William Treadwell House in Hudson, Michigan

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William Treadwell House, 4402 S. Meridian Road, Pittsford Township, Hillsdale County, MI
(digital infrared, © Jeff Westover)


On July 14, 1864, a man passing through the woods between Napoleon and Wauseon, Ohio was attracted by the smell of rotting remains and the sounds of cawing crows.  He soon spotted the birds feeding and when approached they scattered, revealing a badly decomposed human body dressed in a tailored suit.  The head was pulled clean off and laying some distance away.  The man immediately left the grisly scene and reported his finding to the local Coroner.

The following morning, the Coroner found that an arm had been pulled off during the night, presumably by an animal.   The head was examined and three holes were found; two an inch apart near the right temple and one in the back of the head.  The skull also had multiple severe fractures while a club lay on the forest floor nearby.

In the pockets of the vest and pants were found a tooth-pick, a knife, part of a watch-guard and the key, three false front teeth for the upper jaw on a gold plate, a small miniature likeness of a man, three pieces of silver money, a compass, and some smaller articles. Pieces of the vest and pants were cut off, and the remains were gathered up in the clothes and buried at the site and a verdict being rendered of “killed by some person unknown.”

The body was that of 24-year-old William W. Treadwell of Pittsford, Michigan.  At the time of his violent death, Treadwell was a fugitive from the law having escaped from jail in Adrian, Michigan.

* * *

William W. Treadwell was the son of 1834 Pittsford pioneers Urias Treadwell and Alzina P. Norton,  well-liked and trusted members of the new community.  Urias served as Pittsords’ first township Clerk (1836) and held the positions of Assessor and School Inspector between 1836 and 1849.

William was born and brought up on the family farm in Pittsford and after attending schools in Pittsford and Hudson, he graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio.  William returned to Hudson to work in a dry goods shop, quickly moving up in the business.

Treadwell left the dry goods business after a short time and convinced the owner of the People’s Bank of Hudson, Hon. John M. Osborn, to work at his bank, without salary, in order to learn the business.  Treadwell was punctual and a fast learner of the business and soon became a partner.

In 1859, Osborn sold his interest in the People’s Bank to William and Urias Treadwell.  Urias provided the financial backing while William ran it.

On June 03, 1862, William Treadwell (age 22) married Mary E. Hester (age 18), the daughter of Samuel and Emily Hester, in Huron County, Ohio.

On January 30, 1863, William’s mother Alzina Treadwell dies at age 42.

In 1863, William began building the two-story Italian Villa that now stands on the west side of US-127 (Meridian Road), about a half mile north of M-34 (Hudson Road).  Now known as The William Treadwell House (or Bruce Coleman House), this building commands attention with a two-tiered, balconied tower and gabled roof that’s accented with tightly paired brackets. Two bays balance the house’s mass and the prominent accents create a frenetic energy within the architectural composition.


The New York Times (September 28, 1868)

* * *

A massive blizzard swept through the Midwest and Great Lakes region on New Year’s Eve 1863/New Year’s Day 1864.  The temperatures were brutally cold for the first half of January, 1864 but by the third week they had rebounded to abnormally warm levels (50’s and 60’s).   The Toledo Blade reported that the temperature at Toledo had been 42 degrees at 9 p.m. on December 31 and had fallen to -14 at dawn on the next day, a fall of 56 degrees in about twelve hours, and it remained at -8 degrees at noon on January 1.

On January 3, 1864, the Treadwell’s bank burned and the safe was moved to a temporary location in a nearby hardware store.  I can find no mention of whether the Treadwells had returned from Ohio before the fire or whether it was found to be arson or an accident set in motion by the historic cold and winds.   The blizzard easily could have kept the Treadwells in Ohio until after January 3.

* * *

Beginning in December, 1863, the townships of Pittsford, Rollin and Hudson began depositing their collected money in Treadwell’s bank, where it would sit until February 1, 1864, when most of it would be withdrawn in order to pay their state and county tax obligations.  Had it not been for the Treadwell family name those townships may have deposited their money elsewhere, probably in Adrian.

Hudson, Michigan historian John Hogaboam:
“It now seems that he (William Treadwell) had matured a deep scheme of dark villany, for on the 16th day of January, 1864, he sent letters to approximately twenty bankers in Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Ypsilanti, Albion, Hillsdale, Alton City and Chicago, enclosing drafts on the Continental Bank, New York, asking for discount, or in plain words, a loan.  The bodies of the letter were alike, except as to amount; the address and postscript varied.”

It appears that Treadwell expected to receive replies by the following Tuesday (January 19 1864).   That morning he travelled to Adrian and received $4500.  Upon returning from Adrian, he visited an Express Agent named Mr. Galusha and inquired whether he had received any money parcels.   Seven packages had arrived and Mr. Galusha remarked, “You are receiving considerable money.”   Treadwell placed them into a black bank satchel.

