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The House on Church Street pt.2: An Illinois True Crime Story

When the McNiers and McCooles moved into the same house William McNier and Ed McCoole figured their wives could keep each other company since they were both away from home so much. Things between the wives quickly soured when Pyrle McCoole started spending more and more of her time in the McNier’s part of the house, which Cora McNier didn’t like. William and Pyrle hit it off and it didn’t take long for them to start a passionate romance. It also didn’t take long for their relationship to attract attention and on Easter Sunday, Ed confronted them about it. Ed thought everything was settled until he came back from a business trip to rumors about Pyrle and William’s behavior. Ed called a meeting of the two couples wanting to get to the bottom of everything. 

Read part one in full.

All on the table

At the Scribner’s house, Ed let everyone know he was only there to protect Pyrle’s reputation. He didn’t appreciate the rumors that were being spread about her and wanted to get to the bottom of it.

Cora told Ed all about the things she had observed over the last couple of weeks, walking in on Pyrle and William holding hands and William — in a drug induced haze — declaring his love for Pyrle. (1)(2)

The next thing Ed wanted to know was if William was in love with Pyrle. William told him that he liked and respected her. In fact, since the rumors started, he said that he grew to respect her even more. But his feelings didn’t go beyond that. (1)(2)

Ed then wanted to know who Pyrle wanted to be with, him or William. At first, she wouldn’t answer. Hurt by this, Ed got up to leave. Pyrle quickly assured him she’d never leave him for another man. Ed then said he was willing to start over and put the whole thing behind them. She assured him, going forward, he could trust her. (3)(4)

Even after everything he heard, Ed didn’t see why the couples couldn’t go on living together. He asked Cora to stay and give it another chance. (1) Cora flatly refused, saying she could never go back to living under the same roof as Pyrle. (2)

Keeping her word, Cora spent the night at the Scribners before leaving the next afternoon for her parents’ house in Chicago. (2) Ed and Pyrle also decided not to stay at the house and rented a room in a different part of the city. (2)

Put it behind them

Determined to put the whole thing behind them, Pyrle and Ed spent the weekend doing things they enjoyed. On Saturday, they went to the circus with a friend and out for dinner. They capped the weekend off by going to a baseball game, then going back to the house on Church Street to get a few of their things. Ed felt like their life was going back to normal. (5)(6)

Meanwhile, William felt like his life was in shambles. He’d lost both his girlfriend and his wife in one day. On Sunday, he wrote a letter to Cora pleading with her to come back. He promised that Pyrle and Ed had left the house. He told her he would talk everything all over with Pyrle and Ed and finally put his foot down with Pyrle, and tell her he wasn’t interested in her. 

While he did apologize for his actions towards her saying they were “most brutal”. He told her she was also partially to blame because she “provoked” him by accusing him of being unfaithful. He also thought Pyrle should take some of the blame as well “for she allowed me to go as far as she did.” (7)

Morning Confrontation

On Monday morning, Pyrle and Ed planned to spend a few hours packing their things from the house. (8) William came in and asked Pyrle where she was going, Ed stepped in between them and said they were leaving town. They thought it was for the best. Living in the house wasn’t worth jeopardizing their marriages. 

Ed wanted to once and for all know what — if anything — had gone on between the two of them. Pyrle couldn’t keep up the ruse any longer and admitted she was very much in love with William. Ed was visibly hurt by this. But she insisted she would never leave Ed for anything. William maintained that he admired and respected Pyrle, but had no romantic feelings for her.

Ed told William it would be best if he never spoke to Pyrle again and if he did Ed would kill him.

Ed told William it would be best if he never spoke to Pyrle again and if he did Ed would kill him. At that, William took a gun out of his pocket, he didn’t point it at Ed, but placed it on the dresser. He told Ed that if he was going to shoot him he’d better be a quick draw. He put the gun back in his pocket and left. (9) 

Later in the afternoon, Ed went to the local pawn shop, where he bought a gun for three dollars. (10)(11) 

William, meanwhile, was inspired by Pyrle’s honesty with Ed. He went back to his letter he had started to Cora earlier and confessed that he did have strong feelings for Pyrle. But, said he never had any real plans of leaving Cora for her. 

