December 19, 2014

William Noah Coffey, Bigamist & Murderer

William Noah Coffey
(After arrest)

William Noah Coffey was born Dec. 10, 1874 in Collettsville, Johns River Twp., Caldwell Col, NC to Israel Boone and Catherine Emma Spainhour Coffey.  Catherine was born in NC in 1845 to Noah Spainhour and wife Elizabeth Ann Mason.  Israel was a son of Daniel Boone and Clarissa Estes Coffey.  Daniel was the son of William Coffey who married Annie Boone, daughter of Jesse and Sarah McMahan Boone.

Nothing spectacular appears to have happened in the life of William Noah to have brought him any national notoriety until 1926. In a fit of what might be described today as a "mid life crisis," he met and illegally married a 53-year old widow by the name of Hattie Hales who was described as a buyer for a department store. In 1927 he was accused of bigamy and murder of Hattie.

When he registered for the WW1 draft in 1918, he described his job as a publicly employed credit collector.  He had married Alberta Ellen Winnek, born in Massachusetts in 1877, in Kansas on Jun. 24, 1903*.  They had three children:  Douglas Fredwill Coffey, Alberta Ellen Coffey and Miriam Martin Coffey.  After her divorce from William, she and her children began using the surname Winnek.

While searching archived newspapers, I found William on the front page of the Jan. 30, 1927 edition of the Sarasota [FL] Herald-Tribune.  The article was written after he had been arrested for the murder of Hattie Hales Coffey in Lancaster, WI.  This article indicates that he eventually confessed to her murder and led authorities to the place where he had killed her, cut her body into pieces and buried them in shallow graves at various locations in a place known as "Ritter's Woods," aka "Bratton's Woods."

William Noah Coffey
 (in front of automobile)
In an attempt to find more information about William, I located the June, 2014 History and Politics blog by Dennis A. Wilson in which he described receiving a cardboard box with photos of William and various locals searching the area where he had confessed to having killed and buried Hallie.

William was convicted of the murder and sentenced to prison at Wisconsin State Prison at Waupun, Dodge Co., WI.  He died there in June, 1962 and was buried at the Waupun state cemetery.  In 1965 his remains were relocated to the Calvary Cemetery at Waupun in Fond du Lac, WI.

He was my third cousin, twice removed.

It remains difficult to determine how Alberta Ellen spelled her maiden name.  It is recorded as Minnek [sic] in the marriage record to William Coffey.  In her death record her mother's maiden name was given as Martin - explaining where Martin comes from in daughter Miriam name - but a father's name was not given.  Alberta's Find-A-Grave memorial tells us that her father was Frederick Gideon and Ellen Mary Martin Winnek [sic].

After she was divorced from William Noah Coffey and moved to Chicago, she became known as Alberta Ellen Winneck [sic] and her children's surname was also changed to Winneck.  When her son Douglas was married, the record shows that his name was Winnek and his father was William Winnek but, a marriage record has not been found for Alberta's marriage to a Winnek of any spelling and with any given name.  Perhaps she also changed the name of William N. Coffey to William Winnek to satisfy some procedural requirement for supplying a father's name.

Douglas Fredwill Winnek - Isabel White Marriage License
The Coffey family appeared in the 1910 census at Eau Claire, Eau Claire Co., WI; 1920 in Madison, Dane Co., WI and in 1923, the city directory for Madison shows them residing at 33 N. Carroll St.  In 1930, Alberta was living in Chicago, Cook Co., IL with her two daughters. Her surname was spelled Winneck.

In 1940, Alberta resided with Douglas and his wife and children at 616 Harold in Mamaroneck, Rye Twp., Westchester Co., NY.  The surname was spelled Minnick [sic].  Douglas gave his occupation as "inventor." He died in 1999 and his remains were cremated and scattered into the Pacific off Point Cabrillo, Monterey, CA.  His Find-A-Grave memorial spells his surname Winnek.

When Douglas married for the second time in 1935, his surname was spelled Winnek.  He reported on the license application that he had been previously married and had obtained a Mexican divorce a few weeks prior to taking his second bride, Isabel White in Cuyahoga Co., OH.  That and the fact that he had two years of college training are likely reasons he was not present in the 1930 household.  He has not yet been found in 1930.

Daughter Alberta Ellen married Albert Rosenheck.  He died in 1985, probably in NJ.  She died in 2006, also probably in NJ.  Both are buried at Lakeview Memorial Park in Cinnaminson, Burlington Co., NJ.

The last child, Miriam Martin, married twice.  According to CA marriage records, her first husband was Jacob Anton Wassenberg and they were married on Apr. 10, 1938. He died in 1950 and was buried as Andreas Anton Wassenberg at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes in Los Angeles Co., CA.

Her second husband was William Dennis Stoltz, born 1917 in PA, married Jun. 19, 1954 in Los Angeles Co.  He died at Riverside, CA in 1997.  Miriam preceded him in 1978.  They too are buried at Green Hills.  On the certificate of marriage to Stoltz, she named her father as William Coffey and mother as Alberta Winnek.

Wm Dennis Stoltz-Miriam M. Coffey Marriage Certificate
I suspect the actual surname was some variation of Winneck. and I have recorded it as Winnek in my file for this family.

Corrections and additions welcomed.

* "Kansas Marriages, 1840-1935", index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 19 December 2014), William N. Coffey and Alberta Minnek, 24 Jun 1903; citing Lawrence, Douglas, Kansas, reference p 444; FHL microfilm 1,547,792.

Photos are courtesy of an used with permission of Dennis A. Wilson

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