Charles McCarty Murder Overview
On the morning of January 30, 1907, William Charles Rawlinson fired at Attorney Charles McCarty from 5 feet away. The first bullet struck the victim’s back, knocking him to the ground. The metal lodged in flesh under his right shoulder blade. McCarty took a second bullet in the back of the head not far from his right ear. Rawlinson stood above him emptying his pistol, but missing every time, except for a shot through the calf of McCarty’s left leg. Seven witnesses saw it all. McCarty, 49 years old, died that afternoon
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Charles McCarty was born on February 24, 1857 in Green Bay, WI to Dennis and Margaret (Tobin) McCarty. The McCarty family moved to Kaukauna five years later. Charles attended the University of Iowa, and graduated with a bachelors degree and a law degree. While at college, Charles met his wife, Elizabeth Matter. They were married on the same day as their graduation: June 19, 1879. The couple went on to have three sons – Daniel, Charles, and Brian – who all attended the University of Iowa.
Charles was hired on as a professor of math and languages at Tilford Collegiate Academy in Vinton, an institution allegedly started by his uncle, Thomas Tobin. At age 31, McCarty took ill and had to resign. In part to regain his health,
McCarty moved his family south to Florida. Despite being on the east coast, and of warmer climate, Florida in the 1880s was a young state because few wanted to contend with the swamps.
He settled south of Fort Pierce in Ankona, near where his father-in-law, Elias Matter, had moved with his second wife, Mary. [Coincidentally according to an 1885 census, Lizzie’s family lived with Brevard County Commissioner Chaffee and his wife, Cora, the latter of whom will return in the story.]
The McCartys built a small home of their own in the scrub land along the Indian River. While Lizzie taught school, Charles cleared their property and planted several pineapple slips per acre, carefully measured inches apart. McCarty was said to have 22,000 acres of land. When not growing fruit, McCarty had been the attorney for the Florida Coast Railway.
McCarty wrote to the Kaukauna Times from Ankona, Florida on December 18, 1888:
Dear Sir, Having many friends and acquaintances who are readers of your valuable paper, I wish to encroach upon your space for a few lines. We arrived here December 3. Had a pleasant trip but met some delays on account of quarantine regulations. While there is ample material for a long, descriptive letter and while I would take pleasure in writing such a communication, I must not allow myself that pleasure. We came by Chicago, Cincinnati, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Jessup and Jacksonville. We passed Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain where many a brave boy in blue gave his life for his country and her integrity. We stopped in Chicago to see the celebrated actor and actress Coquelin-Hading Combination, at McVickers. Having heard the best American actors in Shakespeare, I have my hesitation in saying Madam [Jane] Hading is the most powerful and fascinating actress the American stage has ever known. With a world wide reputation, [Benoît-Constant] Coquelin did not make so favorable an impression upon me. He is a little heavy for the American deal of comedy. We passed the quarantine station at Fort Perry on the southern bank of St. May’s River, and with locked doors and bolted windows passed around Jacksonville at a distance of 14 miles.
The streets of Jacksonville were about those of Tyre or Babylon.
The yellow fever is really not half so horrible as northern people imagine. I have a chance to know and find that Florida in general and the Indian River country in particular, is as liable to escape its ravages as any part of the world while we are entirely free of asthma, lung or throat troubles.
So far as weather is concerned, you could not tell whether December 25 was to be Christmas or the Fourth of July. Thermometer from 60 to 80 degrees above. Frost or snow entirely unknown.
Hunting and fishing are unsurpassed. You can take all the fish you can carry, weighing from 10 to 200 pounds each. Oysters to be had for the taking from the river. Deer, raccoon, opossum and the fiercer wild animals to be encountered at almost any time. Hunters frequently shoot two or three deer at a time by „shining their eyes“ with a lantern. If you have courage enough to meet sharks or alligators, they are ready to make your acquaintance in their native haunts. We are eating direct from the gardens and groves, cabbage, beans, cassava, eggplants, pineapple, grapefruit, citron, lemons, limes, oranges, papayas, pomegranates, guavas and others too numerous to mention. It seems like fairyland to a frozen pilgrim from the north. This is to be my future home. I have opened a law, loan and real estate business, and will also develop an orange grove and pineapple plantation on some land of my own.
