Cunningham- at the right place, right time

John Cunningham was a newsdealer and tipster for the local Fall River newspapers. During the late morning of August 4, 1892, he would find himself on the spot for the city’s most infamous crime. As he ambled along the east side of Second street, bent upon reaching Bernie Wade’s store next door to the Kelly house, he spied Mrs. Churchill running across the street. He continued on his business into Wade’s but upon exiting and heading north, he noticed a group of men, including Mr. Hall of Hall’s livery stable standing on the street with Mrs. Churchill. Seeing Cunningham approaching, a young boy of seventeen, called Pierce, hastened towards Cunningham exclaiming Mrs. Churchill needed a policeman right away. Curiosity prevailed, and no doubt sensing a story, Cunningham hurried to Gorman’s paint store nearby to place a call for help. He noticed the clock over the telephone was at ten minutes to eleven. This, of course, was substantially different from other times reported in the case. One thing is very clear from all accounts, rarely did any two time pieces in the entire city seem to keep exactly the same time. Most witnesses seemed to have the most faith in the city hall clock.

John Cunningham (original from E. Porters, A FALL RIVER TRAGEDY 1893)

After ringing up Marshal Hilliard, the next call was to Mr. Kennedy at the Fall River Globe, and then the Herald and Fall River News. The story was too good to be missed and Cunningham had it first. Heading back to the scene to see what else he could glean, Cunningham spied Officer Allen, in civilian clothing, scurrying up Second St., heading for the Borden house. After a few moments he saw Allen hastily exit, stop a neighbor, Mr. Sawyer, on the street and direct him to stand guard at the side entry of the Borden home. Allen then raced down Second St. for the Central police station. In short order the newspapermen arrived. Both Manning and Stevens had arrived and were scoping out the scene expectantly. Cunningham thought about returning to his little news store in Wilbur House but the curious group of men who had formed in the yard were prowling about the grounds seeing what could be seen. Cunningham went around back and tried the cellar door. It was securely locked. It is likely that Cunningham was the first to make this discovery. Seeing Officers Mullaly and Doherty arrive on the scene, Cunningham spied the young boy, Pierce, and finding him, brought him over to officer Patrick Doherty, hoping, perhaps to find out more of what was going on inside. “The whisper was it was one of the farm hands,” said Cunningham. It is easy to picture how the crime was reported and also interesting to note how familiar people were with their neighbors and their neighbor’s business back in 1892 in the city of Fall River. Cunningham will forever be the “man on the spot” who called the police on the fateful day.

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