He then wrote a quick letter to Ed where he reiterated that if Ed really did plan on killing him, he’d better be a quick shot. (12)

One last letter

Back at the rented room, Pyrle was desperate to get in touch with William. She couldn’t believe they’d really never see each other again. She had to get at least one more letter to him. She grabbed a pencil, a few sheets of paper and snuck into the bathroom to scribble off a quick letter.

In the letter Pyrle detailed a plan for how she and William could stay in contact even after she and Ed left town. She told him that for her, he was always going to be first in her heart and Ed would be second. She ended her letter telling him where she had kept all of his letters and asked him to get them and send them to her. (13)

Before leaving the bathroom, she stuck the pencil in her hair, shoved the letter in the front of her skirt and walked out. When Ed saw her, he noticed the pencil in her hair. He knew she had been writing a letter to William. Calmly, he told her, “I’m going to have to see the letter.” He didn’t shout and didn’t even seem angry, but Pyrle knew he was serious. She handed over the letter. (14)

After reading it, Ed wanted to see the rest of the letters William had written, so he went back to the house on Church Street. Right where Pyrle had said they would be, he found 16 letters that had been written over the course of just a few weeks. (15)

Leaving Town

In a daze, Ed wandered around town looking for his brother, Claude. He was convinced William and Pyrle were planning on eloping that night. (16) He stopped by the house Claude and his family were staying at and sat with Claude’s mother-in-law, Jane Yoder. They didn’t say much. All he could do was cry and Jane let him. She didn’t bother asking what was bothering him, because she already knew.(17)(18)

When he finally found Claude, the two of them took Pyrle to Claude’s house, thinking it would be less likely for her to be able to leave with William. From there, they went to their office and read the letters. There was one specific letter that seemed to upset Ed the most. The one where William went into detail about how he was planning to leave Cora and start a new life with Pyrle.(20)

The brothers figured it was best for Pyrle and Ed to leave town as soon as possible. So, they made arrangements to spend the night at Claude’s before they left town to Mansfield later in the middle of the night.(16)

With his brother’s plans all set, Claude and his wife, Addie, went to bed around 10pm while Ed left to go get a couple more things from the house on Church Street.(20)

Around this same time, William and his brother Jesse were at the drugstore preparing to close up shop. It was a cold night, so they made the decision to close up 10 minutes early. The two left the building together, said their goodbyes and went their separate ways. Jesse towards his house and William towards the house on Church Street. (21)

Harris, I’m dying

Meanwhile, the Scribners were wrapping up a night of cards and dancing. Beuhla and Leonard had gone up to bed while Leonard’s sister Mate and her friend Kevin Harris continued hanging out in the parlor. The two were chatting when there were suddenly four consecutive gunshots, followed by a blood-curdling scream. 

William staggered into the house and said, “I’m shot. Harris, I’m dying.”

Moments later, William staggered into the house and said, “I’m shot. Harris, I’m dying.” William told him he thought it might be a burglar who shot him. He urged Kevin to go make sure he didn’t get away.(23) Kevin hurried off as the Scribners came downstairs to see what the commotion was. Out of the earshot of anyone else, William told Leonard it was Ed who shot him. (23) 

William was rushed to the hospital. (24)

Meanwhile, Ed pounded on Claude’s door and told him he had shot William. He stayed only a short time before leaving to go to the police station. (25)

At the police station, Ed waltzed in, eating a sandwich, and calmly told the police officer on duty he’d just shot William McNier. He stated that once everyone found out the reason for the shooting that he would be found innocent. (26) It wasn’t long before Pyrle came to visit Ed at the police station.(27)

William’s final hours

St. Mary’s Hospital where William was treated.

Two bullets entered William’s body. One through the hand. And one on the right side of his chest which traveled downwards and lodged in his left hip.(23) A third bullet hit him, but instead got lodged in a stack of letters he had in his vest pocket. Letters from Pyrle.(28)

After a quick examination of his wounds, doctors knew almost immediately that he wouldn’t survive. Nonetheless, they rushed him into surgery, hoping for a miracle.(29)

William knew it was only a matter of time before he died. The doctors had told him as much. Writhing in pain, he asked his friend S.E. Minick and brother Jesse to tear up the letters from Pyrle in his vest pocket. He absolutely did not want Cora to ever see them. The two men did as they were asked and tore up the letters and threw the pieces into a wastebasket.(30)(31) A police officer who was present, took the torn up letters out of the garbage and brought them back to the police station as evidence.(32)

