Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ira vs. Myra - the end

Yes, that's our buddy Ira. And this is the third and final installment on his tragic but true tale. Let’s begin with this statement (presented during closing arguments) by Ira’s defense attorney Col. Charles Jewett:
Do not wonder that though the town was ringing with gossip about Mrs. Strunk, her husband was the last to hear and slowest to believe it. I honor those who do not hear, or little regard the tongue of slander. I know of no place where a greater number of competent persons can be found to attend to other peoples’ business free of charge than New Albany.”

This is New Albany. In 1886.

The Trial

Ira was in jail for 73 days waiting for his trial to begin. In that time he was visited by over 1500 friends!

The trial was a sensation in the region. It began on October 2, 1886. It was open to the public – first come first served. There were mob scenes daily as men and women jockeyed for seats. The trial lasted eight days and 95 witnesses spoke. Outbursts were common from Ira supporters who booed and hissed witnesses and lawyers for the prosecution. Public sympathy was strongly on the side of Ira.

The prosecution took one day to prove, without question, that Ira had killed Charles.

Then the defense team began to spin the web of Ira’s descent into madness. They were relying on a defense of insanity. In testimony from friends and experts, the defense would attempt to prove Myra’s adultery had made Ira mentally unsound. Witness after witness testified to Ira being a “changed man” after being told of Myra’s misdeeds.

He’d given up teaching after making numerous mistakes.
He was unable to concentrate on his duties and was apt to gaze out a window for hours at a time.
He’d made a $1,500 posting error in his position at the Building and Loan.
Friends claimed he’d pass them on the street and not recognize them.
Dr. W. B. Fletcher (Superintendent of the State Insane Asylum) testified that Ira was insane at the time of the killing.

The defense also took on the task of proving that Myra was indeed guilty of adultery. Ten neighbors testified that Charles would wave and blow kisses when walking by the Strunk home. Eight witnesses testified to seeing Charles and Myra walking together and meeting at the church on weekdays.

Then, a single witness (James Shepard) gave testimony to witnessing Charles and Myra engaged in making love in the church. He lived next door to the church and claimed to have twice seen the two through an open door.

Then, after coming close to exchanging blows with the witness, the prosecutor showed that it was impossible to see anything from Mr. Shepard’s claimed vantage point in his home.

Myra Takes the Stand

Myra approached the stand in a plain suit, with her face veiled. She took the stand and was asked but two questions and was not cross-examined. She denied intimacy with Charles, and that he had never made any advances toward her. She was the last witness called.

Closing Arguments

Closing arguments lasted for two days. The following excerpt gives you a sense of how the defense was trying to sway to the jury:

This man [Ira] fought in defense of a jewel more precious to him than all his goods. He killed Hoover in the protection of what, is to an honorable man, more than life or limb. He shed blood in the highest defense of the State, because in defense of the State’s purest institution, marriage, and it obligations. This man’s shots rang forth as proclamations of the sanctity of hearth, home and church all over this broad land.”

The prosecution closed with the following. Keep in mind that public sentiment was aggressively with Ira and it appears a not guilty verdict was almost assumed.

A verdict of not guilty will go wherever the winds of the heavens go, it will go bearing sorrow and despair to their [Myra and her children] hearts. Yes, gentlemen, tell your wife and children of the great trial and the pleasure you have in reaching a verdict of not guilty. You may write it, but it will be with the tears of this defendant’s children and the heart blood of his wife. You may liberate him, but he can only walk forth a free man over the prostrate form of his wife and amid the ruins of his children’s home.”

All I ask of you is to consider, be men, let the maudlin sentiment voiced by this mob be unheeded, redeem your oaths, and may God direct you in your deliberations.”

The Verdict

It only took fifteen minutes.

Seventy three days leading up to the most sensational trial in New Albany’s history. Eight days at trial. Ninety five witnesses. And in fifteen minutes it was over. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The Ledger even reported the jury took tea to Ira at the jail. How quaint.

The day after the verdict Ira was released after another jury declared him sane. Ira was a free man.

Did Myra and Charles have an affair? Or did gossip, jealousy, and the wild imaginations of New Albanians eventually prod Ira to his killing spree? You can draw your own conclusions.


Ira moved on with his life. He returned to his position at the Business College and moved into a home in Silver Hills. In 1907 Ira moved to California, returning to New Albany in 1911. He took up residence at 1502 E. Market and remained there until his death in December 1937.

His final resting place is at Fairview Cemetery. There’s an empty plot next to him, obviously intended to be for Myra.

After the trial, Myra left with her children and widowed Mother for western Pennsylvania – to the town where she had been born 35 years earlier. She would never return to New Albany.

The grave of Ira G. Strunk at Fairview Cemetary. He'd purchased a plot next to him for Myra, which is empty.

The New Albany Inn – Ira lunged from this spot sprinting for two blocks and killing Charles Hoover and wounding Dr. Hoover.