The Christmas Murder, Part Four: Testimony of William Gribble

Tuscarawas County Courthouse

As Henry Wehrli stood in the Tuscarawas County courtroom for his preliminary hearing in front of the Mayor of New Philadelphia, the prosecution brought forth several witnesses who offered their testimony as to what happened the morning of Christmas 1890. What follows is William Gribble’s testimony based on contemporary press accounts.


The first witness to testify was, not surprisingly, 13 year old William Gribble who spent Christmas Eve with Henry and James Booth. He testified that he knew both men and knew them to be “rather mean when drunk.” He claimed that he could not tell if either of them were drunk at the time of the murder itself. According to William, he heard James kick the bedroom door in the morning and yell “Come to breakfast” to William and Henry. William reported that Henry responded to James by yelling “go away from that door or I will shoot you!” William then testified that James kicked the door again and then ran down the steps.

The next thing that William reported seeing was Henry Wehrli get up, grab his shotgun, run to the hall window and fire out the window. William assumed he had fired at James but could not confirm that he himself had seen James in the yard below. Henry, according to William, then got dressed, reloaded his shotgun and headed downstairs.

Man shooting out of a window.

William reported hearing another gunshot and, as he made his way down the stairs he ran into Henry running up the steps, still carrying his shotgun. William stated that when he reached the dining room he saw James positioned on his knees and with his head slightly tilted to his left. William mimicked the position himself in order to show the Mayor how he found James. William then laid James down on the floor and could see a large hole in James’s head where he had been shot.

William then testified that he went back upstairs to Henry’s room where he found Henry and told him, “You have killed Jim.” He stated that Henry’s response to William was “Give me a revolver and I will kill myself and that will be the end of it.” William stated that Henry had taken some money, the shotgun and ammunition, and a bottle of whiskey from the room. William left Henry to go back and check on James again in the dining room, when Henry reappeared and asked William to “give me a little time to start” before reporting the killing.

Under cross examination by Henry’s attorney, William stated that Henry and James were “good friends when sober, but quarreled when drunk.” William testified that the two men had been drinking for “several days” before the killing and that he was frightened of James. When asked who killed James Booth on Christmas morning 1890, William Gribble stated it was Henry Wehrli.

The next part of this story will continue the witness testimony as reported at the time.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2020.

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