Burglars, Coffins, and Ghosts

$315. That was the value of jewelry, silverware, and cash stolen from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Fred J. Cox on March 6, 1906. The haul would have been larger had the residents not returned home earlier than anticipated. It was a troubling event, significant enough to make the front page of the next day’s Perth Amboy Evening News.

March 7, 1906

Two days later a concerned citizen told patrolman Andrew Jensen, the officer who also responded to the incident at the Cox residence, that he saw two men leave a small house on a bluff in the same neighborhood. They were pushing a wheelbarrow. According to the story “on the wheelbarrow there reposed a large box which bore every appearance of a coffin.” Officer Jensen dutifully followed the wheelbarrow tracks until they became “too indistinct.” A subsequent investigation of the bluff house revealed no further clues, but led to another front page story.

March 9, 1906

On the heels of the March 6 burglary the strange events at the bluff house only deepened a foreboding sense of mystery in the area. The newspaper further ratcheted up the apprehension, ending the article with a curious speculation about a never before mentioned third mystery.

The third mystery may be a ghost in the churchyard at Rector, Gordon and Water streets, so beware!

Burglars, coffins, and ghosts! What an exciting time it was!

Yet, as is often the case, the truth was much less exciting. On March 12 the arrest of two men for the mysterious bluff house caper was reported in the newspaper.

The mystery of the house on the bluff, from which two men were seen leaving with a wheelbarrow bearing a large load…has been solved. The load was not a coffin, as the Rector street man…thought, but it was lead taken from A.M. Johnson’s house on the bluff…

March 12, 1906

The article details the course of events, even noting the young men who were arrested had made a previous trip to house, about the same time as the Cox burglary. (Coincidentally, one of the bluff house thieves was named Cox, but he was from the far reaches of Jersey City.) You may think an arrest for one crime committed within the same neighborhood and timeframe as another would lead to speculation about a correlation. And you would be right, it did. But it was quickly shut down by the newspaper at the end of the article.

It is not believed, as might easily be suspected, that the prisoners had anything to do with the burglarizing of the Cox residence, as it is not thought that they would have been careless enough to venture into the same neighborhood to do another job after that at the Cox house.

This was a fascinating assumption as thieves are not always known for their common sense, at least not in 2017. Perhaps in 1906 things were different. No stories appeared in the following months about the apprehension of anyone connected to the Cox house burglary. Were the burglars that clever and cunning? Maybe this crime was never solved and the file is buried deep in the cold case bins of the Perth Amboy police department. If so, the fate of the burglars remains a mystery – much like that of the churchyard ghosts at Rector, Gordon, and Water streets.

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