It would not be proper here to discuss the profits of investments in lands, orange groves or banana or pineapple culture. They are very large. The climate also adds to the charm. I will be glad to correspond with any who are thinking of having homes or making investments in the south. There is no usury law in Florida; any interest is lawful. We are surrounded by the choicest tropical plants and bulbs, and by coral, sea beans, shells, alligators, curiosities, etc. I will take pleasure in making collections for parties who will bear in mind that time is valuable and that it costs labor to gather and classify. Should anyone call at Baywood Cottage, they will receive a real southern welcome.
After his early successes, he published a booklet in 1894 telling other newcomers how they could follow his example. He planted limes and oranges, too. Pineapples made him rich, but he was especially fond of his citrus groves. McCarty used his scientific know-how to produce the highest yields possible from the sandy Florida sail. His expertise became so widely respected that the British government consulted him regarding its “semi-tropical industries” in the Bahamas. He published an almanac for it in Nassau.
Time and again, his fruit took first-place prizes at the State Fair in Jacksonville. The size of his horticultural empire quickly grew, and so did his wealth and reputation. He didn’t limit his holdings to the Fort Pierce-Ankona region. He also owned property in the unincorporated community of Viking where he had a packing house and a cottage.
In September 1901, he could afford three weeks of vacationing with Lizzie at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, a World’s Fair.
In 1902, McCarty built a beautiful home on the river in Eldred. a riverside community north of Ankona and south of Fort Pierce. The newspaper described the house as “one of the most imposing residences in the pineapple region furnished in the most lavish manner.” Lizzie christened their new home with what the newspaper said was “one of the most brilliant social affairs occurring on the east coast for some time.“ Two hundred guests were served a sumptuous dinner. Some came from as far away as Jacksonville. Japanese lanterns lit the grounds and “moonlight produced an enchanting effect.”
William Charles Rawlinson
Down the sandy road in Ankona lived a fellow fruit grower, William Charles Rawlinson, also known as Willie or WC, younger and less ambitious than his rich, distinguished neighbor, but he had pride, the kind that spurs resentment. Willie made it known via the newspaper society page that his brother held a position of prominence in South Carolina’s government. The boast didn’t elevate his local standing much. As a newspaper later reported, it was widely known that Rawlinson’s 100 acres were acquired “through his own industry.” He gained his real estate holdings by marrying Cora Chaffee, the county commissioner’s widow who was much older than Willie. And he allegedly didn’t work his land very hard; he only maintained 30 acres of plantings. It was also rumored that he had a drinking problem.
Rawlinson made a few appearances in the social news. He ordered a carriage for his wife from a manufacturer in South Carolina, and he attended her Eastern Star meetings as the club’s doorkeeper, One time he took his wife to see the paradise Henry Flagler, founder of Standard Oil and the Florida East Coast Railway, had built in Palm Beach. On August 11, 1905, Rawlinson made the newspaper when he slipped on a banana peel!
In addition to his fruit enterprise, McCarty served as president or the local Board of Trade; a director and the largest shareholder in the Bank of Fort Pierce and a partner at a real estate and insurance company. He was also president of the Florida Horticultural Society. He organized its conventions and lectured secretaries of agriculture from across the nation. On top of all that, McCarty had a busy law practice.
Towards the end of 1906, McCarty was the defense attorney in a murder trial. A local furniture dealer’s son shot another boy out on a busy downtown street. The victim had no gun. McCarty and his co-counsel, Otis R. Parker, successfully defended their client who went free. (McCarty and Parker also teamed up to win a case where they defended a county commissioner who allegedly attempted to murder another local attorney.)
On January 11, 1907, St. Lucie County reported in front page headlines that fortune had smiled upon WC. A member of the French nobility had signed a contract to buy his “fine property” for a lot of money. McCarty agreed to be Count Malabri’s attorney in the Rawlinson deal. That was a deal that would end his life. [Malabri was said to be a descendant of the former royal family; however, I am only able to find him in relation to this deal. I suspect the newspaper misspelled his name.]
Peter Cobb, the proprietor of the local general store, claimed Rawlinson owed him money. This lead to a lien being placed on Rawlinson’s property. McCarty, as the buyer’s attorney, made a title objection, holding up the sale. McCarty also questioned whether Rawlinson’s property might be 6 acres short of what had been represented in the contract, so McCarty demanded a land survey to prove that Rawlinson’s land was as big as he said it was.
Rawlinson became unhinged. He told witnesses that he wanted to kill somebody, and he set his sight on Peter Cobb.