“O,” said Treadwell, “that is not all I have got,” throwing aside the lapel of his overcoat and exhibiting the Adrian packages in the inside pockets thereof.  On Wednesday he received several more packages but all of the banks had not responded.  He evidentially feared to wait any longer.

Early Thursday morning (January 21, 1864), William Treadwell, carrying a black bank satchel and nothing else, boarded an eastbound train at 3 a.m.and disappeared into the night.

Later Thursday morning the bank’s clerk, Mr. Webb, discovered that the safe would not open and it had appeared that Treadwell changed the combination.  When the safe was finally opened it was found emptied of $42,000.   Treadwell and the black bank satchel could not be located and it was readily apparent he had robbed his own safe and made off with a total of about $60,000 (about $925,000 in 2015 funds )

To say there was intense excitement conveys but a faint idea of the situation.  Money deposited to await investment, the soldier’s earnings, and the widow’s mite all were gone.  So intense was the excitement that it was almost unsafe for the grief-stricken father (Urias Treadwell) to appear on the streets.  A partner of his guilty son, -only in name, yet so far as the people knew, a real partner, -he was supposed to be, as he really was in law, answerable for the sums entrusted to the bank.  The powers of the law were invoked, and before night a score of suits had been commenced, and the baliff’s voice became familiar as household words to his ears.

On February 8, William Treadwell went to Mansfield, Ohio, and stopped at the North American House, where he registered his name as G. Clemmer. On the evening of February 10, he was joined at that place by his wife Mary and father-in-law Samuel Hester. One of the witnesses in the case, a young man named Palmer, testified that he had been an intimate friend of Treadwell since childhood, having attended college with him at Oberlin. He met Treadwell in Mansfield and the latter took him up to his room and showed him a large amount of money in his possession, kept in a black satchel.

On February 11, Treadwell was arrested on a train while in the company of his wife and an older man.  Treadwell’s baggage was searched but no money was found. It was ascertained that father-in-law Samuel Hester, the older man accompanying the Treadwells, had gone to the depot by the omnibus, taking with him the satchel and money. Ohio authorities, inexplicably, didn’t arrest his wife Mary or father-in-law Samuel, allowing him to escape with the money.

On February 12, Treadwell was taken to Michigan and lodged in jail.  The banker tried to negotiate a settlement, offering $32,000 to creditors in exchange for dropped charges and a waiver of future financial claims.  The offer was flatly rejected by Michigan authorities.

While in jail at Adrian, Treadwell became acquainted with a man named John Cowell, a Union Army deserter who was jailed for stealing a horse.

On  July 1, 1864, Treadwell was tried and convicted of embezzlement.  His wife, while kissing him goodbye following the trial, slipped anywhere from $900 to $2,600 dollars into his pocket, apparently aware of what was to happen later that night.

Sometime during the night, Treadwell and his cell mate, Cowell, broke out of jail and journeyed south to Henry County, Ohio, where Treadwell’s body was found a few weeks later — shot and robbed. One of the $100 bills he’d been carrying was later found on Cowell.

John Cowell was considered a desperate character and had avoided arrest for six weeks.  He was traced to Cleveland by means of a gold watch which he had taken from Treadwell and sold. Finally, Cowell was arrested and taken to Henry County, Ohio, in May, 1865 where he was tried for the murder and sentenced to death. Hanging took place at Napoleon, Ohio on Aug. 11, 1865. Cowell confessed his crime upon the scaffold.

In the examination connected with the Cowell trial it became evident that the greater portion of Treadwell’s money was still in the hands of Samuel Hester.

An administrator was appointed for William Treadwell’s estate and he sued Samuel Hester to recover the $60,000. Soon after this Hester filed for bankruptcy, claiming he had no property subject to the lawsuit. However, the plaintiffs showed evidence that Hester had at least $32,000 in property. Supposedly Hester perjured himself in both matters and in 1870 he was arrested in Huron at the store he operated in Centerton, along with his son-in-law Thomas Banks. Hester was charged with three counts of perjury and Banks was charged with one count.

William’s widow Mary Treadwell remarried in 1866 and died four years later, at the age of 26, a few months before her father and brother-in-law were arrested.

Hester and Banks were taken to Cleveland for arraignment in Federal Court.  However, in September 1870 Samuel and his wife Emily sold some land near Centerton and signed the deed in Huron County. Apparently he was free on bond and was free to dispose of his property.

Samuel Hester died Dec. 30, 1893, in Chicago, and was buried with his family in the North Fairfield Cemetery (Huron County, Ohio). William Treadwell, the originator of this entire story has a grave maker in this same cemetery, in the Hester family plot.  His body apparently had been removed from the temporary grave site at the murder scene and reinterred.

* * *

William Treadwell never lived in the beautiful Italian Villa on the outskirts of Hudson that he began building in 1863.











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