The police officer then questioned William about the shooting. He told of how Ed had accused him of having a relationship with Pyrle. But William wanted it to be known, that was completely untrue. He again said that he respected her very much and thought a great deal of her but he thought more of his own wife and had always planned to live with Cora for the rest of his life.(33)

With time running out he called for his lawyer to come and draw up a will. The will was only one page long. He left all of his possessions to his wife, Cora. He was so weak, he wasn’t able to sign his name. Instead he made a little ‘x’ in place of a signature.(34)

Telegrams were sent immediately to both Cora and William’s family. His mother, father and sisters rushed to his side from Weldon. His younger sisters were too overcome with emotion to be able to see their brother one last time. His mother, however, kept on a brave face and spent a short time with him before leaving the room and breaking down in tears. 

Through it all, William had only one last wish. He wanted to stay alive long enough to see Cora one last time. The only train from Chicago was due to arrive late in the afternoon. His doctors weren’t optimistic that he’d make it that long. But just a few hours before William died, Cora arrived, and they were able to say their goodbyes.

On May 5, 1903, 21 hours after he had been shot, William died. Ed was officially charged with murder.(35)

As the McNier family arranged a funeral. Investigators were trying to piece together a case against Ed. While examining William’s clothes, they found two letters that hadn’t been destroyed. They were the letters he wrote the day he was shot. One to Cora, confessing his love for Pyrle. The other to Ed, telling him if he wanted to kill him, he’d better shoot quick.(36)

One true villain

In the days following William’s death, more and more information about the relationship between him and Pyrle came out. Contents of private letters were published in the local newspapers. And it didn’t take long for people to form their opinions on the case.(37) But they were less interested in the guilt or innocence of Ed. They were most concerned about Pyrle’s supposed guilt.

She — in many people’s eyes — was the true villain of the story. It didn’t matter that it was Ed who had killed another human being. It didn’t matter that William had declared his undying love for her and promised he’d leave his wife. The way the public saw it, she had knowingly seduced a married man. And to many, that was an unforgivable offense. 

In fact, even if William was the one who seduced her, she should have known better. As one reader put it, it was unbelievable for a married woman who was nearly 30 years old to be seduced.(38)

One man even went so far as to say he wouldn’t blame Cora if she “took a gun and put a few bullets into the McCoole woman.”(37)

Pyrle, knowing she wasn’t very popular, quickly fell out of the public eye. And didn’t attend a single day of the trial.(39)

It was as cowardly an assassination as ever occurred in any community

William E. Redmon, prosecuting attorney

The prosecution 

The prosecution argued that it was cold-blooded, pre-meditated murder. They alleged that Pyrle had been using William for his money. William had recently taken $2,100 out of the bank that his estate couldn’t account for. The prosecution argued that the money went to Pyrle, and that Ed had known about it.

As for the night of the murder, they knew Ed was going to claim self-defense. But they argued he had gone to the house and positioned himself where he knew he’d have a good shot at William. They cited a pile of ashes found at the scene as evidence that he had smoked a cigar while he waited for William.

The prosecutor, William E. Redmon, closed out his opening arguments saying, “It was as cowardly an assassination as ever occurred in any community.”(40)

The defense

Obviously, the defense didn’t deny that Ed had shot William. He confessed almost immediately. Instead, they sought to prove that William had tricked Pyrle into falling in love with him. They argued that William had paid the clairvoyant, Maxwell, $2,100 to tell Pyrle that she and William were meant to be. As evidence of this, they cited the two urgent letters William had written to Maxwell, urging him to return Pyrle’s letters.

They said Ed had put his full faith in William. They were friends, and William betrayed him by seducing his wife and trying to break up their home.

They also argued that William was the aggressor, pointing to him showing Ed his gun the morning of the shooting. When he shot William, he was defending not only himself in the moment, but also — in light of everything William had done to Pyrle — the honor of his wife. (41)

The shooting: Will’s story

During the trial, the prosecution and the defense each offered differing accounts as to what happened that night in the house on Church Street.

William on his deathbed had told investigators about the shooting. He said he had come home after a long day’s work. He came in the back door and let his dog out. He then said, “someone was in my kitchen and shot me. He shot four times. Don’t know how many times he hit me.”

