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Opera House Murder

Daniel. S. Berry was born in Sterling, Illinois on May 14, 1858. He received his early education in the district schools of Illinois and assisted his father in farm work until he reached the age of 14 years, after which he became a self-supporting lad. He would work on a farm in summer and attend school in winter. In the year 1877 he graduated from Morrison High School and then engaged as a teacher, which profession he followed for several years.

He began studying law with Henry & Johnson in Sterling and taught school alternately. In 1879, he resumed his legal studies in the office of W.J. McCoy at Morrison and subsequently taught four months at Prairie Centre district. After that he studied law with Mr. McCoy until September, 1880, when he again took up the profession of teacher and taught nine months in the McEliath district. He then entered the law office of O.F. Woodruff of Morrison and studied until the fall of 1882, when he was admitted to the bar of the Appellate Court at Chicago.

 He then married Miss Mattie L. Tucker in October of 1882 and came to Savanna on May 1, 1883. His progress in his profession was very rapid, and was considered one of the best lawyers in the county. He was the Savanna City Attorney, president of the Savanna School Board, and served as the lawyer for both railroads.

He was a state representative of Illinois’ 12th district from 1891 to 1897, having served in the legislature two terms and was very prominent as a legislator filling the speakers chair on several occasions. During his last term, however, he unfortunately became entangled and mixed up with bad men and had to share the infamy and boodle charges that were hurled against them whether he was guilty or not, which later he always declared and denied his guilt.

The Savanna Daily Journal had five separate headlines in its May 22, 1905, edition:

Terrible Tragedy
D. S. Berry Shot and Instantly Killed This Morning
Murdered in Cold Blood
Assassin Creeps Up from Behind and Fires Bullet into His Brain Without the Slightest Warning
Fellow Citizen is Sent to Eternity by this Awful Act
The following is the story:

“Daniel S. Berry, one of the most prominent attorneys of Carroll County, was murdered in front of his office this morning about 9:30 o'clock. The deed was committed with a 38 caliber revolver. The shots were heard by a number of people who were on the street at the time, several of whom hurried to the place from where the shots came and there found Mr. Berry lying in a pool of blood.

The news spread like wildfire and groups gathered about the scene of the tragedy vainly trying to find some clue as to the mysterious assassin who after committing the horrible deed made his escape without anyone even seeing him. Mr. Berry was late in arriving at his office as he was overseeing the work on his fine residence on the hill which he had recently purchased. After coming down town, he stopped at the post office for his mail and then crossed the street, going to his office in the new opera house building, he occupying the two rooms on the second floor in the north half of the building.

He must have been in the act of unlocking the door when the shots were fired as he still held the keys in his hand when found. People in the building and on the street state that two shots were fired. The young ladies employed in the telephone office after hearing the shots stepped to the door and saw Mr. Berry's body. Their screams together with the noise of the shots brought the people to the scene of the crime.

Mr. Berry was lying near the door of the office, blood flowing from a wound in his head. He was unconscious and died within a few minutes. One of the shots had taken effect in the temple and another in the arm. The direction of the shots put to flight the theory that Mr. Berry had committed suicide and it was shown that the bullets were fired behind the victim.

One of the bullets was found in the door casing and apparently had been fired from a point about ten feet away from his office door and at the foot of the stairway leading to the gallery of the new opera house. The latter is still in an unfinished state and the doors leading to the same are open at all times.

After firing the fatal shot the murderer evidently passed through these doors and made his escape through the alley in the rear. Parties who were in the store below heard someone running through the empty room just after the shooting. A search of the building was at once instituted but the determined efforts of the searchers failed to locate the criminal or to find a clue.

The police are hard at work on the case in the hope that something may turn up by which the murderer may be brought to justice. The case is entirely shrouded in mystery and has appalled the community. While Mr. Berry may have had some enemies it appears almost beyond belief that anyone would place murder upon his soul simply for revenge.

Coroner J. B. Schreiter took charge of the body and empaneled a jury composed of the following men: A. E. Hodges, F. E. Stiles, M. C. Radke, J. J. Nickles, A. D. Hunter and George Cromer. An inquest is being held behind closed doors and probably will not be concluded tonight.”

Two citizens of Savanna were at once suspected. One an ex-convict who was released from Joliet prison a short time before the murder, and who had been indicted for being an accessory to criminal practice. He was prosecuted by Berry and sentenced to two years in the penitentiary. He is reported to have said that as soon as he got out of prison he would settle Berry. This man lives in Sterling and it is reported he was seen in Savanna the night previous.

The other suspect was prominent businessman Bothwell Pulford of Savanna and the motive thought to be jealousy for too great an intimacy between Berry and Bot’s wife as the gossipers of Savanna have it. It is rumored that Berry had been warned of this intimacy by the husband and that he had threatened to kill him if it occurred again and that because of this warning and a protection, Berry carried a revolver which was found on his person when shot.

Pulford told police that he was in his place of business talking to a woman at the time of the shooting and they both remarked and wondered what it meant.

Vernon Welch, a switchman, was the only person who caught a glimpse of the assassin. Welch entered the building in which Berry's office was situated a moment after the shots were fired. As he reached the head of the stairway he saw a man run through the hallway and leave the building through an unfinished portion of the building at the rear. Welch did not see the man's face and his description of the fleeing man gives no clue.

John Brearton, a nephew and partner of Mr. Berry, had been at the office previous but had in the meantime gone to the post office where he met Berry going to his office and when he returned found his uncle dead.

