By Mary Fox
How “Murder Hill” in Ellicottville got its name has been a topic of speculation for well over 100 years. The moniker is often attributed to the fact that driving on the winding stretch of Rt. 242 between Ellicottville and Little Valley, especially in the winter, can be “murder.” But in actuality, the name comes from the fact that a murder did take place there in 1875.
The story may never have been documented had it not been for a conversation between avid Ellicottville storyteller, Les Fox, Sr. and Candace Broughton, a doctoral student of American studies at the University of Buffalo.
Broughton was intrigued by the story and pursued it to the point where her research took her to county offices, old newspapers, books on murders and visits to descendants of the accused, eventually becoming the basis for her dissertation. Her paper, “Gendered Justice: Emma Wimple and the Story of Murder Hill,” was published in 2004.
It all started on a small farm on the rugged, hilly land where Charles Wimple, his 20-year-old wife Emma and their two children, five-year-old Hattie and three-year-old Willie, eked out a living. Wimple, who had served for the Union Army during the Civil War, was wounded in the battle of Cold Harbor. Upon his return, documents suggest he was depressed because of the pain he suffered in his arm and often declared he wanted to die.
When his body was found, his death initially was attributed to suicide.
But Emma’s father, Reuben Marsh, and her sister Vienna weren’t convinced. They believed that Emma, who was five months pregnant at the time of Charles’ death, and the family’s hired hand, Nelson Cool, were having an affair. They informed the authorities of their suspicions.
Pharmacy records soon revealed that Cool had purchased arsenic and strychnine in the weeks preceding Charles’ death. The body was subjected to a full autopsy, where signs of poison in his stomach and spleen were discovered.
Samples were sent to Buffalo for analysis by Dr. George Hadley, a professor of forensic chemistry at the University of Buffalo. Hadley confirmed the results of the autopsy, and Cool and Emma were promptly arrested, arraigned, examined and incarcerated in the county jail.
Hadley later testified during Cool’s Cattaraugus County trial. This was the first time forensics had ever been used as evidence in the county.
Ultimately, Cool was convicted of murder, later confessed and was sentenced to life in prison. Emma was sentenced to life imprisonment in Sing Sing Penitentiary. She, however, maintained her innocence all her life and, after serving 27 years, her sentence was commuted. She died in 1917 at the age of 62.