This story was originally written for the Mahanoy Regional Historical Society.
Second in a two-part series
Robert W. Taylor, a former Mahanoy City pharmacist who was convicted of poisoning his new wife, was incarcerated in Schuylkill County Jail and faced more than seven years of solitary confinement.
The 36-year-old, who escaped from Berks County Jail nine years earlier after being convicted of robbery, was defiant during his trial in January 1901 and his sentencing the following month. He broke out in March.
“Walls out of the way for Bob Taylor’s escape,” read a Pottsville Daily Republican headline.
The newspaper described Taylor as “an expert pharmacist and an ingenious prisoner.”
Taylor dug holes in the cell walls with iron bars from the kitchen and washroom. He climbed over the prison wall using a 23-foot rope made of bedding with an iron hook fastened to one end. The night watchman saw him above his twenty-foot wall and opened fire, but Taylor was gone. His golden spectacles were found outside the prison walls.
News of Taylor’s escape drew a large crowd to the prison to see cell number 12. The hole in Taylor’s cell was 20 inches long, 9 inches deep and 14 inches wide. Warden Edwin K. Barth suspected that Taylor had helped.
Taylor was considered the most desperate and dangerous inmate in Schukill County. Shortly before escaping, Taylor told Barto that he would kill him if he had to escape.
In addition to poisoning his surviving wife, he was accused of poisoning his 14-year-old daughter-in-law, Elsie Meyers. She and her mother drank the same contaminated glass of water in the drug store. They were married in September 1900.
At the time of his escape, Taylor had a reddish complexion, brownish hair, blue eyes, a red, gritty, stubby beard, a scar on the left side of his face, and was 5 feet 8.5 inches tall and 160 pounds broad-shouldered. was explained. and myopia.
Taylor was caught by a coal train caboose in Reading on the same day. He boarded near Port Clinton. Flagman recognized him and sent a telegram to Redding. A policeman was waiting when the train arrived.
Taylor wore a red bandana around her head and left eye. He crippled one leg after falling from the prison wall.
On the morning of March 21, he returned to the Schuylkill County Jail in a physical wreck. Over 1,000 people gathered at Pottsville Station to meet him. Another crowd gathered at the prison. When Taylor got off the train with his chief Hiram S. Davis, he limped badly.
The Pottsville Daily Republican wrote, “On a palette of straws in the dark corner of Cell 17 lies the emaciated figure of linguist, scholar, and intellectual Robert W. Taylor.” ing.
A prisoner suspected of helping Taylor escape was held longer than his sentence but was not charged.
On April 1, 1901, the court granted Mary Myers’ divorce and allowed her to testify against Taylor about Elsie’s death. However, district attorney Michael P. McLoughlin did not say whether Taylor will be charged with Elsie’s murder. is said to be paying On April 24, prosecutors said he was unlikely to be charged with murder by a grand jury in May.
Taylor was never brought to justice in Elsie’s death. The Miner’s Journal reported that in 1906, Taylor was indicted for poisoning Elsie, but the charges were later dropped. I couldn’t find a news article stating when and why it happened. The refusal of experts to swear that the girl died of poisoning may have been a factor.
In his last public appearance in Schuylkill County, Taylor pleaded guilty to jailbreak and was sentenced to an additional one year and nine months in prison on top of his previous sentence. Sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia for the remainder of his term.
On October 4, 1906, Eastern State Penitentiary arranged for Taylor’s early release because he had “behaved well.” A date for his release has not been reported.
On November 16, Taylor wrote a nearly five-column letter to the Pottsville Daily Republican.
Taylor again pleaded not guilty. He referred to himself in the third person and cast suspicion on his ex-wife, Mary Myers. I didn’t think it was plausible to alternate drinking.”
“Who wants to get married for love or money and get divorced within 10 days? If it’s murder, will you make me call the doctor three times?”
“In conclusion, I reiterate the victim’s claims, Taylor’s innocence, and that this toxic potion was intended to detoxify him.”
