12 such murder cases in 70 years: Dec. 18, 1869 thru Dec. 9, 1939

Theodore Nicklas -- 1 of 12 Men Convicted of
Murder in Cattaraugus and Executed

$2 Ending of Life for a Distinguished Old Man and a Wayward Youth

In his eight decades of life, Andrew Mead proved himself a remarkable individual -- saw-mill builder, doctor, jurist, town supervisor, church leader, fraternal lodge founder, and storekeeper. The Hornelville Tribune of Dec. 24, 1869 (as quoted by the New York Times on Christmas Day, 1869) described him as "a resident of the county for the last fifty years, a very respectable and influential citizen."

About the year 1832, Dr. Andrew Mead built a saw-mill near the mouth of Four-Mile Creek. In 1838 it became the property of Seymour Bouton.

Green underlines for emphasis in this presentation have been inserted beneath the names Buffalo, Little Valley, Allegany and Olean in the above digital image of a detail section from a vintage railroad map of northwestern NY. The dotted line at the bottom of the image represents the NY-Pa. border. Click the image to access the full map uncropped (and without green emphasis line inserts) on the web site of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society.
Previously active in nearby Olean, he came to the community of Allegany in 1847. Allegany is a village in the Olean metro area situated along the Allegany River in the Southern Tier region of New York State. The community name derives from Indian term for "long river" or "fine river." It is the home of St. Bonaventure University.

In 1848, Dr. Mead donated a store building he had in Olean to that community's First Baptist Church for use as a place of worship. He had been one of the congregration's earliest members. The building continued to be used by Olean Baptists as their church until 1860. In 1852, he helped establish the Olean Lodge, No. 252, F. AND A. M., serving as one of its first officers.

In 1854, Mead and the Rev. E. F. Crane presided at the founding meeting of "the First Baptist Society of Allegany." Mead served as a trustee of the society that for many years held its worship services in the village school-house. But the society never did construct its own church ediface and eventually ceased activity.

One of the early county judges, Dr. Mead was elected justice of the peace at various times through the years (1833, 1842, 1859) and elected town supervisor in 1868. Even into his late years, he continued activity in Cattaraugus courts.

Additionally, for many years Mead had maintained a considerable practice as a physician.

A bachelor, Dr. Mead lived alone in a building on the west side of Main Street, Allegany, which also served as his place of business. By 1869, he kept the front part of his building more as a grocery than a medical office since he had given up his medical practice a few years earlier. After all, though quite muscular and still active, he was at that point in time pushing 80.

Above is a cropped and sepia-tinted version of an illustration of the 1868 Little Valley court-house and jail in L.H. Everts' 1879 History Of Cattaraugus County, NY on the Cattaraugus web site that is part of the US GenWeb/NY GenWeb system. Click the image to access the illustration from which it is derived. Scroll down the page thus accessed to "The County Buildings" for more details about the court where Theodore Nicklas was tried and the jail behind it where he was held. As a town leader and jurist, Andrew Mead likely often frequented the court-house.
The evening of December 18, the retired doctor/jurist was by himself in his grocery when a young man named Theodore Nicklas entered. The 19-year-old was in desperate need of cash, having been barred from his own home by his parents. Apparently his ways of behaving were too much for them and for their German family tradition of personal self-descipline. Dr. Mead was well aware of the teen's unruliness and the parents' disapproval. Theodore was his nephew.

Nicklas "asked" his uncle for $2, a "request" that may have sounded to the old man more like a demand. His refusal led to an exchange of words that escalated into an altercation. With an iron stove implement that he had grabbed, Nicklas struck repeated blows to Mead's head, rendering the doctor helpless. His assailant took $55 from Mead's pants' pocket and a watch from the doctor's vest. Locking the store door behind him, Nicklas fled into the night, leaving his victim to die on the floor. The robber ran to Olean where he hopped aboard a freight car headed to Buffalo via Hornelville.

A $1,000 reward -- a vastly huge sum in that era -- was offered by the community for capture of the killer. The youth's wild spending of his ill-gotten gains and his sale of his victim's watch reportedly contributed to Nicklas' apprehension in January, 1870. A New York Timez report of Jan. 28 quoted from a Buffalo Express account of an interview with Nicklas while the youth was detained in Buffalo.

Nicklas claimed he wanted to "borrow" $2 from Mead for passage to Dunkirk, N.Y., but when the doctor refused to loan him the money, the youth determined to take it by force. However, Nicklas said that in the ensuing struggle,

Above is a compressed version of the title page of L.H. Everts' 1879 History Of Cattaraugus County, NY on the Cattaraugus web site that is part of the US GenWeb/NY GenWeb system. Click the image to access the illustration from which it is derived.
"The doctor was too strong for me and got me down. . . The doctor got up and locked the door and locked me in. I thought he was going to get a gun to guard me, for he keeps a gun and is an awful tempered man when he gets mad.

