Rochester’s First Murder

Rochester’s First Murder

William Lyman Killed by Octavius Barron

Murder isn’t new to humanity; it isn’t even new to Rochester, a city that experienced 36 homicides just last year.  The tale of William Lyman and Octavius Barron is vastly similar the tales of men living in Rochester today.  The first murder recorded here took place on October 20th of 1837, only 25 years after Nathaniel Rochester’s first visit to the area.


Today, Octavius Barron would be described on the news as a troubled youth.  There are no birth records for Octavius, but it is believed that he was born in 1820 somewhere in French Canada, making him seventeen when he murdered William Lyman.  Barron moved to Rochester with his mother, Margaret in 1830 and lived with her above a tavern near North Clinton Ave.  There is no mention in any records of whom or where Octavius’s father might have been.  Octavius worked part time on a barge, but filled the rest of his time associating with local miscreants: known gamblers, thieves and prostitutes and had a “rough” reputation even before he was put on trial for Lyman’s murder.


William Lyman moved to Rochester from Massachusetts with his wife, Amanda during the 1820s according to census records, presumably to find work in the newly blossoming, Rochester.  He lived on North Clinton Ave with his wife and children, not far from the Barron residence.  Lyman worked as a purchasing agent for the J.W. Hooker wheat mill and as a bookkeeper for the Tonawanda Rail Road at the Rochester office and was known to people in the area as a reliable man and husband.

The Murder:

On October 20th, 1837, William Lyman closed up the J.W. Hooker mill office and set out for home, carrying a large sum of money that he used for trading purposes during the day.

According to witnesses, Octavius Barron had been spotted outside the office, presumably waiting for Lyman to leave work so he could attempt to rob him of his money.  Lyman cut down an unlit street that would deposit him near his front door, but on this particular October night, Octavius Barron snuck up behind him and at some point shot him in the back of the head, ending his life.

When the body was discovered, they found a hole in Lyman’s head behind his right ear and all of his pockets turned out.  Lyman’s wallet and pocket book were missing, meaning the murderer had made off with a couple hundred dollars.  (Barron neglected to check Lyman’s hat which held $5000 in Connecticut River Banking Company Money.)

After The Murder:

After the murder Octavius met two friends at a pub and openly split his spoils with them, according to Hanna Chamberlain, a waitress and witness during Barron’s trial.  The waitress claimed to have even heard the three speak openly about their newfound wealth and how Barron had acquired it.

Barron, being well-known was tracked down the following morning by Robert King, Monroe County Sheriff.  Police found Barron waiting for a train to Buffalo and when he was apprehended they found Lyman’s gold pieces in his pockets.  Barron was then held at Sing Sing Prison to await his trial.

Octavius Barron was brought back to Rochester for his trial on May 28th, 1838.  His own mother testified against him and did not corroborate Octavius’ alibi that he was at home sleeping at the time of the murder.  The courthouse was packed to capacity for all ten days of the trial.  There were 39 jurors, 12 city officials weighing in and a list of 40 witnesses up against Barron who was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging on June 7th, 1838.

The evidence shows that you have long associated with the most vicious and depraved…That your companions were gamblers, blacklegs, and prostitutes, and that these habits and associations have prepared you for the commission of this last most fatal crime.  Your heart is so effectively hardened that we dare not expect anything we may can reach or soften it.  That can only be done by a power more than human.”  – Judge Charles Wentworth (Speaking to Barron)

After making a confession to a Catholic priest, Barron stood before 49 people; all employed as public officials, dressed in white and carrying cross and was executed on July 25th, 1838 on the first floor of the Monroe County Jail, downtown.  He was 18 years old.

Both Lyman and Barron are buried in unmarked graves in the public grounds of Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Apart from the hanging at the jail, upon conclusion of Barron’s trial, the story of Rochester’s first murder reads like something that could happen near North Clinton today: A botched robbery of a businessman, committed by a troubled teen.

Works Cited
“175 Years of Rochester History – An Interactive Timeline.”  City of Rochester.  N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2013.
Keene, Michael. “CRIME: Famous Killers.” Web log post. N.p., 2008. Web. 05 Oct. 2013.
Keene, Michael. “The Murder of William Lyman.” N.p., 15 May 2012. Web. 05 Oct. 2013.
Scheele, Eric E. “William Lyman & Octavius Barron: The First Murder Victim and Murderer in the City of Rochester, NY.” William Lyman & Octavius Barron: The First Murder Victim and Murderer in the City of Rochester, NY. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2013.