Lily Duer Kills Ella Hearn: Pocomoke City, MD, November 5, 1878

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The date and place of the shooting of Ella Hearn by Lily Duer is provided in the New York TImes report of May 15, 1879, reproduced below, and in the Police Gazette report, reprinted in Dugan:






POKOMOKE CITY, Md., May 14.-The case of Miss Lily Duer, who shot and killed Miss Ella Hearn in this city in November last, will come up for disposition at the May term of the Circuit Court of Worcester County. The near approach of the day of the court's convening has revived public interest in the tragedy.[1]

[Space added throughout to facilitate reading on the Internet]

The case, taken in all its details, is a remarkable one, the most singular that has has aroused speculation and gossip in the lower part of Peninsular Mary]and. It seems to be an instance of one of those freaks of human nature which give womanly men and manly women, and is all the more curious, complex, and occult because there happened to be no exterior indication of the psychic anomaly.

[ ]

Miss Hearn was shot by Miss Duel because the former repulsed her warm demonstrations, and loved another young lady better. This, with the fact that the young lady who did the shooting sought for years the private companionship of the other, together with several other interesting revelations, shows a manliness in petto [in secret] which might never have excited remark but for the passion and tragedy it led to.

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The families of both young ladies are among the highest in point of social position in this section of the State. Nowhere does there exist a better type of gentle and courteous hospitality than here, and both families are fit representatives of that class of generous and cultured people. The young ladies were only about 18 years of age at the time, and both were very pretty and attractive. Not long previous they had graduated with honors, both from the same seminary and at the same time. They also entered the institution together, and. were room-mates while there. Both were calculated to shine in society, and were looked upon as reigning belles.

Miss Duer· was a brunette, with slightly dark complexion, and black eyes and hair. She was about the medium height, with a slender and graceful figure, but finely developed. In society she was much sought after, and possessed rare social acquirements. Her_ conversation was brilliant and entertaining, and her musical abilities were regarded as very fine. She was a great reader, frequently sitting up the greater part of the night with her books, and had been studying medicine for six months previous to the shooting. Her studies in this line she is still pursuing.

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There are some who tell of numerous peculiarities in Miss Duer, which, however, were not indulged in so extravagantly as to give rise to much unpleasant town gossip. One of these queer traits is that she has donned male attire on more than one occasion. It is also said that she frequently practiced with the pistol, and was as good a shot with the gun as any of the fellows along the shore of the Pokomoke.

Miss Hearn was of a very different type. There was nothing peculiar about her. She was a pure-minded, unassuming girl, who had few foolish notions, and whose ambition did not extend beyond the sphere of a quiet, happy home. She was a fair, delicate girl, not quite as tall as Miss Duer, and of a style of beauty much more refined. She was also accomplished, but more reserved. Her disposition was excellent, and everyone who knew her liked her.

Between these two girls intimate terms of acquaintance existed, but the affection of Miss Duer for Miss Hearn appears to have been extraordinarily morbid.

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The relations between the two commenced in the early part of 1875. Miss Duer was considered to be a sensible and intelligent girl, as well as one possessing a good: education, and Mr. Hearn says he did not object to the girls' intimacy, as he thought it would benefit them both. As the acquaintance grew, Miss Duer began to visit tho Hearn homestead so frequently that it became somewhat unpleasant for Miss Ella, and in the Fall of 1876 the latter tried to sever the association altogether.

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This was to no purpose, however. Every effort met with tho same fruitless result. Scarcely a day passed: on which Miss Duer. was not at Miss Hearn's home, unless Miss Duer was in the country visiting some friend and even then she has been known to cut her visits short and: return to the town, going to see Miss Ella before repairing to her own home. Very frequently Miss Ella would, in the kindliest manner, tell her to go home and not call again, and often the only answer Miss Duer gave would be to place her arms around the other's neck and kiss her and tell her she loved her. Miss Duer would daily try to get Miss Hearn to walk with her in the woods, or remain: with her alone in the parlor.

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[1878, October]

Last October [1878] an incident occurred that will. doubtless, have considerable weight in the trial. The girls left the house together one day, and took a walk in a grove not far from this place. Here they remained for some time gathering tea-berries. When startlng for home, Miss Hearn went ahead, and after a short time, Miss Duer, who loitered and was walking some distance behind, called to her to wait. She [Hearn] did not heed: this request.

