Evelyn Matthews and Delaware Hearn (alias Harrison Bailey)
This profile originally focused on Evelyn Matthews/Mathews, an African American woman who was murdered on April 6, 1933 by her brother-in-law and another man. I was unable to find any information about the families of any of the people involved – they don’t appear in any census records or other official documents. There are several newspaper articles about the circumstances of Evelyn’s death, but they are hopelessly confused. Was her name Evelyn or Helen? Was her brother-in-law’s name Ridgeway Harris or Richard Harris? Was Evelyn stabbed, or was she shot? Who is “Delaware Hearn” or Hearns, and how does he relate to the case? Here is what we do know. According to her certificate of death, Evelyn Matthews was the daughter of Charles Coleman and Emma Wright, both of Maryland. She was somewhere around 30-40 years of age when she died. She was murdered in her own home, at 2 Mechanic St., Wilmington, Delaware, in the early hours of the morning of April 6, 1933. Her brother-in-law, Richard (or Ridgeway) Harris, age 51, had been at the house during a party the night before and claimed he had been attacked by a “Negro” and knocked unconscious. When he saw Evelyn’s body on the floor the next morning, he assumed she was passed out from drunkenness. He took himself to the Delaware Hospital for the treatment of wounds to his head and upper lip. Richard Harris was married to Evelyn’s sister Hester. Evelyn’s official cause of death was: "Traumatic shock and internal thoracic hemorrhage right side due to gun shot wound; homicide." She was buried in the NCCH/Farnhurst Potter’s Field Cemetery. Richard Harris was arrested, along with another African American man, who gave his name as James Smith. Smith’s version of events was that he was trying to wrestle a shotgun away from Richard Harris at the party when the gun accidentally discharged, killing Evelyn Matthews. Both men were charged, but according to the coroner’s inquest, either man could have been responsible for her death. Richard Harris was indicted for manslaughter, but no further details could be found about a trial or any punishment. Two years later, in 1935, Richard Harris again found himself in trouble with the authorities. He was found guilty of assaulting two men, one who gave his name as “Delaware Hearns”, who was hit on the head with a brick by Harris, and a second man, James Mills, who sustained a cut to his hand while trying to take a knife away from Harris. Harris was fined $20 and sentenced to the workhouse for 20 days. Trying to track down “Delaware Hearns,” I discovered that another man named “Delaware Hearn” (no s at the end) was buried in the NCCH/Farnhurst Potter’s Field Cemetery, grave marker #2184. However, this man died in 1932, a year before Evelyn Matthews. Additionally, his Certificate of Death (filed online under Delaware Heran) says that he had an alias, “Harrison Bailey.” I suspect that “Delaware Hearn” was a made-up name, used by both men – Harrison Bailey, and the one injured by Richard Harris in 1935. The one who died in 1932 (Harrison Bailey) and was buried in the Farnhurst Potter’s Field died of acute dilation of the heart. The other one never reappears after 1935. Interestingly, Harrison Bailey had gone to the police in 1910, saying that he had been attacked and robbed by another African American man in Wilmington. In 1927, Harrison was charged with disorderly conduct for pointing a pistol at Donald Sinclair. The newspaper stories are included below. At the time of Evelyn Mathews’ death, the Deputy Coroner in Wilmington, Delaware was named James F. Hearn.
To see the original documents and newspaper stories associated with this profile, click here.