No. 448
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
November 16, 2019

Driven by Delusion

Henry Goodwin entered the office of his partner, Albert Swan, pulled out a revolver and shot him.
November 14, 2011
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Driven by Delusion

Delusions

Lawrence, Mass., August 29, 1885 - Inventor Henry Goodwin visited the Lawrence, Massachusetts, office of his business partner, Albert Swan. The two men spoke quietly for about half an hour, then Goodwin pulled out a revolver and shot Swan in the head, killing him. A crowd of people rushed to the office to see what had happened and Goodwin calmly told them “I have shot him, I meant to do it.” 

With the same calm determination, Goodwin went to the Lawrence police station and turned himself in. When asked why he had killed Swan, Goodwin replied, “I told him a year ago that unless he came to some settlement with me about our matters, I would have his heart’s blood. He has robbed me of my papers and my patents, and when I have undertaken to sell them I could not give a good title. He has robbed me of $40,000. I did it, I meant to do it, and I am here to take the consequences.”

The patents in question were for telephone switches; Henry Goodwin was a gifted inventor in the nascent field of telephony. He had turned to his boyhood friend, and successful businessman, Albert Swan, for help in securing patents for his new inventions. They successfully patented one of his switches but the patent for his greatest invention, a switchboard that could route hundreds of calls through a central location, was lost to the Molecular Telephone Company of New York because Swan did not finish the paperwork on time. As it turned out, Albert Swan had a business interest in the Molecular Telephone Company.

On his attorney’s advice, Henry Goodwin pled temporary insanity. Even before the patent deal, Goodwin had a history of irrational fear that his ideas were being stolen. He left two lucrative contracts in South America because in each case, he believed his employers were stealing his proprietary work. The same thing happened in the Midwest of the United States and by the time he returned to Lawrence his reputation prevented him from working anywhere.

But the jury did not buy it. The bad blood between Goodwin and Swan was well known in Lawrence. Goodwin had admitted to the murder and had admitted to warning Swan a year earlier. That sounded like premeditation and Henry Goodwin was sentenced to life in prison.

Details on this case and about two dozen other historical Massachusetts murders can be found in Murder & Mayhem in Essex County.