Horace Wells was not a gambling man by anyone’s definition. Yet many who knew him were not surprised to learn that on the evening of February 24, 1929, he took a risk that would end up costing him his life.
Despite a few health problems that year, Mr. Wells was enjoying a life of success. Born in Good Ground, now Hampton Bays, in April 1886, Mr. Wells’s father, Horace Wells Sr., ran his own farm on Springville Road. His mother, Mary, took care of Horace Jr. and his six brothers and sisters.
The Wells home bubbled with activity as each of the children flourished, built careers for themselves and went off to have families of their own. For Mr. Wells it was obvious early on that his life was going to revolve in some way around engines and cars.
During the 1920s, the automobile industry enjoyed tremendous changes in production. Henry Ford developed a concept called the “assembly line” and before long there would be an automobile parked outside of every home. Considered a luxury item in the past and reserved for those with hefty incomes, automobiles soon became attainable to the average man; thus the entire country would need mechanics to service their machines.
By 1910, 24-year-old Mr. Wells had been working at the Southampton Buick Dealership as a mechanic for nearly four years. He was now married with two children of his own and his outgoing nature and knowledge of cars had landed him a sales position there.
It wouldn’t be long before Mr. Wells and his wife, Jessie, would be able to own their own home. By the summer of 1928, he had worked his way up to manager of Southampton Buick, his children were attending college and Mr. Wells was a respected and successful member of the community.
While 1910 was a year that rewarded Mr. Wells for his hard work, 6-year-old old Harry McConardy was in circumstances that were not so optimistic. The young boy was growing up in Norfolk, Massachusetts, under the management of his father, Peter McConardy, a 66-year-old milk man who consistently struggled to pay the family’s bills. There were six children altogether in the McConardy family.
The elder Mr. McConardy suffered from declining health and would not live to see the year 1920. His wife, Barbara, who was 26 years his junior, who would be left to provide for the family. This task far exceeded her abilities and her children would end up scattered across the country, leaving home and taking bad attitudes along with them.
Fast forward to February, 1929. Mr. Wells finally decided to take a vacation for himself, but only for the purpose of improving his health. He had suffered from physical ailments that year which required rest and relaxation, something that he rarely indulged in.
It was with this in mind, that Mr. and Ms. Wells planned an escape to West Palm Beach, Florida. They went with friends, Mr. and Ms. Charles Raynor of Patchogue. Mr. Raynor was not only a close friend of Mr. Wells but he was also the manager of the Buick dealership in Patchogue.
The foursome planned to rent a home that was owned by another East End resident, Ms. Vincent Hall of Southampton. Laughter and recreation would be their only agenda. Along with a change of scenery and the company of good friends, they all hoped that Mr. Wells would get the rest he needed.
And so it was that on Saturday, February 23, 1929, a gathering was in the works. Everyone had unpacked their belongings and settled into their rooms so that they could regroup for a dinner party later that night.
They were expecting Ms. Hall and a male friend of hers. After they arrived, the women prepared a lovely meal that everyone enjoyed. After dinner, all of the guests retired to the library. There, the energy was high and the lively conversation continued.
Then the door suddenly flew open and the group of friends froze, silenced by what they saw. A strange man pointed a gun at them, his voice booming as he ordered the bewildered group to move toward the wall. The intruder forced the women to remove their jewelry and then proceeded to search the men individually, collecting money and charge cards from the now terrified dinner guests.
Exactly what happened next varies, depending on who was telling the story. However, the version that remains the most consistent is the one in which Mr. Wells, a member of the volunteer police department in Good Ground at the time, made a move to grab the intruder’s weapon. This alarmed the burglar, who then shot him in the abdomen.
Panicking, the gunman seized the male guest who had accompanied Ms. Hall and forced him to drive to the Poinsettia Hotel, the gun pointed directly at him the entire time. The gunman was able to secure his clothing there and continued to make his escape with the frightened dinner guest in tow. To his credit, the robber would leave his hostage by the side of the road, thus sparing his life.
Very shortly later the police later arrested a man who was calling himself “T. Southworth” in Stuart, Florida, some 40 miles away from West Palm Beach. Mr. Southworth would come to be identified as Mr. McConardy, whom the newspapers described as a “career crook” and claimed he had confessed to both the theft and the shooting.
Mr. McConardy pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Just a few days later, however, on March 1, 1929, all of that would change.
Mr. Wells had been taken to the emergency room after the shooting and was doing quite well after his initial surgery. In fact, he received visitors the Thursday after the incident and was making plans to go back home. But then his condition inexplicably took a turn for the worse.
Exactly one week from the night of the robbery, Mr. Wells would die, hundreds of miles from home. As a result, the charges against Mr. McConardy were upgraded to first-degree murder.
Mr. McConardy had evolved into a fellow with many chips resting upon his shoulders. At one point he confided in a fellow inmate that they would not need to execute him because he was planning to kill himself. When the guard was informed of this, he searched Mr. McConardy’s cell and found a razor blade concealed inside of some folded clothing. In addition, a note was discovered, addressed to his mother. The letter stated in part:
“Dear Mother, I should have done this job on myself long ago.”
It was not insignificant that Mr. McConardy wanted the letter published in newspapers around the Boston area where he grew up. Perhaps being on death row was more rewarding for him than he would care to admit, since it was the only time in his life that he would feel important and newsworthy. For a man who lived a life void of any positive contributions and barren of personal accomplishment, it would be his last chance to shine.
In December 1930, he issued a statement to the press, demanding that the state execute him and that all efforts to save his life be disregarded. On February 12, 1931, the 27-year-old Mr. McConardy got his wish. His death warrant was signed.
When given the news, he reportedly replied, “Well ain’t that swell.”
Mr. McConardy was electrocuted at the state prison in Raiford, Florida. He was reportedly “relaxed and very calm” as he walked from his death cell, down the hallway and toward the electric chair. As the story was reported, he glanced up at the 20 witnesses, and just as the metal headpiece was adjusted, he uttered but one word: “goodbye.”
How ironic that the vacation Mr. Wells finally took to improve the quality of his life would send him careening toward the very man who would take it away from him. Mr. McConardy stole more then money and jewels that night; he took the life of a man who was a respected member of the community, loved by his friends and his family. And at the same time, he destroyed any hopes for his own future.