Dying fine silk was a tricky process known only to a select few at the beginning of the 20th century. One such dyer, John Kelly, was an Irish immigrant to New Jersey. With his skills he could have earned himself good wages, but he chose instead to steal bolts of silk from his various employers and sell them to sweatshop owners who paid cash and asked no questions.

Kelly teamed up with an accomplice, William Allen, a black man, to break into a dye works on July 23rd, 1900, but they were surprised by the security guard, John Christian. A scuffle broke out in which Christian was severely beaten.

Later William Allen was caught. The security guard dictated a statement from his hospital bed, but when he died of his injuries Allen was given an ultimatum: if he did not name his companion and give evidence against him when he was caught, he would almost certainly die on the gallows. Allen swiftly betrayed John Kelly, who remained on the run for more than three years.

The fugitive was eventually caught trying to sell a bolt of fine silk back to the man from whom he had stolen it. Allen, who received a sentence of 30 years, was the principal witness against Kelly, who was hanged on Thursday, AUGUST 4th, 1904.

The trial was noteworthy because it featured testimonies from both the dead and the living, and because a black man was allowed as a state witness in order to secure the execution of a white man.