In the late nineteenth century many successful businessmen summered in Huntington and some retired here as well. One was Bartley T. Horner. Mr. Horner was working as a clerk in a New York tobacco shop by the time he was 18 years old in 1870. Four years later, he married Ella Selvage in Brooklyn. Mr. Horner eventually became the representative for the Lorrillard Tobacco Company throughout the South. He lived in Galveston, Texas. A loss of hearing forced him to retire early.
By the 1880s he had acquired a ten-acre tract (later enlarged to 17½ acres) overlooking Long Island Sound in the Crab Meadow section of Huntington for use as a summer residence.
The Horners’ daughter Julia—their only child—had married James Simpson in 1895. Well over six feet tall, Simpson was a dentist from Virginia. In September of 1900, Mr. & Mrs. Horner were at their “fine residence near the sound shore” in Crab Meadow. While the Horners home sat atop a sixty-foot bluff, the Simpson home in Galveston was on low ground. The Horners anxiously awaited word from their daughter when a category 4 hurricane hit Galveston on September 8 and claimed up to 8,000 lives. The storm hit the city on a Saturday. The Horners received no word from their daughter until a telegram arrived on Wednesday morning assuring her parents that the couple had escaped harm but had lost everything. Horner sent a reply telegram advising them to come north right away.
It appears that the young couple moved to New York City where Dr. Simpson set up a dental practice at 434 Fifth Avenue, near the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. In 1902, Mr. Horner rented the house of C.W. Call, perhaps for his daughter and son-in-law to use that summer.
In February 1905, Mr. Horner sold his Crab Meadow property and moved to Vernon Valley. His house on Vernon Valley Road, just south of Fort Salonga Road, still stands. Dr. and Mrs. Simpson moved in with the Horners, and Dr. Simpson commuted to his dental office in Manhattan.
On Christmas day that year, Dr. Simpson went rabbit hunting with a friend. Two days later, he retrieved the shotgun from the attic to clean it. First he marched around the house performing the manual of arms. Then he went into the kitchen to clean the gun. He thought the gun was empty, but it wasn’t. When Simpson pressed the gun against the table to open it, it discharged. The bullet tore through his father-in-law’s abdomen. Dr. Simpson hurried to the village to summon Dr. Heyen. Dr. Donohue soon followed. The two doctors tried everything to stop the bleeding, but were unsuccessful. Mr. Horner died within two hours of being shot.
It was a horrible tragedy. But was it an accident?
During the inquest held the following day, it was revealed by the dead man’s widow that Mr. Horner feared his son-in-law and had an appointment with his attorney scheduled for the day after the shooting to redraw his will so that Dr. Simpson would not receive a penny of his money. The widow testified that she, her daughter, and her son-in-law discussed the will that night during supper before Mr. Horner came home. At the inquest, Dr. Simpson denied that he knew Mr. Horner planned to re-write his will. But he did admit that he had asked an attorney in New York about whether Mr. Horner could set up a trust that would include Mrs. Horner’s separately owned property. When asked why he would make such an inquiry, he said he was concerned about his mother-in-law’s welfare.
Mr. Horner’s funeral was held at his home on New Year’s Eve. A large crowd heard the local Episcopal minister base the service on John 8:7, “What I do thou knowest not, but thou shalt know hereafter.” This was perhaps a reminder to Dr. Simpson that even if the truth of the shooting was not revealed at trial, it would be revealed in the hereafter. But Dr. Simpson was not at the funeral. He was in the Riverhead jail, charged with murder.
Mr. Horner’s body was taken to Huntington Rural Cemetery and placed in the receiving vault there until a mausoleum could be built.
The following week, a preliminary hearing was held in Northport’s Union Opera Hall. The county’s new district attorney, George H. Furman, and new sheriff, John F. Wells, began their terms in office with one of the most sensational cases in the County’s history. Reporters and photographers from the New York papers descended on Northport and it was reported that “very little business was done that day in the village.” Mr. Horner’s attorney testified that he left a paper with Mr. Horner the day of the shooting. The paper was the outline of a new will. Dr. Donohue, who came to the house after the shooting, testified that Mr. Horner had two wounds, showing that Dr. Simpson’s gun had been fired twice.
