The Death of Commodore John MacLister

The Philadelphia Inquirer Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 05 Jan 1905, Thu • Page 1


J. C. Maclister, of the Red Dragon, Found Dead at Wissinoming, and Murder -Is Suspected

Standing against a fence in an attitude of one who had fought a duel to the death the body of J. C. Maclister, 28 years old, of 1219 Snyder avenue, was found yesterday afternoon on the grounds of the Red Dragon Canoe Club, at the Delaware "River and East Bobbins road, Wissinoming.

A bullet hole through the heart told how death had come with terrible swiftness. The fact that the corpse was frozen stiff and fast to the fence showed that tragedy had stalked in the late watches of the night. A few feet away on the ground was Maclister's own revolver with one chamber empty.

Suicide is out of the question, and the family believe that the young man was shot down while defending the club's property from midnight marauders. Some of the police, have a much less tenable theory -that he accidentally shot himself while hunting robbers.

Maclister was a young man widely known and with a roseate future. He was in business life private secretary to Lewis Lilly, treasurer of the United Gas Improvement Company. In the world of amateur sport he was known as the champion canoeist of the Atlantic Division. He was commodore of the Red Dragon Canoe Club, and had started to spend the night before iti the fleet officers' cabin on the club ground. It was right near the cabin door that Maclister received his death wound.

The hour of the shooting is supposed to have been about 9 o'clock on Tuesday night.

Spent Evening With Friends

Maclister went to the club grounds on Tuesday afternoon with two fellpw members. They spent the early evening in the clubhouse, and then the two others left to take the 8 o'clock train to the city. A few minutes later, about 8.30, Maclister stopped at the caretaker's cabin to talk, to Mrs. Longmore, the wife of the latter. From there he went to the commodore's cabin to turn in for the night.

Nothing more was seen or heard from him until noon yesterday, when Freeda Longmore noticed a shadow flitting about in a peculiar manner. She watched it for a little while, and after attending to some household duties started to investigate. Walking over to the point where the shadow was flickering, she saw it was reflected by the door of the commodore's cabin, which was flapping backwards and forwards with the stiff wind. The girl peered inside. The bunk was mussed up and Maclister's clothing with the exception of his shirt and trousers .was lying on the floor.

Girl Found Body

Tn alarm she turned about her and some yards away saw the figure of the commodore leaning against a tence. She touched the body; it was stiff and frozen A clot of blood was frozen hard over a wound in the breast. One arm, the pistol arm, was half raised, as though it had dropped after discharging a revolver. A revolver lay on the ground several feet away. It was subsequently identified as Maclister s own weapon. Mrs. Longmore at once called up the hotel at Tacony and asked them to notify the police. By a strange coincidence at the same moment her father, James Longmore, the club's caretaker, was on his way to Tacony to notify the police that the club had been recently bothered by thieves, who had "stolen valuables from the premises."

The police after visiting the scene reached the theory that Maclister had heard noises outide, gone out to investigate and accidentally shot himself. This theory disregards the peculiar position in which the body was found, standing as a duellist facing his antagonist. It also fails to take in the evidence of the wound itself. An accidental wound in the breast would seem difficult of infliction. Circumstances utterly set at rest the suggestion of suicide.

Commodore Maclister was murdered by thieves at whom he had fired with his own weapon.

This is the belief of the man's own family. "I believe my brother met with foul play." said his brother. Frank Maclister. "The most probable theory is that he got up in the night to hunt for robbers and was killed. The accident theory does not seem to fit. and suicide is out of the question. My brother's home life was the happiest and his business career was bright. He had worked his way up from the lowest rung to a position of responsibility and had everything before him."

Mrs. Longmore, the wife of the caretaker, says: "I remember hearing a noise during the night and something that sounded like a shot. I paid no attention to it at the time. The club house has been robbed several times lately."

Maclister lived at home with his mother and sister. His position as private secretary to the treasurer of the United Gas Improvement Company, was one of great responsibility which had been won bv hard work. United Gas Improvement officials give the dead man a splendid reputation for character and ability and say he had a bright business career ahead of him.



Snapped Cartridge was in Revolver

That John C. Maclister lost his life white hunting thieves on the grounds of The Red Dragon Canoe Club, near Lardner's Point some time on Tuesday night has been established by the careful sifting of the evidence in the boat house tragedy.

