The 1894 Huff Murders in Pensacola

Published by


The story about the murder of the newlyweds and their murderer’s trial, conviction, and death sentence, but whose execution never happened.

April 30, 1894 – 129 years ago today – the edition of the Pensacola News Journal included a report entitled: “AN IMPRESSIVE SCENE. Judge Barnes in the Circuit Court Pronounces Sentence of Death Upon Thomas Trainor.”

Of course, there were challenges by the defense, but they were overruled. So, what was included in the murder? Interesting…

She had had enough. Ada Trainor was tired of her husband Thomas’ abuse and cruelty. So, she filed for divorce. The couple lived in Pensacola and were known by many people in town. Thomas was the captain of the steamer Hercules. Most people knew that Thomas mistreated his wife but, in 1893, what could be done? Many husbands were cruel towards their wives. At least Ada had the gumption to do something about it.

On December 6, 1893, Mr. and Mrs. Trainor appeared before Judge W. D. Barnes, the Circuit Court judge, regarding her bill for a divorce. After both sides were allowed to speak, Judge Barnes granted “absolute divorce” to Ada Trainor, now Ada Gallagher. Mr. Trainor was ordered to surrender all her property to her. That didn’t sit well with him.

Finally! She was able to be on her own…sort of. Ada still let Thomas keep his stuff at her house, located at 10th Avenue and Chase Street. He came by often and visited with her. Their relationship was friendly – at least. Next door lived Mrs. Minnie Briggs, an older lady that took in boarders. She was friends with Thomas and Ada. One of her boarders was a man named C. F. Huff. Mr. Huff was a marine engineer from Brooklyn, N. Y.

The friendship between Ada and Mrs. Briggs caused her to frequent the older lady’s house, so she naturally got to know Mr. Huff, who apparently treated her well. The friendship quickly developed into a relationship, and before long, Mr. Huff proposed marriage to Ada. She accepted.

Old Escambia County Courthouse, Pensacola, Florida 1894

111 days after the divorce was granted, on Tuesday, March 27, 1894,  Ada Gallagher became Ada Huff at 4 PM at the Courthouse. County Judge T. R. McCullagh performed the ceremony. During the proceedings, the door to the judge’s office burst open and Thomas Trainor entered.

“Judge, I forbid this marriage.”

“On what grounds?” asked the judge.

He replied, “I am this woman’s husband.”

Judge McCullagh explained to Trainor that, according to law, she was not his wife any longer. The judge then escorted the bride and groom into his private chambers and closed the door. The ceremony proceeded. A few minutes later, Trainor opened the door to the chambers and asked to speak to Ada. The judge informed Trainor that he had no authority over her any longer. If he wanted to speak to her, he had to ask permission of her husband. “He is here. Ask him,” said the judge.

Mr. Huff said he had no objection to Trainor speaking with his new bride, provided he didn’t insult her. Trainor then went into his front right pocket as if to produce something. Those in the room prepared themselves for gunfire. Trainor approached his ex-wife and said, “I want my clothes.” He then pulled his empty hand out of his pocket. Ada said that he could have them.

But Trainor demanded them immediately. Ada said that she couldn’t get them now. She said she had to take care of some business downtown, but he could get them later that evening or the next morning.

“That sounds reasonable,” interjected the judge.

Trainor would not be satisfied. He became verbally abusive to Ada, so the judge threw him out of the office. The way he was acting made those present wonder if he was drunk, but all said he didn’t seem like it. He was just unreasonable.

A. M. Avery’s store sat on the corner of Palafox and Intendencia in the building owned by Mr. White. The newly married couple walked up Palafox Street and passed the store where Bennie Greenwood and Napoleon Harris were standing, about 4:30 PM the same day. He knew Ada and he knew Thomas Trainor, but he didn’t know Mr. Huff. As he was watching, Trainor ran up to the Huffs and cut them off.

            “I am going up yonder now,” said Mrs. Huff, pointing north towards Romana Street.