He went on to say it was dark and he didn’t see who had shot him. But went into detail about the discussion he, Pyrle and Ed had that morning. He said Ed had accused him of “thinking too much” of Pyrle. Which he denied. He said he wasn’t offended by the accusations and stayed in good spirits. But Ed was irate and threatened to kill him if he ever had any more contact with Pyrle. 

William left the house, and didn’t see the two of them again. Though he didn’t tell investigators it was Ed who shot him, he heavily implied it.(42)

The Shooting: Ed’s Story

According to Ed, he went back to the house on Church Street on Monday night to pick up a few more things before he and Pyrle left town. When he got to the house, he went up to his room, sat down on the bed and cried. 

After he composed himself, he went downstairs, where he said he was looking for matches to light his cigar. He was downstairs in the kitchen when William came into the house. Ed turned and saw William in the doorway. William asked who was there. When Ed answered, he claimed to have seen William reach into his pocket and assumed he was reaching for his gun. At that, Ed pulled out his gun and shot at William until William stopped coming towards him.

When Ed stopped shooting, William turned and ran out the door he came in. Then Ed ran out a door on the other side of the room. 

On cross-examination, Ed was asked what his state of emotions was when he entered the house that night. He simply replied, “hurt.”(43)

Neither account of the shooting however, explained why the bullets traveled downward.(44)

It can be rest assured that [Ed] will not go back to live with his wife. That I can state positively.

Claude McCoole

The Verdict

The jury of mostly married, family men (45), returned the verdict of not guilty on the grounds of self-defense. One juror later told reporters, “we believed that if McCoole had not killed McNier the latter would have killed him and we thought that McNier had tried to provoke a quarrel that day and the evidence showed that he had made threats.”

The jury also found Ed to be a more compelling witness than any the prosecution had called. One juror said he “told [his story] in a straightforward way that made the jurors believe he was telling the truth.” The prosecution, on the other hand, called witnesses the jury “did not like.”

Now a free man, the number one question on the town’s mind was, ‘will Ed and Pyrle stay together?’ To that Ed’s brother Claude told reporters, “it can be rest assured that he will not go back to live with his wife. That I can state positively.”(46)


Immediately after the trial, Cora made plans to stay in Decatur and take care of a few things before doing a bit of traveling. After serious contemplation, she eventually sold William’s share in the drugstore to his business partner Edward Horrall.(47) Throughout the next few months she visited Decatur often.(48) 

By 1910, Cora had relocated to Washington and married a farmer named Oscar Underwood.(49) The marriage, however, was short-lived, and they divorced less than a year later, in 1911.(50) 

A year later, Cora married Lloyd Miller in Idaho.(51) The couple eventually settled down in Washington where Lloyd worked as a farmer.(52)

Cora and Lloyd lived a quiet life together and remained married until his death in 1930.(53) Following Lloyd’s death, Cora moved back to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she worked as a live-in housekeeper. (54)

Cora died in 1956 in a nursing home at the age of 84.(55) She was laid to rest in the Coon family plot in Grand Rapids, Michigan.(56)

Though Claude was positive Ed would end his marriage with Pyrle, the couple was back together within 15 days. Soon after, Ed lost his job at the Correspondence School. He claimed it was in retaliation for him getting back with his wife. In need of work, he and Pyrle made plans to leave town and by mid-July 1903, the couple had left Decatur and never returned.(57)

Deeply in debt from the expenses of the trial, they moved to Birmingham, Alabama where Ed worked as a salesman.(58)

In Birmingham, the couple immersed themselves in the local community. From the start Pyrle loved entertaining her many new friends. She quickly gained a reputation for her elaborate parties.(59)(60)

Pyrle and Ed stayed together until Pyrle’s death in 1933 at the age of 58.(61) Ed eventually moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to live with his niece where he worked as a hotel clerk. In 1947, at the age of 75, Ed suffered a fatal heart attack. (62) The couple is buried next to each other in Tuscumbia, Alabama.(63)(62)

Aside from a few newspaper ads, we were unable to locate the clairvoyant H.L. Maxwell under that name. The last public record of his whereabouts was when he left town in the middle of April 1903.(64)

What do you think?

That concludes The House on Church Street. What do you think? Do you think Ed was really trying to defend himself the night he shot William or do you think he went there with the intent to kill? Let us know in the comments.

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