Really, Really Cold Case: New York Detectives Re-Open the 400-Year-Old Unsolved Murder of John Colman

halfmoonfrontThe murder of John Colman is not exactly a cold case, it is positively glacial. New York detectives have taken up the case 400 years after the English seaman was found murdered and buried in a shallow grave. No weapon, no motive. The culprit, however, is believed to be out of the New York jurisdiction and even Interpol.

The murder occurred on Sept. 6, 1609 and is the first recorded murder in New York. It may be something about New York, but only four days after the first Dutch and English sailors arrived they set about murdering (in fairness to New York, this was before distractions like Broadway were built). This makes murders one of the oldest traditions in the Big Apple.

In comparison, 300 people have been murdered in New York this year alone. The victim sailed with a largely Dutch crew on the 85-foot-long Half Moon. They were commanded by Henry Hudson.225px-HenryHudson

The murder occurred during a reconnaissance mission that was recorded in the journal of first mate Robert Juet. The five sailors with Colman in charge were sent in a 16-foot-long shallop. Two 40-foot dugout canoes approached, one with 16 Indians and one with 14. It was probably a war party and a fight ensued. Colman was shot in the neck and bled to death. When they finally made it back to the Half Moon, he was buried. He may have been buried in what is now Coney Island.

Here is the relevant passage from the Journal:


The sixth, in the morning, was faire weather, and our master sent John Colman, with foure other men in our boate, over to the north-side to sound the other river, being foure leagues from us. They found by the way shoald water, two fathoms; but at the north of the river eighteen, and twentie fathoms, and very good riding for ships; and a narrow river to the westward, betweene two ilands. The lands, they told us, were as pleasant with grasse and flowers and goodly trees as ever they had seene, and very sweet smells came from them. So they went irn two leagues and saw an open sea, and returned; and as they came backe, they were set upon by two canoes, the one having twelve, the other fourteene men. The night came on, and it began to rayne, so that their match went out; and they had one man slaine in the fight, which was an Englishman, named John Colman, with an arrow shot into his throat, and two more hurt. It grew so darke that they could not find the ship that night, but labored to and fro on their oars. They had so great a streame, that their grapnell would not hold them.

The seventh, was faire, and by ten of the clocke they returned aboord the ship, and brought our dead man with them, whom we carried on land and buryed, and named the point after his name, Colmans Point. Then we hoysed in our boate, and raised her side with waste boords for defence of our men. So we rode still all night, having good regard to our watch.

The problem with the murder case is jurisdictional. Articles 2(4) and 51 of the U.N. Charter.51 Article 2(4) of the Charter provides that “[a]ll Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state . . . .” The Indians were under the rather quaint belief that this land was theirs — a notion developed by living there for hundreds of years. While the Europeans refused to recognize any “nation” among the Indians, they would have disagreed. That would make the Half Moon a bit of an invader in their eyes and afford them the right to repel the invaders with lethal force. Indeed, under Article 51, it is recognized that “[n]othing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” This has been extended to attacks on foreign territory to repel attacks upon your nation. Here the attack was on the actual territory of these Indians — the strongest possible territorial defense claim.

In conventional criminal terms, the possible criminal case is also weak. Notably, it is not clear who fired first — raising a viable claim of self-defense. The sailors had a cannon and muskets and probably did not react any better to seeing the Indians as they did seeing the Europeans. I would take the case for the Indian attacker, ask for a change of venue, and demand a bench trial with a low bond.

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4 thoughts on “Really, Really Cold Case: New York Detectives Re-Open the 400-Year-Old Unsolved Murder of John Colman”

  1. What!!!! Why aren’t they looking for the bike that was stolen from me when I was 12. Granted it was 30 years ago but I’m still alive.

  2. And to think that the “Indians” were considered rubes that sold the city for a few trinkets and beads. Now who is having the last laugh as some spend a fortune at the casinos. You do know that it is illegal to operate a casino in American soil?

  3. In another type of “cold” case, a fire chief went to court for a bench hearing to get the second ticket in as many days dropped.

    Not being an astute litigant, he told the judge what he thought of the 7-man police force that were in the court room.

    In reply to his argument the police shot him then and there in open court.

    As a result all tickets ever given by those police and still pending were dismissed.

    Gotta luv all that zeal in Arkansas … huh?

  4. A bench trial? With the judiciary stacked with former prosecutors, IMO the only reason to elect a bench trial is because you want to go to jail.

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