Amidst the excitement and romance of America’s Jazz Age, there was one scandal that topped all the rest: the Hall-Mills murder case. When the bodies of a beloved priest and his lover were discovered on a New Jersey farm, the tabloid press scrambled to find someone to blame. But more than 100 years later, the mystery remains unsolved.
Perhaps one of the earliest examples of a murder that morphed into an outright media sensation, this case captivated the public for generations. And really, that’s hardly a surprise — it ticked all of the boxes: sex, money, and bloodshed.
And to top it all off, one of the key suspects was the priest’s jilted wife. And she, for her part, was a member of New England’s wealthy elite.
So, was the Episcopal priest, Edward Wheeler Hall, really murdered by his wife, Frances Noel Stevens, after she discovered his illicit affair with Eleanor Mills, a member of his congregation? Or might Eleanor’s husband, James, have been the guilty party?
For decades, both amateur and professional sleuths have picked over the case with a fine-toothed comb. But despite much suspicion, a conviction has never stuck.
The bodies on the farm
The scandal began on September 16, 1922, when two bodies were discovered on a disused farm on the outskirts of New Brunswick. A man and a woman, they had been shot several times before being arranged on their backs under a crab apple tree.
And in a gruesome twist, the presence of maggots confirmed that they had been dead for a while. It’s a creepy thought.
But it was the love letters — and the calling card identifying the man as a local priest — found at the scene that really got people talking. And before long, investigators were able to put a name to the female victim, as well.
An active church goer and singer in the local choir, Eleanor seemed to have been singled out for a particularly violent fate.