Most Unjust: The Crime of Catherine Coarum

April 9, 1901. Catherine Coarum had been drinking whiskey and beer with Charles Daniels at her home on Clay Street. They started to argue and she seized a gun and shot the victim three times, killing him. After she shot him, she dragged his body to the cellar. A short time later, her neighbors heard her hysterical screams and summoned the police.

Initially, Mrs. Coarum blocked the door and only opened it after Officers Rodiger and Ward threatened to break it down. When the door swung open, it revealed a woman in what the officers later called “a state of hysterical intoxication.” She sat down at her kitchen table and resumed her drinking, but immediately told the officers she had killed a man and his body was in the basement. There was no doubt about any of this; Catherine admitted it all.

Her defense was that she had killed the victim in self-defense. At her trial, Catherine contended that Charles Daniels was a stranger who had been stalking and menacing her for months. He taunted her about her marriage to a black man, and that night, he showed up with a razor in his hand. “I had to kill him,” she told the court emphatically.

The San Francisco Chronicle obtained pictures of the defendant and the victim

The story she told the police the night of her arrest was quite different. She said she had been having an affair with Charlie Daniels for four years, and her husband, who was a cook on a steamship knew nothing about it.

However, Joseph Coarum would be returning home Tuesday, and his wife was anxious that he would not learn about her indiscretions. Catherine said she had been trying to break it off with Daniels but her lover did not take the news well. After trying unsuccessfully to persuade her to run away with him, he threatened her. She was frightened. She seized his gun and shot him. “I carried him down to the basement,” Catherine said. “I told him, ‘Charlie, talk to me! I wouldn’t kill you.’ He was trying to talk to me and I was so scared I didn’t know what to do.”

Police Detective Crockett confirmed that Catherine had been having an affair with Daniels, a German immigrant known for his frugality. The neighbors said Daniels came over a few times every week, and the victim’s landlord said Catherine came to Daniels’ boarding house three or four times a week. The only reason for that, Catherine assured the detective, was to persuade Daniels to end their affair and discourage him from coming to her home. “I did all I could to keep that man away from me,” she added earnestly.

Detective Crockett learned Catherine had not shot Charles with his own gun, as she claimed. In fact, she had purchased the weapon herself from a pawnshop the same day she murdered Daniels. The clerk who sold it to her gave her five bullets, for free.

 

Read the conclusion to this story!