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It is alleged that Miss Duer then raised a pistol and fired three times at her companion. Miss Hearn waited till the other came up, still holding the pistol in her hand. . She at once took the weapon away from Miss Duer, asking If she intended to shoot her. "No," replied Miss Duer, "I only intended to frIghten vou and make you wait for me."

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Miss Hearn never walked with Miss Duer in the woods after that, and their intimacy seems to have ended with that incident. Some importance is attached to this occurrence, because there are various opinions expressed as to whether· the shooting was intentional or not. Many who say it was relate this occurrence as proof of an attempt made previously, but there is no existing testimony, except that of hearsay, to support it.

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A short time after this another young ladv, Miss Ella Foster, came between the two friends, and Miss Hearn rapidly grew to prefer her .companionship to that Miss Duer. This made the latter very jealous. It was not long after this Duer became aware that she was being supplanted in the frIendship: of MIiss Hearn that the shooting occurred.

[1875, November 4]

Miss Hearn, on the the 4th of November received a note from Miss Duer asking her to come to her house that evening on important: business. She called in company with her younger sister. Miss Duer tried to pursuade her to go into the woods with her the next day. She [Hearn] refused to go. Miss Duer fell upon her knees and vowed to AImighty God that if she did not Almighty God that if she did not comply with her request she would never make another of her.

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[November 5, 1878]

The next day Miss Duer came to Mr. Hearn's house, and insisted that Miss Ella should go into the woods with her. She met with a positive refusal. She then wont up to Miss Ella, and, placing her hands on her shoulders, looked her straigt in the eyes, and said: "Do you love. anyone else better than me?" The playful answer was "Yes!"

[ ]

Miss Duer, in great excitement, walked to and fro from the front door to the yard gate several times, and finally entered the passage where Miss Ella' stood, and closed the door. Walking hurriedly toward her, she tried to kiss her, but Miss Hearn resisted and pushed her away. Miss Duer slipped and fell, and as she was rising, drew her pistol, a small Smith & Wesson revolver, and fired. The ball struck Miss Hearn in the hand, inflicting a painful, though not, as it appeared at that time, dangerous wound. This account of the shooting is in accord with that said to have been dictated by Miss Hearn before her death, and while her mind was perfectly clear.

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The first person upon the scene of the shooting was a young man W. S. Clark, who was working near the house. He heard the shot fired, and wondering what it meant, entered the house. He found Miss Hearn lying on the sofa in great agitation, while Miss Duer was rushing about the room in high excitement, with the pistol still in her hand, exclaiming, "I have shot her!, l have shot her."

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That evening Dr. Truitt was called, but he found that the young lady's system had sustained such a shock from the injury that it was impossible to probe for the ball. So much was she excited that stimulants were necessary. She did not appear to grow worse until about the third day after the shooting. when her condition suddenly changed, and she became delirious, with only spells of consciousness.

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[1878, December 6]

On Dec. 6 she died quIetly and peacefully. This was about one month after the shooting. It is the opinion of Dr. Truitt and several other physicians who were called that she died of nervous prostration; that the ball did not necessarily cause death, but was the exciting cause.

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At the Coroner's inquest Mr. Hearn and several others testified that on her death-bed Miss Hearn said that the shooting was deliberate and intentional. Mr. Hearn told your correspondent that on the afternoon of the Tuesday after the shooting he asked his daughter if the deed was accidental, and she declined to answer. The next day he asked again, and she still declined to tell, and, turning over on her face, began to weep bitterly. She afterward voluntarily stated, he says, that it was intentional.

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The Coroner's jury, on the 6th of December, rendered a. verdict that "death was caused by nervous prostration resulting from a ball from a pistol while in tbe hands of Miss Lily Duer."

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On the 9th of December Miss Duer entered bail in the sum of $2,500 to appear in court at Snow Hill, the county seat, at the May term, commencing on the 19th lnst.