Whether the young man was shot down in a duel with his opponent or whether in the chase he tripped and accidentally discharged his own pistol at his breast remains to be determined by a coronor's jury today. The weight of the evidence seems to lean towards the latter solution, but against the complete acceptance is the mute protest of a snapped cartridge.

Suicide is no longer considered a possibility by those who have fitted the threads together. No motive for self-destruction and every reason for life.
Only a few hours before death he was planning for the summer and improvements to his club house.

It is known that he went to bed with the story of recent robberies dinging in his ears and an express purpose on his lips of making it warm for the thieves should they return during the night. It is presummed that during the gale of Tuesday night the commodore heard noises at the rear of his cabin. Hastily grabbing his revolver he only stopped to jam three cartridges into the cylinder, slip on his trousers and rush round the house. Then death came.

Fatal shot at close range

At 3 o'clock the next afternoon probably fourteen to eighteen hours after he met his death, his body was found lying face downward in the snow by the side of his cottage. There was a bullet wound in his breast and his revolver was found a few feet away. His shirt and breast were terribly powder burned indicating that the death wound had been given at close range.

When the revolver was examined, it showed a state of things that deepened the mystery.The first cartridge had missed fire and the cylinder had been turned to the second cartridge, which had been discharged. The third cartidge was intact. Roughly, these were the physical outlines of the tragedy.

A storm had raged all night and the snow had drifted around the body and had spread its has spread its white mantle across the fields.There were no signs of a struggle in the harmony of whiteness and no marks of a murderer's footprint. But it had snowed for hours after the tragedy was done, and the absence of footprints might mean nothing.
In one pace, in a bank of snow on one of the rearstepsss of the cottage, a ffew feet from where Maclister fell, were two outlines. One looked like the footprint of a man going in and the other of a man coming out. They were at a door which Maclister did not use and where he was supposed to have heard noises during the night.

A Lonesome Location

The home of the Red Dragon Canoe Club is on a lonely spot on the river bank, between the new Lardner's Point pumping station and Tacony. The main building is an old-fashioned brick house, fronts on the river and overlooks the club pier. In one end of this house lives James Longmore, the club caretaker with his wife and family.

Probably one hundred feet to the rear of the house, and shaded by trees are(sic) a row of tiny cottages or shacks, each of which is the home of some individual member or group of members. Maclister had recently given up his sleeping room in the main house proper and, with another member, had bought a cabin and was fitting it up. It was the last cabin to the north of the row. Its location was such that its sides and rear could not be seen from where the Longmores lived in the cottage.

On Tuesday, Maclister phoned out to Mr. Longmore that he was coming out at 5 o'clock. He did not arrive until 8 o'clock, and, as the storm was raging furiously, the Longmores had about given him up. Maclister was in good spirits and stopped to write up a bill that was owing the Longmores for some work that had been done about the place. He also brought some material to Miss Lonmoreto have her fix up some curtains for the cottage. Mr. Longmore told Maclister that thieves had visited the place twice in the last week and asked his advice.

“Report to the police in the morning,” said Maclister...
They walked over to the cotttage together and Maclister showed Longmore a thirty-two caliber, self-acting revolver he had got as a Christmas present.

Threatened fo Fix Thieves

“If they come again to-night, I will fix them.” said Maclister. I've brought a box of cartridges with me.”

Maclister then started to go to bed, and Longmore went back to the house. During the night the storm raged furiously. Trees nodded and groaned and doors and shutters banged. Above the din Mrs. Longmore says she recalls hearing a pistol shot. She thought nothing of it, as shots are frequently heard about there.

“I am sure I only heard one shot,”said Mrs. Longmore. “I paid little attention to it, however. Early Tuesday afternoon Mr. Longmore started over to Tacony to report the robberies to the police. About two o'clock I happened to glance over to Maclister's cottage and saw his door swaying in the wind. I called Freda, my daughter, and sent her over to see what was the matter. She was afraid to go, but went near enough to peer in the door. There she saw Maclister's clothes and cartidges lying on the floor and his bed all messed up. I 'phoned over to Tacony for Mr Longmire to bring a policeman with him. When they came they found the body.”