South Palafox Street, 1894

            Trainor looked at her and said, “No, come with me,” and took her by the arm. Huff grabbed her by the hand and pulled her toward Romana Street, with Trainor following. They all turned east, heading in the direction of their new home. Bennie didn’t see the Huffs any more, but he did see Trainor a few minutes later when he appeared back on Palafox, walked back to Intendencia Street and went into Sherry’s Gun Shop. He was in there for a few minutes then came out and went into Johnson and Forbes Hardware Store. After a few more minutes, Trainor exited the hardware store and went back into the gun shop. Ten minutes later, he left the gun shop and walked east. Bennie didn’t think much of the matter, but Napoleon said that, when he saw the altercation, he figured he would soon witness a fight between the two men. Maybe Napoleon was disappointed, but a fight never materialized.

What did Trainor do in Sherry’s Gu Shop? John Sherry, the owner said that Trainor came in and asked for the gun that he had left with Sherry to be repaired. When Sherry gave it to him, Trainor looked at it. Apparently, the old gun had been repaired, but was worn out. It would only shoot every now and again. He asked Sherry if he had a good one he could buy. Sherry sold him a Colt .32 long. Trainor wanted to buy some ammo, but Sherry said he would have to buy that from Johnson and Forbes Hardware. Trainor left for a few minutes, returned and asked Sherry to load the gun for him, which he did. Trainor put the remainder of the bullets in one pocket, the gun in the other, and left.

As it turned dark, about 7 PM, Trainor showed up at the Huffs’ house and demanded his clothes. Mr. Huff let him in. Soon yelling could be heard by the neighbors, including Mrs. Briggs. The yelling turned to scuffling, as bumps and noises “like dishes breaking” could be heard from inside.

            Now, in 1894, there was no television. Entertainment included anything of interest, especially a fight at the neighbors’ house. Consequently, the entire neighborhood had ringside seats. As they were looking for any developments from the dark house, gunshots rang out. Witnesses claimed anywhere from four to eight shots rang out, with gunshot flashes visible to some. A few seconds later, Mr. Huff staggered outside and walked over to a tree beside the house. Mrs. Briggs ran over to him and grabbed him, holding him up.

“I’ve been shot,” he said weakly. He repeated the phrase one more time. As they got to the tree, Mr. Huff collapsed and died. Mrs. Briggs laid him down by the tree and sent for her husband to take him to her house.

Pensacola Police Lieutenant Farinas and Sergeant Touart responded and found Mr. Huff’s body in the yard and Mrs. Huff’s body in the house. He had three bullet wounds, including one that entered his chest from the side and pierced his heart, causing his death. Mrs. Huff was shot once in the chest and once in the mouth. That one traveled up and through her brain, causing instant death.

It didn’t take much to figure out what happened. The next day, after the coroner had determined the cause of death from both victims, Mrs. Briggs appeared before Judge McCullagh at 11 AM at the courthouse and testified. The judge issued a warrant for Trainor’s arrest. Before long, the officers had Trainor in custody at the station. He freely admitted to the killings, but said that, when he went to the house to get his clothes, Mr. Huff came at him with a knife, and he shot Huff in self-defense. He said that Mrs. Huff was shot by accident when she got in the way.

Mrs. Huff was buried in St. John’s cemetery and Mr. Huff’s body was shipped to Brooklyn for burial. The trial, of course, was the biggest thing that had happened in all of West Florida – ever! It was the topic of conversation in every restaurant and store in town.

On Thursday, April 19, 1894, the trial began at 3 PM.  Very unusual for the day, testimony continued until April 24, when Judge Barnes charged the jury. It didn’t take long. Most, if not all, of them had heard about the incident, and the evidence was overwhelming. Soon, the jury indicated it had reached a verdict. Guilty of First-Degree Murder.

The judge didn’t waste any time. On April 28, 1894, Judge Barnes brought Trainor into the packed courtroom. Trainor’s attorney, C. B. Parkhill, filed motions all day in his defense, but they didn’t stop the judge. He called Trainor up to the bench.

