Mercy Has a Human Heart

100 years ago, on Jan. 3, 1916, a young woman sat in her cell at the Washington County Jail, contemplating what could be the climax of her life. Her husband lay mortally wounded at City Hospital with a bullet wound suffered on New Year’s Eve. Should he die, she might well face execution for his murder.

Homicide was hardly unusual in the industrial boomtown that Washington was a century ago. The year 1915 saw 24 murders in the county. Somehow, though, this crime seemed different; the characters in this drama were ordinary, working-class people living in the shadow of the factories and mills in that section of town called Tylerdale, and the trial of the accused aroused extraordinary public attention.

Like so many events in our past, however, this episode and the name of that young woman, Lillian Roupe, have long been forgotten.

Fictional serial stories were popular features in newspapers in the early 1900s, and that is why this story is in the same format, appearing weekly on Sundays through Feb. 7, 2016. Unlike the serials of old, however, this is a true story, based on old newspaper articles, court records, legal documents and genealogical sources. All the events described actually happened; words spoken by the characters are their own, as quoted in newspaper articles and legal documents, and no names have been changed. Some details, however, have been imagined to improve the flow of the narrative.

Margaret Hsu of Bellevue, Wash., the great-great-granddaughter of Lillian Roupe, provided valuable assistance in genealogical research and provided family information and photographs.

The series is written by A. Parker Burroughs, retired executive editor of the Observer-Reporter, whose previous serials include “A Sense of Evil,” “The West Enders” and “A Death in the Lyric.” He is the author of “Enter, With Torches: Recollections of a Grumpy Old Editor,” and his latest book is “Washington County Murder & Mayhem.”

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Mercy Has a Human Heart
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