Genealogist delves into history of Shore's murders
Murders in Monmouth' documents three decades of crime
BY KATHY HALL Correspondent
George Joynson's passion for genealogy led him to write "Murders in Monmouth: Capital Crimes from the Jersey Shore's Past."
On a visit to the Monmouth County Archives, the longtime professional genealogy researcher found a copy of a book that covered all the murder trials in Monmouth County from 1900 to 1930.
"The book listed when it [the murder] was and what the results were, but had nothing about the victims," Joynson said. "I was in the process of writing up an index for that book because I thought it would be a good source for genealogy research."
In order to fill in the information about the victims, he began researching each of the 157 murders reported in the local newspapers and those of surrounding towns in Monmouth County. According to Joynson, some cases rivaled the O.J. Simpson trial in coverage while others required a bit more sleuthing.
"Sometimes the local newspaper wouldn't publish it, but other town papers did. [For some cases] I ended up checking five or six newspapers," he explained.
Originally, Joynson, a resident of Holmdel, planned to write a paragraph about each crime as an aid to his genealogical research.
"As I was doing that, I got an idea to publish it," he said.
The first-time author sent out query letters, including one to Saunders Robinson at The History Press, Charleston, S.C., a publisher that focuses exclusively on local and regional history, including true crime series.
"She [Robinson] called and said, 'We'd love to publish it,' " Joynson recounted. "It caught me completely offguard. The first thing she asked me for was pictures. At that time I had none, so that weekend I went out and took a picture of a gravestone and a house."
Robinson asked for about 40 pictures and 40,000 words and suggested that Joynson change the format and select a dozen stories to tell in depth.
"The 12 cases I have chosen represent different motives, ethnic groups, locations and relationships between victim and killer, as well as different outcomes," Joynson wrote in his introduction.
The cases are presented in chronological order beginning with the 1900 infanticide case of Dr. Rueben P. Thompson, who was paid $50 to kill the illegitimate newborn son of civil engineer and carriage builder Henry J. Fowler and Miss Henrietta White.
Fowler and Thompson were sentenced to 18 years of hard labor. White and her mother, with whom she lived, were originally charged with murder in the first degree along with Fowler and Thompson but received a lighter sentence after turning state's evidence. Fowler was released on parole in 1908 and received a full pardon in 1913. Dr. Thompson was also granted parole after serving eight years of his sentence, but he refused to accept it because he could only regain his medical license if he received a full pardon that had been denied.
To enhance its value as a research aid, the 125-page book contains a number of appendices, including a list of all 157 victims, their accused murderers (where known), the town and the year in which the murder occurred, as well as an index of every name mentioned in the narrative.
Among the illustrations are several murderers' signatures, which Joynson included because they looked "cold" to him, he explained.
In addition to documenting the cases, the author provides other significant historical facts such as information about the first female juror to serve in Monmouth County. She was Mrs. Gertrude Scott of Red Bank, who was the eighth juror selected in the trial of Christina Stoble in 1927.
Joynson notes that this event "occurred rather early when compared to other states allowing women to serve as jurors. As late as 1943, only 12 states permitted women to serve. Texas didn't permit women to serve jury duty until 1954, and it wasn't until 1966 that all states allowed women to serve."
The book's final case, the 1928 murder of Max Turnow by "Gypsy Joe," demonstrates some of the discrepancies Joynson encountered in his research.
The names of the defendants were reported as Rosie and Joseph R. Yurka in the Asbury Park Press one day and Rosie and Aristo Jerke the next. The Keyport Weekly and the Matawan Journal referred to the couple as Joseph Rister Garka and his wife Rose. Later, when the couple was taken to jail, the Freehold Transcript identified them as Bristo Jerke and Rosa, and in the coverage of the grand jury he was Joe Gurgas in the Asbury Park Press and Joe Jurgas in the Matawan Journal.
Joynson notes that "the confusion over the correct spelling of Joe and Rosie's true identity made it difficult to discover where they came from and where they had been."
Joynson's research was also made difficult by an exception to the Open Public Records Act that requires files of a criminal investigatory nature to remain closed to the public. His written requests for information from the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office as well as several local police departments were unanswered.
Joynson fared better with the Monmouth County Archives, the New Jersey Archives and the New Jersey State Police Museum. In addition to local newspapers, he was able to access the transcripts of the coroner's inquest, which are not covered by the Open Public Records Act.
He also used death and marriage certificates to verify names and relationships, and contacted some of the children and grandchildren of the victims and murderers.
Even though some of the cases are almost 100 years old, the murders remain painful for the families. Some descendants refused to allow family photographs to be used.
"In one case where the husband shot the wife, the children were descendants of both the victim and the murderer. They wanted no publicity," Joynson explained.
In addition to doing genealogical research for anyone who wishes to hire him, Joynson is currently working on a second book that will deal exclusively with "cold cases." The George Harris case is the only cold case included in "Murders in Monmouth."
"I just started collecting the information," Joynson said. "It's harder because I don't have the trials and will have to delve more into the hunt for the killer."
Joynson reports that 90 percent of his sales are in Monmouth County, but thanks to the Internet, descendants of the victims, detectives and even the murderers from as far away as Florida are buying the book.
"Murders in Monmouth" is available at local Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores as well as through Amazon.com. An autographed copy can be ordered directly from the author through his Web site, gjoynson.com/murdersinmonmouth.htm.
Upcoming area readings include:
April 2, 7 p.m., Borders Books and Music, Route 35 north, Eatontown; May 6 or 7 (tentative), Holmdel Historical Society, Holmdel Community Center, Crawfords Corner Road; May 24 (tentative), Barnes & Noble, Route 36, West Long Branch; and June 16, 7 p.m., Matawan Aberdeen Public Library, 165 Main St., Matawan.