The Wallet Man

I have read and wrote about some of the worst of humanity. The history attached to Jimmy’s Restaurant in Morristown, New Jersey certainly falls in that category. The original building was constructed in 1749 by John Sayre. Generations of his family lived in this house without incident. It has seen its good days including Alexander Hamilton proposing to his beloved Elizabeth in the room later known as the Tap Room. However, the sweet would turn to sour.

After about a century of peace, Samuel, his wife Sara and their maid Phoebe were the latest Sayres to inhabit the home in 1833. Samuel hired Antoine Le Blanc, an immigrant sailor from the West Indies, to help around the farm in the house. A simple misunderstand turned to murder. Le Blanc thought he would be supervising a large operation. He spoke very little English, contributing to his mounting frustration. He decided to cut his loses and run away with the money he believed the Sayres were hiding in their home.

On May 11, 1833, Le Blanc put his plan in to action. He snuck in to the Sayre home and bludgeoned Samuel and Sara to death with a shovel and buried them in a dung heap. Then, moved on to Phoebe. Using an ax, he sent her to an early grave as well. He ransacked their home and took Samuel’s clothes, a horse and what little money he could find and fled the home. His plan was to escape to his native land but with the blood of Morristown’s most esteemed families on his hands it was only a matter of time before he was tracked down and captured. He never left the state. Le Blanc was brought back to Morristown.

His trial took a total of nine days. Today, if you can not afford a lawyer, you are appointed one by the court. In 1833, Le Blanc didn’t have any money and therefore was appointed not one but three of the top attorneys. This was unheard of in the 19th Century. His legal team requested a jury made up of naturalized U.S. citizens, a change of venue and a cooling off period. All were denied. On August 13, 1833, Le Blanc was convicted of murdering the Sayres (not including Phoebe's murder) after a 20 minute deliberation. He was sentenced to death by hanging. He made a full confession of all three murders, with the help of a translator, prior to his death.

A special gallows was constructed in the Morristown Green just for Le Blanc. The traditional trap door was replaced with a counterweight and pulleys. The purpose was to hoist the killer eight feet off the ground for public viewing. After the hanging, Le Blanc’s body was subjected to re-animation experiments by a Princeton scientist named Dr. Joseph Henry with the help of Dr. Canfield. The only reflexive hints of life were rolling eyeballs, limbs contracting and a contorted grin. Then, his head was plastered, preserving his death mask. His body was skinned, allegedly taken to Atno Tannery to be made in to souvenir wallets, book covers and purses. Each was signed by the sheriff in 1833 to prove authenticity. These items were sold to cover the expenses of the trial and the celebration afterward. A piece of his skin was also found at Princeton University Library tucked inside a book. Last, by court order, Le Blanc’s body was dissected and buried.

His remains were dug up near the courthouse about a century ago but has since mysteriously disappeared.
Since the murders, the house seen its share of owners and businesses. In 1946, it was converted in to a restaurant which suffered a devastating fire eleven years later. Reconstruction included expansions and additions to the building while saving a tree growing through the atrium dining area. In the 1970s, the house momentarily left its restaurant days behind to make way for the Wedgewood Inn owned by William McCausland. David DeGraff later turned it back in to an eatery called the Society Hill Restaurant. And most recently it was Jimmy’s Restaurant. Jimmy’s was closed and demolished in 2006 to make way for a bank.
Some say Phoebe still haunts the location, still seeking justice for her murder. The room Phoebe once occupied was reported to always be colder than any other room. Waitresses use to see Phoebe’s reflection in the mirror instead of their own. There were reports of behind touched on the shoulder. One person supposedly saw a bloody hand reach out from one of the paintings. Le Blanc’s spirit is also believed to be haunting the grounds. Considering the gruesome treatment of his body after death, I’m not entirely surprised if he is. Objects were known to move on their own. Candles extinguished become lit again. On the night of the Society Hill’s grand opening, a punch bowl cracked and split apart, spilling the punch. Chairs rock by themselves and lights go on and off.

Exorcisms have been performed on the property but the activity continued. The above claims are from the property’s past. I don’t know if the bank is experiencing much the same. But if there is any truth to the reports, I’m sure they have.


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