Who Killed the Hoy Family?

Connellsville looking toward New Haven

Connellsville dates back to the early 19th century, but it did not become a city until 1909, when the borough of Connellsville and its neighbor across the Youghiogeny River, the borough of New Haven, joined together.

While Connellsville is famous for being the center of the coke industry in western Pennsylvania during the late 1800s, New Haven was at the center of a spectacular quadruple murder in 1893. Although the official record states that it was John Hoy who took a hatchet and shaving razor and slaughtered his wife and two children before taking his own life, there are enough unanswered questions about the tragedy to raise doubts as to whether John Hoy really committed the heinous act.

The Discovery of the Crime

It was around 3 o'clock on the Monday afternoon of May 29 when John Hoy's stepmother, Mary Eagan, decided to pay a visit to the Hoy home. After no one responded to her knocks on the door, Mrs. Eagan let herself inside and, upon entering the house, immediately encountered large pools of blood on the floor. She frantically went from room to room, then up the stairs and into the bedroom John Hoy shared with his wife, Mollie.

Sprawled across the bed was Mollie and on the floor was John. Both had their throats slashed from ear to ear; a bloody razor rested atop a mantel next to the bed. Mrs. Eagan ran out of the house screaming, and she continued to run until she fainted. When she regained consciousness she found that she was inside a neighbor's house, with a large crowd of curious local residents already gathering on the street. Before long, the crowd outside the Hoy house had swelled to hundreds, but were kept at bay by police officers who had barred the doors, waiting for the arrival of Coroner Batton.

If Mrs. Eagan had explored the other upstairs bedroom, she would have discovered the bodies of the children. Inside this room the tiny bodies of 8-year-old William Hoy and his six-year-old sister, Portia, were found neatly tucked beneath the covers, as if they were still asleep. Both of their throats had also been cut from ear to ear, though a gaping wound from the blunt edge of a hatchet was also found behind Portia's ear, suggesting that she may have awakened while her brother was being slashed. The hatchet was found inside the bedroom of the parents. The condition of the bodies indicated that the Hoys had been dead for several hours, perhaps even a few days.

A description of the scene, as reported by the Pittsburgh Daily Post:

The sights and smells are overpowering, and even with the doors and window open the stench tonight and the awful spectacle are so sickening that few can remain indoors for more than a few minutes at a time.

A coroner's jury was empaneled and after viewing the death house and its gory inventory it was unanimously concluded that John Hoy had murdered his wife and children before committing suicide, although the official verdict would not be rendered for several days. The Hoys were well known throughout the neighborhood and it was general knowledge that John had been out of work; he was fired by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad for being drunk on the job. That was two months earlier, and John hadn't worked since. At the time of his death, he was heavily in debt. He was last seen alive on Saturday night, in a heavily inebriated state. As for Mollie, she had been born and raised in New Haven. An attractive woman 28 years of age, Mollie had no known enemies.

But there were a few things that just didn't add up, and these strange details kept all of New Haven in a tizzy for weeks.

Mrs. Eagan and the members of the coroner's jury both observed that there were large pools, splashes and smears of blood throughout the house. If the children and Mrs. Hoy had been murdered in their beds, then whose blood was downstairs? If John had killed his family upstairs and then went downstairs before taking his own life, one might expect a few blotches of blood here and there-- perhaps a handprint on a wall or a footprint on the stairs-- but the immense quantity of blood suggests that one, or more, of the killings took place on the first floor of the house. Of course, it is entirely possible that John, after killing the others, went downstairs where he tried killing himself, but couldn't finish the job.

There is some evidence that supports this theory; for instance, a cup of coffee, half empty, was found on the kitchen table. The cup was stained with blood. Yet there is also evidence that refutes this theory; John was found without a single drop of blood on his feet. Considering the messiness of the crime scene, this seems highly improbable.

Is it possible that John killed Mollie, William and Portia downstairs, and then carried his victims to their bedrooms, taking the time to tuck little Willy and Portia snugly beneath the covers before slashing his own throat? And, if so, how is it even possible to slash one's own throat so completely and thoroughly, and then place the instrument of death neatly on the mantel? Or is it possible that it was Mollie Hoy-- or somebody else-- who did the killing?

Officer Aiken, who was tasked with guarding the crime scene, believed that John couldn't have been the killer.

Officer Aiken saw a strange man leaving the Hoy house in a hurry shortly after noon on Tuesday, May 30. According to Aiken, the man's clothing was smeared with blood. He ordered the stranger to stop, but the man took off running. Officer Aiken gave chase, but the intruder got away, disappearing into a dense thicket of trees on the bank of the river. The man was never identified. Could it have been the real killer revisiting the scene of his crime? Or just a souvenir hunter attracted by morbid curiosity?

The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out that the Hoys lives in a thickly-populated part of New Haven, surrounded on all sides by neighbors, yet not a single neighbor recalled hearing or seeing anything strange in the hours and days preceding Mrs. Eagan's chilling discovery.

On Thursday, June 1, the Hoy family was buried in Hill Grove Cemetery. It was reported that, while preparing John's body for burial, the undertaker discovered Hoy's clothing bore water stains up to the armpits, and the prevailing theory was that John had waded into the river, presumably to take his own life, when he changed his mind and went home to slaughter his wife and children.

Others, however, insisted that John was a decent man, at least when he wasn't drunk, and that he died defending his family from a burglar. Since opinion was divided, there was much debate over whether or not John ought to be buried in consecrated ground. Eventually the reverend decided in John Hoy's favor, and he was laid to rest next to his wife and children.

Jury Blames it on Drink

On Saturday, June 3, the coroner's jury rendered its verdict, declaring that Mollie, William and Portia Hoy met their deaths at the hand of their father, who afterward cut his own throat. The Pittsburgh Press reported:

The jury were of the opinion that Hoy did not take his own life until some time early Monday morning. Testimony was given before the jury which led to the belief that Hoy was crazy when he committed the deed. He was subject to fits of temporary insanity, especially when he was drinking.

Based solely upon circumstantial evidence, it seems probable that John Hoy committed the foul deed. However, the strange details and unanswered questions surrounding the quadruple murder make it impossible for anyone to make that claim with one hundred percent certainty.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 30, 1893.
Philadelphia Inquirer, May 30, 1893.
Somerset Herald, May 31, 1893.
Pittsburgh Press, June 3, 1893.
Potter Enterprise, June 7, 1893.
Punxatawney News, June 7, 1893.


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