While Mss Hearn was sick, Miss Duer exhibited much sympathy for her, and on one occasion when she was in Miss Hearn's house, Miss Ella called her into her room and seemed greatly pleased at seeing her. Miss Hearn was perfectly rational at the time. Upon that occasion, it is said, she asked Miss Duer what was the matter with her [Hearn], and the latter answered that she [Hearn] was hurt. She asked who it was that did it, and Miss Duer replied that it was herself, [Miss Duer]. Miss Hearn is then said to have put her arms affectionately around the young lady's neck and remarked: "Then you didn't mean to do it, Lil, did you?"

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It is related that on another occasion Miss Duer went into tho sick~room when the invalid was delirious and knew no one, not even her parents. She recognized Miss Duer, however, and cried out in the greatest fear for her not to shoot her again, at the same time drawing the bedclothes over her head. She told Miss Duer to go away, and would not be quiet until she left the room.

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Many other stories are told in relation to the case, one of which is that, when Miss Hearn's illness was near its sad termination, Miss Duer left Pokomoke City in male attire and went to Baltimore, and thence to Wilmington, Del., returning within a few days. of the unfortunate girl's death. Many allege that this is true, and one gentleman says that he saw Miss Duer at the Wilmington depot and had a short conversation with her. The accused and her friends deny this story emphatically.

Your correspondent visited Miss Duer at her father's residence, which is on the principal street, and one of the finest houses in the town. Being sent for by her mother, Miss Lily Duer entered the room. She wears her hair cut short and parted on the right side, and brushed back from the forehead. Her face is striking. Her features are regular and finely chiseled, her eyebrows are regularly arched, and the lips are rather thin, with an expression denoting firmness.

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Miss Duer readily consented to answer questions in relation to the tragedy, and before any were propounded said that the shooting was purely accidental. She had called to see Miss Hearn, she said, to get her to take a walk, which she had refused to do. She had then tried to kiss her, but Miss Hearn resisted, and after having given up the attempt, she [Duer] stood counting the cartridges in her pistol, when it went off by accident. Miss Duer denied. that she had ever fired a pistol at Miss Hearn while walking with her in the woods. She also said that she had never left Pokomoke City in male clothing. She expressed great sorrow at the accident and its sad result, but steadily maintained that it was not done intentionally.

As to whether the shooting was done with intention public opinion is at variance. No one was present when the shot was fired, and so the whole matter rests upon the deposition made by Miss Hearn upon her death·bed. The commencement of the trial is awaited with great interest.

A publication of 1893 says that Duer was "found guilty of 'manslaughter in the heat of passion.'"[2]

In 1916, Dr. James G. Kiernan wrote:

Since the dramatic sex-invert homicide of Hattie Deuel[sic] at Pocomoke City, Md., in 1878, followed by that equally sensational one b Alice Mitchell of Memphis in 1892, female sex invert manifestations of all kinds have been much exploited by the press. Attention has been attracted to it. As a result sex invert friendships not hitherto viewed with alarm have been suspected by mothers. In an Illinois town the mothers dreaded girl friendship with a local poetess more than intimacies with young men. The androphia, so to speak, of the deeply ingrained sex invert has let to her leadership in social purity movments and a failure to recognise inversion. Such inverts see no harm in sexuction of young girls while dilated\ing on the impuritiy of even marital coitus.[3]
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Primary Sources


1878, December 11: The Baltimore Daily News. "NEWS. The cruel report published in sensational papers that Miss Lily Duer, who accidentally shot Miss Ella Hearn, in Worcester County, Maryland, about six weeks ago, had fled from the village in which she lived in male attire, is contradicted by a special dispatch from Snow Hill. The young lady is at her home overwhelmed with grief at the accident which cost her friend her life."[4]

1879, January 14. Wermlands County Journal. Sweden. Page 2. [In Swedish: Cites Duer case].[5]


The case of Miss Lily Duer, who shot and killed Miss Ella Hearn in this city in November last, will come up for disposition at the May term of the Circuit Court of Worcester County.

