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Who killed William Lyman? Questions about Rochester's first murder inspire Fringe show

Sep 18, 2019

Credit RochesterFringe.com

Rochester's first murder, 182 years ago, is still somewhat of a mystery today.

"All these people who lived in that neighborhood heard the shot -- including his wife -- and never went outside to look at see what happened," said Aprille Byam, creator of "Wanted: Who Killed William Lyman?," a Rochester Fringe experience premiering this weekend.

William Lyman, a 37-year-old father of three, was shot in the head and died on Oct. 23, 1837.  The bookkeeper had hundreds of dollars in his wallet and pocketbook, and $5,000 stuffed in his hat -- deposits for his employers -- as he walked to his home on North Clinton Avenue that night after work.

The killer never found the $5,000, but did run off with the rest of the money, which was found wrapped in a white handkerchief and stashed in a wooded area near a rail yard.

Eighteen-year-old Octavius Barron was convicted of and executed for the crime, but Byam thinks he was merely a convenient culprit.

"If you read through the trial transcripts," she explained, "they spend a lot of time establishing the fact that Barron had a white handkerchief because the money was found wrapped in a white handkerchief, and it just kind of strikes you as, 'Was he really the only person in town with a white handkerchief?' And he was known to actually have money a lot of the time because he would make and fix watches and sell them."

Byam has come up with some possible suspects; some of them based on the historical facts, others partly from her imagination. 

Fringe-goers who want to puzzle together the case can gather at Spiegelgarden this Friday or Saturday, pick up a dossier with the murder case summary, maps from 1837 and today, and visit seven venues looking for clues.

Byam thinks modern sleuths might be better at solving the crime than those who actually worked on the case.

"We're so used to today, trial procedurals and law and order TV shows and you read through the trial transcript and you're like, 'What the heck were they doing? How did they get away with that?' " she asked.

Click on the LISTEN link above to hear Byam talk about the story.  Go to RochesterFringe.com for tickets and more information.