School Teacher Murdered, 1914
The recent school shootings in Minnesota brings to mind the murder that occurred in an east-side Madison grade school in 1914.
Emily McConnell and John Spooner attended grade and high school together in Madison. She was the granddaughter of George B. Smith, Madison’s mayor from 1858 to 1860 and again in 1878. Spooner was the nephew of Senator John Coit Spooner, at one time one of the most powerful men in the nation.
About 1901 Emily began teaching kindergarten at the Irving School, on Jenifer Street between Baldwin and Few. Spooner went west, then married Bettie Preston and returned to Madison to head the Hobbins Insurance Agency. He and his wife had two children.
Emily and Bettie became good friends. As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, “Spooner, seeing McConnell often, became infatuated. He persisted in his desire to meet her and to pay attentions to her. She occasionally met him on the street and walked with him. But during the last two years she had indicated that his attentions were becoming too marked, and she had avoided him. He had then telephoned her, and according to friends, had threatened her if she did not see him. Miss McConnell had become alarmed and for several months each afternoon either her mother or aunt had called at the school with a carriage and had gone home with her.”
In the fall of 1913 Spooner began drinking heavily. After November he was unemployed. Apparently, his attentions became more annoying. To escape Spooner, Emily decided to take a trip to the Bermudas. She purchased train tickets to New York for her aunt and herself, planning to sail to the islands from there. She asked the school board for a month’s leave, and her request was granted. “Spooner heard of this. It is said that last Sunday night he called her up and wished to know if she persisted in taking the trip. She told him that she did. He declared that he would not let her go and that he would kill her if she did.”
Sometime after noon on January 9, 1914, the day before she was due to leave, Spooner went to the Hofbrau for a drink. According to Tom Phelan, an employee, as Spooner left he said he had some business to attend to, and told Phelan “I’ll see you in the next world.” Phelan became alarmed and tried to phone Emily at the school, but couldn’t reach her. Meanwhile, Spooner had jumped on the streetcar and taken it to the school. He rushed to the building and went inside. Proceeding to the kindergarten classroom, he called Emily to the door, then shot her twice without saying a word. He then shot himself in the head. She died instantly; he died about 6 p.m. that evening.
In an oral history interview conducted by Historic Madison with Marjorie Mosel Chapleau in 1984, she recalled: “A tragic thing happened during one of our cooking classes. We were on the first floor of the school and the kindergarten was across the hall on the first floor. During the time of our class, we were suddenly told that Miss McConnell had been shot to death. Her admirer came to the school with a gun, went to the kindergarten room door, and got her out into the hall. I remember we all had to file out past her covered body. That was a tragedy. He was out of his head, I guess. He was just demented.”