Letter to sister describing the execution of Stephen Videto


Date Written

Aug. 28, 1825

William Ransom Vilas was 22 years old when this was written.
The recipient, Lucy M. Vilas, was 24 when it was received.

It was written 198 years, 1 month, 5 days ago.
It was a Sunday.

William Ransom Vilas was 22 years old when he wrote this letter. He is writing to his sisters, Lucy Martin Vilas, 24, and Caroline Abigail Vilas, 21. Apparently, William was living in Malone, New York when this letter was written, but research indicates he lived most of his life in Vermont. The letter, in fact, is addressed to Lucy in Johnson, Vermont.

The letter describes the execution by hanging of Stephen Videto. Videto was accused of killing his lover, Mrs. Fanny Mosley. The forensic issues involved in the Videto case were described in some detail in, “Elements of Medical Jurisprudence,” v. 2, pp. 113-115, written by Dr. Theodric Romeyn Beck. The following is Dr. Beck’s account of the investigation of Fanny Mosley’s murder:

“Stephen Videto was, in July 1825, tried at the court of oyer and terminer for Franklin County, (N. Y.) for the murder of Mrs. Fanny Mosely.

It appeared that Mrs. Mosely had been married to a worthless individual in Canada. Shortly after her union, he brought her from her parents, under the pretence of visiting his, to a tavern at the town of French Mills, and there deserted her, taking with him all her property. In this destitute situation, she applied herself with assiduity to the tailoring business, and finally accumulated some hundred dollars, with which she purchased a small farm.

In March, 1824, she went to reside at the house of the prisoner’s father. The family then consisted of his father and mother, a brother and sister, the prisoner and the deceased. The house consisted of two ground rooms, one called the kitchen, in which the old people slept, and the bedroom at the west side of the house. In this last there was one window at the west side, and another at the north end, a little east of centre. At the northeast corner of the room stood the bed of the prisoner, with whom the brother slept, and at the northwest corner, that of the deceased, with whom the sister was a bedfellow. The heads of both beds were to the north, there was a space of about one yard between them, in which a screen or curtain was usually hung. It was also shown that the bed of the deceased was more than one foot lower than the bottom of the window.

In January, 1825, the prisoner asserted that he had seen armed Indians about the house in the night-time, and he supposed that they harbored hostile designs against him. Under this pretence, (for no other persons had seen them), he borrowed a pistol and two guns and provided himself with ammunition.

On the 1st of February, the brother and sister were both absent from home, and of course the prisoner and deceased were left alone. The prisoner asserted that he was watching during the night, from the apprehension of an attack, and sat up in bed with his gun lying across his lap. While thus employed, a gun was suddenly thrust through the north window and discharged at Mrs. Mosely, who was then asleep. He immediately fired his gun out of the same window, but saw no one.

Such was his account. It was found, on examination, that the ball entered the back of the deceased near the spine, a little above the left hip, and passed out near the left breast nearer to the head than it entered. She died of the wound in two hours. The window, consisting of fifteen lights, had six broken in the lower sash. “The broken sash and almost all the fragments of glass were found on the outside of the house.” The ball was found in the covering of the deceased. Mrs. Mosely mentioned before her death, that she lay in bed with her head to the north, her face to the west, and her body bent forward considerably.

On dissection, the lowest rib was found cut square off, at an inch or an inch and a half from the spine. There was, therefore, no glancing. The lower lobe of the left lung and the heart were perforated with a ball and shot.

The examining physicians placed the body in the position above described, on the bed, and then placed persons on the outside of the house, to ascertain whether a ball from a gun would reach her as stated by the prisoner. It was found that she must have lain in a most unnatural posture in order to be reached, namely, that of a person vomiting. Her account was very different.

It also appeared on the trial that the prisoner had purchased arsenic, and probably given it to the deceased, whose health had for some time previous been in a declining state.

Videto was found guilty and executed, asserting, however, his innocence to the last.

The solution to this case remains to be given. It is the usual sequence of seduction and murder. On the dissection of the body, the murdered female was found to be pregnant. This fact was known to the district attorney, but from a regard to the feelings of the relatives of the murdered person, it was not brought in testimony. Videto confessed that he was the seducer, to Judge (now Chancellor) Walworth*, before whom he was tried, a few days after his conviction.”

* Reuben Hyde Walworth (October 26, 1788 – November 27, 1867) was a jurist and United States Congressman. Walworth is perhaps best known today as the man whose Supreme Court nomination was thwarted three times. He also had the unusual distinction of simultaneously serving in the United States House of Representatives while also sitting as a judge on the New York state bench.
In 1828, Walworth was appointed Chancellor of New York state, where he gained President John Tyler’s attention because of his widely respected opinions on evidence, pleadings, civil procedure, and arbitration. Tyler nominated him to the Supreme Court of the United States three times in 1844, but the nomination was always postponed due to Tyler's lack of support from both Whigs and Democrats. Although he never sat on the high court, Walworth was asked by the Supreme Court to serve as a special master in the important case of Pennsylvania v. Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company in 1852.

William’s father was Moses Vila, born 19 March 1771, and his mother was Mercy Flint, born in 1771. They were married 30 January 1799. They had the following children: Joseph Vilas (b. 31 Oct 1799), Lucy Martin Vilas (b. 28 Sept. 1800), William Ransom Vilas (b. 8 Sept. 1802), Caroline Abigail Vilas (b. 18 Dec. 1804), Samuel Flint Vilas (b. 9 Jan. 1807), Pamelia Vilas (b. 4 Feb. 1809), Levi Baker Vilas (b. 25 Feb. 1811), Emma Vilas (b. 25 Feb. 1811), Freeman Chandler Vilas (b. 27 May 1815), Harrison Martin Vilas (b. 7 Dec. 1817).

William married Mary Noyes on 15 July 1834 in Hyde Park Vermont. Mary was born 24 Feb. 1814.

They are enumerated in the 1850 Federal Census, living in Burlington, Vermont, and have the following children living with them: Martin G. Vilas, 13, Caroline Vilas, 8, Lucius Vilas, 6, Mary E. Vilas, 5, Sarah Vilas, 1 month. William’s occupation is noted as farmer, with real estate value of $24,000. Living with them are the following: Lucy M. Tinker, 12, Eliza N. Dinsmore, 22, Bridget McDonald, 18, and Laban Hardy, 21.

The family is enumerated in the 1860 Census and remains intact with the addition of William Vilas, 8, and Fred Vilas, 1. In addition there are three servants living with them: Patrick O’Conner, 24, Rossanna Cassady, 24, and Margaret Hughs, 14.

By the 1880 Census William is no longer present in the household of Mary N. Vilas.

Scans of Letter