Published by Parcbench on August 29, 2011:
For as long as I have known Don Smith (which is almost three years now), he has been hard at work on a book about the first murder in Passaic County, New Jersey. Aside from being a dedicated writer and regular contributor to Parcbench and numerous other sites, he has written several comic books. And now he can add another accomplishment to his resume: the publication of his second book, The Goffle Road Murders of Passaic County. I recently caught up with Don to talk about it in detail for Parcbench.
Daria DiGiovanni: First, congratulations on your second book! Ever since we met about three years ago, you have been hard at work on it, haven’t you?
Daria: For those who may not know who the Van Winkles are, can you give us a brief background and fill us in on their story, which forms the basis of your book?
Don: The Van Winkles were one of the oldest families in New Jersey. Judge John Van Winkle had built his home, a grist mill business and raised his family on what is today Goffle Road in Hawthorne, New Jersey and the house is still standing there. He ended up being a judge of the common pleas in Passaic County around 1837, but in 1850 he was murdered by one of his ranch hands.
: What was the significance of this?
Don: Around 1848, Judge Van Winkle hired an Englishman named John Jonston. In late 1849, Jonston had been arrested for public drunkenness and he was brought before Judge Van Winkle, who basically admonished him.
Well on January 9, 1850, he snuck into the house at 2 a.m. by climbing up a ladder. He then slipped downstairs and brutally stabbed the Judge and his wife while they were in bed sleeping. The Judge was able survive long enough call for help and plan his funeral.
Jonston was caught at a nearby train station and brought back to the Judge’s house, where Van Winkle identified him as the killer. Jonston was subsequently hauled off to jail and by March, he was on trial for the murder. His defender was man named Socrates Tuttle.
Tuttle would go on to become mayor of Paterson in the 1870s and his daughter, Jennie, would marry future Vice President Garrett Hobart. Hobart would die in 1899 and had he survived he probably would have been President of the United States after President William McKinley had been shot in 1901.
Instead, Governor Teddy Roosevelt was named the vice president and he became President in 1901.
Daria: Oh that is interesting.
Don: Well the interesting thing is that Judge Van Winkle was buried in Cedar Lawn Cemetery across from the mausoleum of Garrett Hobart.
Daria: What an amazing coincidence! How did you stumble upon this story?
Don: I found an article at the Hawthorne Library that had been dated from the 1960s that talked about the death of the Van Winkles and I thought, “Hey this would be cool to turn into an article for ‘Weird NJ’.” And the next thing I knew, I sold it as an article idea for a local newspaper, which led to a long career in local journalism, comic books, different internet radio shows and even an amazing gig here at Parcbench.
Daria: Where can people get the book?
: They can see it on my author website, Don Smith
. And as you know, I am always on Facebook.
Daria: Thanks for talking with us.
Don: Thank you, Daria!