"I siezed a small shovel by the stove and hit him over the head two or three times, the key fell from his hands and I don't know but I struck him once or twice after that. I took the watch and the money, unlocked the door, went out, locked the door after me, and started for Oleans.

Nicklas acknowledged he had one prior arrest, that being for allgedly stabbing a man.

"Now I that have no hope of escaping the gallows, I shall only strive to obtain the forgiveness of God."

After being detained in Buffalo for the murder of Dr. Mead, Nicklas was incarcerated in Little Valley where he was tried, convicted and on March 18, 1870, hanged.

Five hundred dollars was allotted to the Sheriff's Office for the execution, just about half of which went to the construction of the gallows. Some of the money may have been spent on closing off the execution area from public view so as to conform it to the 1835 New York law banning the public viewing of executions.

The New York Times account of March 19th, 1870, detailed the execution:

"The gallows was erected in the jail yard. The condemned left the jail in charge of Sheriff Cooper, leaning upon two deputies. He was proceded by Father Sorg and Bloomer, and followed by some of the county officers.

"He ascended the platform with a firm step. The death warrant was read and the rites of the Catholic Church performed. He was overwhelmed at the moment and wished Father Sorg to say for him that he was sorry for all the sins he had ever committed and that he hoped for salvation and trusted that his fate would be a warning to all young people. He dropped eight feet and died without a struggle. His body was delivered to his friends."


-- The 1879 L. H. Everts History of Cattaraugus County, NY dates the Mead murder taking place in 1870 and the Nicklas execution in 1871 whereas the actual NYT and other newspaper clippings clearly establish the crime taking place in December 1869 and the execution in March 1870.

Click the above book cover image to access more information about Daniel Allen Hearn's excellent Legal Executions in New York State.
-- Everts History of Cattaraugus spells the last name of Dr. Mead's convicted killer as Nicklas as does Daniel Allen Hearn in his excellent Legal Executions in New York State. His book cites March 1870 stories in the NY Herald and the Jamestown Daily Journal. In its execution story the NYT spelled his last name Nicklos whereas in the arrest story the newspaper spelled it Nichols. We go with the Everts and Hearn's spelling: Nicklas.

-- While the NYT story about the execution did not provide the first names of the Catholic priests giving spiritual support to the condemned man, web research comes up possible IDs:

  • the Rev. Fr. J. J. Bloomer of Elmira and
  • one of the Reverend Fathers Brothers Sorg of Buffalo (brothers who also were Reverend Fathers).

Fr. Bloomer and the Fathers Sorg were all active during the relevant time period. Fr. Joseph M. Sorg was at St. Louis Church, Buffalo, while his brother, Nicholas, was at St. Boniface Church, Buffalo. Fr. Bloomer was pastor of St. Patrick in Elmira but also rendered chaplaincy service at Elmira Reformatory that opened in 1876.

Perhaps after his arrest in Buffalo for the Mead murder and while behind bars in Buffalo awaiting transfer to Little Valley, Nicklas developed a spiritual rapport with that jail's chaplain who might well have been one of the Sorg brothers.

-- The NYT execution story refers to Sheriff Cooper and two deputies escorting Nicklas from the jail to the gallows but does not mention the sheriff's first name. William Cooper Jr. of Perrysburg served as the county's sheriff 1868-1873. William Cooper Sr., who died in 1874, was one of the early settlers in what became Perrysburg. In 1819, having scouted out the area the year previous, he, his bride, his brother-in-law and a friend traveled by ox-cart and sleds from Saratoga County, crossing still frozen waters to reach Cattaraugus. Various members of the Cooper family held a various offices at various times in the county's early history, including supervisor, town clerk, justice of the peace, postmaster, and sheriff.

-- To help the New York Correction History Society with this project, the Cattaraugus County Historical Museum and Library very generously provided copies of jail-related and sheriff-related materials from its vertical files. One of those information sheets is the source for Mead and Nicklas being uncle and nephew. We credit that assertion because the Buffalo Express/NY Times quote attributed to him after his arrest reflects knowledge about his victim consistent with being a blood relation: I thought he was going to get a gun to guard me, for he keeps a gun and is an awful tempered man when he gets mad.

However, the same information sheet has the murder taking place Dec. 16 (not Dec. 18 as all the newspaper citation fix the date), and has the assailant fleeing to Buffalo where supposedly "he used an alias and worked in Police Headquarters for three months," only to have his cover blown when an acquaintance spotted him at work, called out his real name and Theodore responded. The encounter was overheard by a detective who began investigating and discovered the youth's true ID, so the story goes. Great story! But the problem is all the newspaper citations fix the arrest taking place in January 1870, only about a month after the murder, not three months after.

Thomas McCarthy,
General Secretary/webmaster
NY Correction History Society
Home Page
To Timeline of
murderers executed