unlock the door and we followed him in. He gave us the full tour of all the exhibits in the museum, most of which dealt with the history of Beardstown. It was interesting, but I couldn't help becoming impatient to go ahead and get upstairs to the courtroom.

Then he took us down and showed us the jail, which was a dungeon-like room at the rear of the courthouse. It was here that Duff Armstrong was housed from November 1857 until May 1858 awaiting trial. Mr. Kinstle told us that Armstrong didn't spend all his time in the cage. The sheriff granted him trustee status and let him out to go work doing odd jobs at the sheriff's home. It is likely that this helped Duff get acquitted. The people of Beardstown, twelve of whom would eventually serve on Duff's jury, likely became familiar with him and decided that he couldn't be that desperate a criminal if the sheriff was letting him out to do odd jobs.

Mr. Kinstle said that an effigy of Duff was on the bed in his cell. The dummy of Duff had been there for many years, and scores, if not hundreds, of visitors to the museum had gotten their pictures taken with "Duff." I declined to get my picture taken with him, but I did take a photograph of him lying on his jail bunk bed.

The Beardstown Courthouse Jail Cells

As you can see from the photograph, accommodations for prisoners have improved in the last century and a half. It is said that while Duff was in jail there was also a school teacher serving time there, and that he taught Duff to read. After looking at the jail, our guide decided it was time for us to go upstairs and see what they had up there.

One room of the upstairs was called the "Black Museum," which made me think of Scotland Yard's Black Museum in London. The Beardstown Black Museum was nothing like the one in London. London's Black Museum, which is not open to the public, contains evidentiary exhibits from various criminal investigations over the years. Back in the heyday of old time radio, Orson Welles narrated a radio show called "The Black Museum." At the beginning of each episode, Welles would describe one of the evidentiary exhibits from the museum, and then you would  hear a dramatization of the case in which the exhibit was collected. The Beardstown Black Museum was a collection of antiques and curios donated by a man named Black. Outside the courtroom and the jail cell, this was my favorite part of the courthouse museum. Mr. Black collected antique firearms, and the display of guns was quite interesting.

After looking at the Black Museum, it was time to go into the courtroom itself.
Before we go into the courtroom, let's take one more look at the outside of the courthouse. In addition to the photographs that I took of the courthouse, I found two others which showed the courthouse in earlier years. One photo comes from an article written by J.N. Gridley in 1910. The other comes from the Library of Congress, and was taken in 1937.Here are the three pictures:

The structure which looks like a cupola in the two earlier photos is not a part of the courthouse. It is on the fa├žade of a building behind it. From 1910 to at least 1937 the building served as the Beardstown city hall. The most visible changes are: (1) The elimination of the chimneys sometime between 1910 and 1937. (2) The paving of the road in front of the courthouse, from dirt to brick to asphalt. (3) The buildings surrounding the courthouse. (4) The flagpole, which appears to be a wooden shaft with a square cross section in the 1910 & 2013 photos, but is a typical flagpole in the 1937 photo. Apparently the flagpole was changed to make it more like the one over the courthouse when Lincoln litigated the Almanac Trial.

If Lincoln were to see the courthouse today, he would probably have no trouble recognizing it as the courthouse where he defended Duff Armstrong, but he would probably recognize little else about the building's surroundings.

Friday, August 16, 2013