Mr. Berry was shot by someone standing behind and a little to one side of him as one bullet entered the back of his head near his ear and came out over his left eye and lodged in the casing of the door. Another bullet entered the right arm. He was shot apparently as he was stooping to unlock his office door. When his body was found a bunch of keys was in one hand, a bundle of letters in the other. There were powder marks on the dead man's face. The theory is that after the first shot the murderer fired again as Berry fell, standing so close that the powder flashed in the dying mans' face.

Savanna residents were still trying to get a grip on the death of Daniel Berry when a new tragedy made headlines on Thursday, May 25, 1905.

Pulford Kills Himself
Ends His Unhappy Life with a Revolver at 7:20 this morning
Sequel to Berry Tragedy
Deed is Committed in His Barn near residence of J.B. Rhodes Jr.
No Explanation Now Known
The story read as follows:

Bothwell Pulford committed suicide this Thursday morning at about 7:20 o’clock in the hay loft of his barn on the vacant lot corner of Third and Jefferson Street. The deed was done with a revolver.

A few moments before the tragedy which snuffed out his life Mr. Pulford was seen going toward the barn (where he had a team of ponies) as has been his custom for weeks past. A number who saw him stated that he did not act queerly and one lady bade him good morning and he answered her cheerfully.

A few moments after he entered the barn, a shot was heard by several in the neighborhood. Frank Williams, W. T. Law, and D.W Gillette hurried to the barn but did not see Mr. Pulford on the first floor so they climbed into the loft and were horrified to see Mr. Pulford lying on the floor and with a bullet hole in his forehead.The word spread like wild fire and in a very few moments the lot on which the barn is located was crowded with people.

Coroner J.B. Schreiter was notified and took charge of the body which was removed to the undertaking establishment of E. Hammerschmidt. A jury will be empaneled at once and the inquest will be held tomorrow. The following are the jurors who were sworn in: Frank Kearney, Dick Rhodes, C. D Crouse, George Davidson, Charles Keyport and John Ross.

This then, is probably the sequel to the mysterious death of D.S. Berry. Since that tragedy Mr. Pulford’s name has been on many lips connecting him with the crime, but none cared to express themselves on this subject.

It was predicted that another tragedy would be the outcome and Mr. Pulford’s friends had been keeping close watch on him to prevent such an act.

The news has caused a feeling of horror to fall over the community and the expression “Poor Bot” was heard on many lips.

In the minds of many is the belief that Mr. Pulford has been failing mentally for some time past and if he committed the deed on Monday which took the life of D.S. Berry it was done while laboring under great mental aberration. The tragedy is shocking and terrible in every detail and has shaken our little city to its very foundation.

Bot Pulford was popular with everyone in the community, man and woman. His genial good natured ways made him well liked and many strong man turned away from the scene of the tragedy with tears in his eyes.

The news of the suicide was taken to the home where indeed were several hearts which have been heavy for the past few days.

Mr. Pulford was son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pulford (deceased) and has been a resident of Savanna all his life. His age is about 52 years.

He engaged in the drug business a number of years ago and was successful in financial affairs. He had large property interests here being the owner of the finest business block in the city which is located the new opera house, the scene of Monday’s tragedy. He also owned and operated the electrical light station and was considered one of our best citizens.

Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, a sister, visited with her brother last evening in the endeavor to console and sympathize with him in his trouble to the suspicions of the people. He gave no signs that would lead her to think he intended to commit suicide and seemed to be quite like himself.”

At the time of his suicide, Bot owned the entire 300 block of east Main Street which his opera house was located. In addition he owned and rented 47 of the “best residencies” in Savanna and owned the electric light plant which provided power to the city. One anecdote said Bothwell never kept a single book account. He carried all of the details in his head “and never making a mistake.” He was also known as a philanthropic man and one of the most popular men in Carroll County.

A further description of Bot describes him as “slender, wiry, shrewd, kindly, with a heart in him as big as an ox.” He never was in Chicago and never ventured further from Savanna than to Galena. He attended a country school and people said “all he knew was how to make money.”

Many stories were told of his business methods. He kept large sums of money hidden about the shelves of his drug store behind jars. 

One of the entrances to the Opera House was cut into the south wall near the rear that faced a vacant lot. That door was behind the safe and was the one entrance that was not readily visible from the street.

Speculation was widespread that it was the door by the safe that could have been used by Pulford if he did actually committed the murder. He then could make his escape down a flight of stairs that came out just a few feet  from the door leading to his drug store and that would allow him a quick return to his store.

He was never formally cited as the murderer but the town was in a turmoil of emotion for some time after the two events and the “man on the street” would agree that he was the murderer but they always cited emotional problems to explain the causes of both events.

The official ruling of the corner’s jury after his suicide stated that he “died by his own hand while in a state of melancholic collapse.”

The Monday evening May 29, 1905, edition of the Savanna Daily Journal once again had multiple headlines: 

Sleeps in bosom of mother earth
Funeral of Bothwell Pulford Sunday
3,000 people present
Largest Funeral procession ever seen in Carroll County
Impressive service

Rev. F.Y. Nichols, pastor of the Presbyterian , led the service and the crowd at the cemetery was equally as large as the one at the actual funeral. 

The funeral of Daniel S. Berry did not receive the full-blown publicity that Bothwell Pulford received for his funeral. The service was held at the St. Paul’s Episcopal church and was under the direction of the Blue Lodge of Masons. Berry was escorted by a number of Knights Templar for his final journey to the cemetery in Morrison.