1879, May 28. The Evening Post [New York City]. "A Psychological Curiosity."[6]

1879, May 31-June 21. New-York Daily Tribune Index for 1879. John L. Weinheimer, Compiler. NY: The Tribune Association, 1880<?>. Page 78: "Murder. Hearn, Ella." [Cites] May 31, Page 5, Column 4. "Lily Duer's trial": June 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 16, 20, 21.[7]

1879, June 7. National Police Gazette. "A FEMALE ROMEO. Her Terrible Love for a Chosen Friend of Her Own Alleged Sex Assumes a Passionate Character, that BLAZES INTO JEALOUSY of so Fierce a quality that it Fires Her to the Sacrifice of the Life of th Object of Her Unnatural Desires. A QUEER PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDY." Reprinted in Lisa Duggan, Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence and American Modernity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000. Pages, 128-134.

1879, June 8. The New-York Daily Tribune. "The Trial of Miss Duer." Datelined Snow Hill, Md. June 7.[8]

1879, June 10. New-York Daily Tribune. "Was Miss Hearn Killed With Chloral? The Nature of the Defence in the Trial of Miss Duer Made Clear." Datelined: Snow Hill, MD, June 9. Page 5.[9]

1879, June 27. The Iola Register. [Kansas]. "The trial of Lily Duer for shooting her friend...."[10]

1879, June 15. New York Times. "Trial of Miss Lily Duer." Datelined Snow Hill, Md. June 14.

1892, March 13. The Morning Call. [San Francisoc, CA] Page 14, Image 14. "They Loved Women. Cases Similar To The One That Resulted in the Memphis Tragedy."[11]

1892, May. James G. Kiernan. "Responsibility in Sexual Perversion." Chicago Medical Recorder. Vol. 3, no 3; 185-210. Duer cited page 210. Cited in Duggan.

1893, October. Charles H. Hughes. "Erotopathia--Morbid Erotiism." Alienist and Nuerologist. Vol. 14, no. 4, pages 558-59 on Duer. Quoted and cited in Dugan.

1916, January. James G. Kiernan. "Sexology: Increase of American Inversion." Urologic and Cutaneoous REview,. Vol. 20, no. 1; pages 44-49. Page 46 on Duer. Quoted and cited in Duggan.

Secondary Sources

Duggan, Lisa. Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence and American Modernity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Eichenlaub, Kathryn. "Putting On Her Man Pants: Social Reaction to Female Cross-Dressing and Gender Transgression in America 1850-1880." Advisor : Gary Kornblith. Submitted on 4/30/2010 for Honors in History at Oberlin College.[12]

Morris, Charles E. Queering Public Address: Sexualities in American Historical Discourse. University of South Carolina Press, June 30, 2007. Page 169, note 34. ISBN-10: 1570036640. ISBN-13: 978-1570036644.


  1. In 2011, Pocomoke City, MD, is officially spelled as written. In 1878 was spelled in the New York Times as Pokomoke. See: P
  2. Charles H. Hughes. "Erotopathia--Morbid Erotiism." Alienist and Nuerologist. October 1893. Vol. 14, no. 4, pages 558-59 on Duer. Quoted and cited in Dugan.
  3. Quoted in Duggan, page 173-74 from James G. Kiernan. "Sexology: Increase of American Inversion." Urologic and Cutaneoous Review. January 1916. Vol. 20, no. 1; pages 44-49. Page 46 on Duer. Quoted and cited in Duggan.
  4. Accessed September 12, 2011 from:
  5. Accessed September 12, 2011 from:
  6. Accessed September 12, 2011 from:
  7. Accessed September 12, 2011 from:
  8. Accessed September 12, 2011 from:
  9. Accessed September 12, 2011 from:
  10. Accessed September 12, 2011 from:;words=Duer+Lily?date1=1836&sort=relevance&rows=20&searchType=basic&sequence=&state=&date2=1922&proxtext=Lily+Duer&y=13&x=13&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1&index=0
  11. Accessed September 12, 2011 from:;words=Duer+Lily?date1=1836&sort=relevance&rows=20&searchType=basic&sequence=&state=&date2=1922&proxtext=Lily+Duer&y=13&x=13&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1&index=1
  12. Page 73 cites: “A Female Romeo,” New York The National Police Gazette, Jun 7, 1879, in Proquest Historical Newspapers. American Periodicals Series,

Category:Cross-dressing Category:Duer, Lily Category:Hearn, Ella Category:Legal case Category:Manslaughter Category:Romantic friendship Category:Transgender history