January 30, 1907 Murder
Early on the morning of Wednesday, January 30, 1907, Rawlinson loaded his pistol and went into town. He expected Cobb to be following his usual routine of having breakfast at the local hotel. Rawlinson waited outside for him, but he never showed up. Eventually, Rawlinson spotted McCarty walking on the street. Rawlinson decided to make his buyer’s attorney the substitute sacrifice to his rage. He wanted a public execution and the attorney who ruined his land deal would do.
That morning, McCarty had a meeting with surveyor J.O. Fries. Prior to the meeting, he stopped at Edward Edge’s barber shop for a shave. These would be the final moments of normalcy in Charles McCarty’s life: enjoying an old-fashioned shave at the corner of Pine and Palmetto. Edward Edge. Shave over, McCarty rose from the swivel chair and said goodbye.
Walking out the door into the brisk air, he turned to go up the street but didn’t get far. Rawlinson wasted no time. He fired at McCarty from 5 feet away. The first bullet struck the victim’s back, knocking him to the ground. The metal lodged in flesh under his right shoulder blade. McCarty took a second bullet in the back of the head not far from his right ear. Rawlinson stood above him emptying his pistol, landing a shot through the calf of McCarty’s left leg. Seven witnesses saw it all.
As the townsfolk all came running to McCarty’s aid, the killer simply walked away. They say he sauntered down the street and around the corner, twirling his gun like Jesse James. No one dared get in his way and no one tried to stop him, but it didn’t matter. When Rawlinson reached Carlton’s Meat Market, he summoned the sheriff (who was also the butcher) to come and arrest him. When he was arrested, Rawlinson reportedly told Sheriff Carlton that he regretted not killing Peter Cobb.
Deceased: Charles McCarty
Two doctors tended to McCarty while he repeatedly kept asking why Rawlinson would shoot him. When his wife arrived, McCarty was moved to their son Dan’s house on the other side of town, the house Charles had given him two years earlier as a wedding present. A telegram was sent to Dr. Worley in St. Augustine requesting the hospital’s new X-ray machine. A surgeon was dispatched right away, but did not arrive in time. Charles T. McCarty died at 1:45 p.m.
A telegram was sent to McCarty’s brother Joseph in Kaukauna, indicating Charles had been shot, but no further details were included. The family speculated that it must have been related to an argument in court. Upon receiving the news, Charles son, Dr. CE McCarty, left for Florida.
On the witness stand, Rawlinson claimed that he just knew McCarty planned to rob him of his land and take his life. He said the man had persecuted him for 14 years, but Rawlinson didn’t provide any examples. He also claimed that McCarty had driven him crazy. On the morning in question, he said he thought the lawyer pulled a gun on him, so he shot him in self defense. And after that first shot, he said, he blacked out completely, gaining consciousness three hours later, when his wife Cora visited him in jail.
No evidence was offered to indicate McCarty had ever done Rawlinson wrong. Nothing was entered to prove the defendant was legally insane, that he didn’t know right from wrong when he pulled the trigger. The defense offered only idle speculation from a family member that two distant relatives had lost their minds, and his sister had died of melancholia.
For the prosecution, the nation’s leading expert on insanity from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore testified that Rawlinson was perfectly sane. Additionally, three witnesses said they heard Rawlinson say that he was going to commit murder, and seven more testified that they saw him do it. McCarty had no weapon, and it was unlikely that he saw Rawlinson coming as he had been gunned down from behind.
The jury deadlocked at six to murder in the first degree, a condition that normally would have resulted in a mistrial but instead, the jury compromised with a guilty verdict of manslaughter. The jurors had no legal right to reduce the charges, but they did it anyway. Judge Minor S. Jones sentenced Rawlinson to 10 years of hard labor. The community thought the verdict was an outrage.
The defense team appealed on the grounds that the verdict was supposed to be for a death penalty offense or nothing. After months of waiting around in the new county jail, and confusion about the results of additional sanity hearings, Rawlinson was sent away, but it is not clear where he went. One newspaper report said he was sent to do hard labor in Ocala, but the 1910 census lists him as an inmate at Florida’s state hospital for the criminally insane.
In 1908, Rawlinson’s wife, Cora died.
According to the 1920/1930/1935/1940 census, Rawlinson lived in Eastover, South Carolina, free and living with his mother and sisters. He died 34 years after the murder, on December 22, 1941.