The victim’s widow testified that her husband and son-in-law frequently argued. Mr. Horner was concerned about Dr. Simpson’s gambling on horse races and staying out all night. Dr. Simpson had financial difficulties and had fallen three months behind on his share of the household expenses. She thought that Dr. Simpson may even have been drinking on the night of the shooting—although the two doctors who came to the house after the shooting disputed that claim. Julia Simpson also testified for the prosecution much to the surprise of her husband. Both women testified that Dr. Simpson handled the gun roughly when he first retrieved it, marching around the house as if in a military drill. He then went upstairs where the ammunition was kept. When he came back down he was careful with the gun and then went into the kitchen where Mr. Horner had gone to get a drink of water. A short time later they heard the gun fire.
At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Justice Partridge determined there was enough evidence to refer the case to the grand jury. In March, the grand jury issued an indictment for murder in the first degree. Dr. Simpson was confident that he would be exonerated.
Fortunately, there was an eyewitness to the shooting. Mr. Horner’s 26-year-old Polish stable hand Frank Wisnewski could surely help determine if the shooting was accidental. But the young man was distraught, concerned that his poor English would be misunderstood and perhaps fearing that if he testified against Dr. Simpson, he also would be killed. He was put to bed to calm down, but only grew agitated and violent. Eventually, Mr. Wisnewski was admitted to the Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital. In September he escaped from King Park, but was found two weeks later in the woods of Central Islip. A month before the trial a habeas corpus hearing was held in Brooklyn. Mr. Wisnewski was found incompetent to testify at the murder trial. When he was called to testify during the trial, he could not even take the oath to swear to tell the truth. He was dismissed without having testified.
A May trial was expected, but the judge assigned to the case died. An October date was then expected. Dr. Simpson spent his months in jail meticulously preparing for trial, reading over similar cases and providing his lawyers with hundreds of well thought out questions.
Dr. Simpson sat in jail for all of 1906. In January 1907, his lawyer commenced a habeas corpus proceeding in Brooklyn seeking his release. The Suffolk County District Attorney tried to argue that he could not get a justice to try the case. The Brooklyn judge cut him off and ordered that the trial be held by the end of the month or Dr. Simpson would have to be released on $1,000 bail.
The trial began with jury selection on January 28, 1907 and was not without drama. During jury selection, one of the potential jurors suddenly died. Another juror was about to be accepted onto the jury when he told the judge he could not serve due to a death of a relative. The judge asked how close a relative it was. He replied that it was his brother-in-law. A court attendant explained to the judge that the potential juror’s brother-in-law was the man who had died just minutes earlier. One juror fell ill during the trial and the others complained of the unsatisfactory living conditions in the house where they were staying.
Hundreds of spectators attended the sensational trial, including many women and girls, who apparently were enamored of the tall, good-looking dentist with jet black hair, dark eyes, and a soft Southern drawl. They firmly believed in his innocence.
The trial repeated much of the testimony from the preliminary hearing. A question arose as to whether the shotgun shells admitted to evidence were the same as those in the gun at the time of the shooting. The gun and empty shells had been taken from the house on the night of the shooting by Dr. Isaiah Frank (who coincidentally was the man who had purchased Horner’s property in Crab Meadow). Dr. Frank testified that the shells were maroon like the ones entered into evidence. Meanwhile his brother and mother, who both lived with him, testified that the shells Dr. Frank brought home were yellow. Expert testimony differed on whether it was physically possible for a shotgun to discharge when it had been “broken” or opened. Through it all, sentiment in favor of Dr. Simpson grew. Wagers were taken on his acquittal.
At the conclusion of the week-long trial, it took the jury less than two hours to reach a verdict of not guilty. Dr. Simpson was congratulated by the courtroom spectators. He made his way to the hotel where his sister had been staying to retrieve her things before they took the train into New York. At the hotel, the doctor ran into the judge who had presided over the trial. He thanked the judge for a fair trial. The judge replied, “Let this be a lesson to you to keep away from guns.”
Mrs. Horner, Mrs. Simpson, and their servant Marion Walsh boarded the same train, but rode in the rear car. Mrs. Simpson made it clear that she and her mother had no interest in the prosecution, but had testified because they had been subpoenaed. Dr. Simpson said he hoped he and his wife would reconcile.
