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Rough Justice


“Take that! You will ruin no other man’s child!”

Those words echoed through the air after a pistol-shot in the front yard of Michael Murphy’s house in Grand Forks. The bullet hit Charles Link and he fell, dead. Link, a 25-year-old housepainter, had criminally assaulted Michael Murphy’s six-year-old daughter, and, when Murphy found out, he avenged the crime.

It was on this date in 1893 when the Grand Forks Herald related the details of the sudden death of child molester Charles Link. The crime had occurred four weeks earlier, and the villain threatened death to the girl if she told anyone.

The perpetrator came back one evening, but the little girl ran away and informed her mother. When Michael Murphy arrived home, he learned the terrible facts. He got a clear description of the wrongdoer from neighbors on Reeves Drive who had seen him lurking.

After a sleepless night, Murphy started out at daylight to find the man and quickly ascertained that it was Charles Link the housepainter. Murphy met with police chief Patrick Hennessey, and both went to Link’s hotel room.

Link tried to escape, but they brought him to Reeves Drive, where neighbors identified the criminal. Inside Murphy’s house, the evidence of Link’s guilt was made complete by the reactions of Murphy’s child and the badman himself.

Murphy told Officer Hennessey to see that the Link did not escape. As the policeman escorted Link out the front door, Murphy followed.

After several steps, Murphy pulled out his pistol and shot Link dead, for doing “wrong against his child.”

Murphy surrendered himself immediately. The coroner’s jury ruled “the killing justifiable,” but Murphy was tried for homicide for taking ‘rough justice’ on his own.

At the trial, Murphy’s lawyers used the “temporary insanity” defense. Murphy periodically suffered from epileptic seizures that had begun at age nine after his skull had been fractured when a mule kicked him in the head. Doctors testified that Murphy killed Link during epileptic mania brought on by the wickedness of the crime.

The jury found Murphy “not guilty.”

Murphy, a banker and devout Catholic, made deep penance. He later became Grand Forks’ mayor, serving from 1910 to 1914. He lived to age 72, dying at his home in 1930. The echoes of the gunshot and tragedies of September, 1893, faded from history, but never stopped reverberating within the consciousness of the Murphy family.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Thursday’s Tragedy,” Grand Forks Herald, September 22, 1893, p. 5.

“Yesterday’s Tragedy,” Grand Forks Herald, September 22, 1893, p. 4.

“Shot Him Dead,” Grand Forks Daily Plaindealer, September 21, 1893, p. 4.

“M.F. Murphy’s Bonds Filed,” Grand Forks Herald, September 27, 1893, p. 3.

“M.F. Murphy’s Trial,” Grand Forks Herald, December 19, 1893, p. 4.

“Murphy’s Defense,” Grand Forks Herald, December 20, 1893, p. 4.

“A Strong Defense,” Grand Forks Herald, December 21, 1893, p. 4.

“A Villain’s Quietus,” St. Paul Globe, September 22, 1893, p. 1.

“The Killing Justifiable,” St. Paul Globe, September 23, 1893, p. 1.

“On Trial For Murder,” St. Paul Globe, December 20, 1893, p. 1.

“Murphy Not Guilty,” St. Paul Globe, December 22, 1893, p. 5.

“Michael F. Murphy Dies In Grand Forks,” Bismarck Tribune, December 23, 1930, p. 7.

They Came To Stay: Grand Forks, North Dakota, Centennial (Grand Forks: Grand Forks Centennial Corporations, 1974), p. 46.

According to the U.S. Census, 1900, 1910, it was Mary Murphy who fit the description of the Murphy daughter who had suffered through the crime.