The following is a transcript from the McHenry Plain Dealer. I’m not sure of the date – a hand-written note suggests July 1907, but the obituary that follows suggests 1909. It regards a murder that took place in the county between two people who share a family name of mine, Colby. I found it curious and interesting, and decided to share it this way.



One of the most cold-blooded murders that has ever occurred in the county was committed on the Mrs. N.S. Colby farm, located about a mile west of town, last Thursday evening, when Nye Colby, during a fit of rage, shot and instantly killed Mrs. Newell F. Colby with a .32 caliber rifle, then turning the weapon upon himself sent two bullets thru his own head, the effects of which proved fatal two days after the shooting.

The trouble that ended in such a tragic manner started about dinner time the day of the shooting, although it has been admitted by Mrs. N.S. Colby that Nye had been the source of almost continuous trouble and disturbance ever since he came to work on the farm the latter part of February of this year. The trouble last Thursday first started when Nye unexpectedly reported for dinner at one o’clock, after having spent the greater part of the forenoon gathering blackberries on the farm of Mrs. Newell Colby’s parents. Returning to the Colby farm unexpectedly as he did, there was no dinner in readiness for him. Becoming enraged at not finding dinner awaiting him, Nye at once began to discharge upon the elder Mrs. Colby that was mean, ugly and vile in the extreme. In the meantime, at Nye’s request, the younger Mrs. Colby had prepared some bread and milk, which, with the blackberries, Nye was willing to make a meal of. After dinner, Nye, with the younger Mrs. Colby, drove to town to do some shopping, Mrs. Colby returning to the farm within an hour or so, leaving Nye in town. Nye returned to the farm at about four o’clock with wine he had purchased and demanded the elder Mrs. Colby to prepare a supper at once, as he expressed it, “I haven’t had a square meal in twenty-four hours.”

The good old woman, responding to the commands of the villain, began to prepare supper at once and by five o’clock all was in readiness for him. While awaiting his supper, Nye asked for paper, pen and ink, saying that he wanted to write a letter. What he wrote and what became of the letter are questions yet unanswered and may never be answered. He did not report for supper that evening until all had left the table, when he set down to the meal that later proved to have been his last. Finishing his meal, he walked out to the cucumber patch, where the younger Mrs. Colby was busily at work. A lengthy conversation here took place between the two, the nature of which, however, will never be known.

The elder Mrs. Colby about this time remembered that the cows had not yet been brought home for the evening milking and called Nye’s attention to the matter. Instead of going after the cows the brute left the farm and started down the road toward town. It was then up to the older of the little children on the farm, a girl and boy, aged seven and five, respectively, to go after the cows. After anxiously awaiting the children’s return and their failure to do so, the young mother, burdened with the painful thought that some accident had befallen her dear ones or that they had lost their way, started out on a run towards the pasture and soon after returned with the children and cows.

Now that Nye had left the farm and there was no telling when he would return, it was up to the brave little woman to do the milking, which she willingly consented to do. Knowing that the task was too great a one for the little woman to perform alone, John Pfannenstill, a neighbor, was sent for to assist. Mr. Pfannenstill informed the little tots, who had been sent to  him, that as much as he would like to help Mrs. Colby out, he could not accommodate her for the very fact that Nye had previously ordered him off the Colby premises with the threat that if he ever caught him (Pfannenstill)  there again he would clean up the whole Pfannenstill ranch.

The children returned to the house and informed their grandmother what Mr. Pfannenstill had said, whereupon Mrs. Colby replied that someone must be secured to help their mother with the milking, and told he children to go to the Wright home and try and secure the services of one of the Wright boys. The children were just passing the Pfannenstill place when they were approached by Mr. Pfannenstill, who told them to return to their home, saying that he would be right over and assist with the evening’s milking.

True to his word, Pfannenstill went over. While the two were in the cow barns, Colby returned from town. He first stopped at the house, where he was met by the elder Mrs. Colby, and as near as can be ascertained the following conversation took place:

Question – “Where is Agnes?” (meaning the younger Mrs. Colby.)

Reply – “Out in the barn.”

Question – “What is she doing?”

Reply – “Helping milk.”

Question (very excitedly) – “Helping milk! Who is she helping?”

Reply – “Mr. Pfannenstill,” whereon he started for the barn very much incensed over the conversation.

Reaching the barn he demanded to know of Mr. Pfannenstill what right he had there and who hired him. In a gruff manner and with language that was of the dirtiest, lowest, meanest and most violent, he ordered Pfannenstill off the premises, never again to return or he would repent it with his life.

Turning his attention to the younger Mrs. Colby, who had just finished the evening’s work and was placing the milk into a tub for cooling, Nye started to let out his (now extreme) rage on her, using the most offending, insulting and obscene language that the human tongue could be laid to upon the helpless little woman. Not satisfied with the cursing he had given the defenseless woman, he then started all over anew, thoroughly damning the entire Colby family.

Mrs. Colby, with no way to defend herself against the savage attack of the brute, stood and took everything as it was hurled at her from the inhuman tongue of the vile wretch.

While Nye was relieving himself of his (unreadable) Mrs. Colby was standing in the east door of the house. Suddenly Nye made a mad dash for the house and in a moment was making his way towards young Mrs. Colby, who was at that time walking toward the north barn. The elder Mrs. Colby had not noted that Nye had secured a rifle from the house, and the first warning to her came when the children, who were out in the yard at the time ,ran into the home screaming at the top of their voices, the eldest of the three shouting “Grandma, Nye is going to shoot mama.”