Condition of the body

“He was lying face downward,” said Mr. Longmore, “and the pistol was near him. He was only partially dressed as though he had rushed out, pistol in hand. There were no footprints in the snow save two on the rear step. The way the cartridges were scattered about and the fact that there were only three in the chamber shows he loaded up in a hurry. How the first catridge snapped is a mystery. It might be that Maclister tripped and the revolver was discharged. I am certain it was not suicide.”

Mr. Wilsoncroft, an expert shot and a club member, who was present at the time said: “I had warned Mac to be careful handling a revolver, for I know the danger of small fire-arms. It may be that he rushed out with the pistol cocked, and that when he tripped it was discharged. That does not explain the cartridge that missed fire, and that I can't explain. I am sure Maclister did not commit suicide. He either met with foul play or accidentally shot himself.”

Two of the dead man's brothers express the same opinion as does Lewis Lillie, treasurer of the United Gas Improvement Company. The dead man was Mr.Lillie's private secretary. Mr Lillie said: “The news of his death has shocked the whole office.There is not a clerk here who does not mourn his loss.

“Personally I had the highest regard for him. He worked his way up in the company and his private life was as clean as his business life was accurate.
“His death was either an accident or a foul murder. He was too happy-go-lucky in disposition to carry a hidden tragedy in his heart. He was not moody. He never drank liquor, a fact which adds to the improbability of the suicide theory.”

Coroner Dugan and the police incline to the theory of accidental shooting. Among Maclister's effects were receipted bills, a letter from E. T. Stotesbury declining to make a loan, and a letter demanding an apology in behalf of a young woman. The latter was not of recent date.

The Philadelphia Inquirer Philadelphia, Pennsylvania · 7 Jan 1905, Tue · Page 1


Jury Declares Red Dragon Commmodore Tripped While Hunting Thieves
Inquirer's Views of Occurrence Indorsed and This Newspaper's Photographs Referred To

Concurring with the theory supported by The Inquirer, and assisted materially by photographs of the scene of the tragedy which were furnished by this paper, the Coroner's jury yesterday rendered a verdict that John C. Maclister lost his life by the accidental discharge of his revolver while he was hunting thieves last Tuesday night on the grounds of the Red Dragon Canoe Club near Lardner's Point.

While the evidence failed to show how the young man actually met death, there was nothing to indicate that he fired the shot with suicidal intent. There was no known motive for self destruction, while on the other hand it was clearly explained theoretically how the tragedy occurred.

Maclister had the revolver for the express purpose of protecting himself and the club house from possible attack from the thieves have been looting other boat boat houses along the river bank, and it is believed that while he in the place on Tuesday evening the thieves, who had made a previous visit to the club house. had attempted to appear secure to more plunder, and that Maclister killed himse with a bullet that he had intended for one of the robbers.

Referred to Inquirer Photos

Dr. Wadsworth, one of the witnesses, after referring to the photographs provided by The Inquirer, which pictured the club house and the exact spot where Maclister's body was found, described, with the revolver in hand, how he thought the boat house commodore was killed. Presuming that he was in the club house when the thieves tried to gain an entrance, the physician said that Maclister had evidently pursued them and that as he was about to shoot at them he evidently tripped over a stone and received the bullet himself.

It was established beyond doubt, that Maclister had hastily left the club house without either hat, coat or vest. James Longshore(sic), janitor of the club house testified that he heard somebody at the club house door about 9 o'clock on Tuesday evening, which is believed to be the time the thieves tried to get into the building, and that he found the young man's body, with the revolver on the snow-covered ground on Wednesday.

After Clifton T. Mitchell of 46 East Sedgewick Street Germantown, a member of the club, and Acting Lieutenant Kenny and several officers, who figured in the investigation had testified, the jury announced its verdict.

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The Maclister Memorial Paddling Trophy was presented by the Club to the Atlantic Division in 1905 in memory of its Commodore John C. Maclister. who died on January 3rd of that year. The Red Dragon Paddling Trophy was presented to the Delaware-Chesapeake Division shortly after the organization of that division in 1916.

The Philadelphia Inquirer Philadelphia, Pennsylvania · 10 Jan 1905, Tue · Page 1

Hundreds at Maclister's funeral

Hundreds of the friends of John Maclister, the commodore of the Red Dragon Canoe Club, who was found dead outside the door of the c house lub at Tacony, yesterday attended the funeral of the young man. The services were held at Maclister's home, 1219 Snyder Avenue. home, 1219 Snyder Avenue.