A few months later, on March 1, 1907, Taylor was indicted on two counts of selling liquor without a license in Shippensburg. He worked as a clerk at the drug store he bought with the intention of starting his own business.
He was held on $500 bail in each case. However, Taylor escaped from the constable who was escorting him to a temporary lockup to escape with a team of stolen horses.
Three days later, a fire broke out in the stables at the Farmers and Drovers Hotel in Carlisle. Four horses escaped and the hound died. A few days ago Taylor took his stolen horse to his stable. Police suspect he may have gone upstairs to the stables to hide, and may have lit a match to find his way down the stairs into the hay, or he may have deliberately set the fire on. I think I may have gotten it.
Taylor fled on one horse, which was probably covered in smoke and was not making much progress. It was found dead and Taylor was suspected of having his throat cut.
Police arrested Taylor on Carlisle Road at 5:15 pm on March 5. He had a revolver, a bullet case, a razor, and two of his knives. He was charged with arson, horse theft, animal cruelty, and carrying a deadly weapon. He was also charged with selling liquor without a license, resisting police officers and committing theft in Shippensburg.
On May 15, Taylor was found guilty. He was sentenced to his 18 years in Eastern State Penitentiary, after which he was sentenced to a year later in Cumberland County Jail.
Lawyers for Taylor’s sister, Salina Taylor Mitchell, asked the court in May 1907 for an insanity commission. The petition states that Taylor suffered a severe head injury as a child that compromised his vision, which made him insane.
“He gives evidence of the delirium found in delusions of persecution. Delusions that he is being poisoned; that his best friends are conspiring to harm him. He has a period of excitement.” Being completely irrational, having no memory of recent events, lacking sufficient willpower to control powerful impulses that lead to irrational behavior, recent crimes being insane The petition said his restraint was necessary for the welfare of Taylor and others.
On June 7, 1907, the court denied the application. According to the Pottsville Daily Republican, at some point thereafter, Taylor was transferred from Eastern State Penitentiary to Norristown State Psychiatric Hospital.
On August 28, 1910, Taylor escaped a mental hospital in Norristown, but was arrested within an hour. Taylor tries again.
At about 6:00 am on December 26th, when the iron bars in the window of the psychiatric hospital became cold, he hit the window with a chain and broke the iron. He crawled through the opening, hung over the windowsill, and fell 25 feet to freedom.
A January 12, 1911 Reading Times article reported that Taylor had been captured in Washington, D.C., and an attendant had been sent to bring him back. However, in his April 19 article that year, the Pottsville Daily His Republican said he had gone missing before being detained and remained at large.
It is unknown where Robert Taylor lived and died after his last escape. The family home on Nine Street in North Reading, known as the “Mystery House” and “Haunted House” due to Taylor’s notoriety, was demolished in 1921. Abandoned for over 20 years.
“Bob Taylor once lived there,” said the Reading Times in 1911. he got worse Through his shortcomings, his family supported him to the end. ”
Mary Myers died in Mahanoy City in 1927 at the age of 72 and was buried in Myerstown with her first husband and daughter Elsie. Myers’ drug store eventually became Tim’s Pharmacy, and she still resides at 22 West Center Street, CJ’s Dog House, her restaurant.
Taylor’s mother’s obituary in 1912 did not list Robert as a survivor. But a 1918 death notice for his brother John, if accurate, may give a clue how long Robert lived. The entire family, consisting of two daughters, a son, and a brother, is said to have attended the burial in Colorado Springs, Colorado. John Taylor, Jr., who died in Iowa on May 21, 1918, had only one brother, Robert.
As for young Elsie Meyers, it is not certain whether her stepfather poisoned her.
Terry Rang, former editor-in-chief of The Morning Call, wrote this article for the Mahanoy Area Historical Society. Society historian Paul Combe provided the study.go to mahanoyhistory.org For more information about this story and society.
Newspapers and other sources used in this report include the Pottsville Daily Republican, Evening Herald, Miners Journal, Reading Times, Carlyle Sentinel and Philadelphia Inquirer. Other sources included the U.S. Census and other public records.