Hustling the three little children into the bedroom and telling them to crawl under the bed and not to answer anyone’s calls, the now thoroughly excited elder Mrs. Colby rushed through the house and had just reached the outside when she heard a sharp report, sounding as though two shot guns had been discharged at the same time, and at the same time heard the young Mrs. Colby, in an agonizing tone, shout “Oh! My!”, after which time there was a deep, dead silence.  The lantern that Mrs. Colby had been carrying was extinguished almost instantly after the crash came. Crazed with fear and excitement, Mrs. Colby rushed into the house, when she heard a second shot. She did not stop, but kept right on and when she was leaving the porch a third report was heard by her.

Her first thought was to call Mr. Pfannenstill and when the Pfannenstill home was reached she found the entire family in hiding. However, after thoroughly convincing the family who she was through her shouting, she was finally responded to by Mr. and Mrs. Pfannenstill.

A young man, employed on the farm of Cliff Sherman, happened by on a bicycle about this time, who rode to town and informed Marshal Walsh of the shooting. Mr. Walsh, with Geo. R. Gilbert, left town soon after the information was received and upon reaching the Colby farm found the dead body of Mrs. Newell Colby lying in a pool of blood a few feet from the southwest corner of the north barn.

Believing Nye to be at large, the officer and his escort hastened to town to form a posse of men to hunt the criminal.

The news of the shooting spread like wildfire and before a half hour had elapsed a crowd of nearly fifty men had gathered, all armed and ready for the man hunt. While the small army of men was congregating, word was being telephoned to all the nearby towns for the officials to be on the lookout for Colby, whose description was given.

Before starting for the Colby farm, the nine o’clock freight was thoroughly searched but without result. When the Colby farm was reached one of the first steps taken, after caring for the body of the dead woman and placing it upon a stretcher, was to search the house. Here a most pitiful scene presented itself when the three little children, aged 7, 5 and 3 years,  were found huddled together under the bed, where they were directed by their grandmother some three hours previously. The three children were all wide awake when found and were taken to the Wright home where, with their grandmother, they passed the night.

Previous to the finding of the children, the rifle and Nye’s hat were found about 8 or 10 feet from the lifeless form of Mrs. Colby. The rifle was well covered with blood, which readily explained that Nye had shot himself after committing the awful deed. A search of the woods and fields was started by many of those who had arrived at the scene, while a few remained in the immediate vicinity of the barn. While the hunt was going on and with everything very quiet, a sickening groan was heard through the stillness of the night to come from within the barn that was being guarded by a few men. The signal was at once given and all came in from the fields and woods.

Upon entering the barn a clot of blood was plainly visible at the foot of the ladder extending to the hay loft, where Colby was found a moment later. Colby, when found, was suffering great agony from ugly head wounds, inflicted by a bullet from the same rifle which had dealt the death blow to Mrs. Colby.

After receiving medical aid Colby was brought to McHenry, where he suffered great pain for two days, passing somewhere about nine o’clock Saturday night without making a statement of any kind.

Colby was last seen in McHenry between the hours of seven and eight o’clock and had been drinking quite heavily.

The inquest over the body of Mrs. Newell F. Colby was held at the farmhouse Friday forenoon, directed by Coroner Saxon of Harvard, the jury that had been impaneled returning a verdict that Mrs. Colby had come to her death by being shot by a rifle held in the hands of Nye Colby. The bullet which caused her death entered her left breast and left her just below the left shoulder.

Colby was conscious when found, but, owing to the fact that his tongue had been badly torn, could not speak, although vainly attempting to. A short time before he passed away paper and pencil was handed to him and he was told that if he had any statement to make to make it in writing. He at once sat up and showed a willingness to write, but it was too late, as he was growing weak. He feebly attempted to write a few lines but in vain, and thus passed away without a statement of any kind.

His body was taken to Ringwood Sunday afternoon, where it was interred into the Ringwood cemetery. Only a few accompanied the remains.


Agnes L. Thomas was born on a farm six miles west of McHenry on March (?) 1883, being in her twenty-sixth year when the tragic end came.

She was the daughter of Julius and Lucy Thomas. Her father passed to the beautiful shore when she was but a tiny girl. As she grew up she attended the county school first and afterward the McHenry high school.

She was united in marriage to Newell F. Colby on Sept, 4, 1900. Immediately after her marriage she, along with her husband, set out to work on the Mrs. Newell Colby farm, where she continued to reside up until the time of her death. From this union were born Florence, Ora and Aleta Belle, whom, along with a heart-broken husband, four brothers, three sisters, a loving mother, and a host of relatives and friends, are left to mourn.

The one who came to her death suddenly was a true, devoted and loving wife and mother. Words can never express what a beautiful spirit has now left her body and gone to the other world that knows no sorrow, where she is now at rest. She was recently heard to say: “My joy is to live for my family. I will do all I can in this world for Newell and my three children. I am doing all I can. I wish I could do more. I will work on, doing everything I can for their joy, comfort and happiness.” So devoted was she to the welfare of her family that nothing but death could ever have ceased her going to work in this world of trials and sorrow.

Although not a member of any church, she trusted in God and looked to Him in prayer for guidance …

(My copy of the article ends here, sadly.)

More handwritten notes, presumably collected from the gravestone in Ringwood, suggest that Nye Colby lived from 1851-1901, which adds more strangeness to the dating. He was the son of Wallace and Loretta Colby, and was a veteran of the Illinois Infantry during the Spanish-American Was.