Barney and Dolly
Murder He Wrote

Dated June 4, 1870 the letter began: "Dear, Dear Mother, Forgive me for what I am about to do, as I am mad and cannot help it. I think I am the most miserable creature on earth, I loved this woman better than life; but she has proven false to me and must die..."

Written by 27-year old Barney J. Cosgrove, who had been in Elko less than three weeks, the note referred to Dolly, a saloon girl whose real name was Annie McManus. Fearing that she had two-timed him, he had kept her locked in his room for the past ten days.

Completing the letter to his mother, he jotted down a few instructions concerning disposition of his belongings after his planned suicide. He headed downtown with $40 jingling in his pocket. The money had been sent by his mother to buy a train ticket for Barney to travel home to San Francisco.

He gambled and drank all day Saturday until Lady Luck deserted him to favor the other players. Late in the evening he shoved his hand into a pocket and found only lint. Morose and ugly, he tried to snatch a few coins from the dice table. One of the gamblers slapped him across his face. A town constable saw the incident and took Barney by the arm, intending to escort him home before he got into serious trouble.

Half way to his lodgings, he thanked the officer and said he could find his way without difficulty. Agreeing with Barney, the lawman continued up the street to check locks at a couple of businesses.

A few minutes later, on his way back downtown, he passed Cosgrove's place and was startled by screams coming from the house. Finding the door locked, he shoved his shoulder against it and crashed into a dark room. He scratched a match against the door frame and saw Barney bending over Dolly, who was in bed. It looked like he was pounding her with his fist.

Grabbing Cosgrove from behind the constable was stabbed in his arm. The fist held a knife he had not seen in the brief flare of the match. Receiving a second wound, this time in his side, he decided it was time to run for help.

Lawmen arrived a few minutes later and found Dolly crumpled in a heap on the ground outside the house. Barney had lit out for the sagebrush.

Elko County Sheriff Ben Fitch brought a dog that nosed around for a couple of seconds. Finding Barney's trail, he took off after him. It didn't take long for the animal to find Cosgrove's hiding place. Fitch unleashed the dog and it attacked.

Barney slashed with his knife trying to fend off the canine and cut the dog badly on the neck and a shoulder. Fitch pulled his revolver and fired three times. Shot once in his left side, Cosgrove gave up.

Dolly was taken to the hospital where the doctor found 65 knife wounds. Cosgrove had done a thorough job. Dolly's time had come but she clung desperately to life until late Monday afternoon.

Before passing on, she gasped, "Barney stabbed me but I do not know for what."

Although her reputation was a shady one, many townspeople, angered over the senseless killing, attended her funeral. The editor of the Elko Independent said it was "the foulest butchery that has been chronicled in the State."

Barney was convicted of second-degree murder, a stroke of good luck for him. He could have been hanged on gallows behind the courthouse if convicted of first-degree murder. Judge George Keeney, when passing sentence, stated he was flabbergasted at the verdict for such a dastardly crime. He added that he was sorry Cosgrove had not committed suicide after the killing as he had planned. He sentenced Barney to life in the Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

His mother somehow was able to get his release after only seven years. Rumor has it that she set him up in business with a cigar store in San Francisco. And everyone lived happily ever after...except Dolly. 

 Howard Hickson
January 8, 2000

 ©1999 by Howard Hickson. If any portion or all of this article is used or quoted proper credit must be given to the authors.

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