It was the morning of September 1, 1883 when 18-year-old J. Frank Hickey walked into his job at McGibbon’s Drugstore and found the store’s pharmacist, Edward W. Morey, unresponsive on the floor. Hickey alerted the local doctor, who had suspected that Morey had ingested some form of poison and brought along a stomach pump. The doctor was successful in reviving Morey, but he would die several hours later.
No one knew that Hickey had been the one who had poisoned the pharmacist with a lethal dose of laudanum. Later when he admitted to the crime he claimed he feared that the store’s owner would find the pharmacist drunk on the job and fire them both. Though Morey may have been Hickey’s first kill, it certainly wouldn’t be his last.
Hickey went on to join the Lowell, Massachusetts masonic lodge. In 1895 Hickey would leave the lodge, and ultimately Lowell, but there remains conflicting reports on whether Hickey had left willingly or whether he was forced to leave the group for being “a liar and profane” after stealing 20 gallons of alcohol from his employer.
Between his time of leaving Lowell in 1895 and 1902, Hickey was mainly a drifter who traveled between the Northeastern United States and Canada, working whatever jobs he could find. In 1902 Hickey had found himself working in New York City.
It was in the state of New York that Hickey would find his next victims. On December 10, 1902, Hickey was approached by 11-year-old Michael Kruck and asked if he would like to purchase a newspaper. Hickey told the young paperboy that he would buy all of them if Kruck agreed to follow him to Central Park. There Hickey strangled the lad and left his head resting on a stack of newspapers, still freshly bundled from that morning.
The boy’s murder went unsolved. It would be nearly a decade before Hickey would strike again.
Hickey had relocated to work as a steel plant supervisor in the city of Lackawanna, New York in 1911. On October 11 of that year, Hickey had noticed 7-year-old Joey Joseph playing with a friend at his father’s furniture store. Hickey gave the boys some pennies to buy some candy for themselves. When the boys returned Hickey told Joey’s friend he had better run along home and led young Joey by the hand to an outhouse behind a local saloon.
Inside the outhouse Hickey strangled the boy to unconsciousness, sexually molested him, then strangled him until he finally perished. Hickey left the boy’s body in the outhouse pit and fled the scene. Even with the assistance of the Buffalo Police Department, the investigation into the disappearance of Joey Joseph produced virtually no leads.
It wasn’t until the appearance of the mysterious postcards from the alleged killer, including one that contained the location of Joey’s body, that police had any evidence that the boy was even dead. The postcard read:
“Joseph Joseph will be found in the bottom of a water closet with three seats, back of the saloon near Doyles, on Ridge Road. A drunk crazed brain done the deed, and remorse and sorrow for the parents is bringing results that will soon come to an end. The demon whisky will then have one more victim, making four in all. Drag the closet with the three seats.”
There were many other postcards. Some taunted the police and the victim’s parents, others seemed to invoke a sense of false remorse. Though the postcards were able to direct investigators to Joey’s body, police still did not have a suspect. Turning to the local newspaper, who agreed to publish some of the postcards, it wasn’t long before several tipsters recognized the writing as the eccentric alcoholic J. Frank Hickey.
After Hickey’s arrest, he admitted to the murder of his former coworker Edward Morey, Michael Kruck, Joey Joseph, as well as the molestation of dozens of other children. A number of children had mysteriously disappeared around New England during the time Hickey spent traveling through the area, but since the prolific cannibal, serial killer and child molester Albert Fish had also been operating in areas Hickey was known to have been traveling through at the time, it’s anyone’s guess on how many victims he could have racked up between that time.
Somehow Hickey managed to escape a death sentence. Instead the jury determined that Hickey was too insane to serve time in a mental institution, where he was at risk of escaping, and instead found him guilty of second-degree murder. He lived out the rest of his years in Auburn Prison, where he died on May 8, 1922.