Romy Cotell, Part III: A triple murder in Tallmadge


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Sep 02, 2023

Romy Cotell, Part III: A triple murder in Tallmadge

Editor’s Note: This History Knox column is Part III in a continuing series on Romy Cotell. Part I can be found at this link. Part II can be found at this link. Sunday, March 29, 1896 was a dark and

Editor’s Note: This History Knox column is Part III in a continuing series on Romy Cotell. Part I can be found at this link. Part II can be found at this link.

Sunday, March 29, 1896 was a dark and dismal night. Periods of hard rain swept the rolling farm fields between Tallmadge and Kent, along the border of Summit and Portage counties, in northeast Ohio.

It wasn’t the kind of night where anyone would be out and about. No one with any good intentions, at least.

A man emerged from the shadows around the barn on the Alvin Stone farm, carrying a ladder normally stored there. He took it around to the front of the house, to the corner where he knew the upstairs room was occupied by Stone’s teenaged daughters.

He carefully placed it against the house and braced it as best he could in the muddy yard. If it made a sound, no one heard it in the general unrest of the blustery weather.

But the ladder was not for entering the house. It was the man’s planned exit.

He walked over to the front door of the house and picked up something he had previously placed there, either a hatchet or a baseball bat. He opened the door. He knew it would be unlocked; it always was.

No one heard him enter.

The man was on a mission, and he wasted no time.

He went into the master bedroom, where 69-year-old Alvin Strong and his wife Serena, 63, were sleeping, and softly closed the door behind him. He raised the bat or the handle of the hatchet repeatedly and brought it down with tremendous force upon the heads of the sleeping couple before they could respond.

He opened the door and softly walked up the steps to the second floor, where the first room he encountered was the bedroom of the Stone’s new hired farmhand, Ira Stillson.

Across the hall, 29-year-old Emma Stone had been restless with bad dreams, sleeping lightly.

She heard the sound of someone coming up the stairs and entering Ira’s room. That struck her as strange, as her father never came upstairs that late.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden flurry of sound from the hired man’s room. Just as quick as it started, the commotion stopped. An eerie silence fell.

Emma’s pulse pounded as she heard the footsteps leave Ira’s room and turn in her direction. Without hesitation, the footsteps came to her door, and the handle turned.

Emma started to scream in her bed, and the intruder rushed over and covered her mouth, trying to stop her screaming.

In the next room, 16-year-old Flora and her 25-year-old sister Hattie were awakened by Emma’s muffled screams.

Hattie rushed out of their room to Emma’s door and pushed it open. Something suddenly hit her in the face, and she stumbled back into the hall and retreated to her room, bleeding.

“There’s a man in there trying to kill Emma,” she told Flora.

Hattie realized she had to get help.

Knowing the intruder blocked her exit down the hall, she determined that she would have to jump from their second-story window. She locked the door and told Flora to not unlock it under any condition.

She grabbed the quilt off her bed and stepped over to the window, pulling it open.

Hattie was startled to find a ladder placed against the sill. She decided to make use of it and climbed through the window and down the ladder. At the bottom, she took the ladder and moved it off to the side, to prevent any potential use by the intruder.

It also prevented Flora from escaping the room, but Hattie was in such a panic, it never even occurred to her what position she had put her sister in.

Hattie made it to the ground and took off running for the nearest neighbor’s house, almost 1,000 feet away.

Meanwhile, Flora heard the intruder leave Emma’s room. But instead of coming toward her room, the footsteps went back downstairs. Both confused and terrified, Flora wondered where her parents and Ira were.

Had the intruder killed them? Was Emma dead? Was the man downstairs robbing the place? Was he going to kill her?

As it turns out, what the killer was up to was far worse than robbery. He had returned downstairs, and was using a knife to mutilate the face and body of Alvin Stone. He made a few cuts on Serena as well, but nothing at all like the extensive stabbings he made against her husband.

Flora soon heard the steps coming back up the stairs and down the short hall to her room.

The intruder tried the handle of her door, and swore when he found it locked. He attacked the door with his fists until the upper panel of the wooden door shattered into splinters. He reached through the wreckage and unlocked the door, then swung it open.

In the dim light, Flora could see the man was wearing some sort of mask to cover his lower face. She could only see his eyes, and they were cold.

He looked around the room, then back at Flora.

“Where’s the other girl,” he yelled.

“I don’t know,” Flora said, terrified.

“Tell me, or I’ll kill you where you stand,’ ” he said.

Flora told him Hattie climbed down from the window and went to the neighbor’s for help.

The man swore, then stepped over to the window.

Dismayed to find the ladder moved aside, he turned without further word, rushed out of the room, down the hall, down the stairs, and out of the house as quickly as possible.

He melted away into the darkness.

Soon, the neighbors summoned by Hattie Stone converged on the house and sent one of their members to summon the sheriff.

Just a short distance away, the Stone’s previous hired man — a boy, really — was asleep in the house of the elderly couple that took him in after Stone fired him, Mr. and Mrs. Porter.

The boy had no way of knowing that in the future, he would serve 17 years in prison for the murders that had just occurred.

If someone could have said that would soon happen, it would have seemed impossible.

Because, within days of the triple murder (Emma, Hattie, and Flora Stone survived; Alvin and Serena Stone, and Ira Stillson did not), a very rough character named Anson Strong would be arrested for the bloodbath.

Why? Anson Strong was the previous hired man that Alvin Stone had sent to prison for stealing.

As Strong had been escorted from the courtroom after his trial, he had screamed at Stone that when he got out, he would come back and kill Stone and his entire family.

Anson Strong had just been paroled a couple of months before these murders. When he was questioned by law enforcement, they found a train ticket that put Strong at the station just two miles down the road from the Stone farmhouse, the very night of the murders.

It looked like an open-and-shut case against Strong. But that was before the interference of a self-styled detective and a county prosecutor with an axe to grind against people he regarded as “perverts.”

Romy Cotell had no idea what was about to hit him.

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