Pearl Marcellus was born May 23rd, 1898, in the Town of Day, Saratoga County, NY, the daughter of Delbert and Elvira (Colson) Marcellus. By age five, her mother had died in childbirth along with her newborn sister, leaving her father to raise nine children.
Pearl was the youngest. She and her father moved to Rock City Falls shortly after 1915. What happened there on November 1, 1917 is told in court testimony by Pearl’s friend Margaret Seeley.
The fatal day began when 17-year-old Pearl was visiting her friend Margaret Seeley, age sixteen, at the Big Falls Tavern in Rock City Falls where Margaret and her father were living.
Around 1 pm, the girls left and walked to Pearl’s house where they spent over an hour straightening-up the kitchen and cleaning out a small stand. She put the contents of one of the drawers on top of the stand, which included a revolver. Then they went upstairs to Pearl’s bedroom.
John W. Foles was a 26-year-old employee at the Brown Paper Company in Rock City Falls. Around 4 pm, Foles arrived at Pearl’s home with his horse and buggy seeking to take her for a ride. He demanded she let him in the house but she told him to go away. He broke open the door and went upstairs to her bedroom. Since both girls were not fully dressed, Pearl convinced him to go downstairs. He waited in the kitchen.
When the girls came down an argument began and Foles grabbed Pearl, but she was successful in getting him out of the house and she locked the door. According to Seeley, she said to him “John Foles, don’t you come in here, or you’ll get something you won’t like.”
Foles then forced the door open again. Pearl reached for the revolver and fired one shot, which struck Foles in the left temple, killing him.
According to newspaper accounts of the trial, the girls left and caught the trolley to Greenfield where they met two married men for a prearranged date. One of the men drove them all in his car to a Saratoga roadhouse. After a few drinks, Pearl allegedly went upstairs with one of the men.
Around 5 pm Pearl’s father returned home to find John Foles on the floor, half in the kitchen and half on the front stoop. Pearl was arrested when she and Margaret returned to Rock City Falls around 11 pm.
The first thing Pearl is alleged to have said was “I didn’t mean to shoot him. I shot him because he wouldn’t get out and let me alone. I just wanted to scare him.” After her arrest she gave a full confession, and her friend Margaret collaborated the story.
On January 10th, 1918, Pearl was indicted by a Grand Jury for manslaughter in the first degree in the death of John Foles. She pled “not guilty” to the charge. Her trial began on February 13, 1918. She did not testify and was convicted the next day after only two hours of jury deliberation. She was found guilty of manslaughter in the second degree and sent to Auburn State Prison on February 24th, for not less than four years.
On February 21, 1918, a Notice of Appeal was filed by her attorney Clarence Kilmer on the grounds that improper testimony had been admitted into evidence. The Supreme Court of Saratoga County heard the case on November 13, 1918 and ruled that her actions after the killing prejudiced the jury against her. Her conviction was reversed, and a new trial was ordered.
The new trial was held in the Supreme Court on November 27, 1918. She was again found guilty of manslaughter in the second degree and sentenced to no less than four years at Auburn. She served out her term, remaining in prison until 1922.
After her release she went to live in Athol, Town of Thurman, Warren County. In 1923, she married John Eldridge and he died the same year from injuries sustained when his car collided with a train in Thurman.
On March 24th, 1925, she married Kenneth Weaver of Athol. They did not have children and lived a quiet life. She lived to 73, dying December 10, 1971, in Athol.
Photo of Ken and Pearl Weaver courtesy Warren County Historical Society.
Karen Staulters has been the Milton town historian since 2018, a founding member of Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County, and former archivist for the Upper New York Conference of the United Methodist Church.