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Gravestones of Robert Whipp & Mehitable Whipp

The Robert Whipp trial was a scandalous tale.

At age 15, Robert Whipp inherited a prosperous sheep business from his father and proceeded to make it even more profitable. Misfortune nearly wiped him out when disease struck his large flock, and he finally sold off everything and decided to emigrate to Australia. By 21 years of age, Robert Whipp had accumulated about $10,000 in cash and lots of property in Yorkshire, England.

One of Medina County’s most exciting trials began at the seaport in Liverpool, England. There, while waiting to sail for Australia, Whipp met a group of men who talked him into going to America instead. He arrived in New York, traveled on to Cleveland, and then turned up in Brunswick as a farmhand for Preston Hart. After a month on the job, he rented land from Hart and began building another flock of sheep.

He obviously prospered again. By 1876 he owned more than 2000 acres in Hinckley Township and his personal wealth was estimated to be more than $1000, 000.

When Whipp was 54, his wife, Mehetible Wait Whipp, died. Robert was a wealthy lonely widower and that’s how his troubles began.

Soon after his wife’s death, Whipp hired Hanna Spensley of Hinckley Center to be his housekeeper. According to later court testimony, Spensley and her young widowed daughter, Rachel, schemed together to get Whipp and his considerable pile of money.

Whipp and Rachel soon were “seeing” each other, and Whipp agreed to marriage. Twice the date was set – twice Whipp left her standing at the altar.

Rachel, reportedly in a “delicate condition” threatened to shoot Whipp on site if he didn’t show for the third scheduled wedding. Under less than auspicious circumstances, Whipp and Rachel were married on Aug. 13, 1877, at the American House Hotel in Medina. She was 22 and he was 54.

The stormy courtship became an even more stormy marriage. Further court testimony indicated they constantly had violent arguments, and Rachel called her husband a “mean, old devil”. It was intimated Whipp was a man bordering on insanity. Whipp chose to sleep out with his field hands, and talked of a divorce within three weeks of the nuptials.

At about midnight on Saturday, Sept. 15, just a month after the wedding, Whipp was in bed and noticed a strange smell of chloroform in the house. Moments later, two men he assumed to be neighbors approached his bed. Suddenly they fell on him with a rope and attempted to thrust a noose over his head and around his neck. Whipp fought free and raced to a neighbor’s home with the rope in his hand.

His next stop was Hinckley Center. There he prepared an arrest warrant for his wife’s brother, Lon Spensley, whom he identified as one of his assailants. The next morning, Lon was in jail, charged with the attempted murder.

Rachel fled to a neighbor’s home, and then to her mother’s. She returned to her own home on Monday, Sept 17th. Her husband unceremoniously toted her out of the house and set her in the middle of the road. On Tuesday, Sept. 18, she joined her brother in the Medina jail. The trial was an absolute sensation. It began the third week of January 1878, and played to a packed house daily. The local papers reported the testimony in detail, much to the delight of the readers.

Whipp testified first, asserting his wife plotted to have him murdered by hanging, so it would appear to be a suicide. The motive was two-fold – to get rid of him and to have his fortune. He named her brother and an unknown person as the persons who attempted to murder him.

Other witnesses came forward to testify against Rachel. They told of conversations in which she admitted marrying the man for his money. She also was reported by witnesses to have said Whipp threatened suicide if he couldn’t get a divorce.

The primary piece of physical evidence was the rope alleged to have been the attempted murder weapon. It had been purchased by Rachel to hang cream in the well for cooling.

Rachel, of course, denied everything. According to her testimony, she was in bed at the time of the murder attempt. She heard what she assumed to be robbers attacking her husband, and she fled through the kitchen and out of the house while her husband struggled with them.

Rachel’s brother also denied all charges. He stated he had worked at Frank Willett’s farm all day, and had gone home to bed with a headache, Willett supported the testimony. He stated he went to Lon’s home that same evening, and Lon was there when he left at 10 p.m. – two hours before the crime.

The trial lasted for two weeks and ended Feb. 1, 1878. The all male jury found Rachael and her brother guilty of attempted murder. Judge John C. Hale sentenced each to seven years of hard labor at the Ohio State Penitentiary.

Defense attorneys immediately filed an appeal. They accused Whipp of buying the verdict as part of his scheme to rid himself of his very young, very pregnant bride. The appeal was denied.

On Feb 6, 1878, Rachel and Lon entered prison. Rachael arrived with a small trunk filled with infant clothing. Both served only one year of their sentences and released.

Newspaper reports at the time were something less than subtle. The Gazette described Whipp as “grasping, avaricious, and ignorant …a type of humanity oftener met with among the lower classes in the North of England than in this country.” Rachael was “pleasant and agreeable”, but with “…an undercurrent of Subterfuge.” The whole affair, according to the Gazette was a “seamy mess” which “reveals a stratum of mud in rural society.”

Needless to say, the press approved of the verdict, believing it was fully justified. Reporters assured every man, woman and child in Medina County they were safer as a result.

SOURCE: Article in the Medina Co. Gazette - dated Nov 19, 1991 page 2 written by Joanne King and Jeff Kehnle about a trial involving Robert Whipp

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