Mrs. Horner and Mrs. Simpson continued to live in the house on Vernon Valley Road. They had enough money from the estate to live comfortably, but they lived in fear of Dr. Simpson. They kept the doors locked even though they lived in one of the most peaceful spots on Long Island. And they always kept a loaded revolver in the house.
Dr. Simpson took up residence at 24 West 59th Street and resumed his dental practice with an office at 1181 Broadway. He had initiated a lawsuit against his wife and mother-in-law claiming he was entitled to $5,000 from his victim’s estate. But the suit was soon dropped. Eventually he sought a divorce, but his wife refused. He traveled to Northport on occasion to see his wife and once accosted her on the street in the village.
Then on Monday, July 13, 1908—18 months after his acquittal—Dr. Simpson took the 12:40 p.m. train to Northport, transferred to the trolley and went to his former home. He rang the bell. Mrs. Horner asked who it was. Dr. Simpson replied, “It is I.”
“What do you want?” Mrs. Horner asked.
“I want to see Julia.”
Then two shots were fired through the glass door. One hit the doctor in his lower lung and continued into his liver. The other missed him. Dr. Simpson went to a neighbor’s house and asked for a carriage. He drove to Dr. Heyen’s office on Main Street. He asked Dr. Heyen if the shot would be fatal. Dr. Heyen said he wouldn’t know until he operated. Dr. Simpson said he wanted to go to Roosevelt Hospital in New York for the surgery.
Before he left, Dr. Simpson explained to the magistrate what had happened, signed a deposition and then calmly boarded the trolley and took the one and half hour train ride back to Long Island City and from there boarded the 34th Street Ferry. He took a taxi to Roosevelt Hospital, where the doctors decided to wait until morning to operate. It was feared that the wound would prove fatal, but eventually it was determined that no operation was needed.
Meanwhile back in Northport, word of the shooting spread quickly. It was some time before the authorities came to the house to arrest Mrs. Horner. Her daughter accompanied her to the Magistrate’s office and posted the $5,000 bail. Mrs. Horner claimed she had told Dr. Simpson he couldn’t come in and then went upstairs to get her gun. When she came down he was shaking the door and beating on it trying to gain entry. Mrs. Horner said that it appeared through the glass door that Dr. Simpson was reaching for a gun. It was then that she shot him.
It was thought that the charge against Mrs. Horner might need to be raised to murder, but Dr. Simpson recovered. In October, the grand jury refused to indict Mrs. Horner.
While still waiting for the grand jury to act, Dr. Simpson sued Mrs. Horner for $10,000. He won a verdict of $1,500 in June 1910.
With the lawsuit behind them, mother and daughter left New York for a cruise to the Orient the following February. They made an around–the-world cruise in 1923. By and large it seems they lived a quiet live in their home on Vernon Valley Road.
In the 1930 census, Julia Simpson is listed as a widow. But a Virginia born dentist by the name of James W. Simpson matching in age Julia’s husband is listed as living in Larchmont with his wife Pauline who was 16 years his junior.
Mrs. Horner died in 1944. She left her entire estate to her daughter. She also left instructions that if her daughter had pre-deceased her, she was to be buried in the family mausoleum, which would then be permanently sealed and the key destroyed. She also directed that her horse, dog and cat be destroyed. She left $2,000 to the cemetery to care for the mausoleum.
Julia Simpson died ten years later. The obituaries for all three family members indicate that the family mausoleum is at Pinelawn Cemetery. But the cemetery has no record of a Horner family mausoleum.
 When Mr. Horner’s estate was settled, it was valued at $40,898 (the equivalent of almost one million dollars in 2012). Because he had cancelled his will, his widow received one third of the estate or $13,496 under the laws of intestate distribution and his daughter received the balance. Mr. Horner apparently transferred $100,000 of securities to his wife shortly before his death.
 The Horner’s cook Marion Walsh was also in the kitchen at the time of the shooting, but her back was to the men so she did not see what had happened.
 The 12 men on the jury were quartered at a cottage near the courthouse. Some slept two to a bed. Three of the men slept on cots in unheated rooms. None were permitted to bathe because the bath was for the women of the house. On the Saturday that fell in the middle of the trial, some of the jurors accompanied by deputy sheriffs were permitted to go to their homes, where they could bathe. Others walked five miles to the Long Island Sound, but a north wind, twenty degree temperature, and lack of bathing suits compelled them to return to Riverhead unwashed.