“Thomas Trainor, stand up! You have been tried by a jury of your country on a charge of murder in the first degree; you have been found guilty of that charge. Have you anything to say why sentence of the law should not be pronounced against you?”

“I killed Huff in self-defense.”

“You have had a fair and impartial trial, and by a jury of your own selection. You have had the benefit of able and zealous counsel; I cannot recur to any legitimate ground of defense that has not been taken advantage of in your own behalf. “

The judge continued. “After such a trial, the jury, who are, by law, the sole judges of the facts, have said you are guilty. It only devolves on me to pronounce the sentence prescribed by law for your crime. And, I assure you, there is no task which falls in the line of a judge’s duty so disagreeable and so trying as the one I now have to perform. No judge, who is worthy of the position he holds, can take pleasure in imposing penalties, even the lowest, upon his fellowmen; how much harder it is when he is called upon to pronounce the extreme penalty of the law. But we cannot turn aside from the discharge of that duty, however painful it may be. The laws of God and the laws of man alike declare that the doom of the murderer shall be death. I can only admonish you to prepare to meet that doom. Do not put your trust in human agencies to save you; but let your hopes and your aspirations be to secure grace and forgiveness at the hand of a merciful Providence. Trust alone to that Almighty Pardoning Power which is able and willing to save, even to the uttermost; and which can save you with an everlasting salvation.”

            “It is the judgement of the court and the sentence of the law, that you, Thomas Trainor, be taken hence by the sheriff of this county to the common jail thereof, and there be safely kept by him until such time as the governor of the state, by his warrant commanding the sheriff to cause execution to be done shall direct; that at such time so appointed by the governor, the said sheriff do take you to some place provided therefore within the walls or enclosure of said jail, there cause you to be hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul!”

Within the courtroom, almost everyone present was in favor of the sentence. But there were no shouts, no jubilation…nothing. It was silent. The prisoner was escorted out.

The challenges by Mr. Parkhill, the defense attorney, were not started immediately – they had already been drafted. The case made its way through the appeals court and to the Supreme Court where it waited for a ruling.

So, did Mr. Trainor meet his maker? Thousands of people were planning for the event. There would be a nice crowd there. Hopefully the weather would be nice, so the vendors could sell more of their souvenirs and snacks. Sandwiches would be made and put into baskets for a picnic at the courthouse grounds. There would probably be singing of Gospel songs. Many people would come from out of town and stay in the local inns. Some people would bring chairs to the event, but most would choose to sit on blankets. Of course, when the main event was ready to take place, everyone would be on their feet. Yes, it would be a big event, and a boost for the local economy.

Mr. Trainor met his maker, but not by way of a noose – much to the disappointment of many townspeople. Sometime in October 1894, Trainor stopped eating. At first, it seemed that he was simply ill. But it soon became apparent that he intended to go to the grave on his own terms and starve himself to death. Efforts by officers, citizens, and social organizations to try to get him to eat were unsuccessful. Then he stopped drinking. Soon he became delirious. The jail doctors and the Sisters of Mercy tried to comfort him, but to no avail. It seemed as if he never heard them.

Finally, at 5:05 PM on November 19, 1894, Thomas Trainor died in his cell. It is not known where he was buried.

Strange, the appeals made by the defense seemed to have some merit. Apparently, two jurors had made statements of the defendant’s guilt before the case even began! Did they have their minds made up before hearing any evidence? Of course, both jurors later denied saying anything. Those had to be taken seriously. Second, there is some thought that had to be given to his claim of self-defense. First off, Mrs. Huff said he could come over, and he was let in when he arrived. There was a scuffle, so the incident involved more than a simple execution of the Huffs by Trainor. Then there was the testimony that showed Ada, when she was still married to Mr. Trainor, coming over to Mrs. Briggs’ house and spending time there, with Mr. Huff also there, apparently sick. The question, then, has to be asked – were Mr. Huff and Mrs. Trainor involved romantically while she was married to Trainor? Was there…perhaps…a plan hatched by Mr. Huff and Ada to lure Trainor into their house…and finish him off…?



%d bloggers like this: