September 17, 1841
New York, New York
John C. Colt kills Samuel Adams, packs him in salt, and attempts to mail the corpse to a non-existent address
Adams, a printer, had visited Colt to collect a debt of $1.35 (approximately $36 today) he believed was owed to him. The two quarreled and, according to Colt, Adams attempts to strangle Colt. In defense, Colt grabbed what he believed to be a hammer and struck Adams until he was released. In actuality, Colt had used a hatchet and Adams had been killed.
Colt then packed Adams in a large crate and covered him in salt to delay the decomposition process. He addressed the crate to a fictitious address in New Orleans and had it delivered to a ship set to depart the next day.
A neighbor had heard a scuffle during the time of the murder and peered through the keyhole, seeing a man crouched over a form on the floor. He later obtained a key from the landlord and found the floor had recently been scrubbed and noticed a large shipping crate was missing. Together three men — the neighbor, Adams’ father-in-law, and one of Colt’s employees — reported evidence they collected to the mayor of New York. On September 22, the mayor agreed to inspect the package Colt had delivered to the ship which had been delayed due to a storm. The crate was already producing a strong odor and, as they opened it, the half-naked corpse of Adams was revealed (he was identified later by a scar on his leg and a ring).
Colt was arrested by claimed the killing was an accident. He also claimed the reason for attempting to cover up the murder was to avoid the disgrace of a public trial. The media circus surrounding the murder did not help spare Colt any disgrace. Journalists immediately painted Colt as immoral, bringing up his living arrangement with a pregnant unwed woman (whom he married the day of his scheduled execution), and the killing as cold-blooded murder.
Though his defense attempted a plea of temporary insanity for the act of trying to hide the crime, the judge determined Colt’s actions were those of a person covering a murder rather than manslaughter. He was convicted and sentenced to death. However, the day of his execution and after his marriage, a fire broke out in his prison. When the flames had been extinguished, Colt was found dead in his cell from an apparent suicide; he had a knife wound to his heart. It is believed Colt’s family had smuggled the knife to him. Another theory suggests the body was not his but rather one made to look like him, left behind as his family smuggled Colt out of the prison.