By Joe Bachman
Through the annals of Wisconsin Rapids history, there have been few stories as intriguing as the 1879 murder of 34-year-old County Judge Henry Hayden, of Centralia.
On a Thursday evening on Oct. 9, 1879, William H. Cochran, known for laying the foundation of many buildings and bridges in the city’s history, shot and killed 34-year-old Judge Henry Hayden at the Rossier & Baker law offices. His motive would involve anger that was sparked between two local newspapers, and alleged perversions leading to the separation from his wife.
For only a few years, Judge Henry Hayden called Centralia a home with his wife, Harriet, and in the summer of 1879, accusations would rise regarding Mr. Hayden and his alleged lascivious nature. According to the Grand Rapids Reporter, on June 7, 1879, a column described Hayden with the following words:
“The fact is, that from our birth up, where we have had so vile and lecherous a being as Hayden to deal with — when a community is compelled to be ridden by so graceless a libertine and so damnable a demagogue — one who makes a speciality of entering households and debauching the home — one who “lays” for his victims, saturated with cosmetics and pleasant stink to catch the unwary, as moths are drawn towards a flickering blaze or a deciduous germ which only imprisons their wings-“
In other words, Hayden was accused of having an affair with the wife of William H. Cochran., as well as “improper” behavior towards multiple women in Grand Rapids.
Such alleged acts led to the expulsion of Hayden, who some called the “highly scented vile sinner”, from the local masonic lodge and a call for his resignation as county judge. Immediately, Hayden went on the defense, denying having any part of an affair with the wife of Cochran (Referred to as ‘Mrs. C’) through other local area publications, including the Wausau Torch.
Furthermore, Hayden took legal action against H.B. Philleo, the Editor of the Grand Rapids Reporter, and Jack Brundage of the Grand Rapids Tribune at the time for continuing to publish slanderous articles about Hayden’s alleged misconduct.
Originally reported in early September of 1879 by Dunn County News out of Menomonie, they referred to the Grand Rapids Reporter, and Grand Rapids Tribune as publications that have been “diligently ventilating” Hayden’s “unsavory reputation” for months.
In September of that same year, Hayden would become the Editor for the Centralia Enterprise, the third newspaper in the area, and this only fanned the flames between the two sides. Soon after, Cochran & Webb law offices asked the newspaper to pull their ads from the publication, and demanded that the Centralia Enterprise discontinue publication.
Mr. Hayden responded quickly in early October of 1879:
“In so far as we consistently can, we will cheerfully comply with the above request. But we have so many paying subscribers, who would OBJECT to it if we should ‘discontinue the said newspaper’, according to the request of ONLY TWO, that we must to that extent, DECLINE to comply.”
Hayden would go on to publish an account in the October 9 edition of the Enterprise, which allegedly slandered Cochran and the continued to defend himself. A copy of this edition could not be found through library or online records. However, whatever was said was the tipping point for Mr. Cochran, who had already separated from his wife months prior due to the indiscretions.
According to a report out of the Oct. 16, 1879 edition of the Wood County Reporter, on the evening of Oct. 9, Cochran, then cashier of the First National Bank of what would become the modern day U.S. Bank on W. Grand Ave., made his way down to the offices of Rossier & Baker, where he passed both Emil B. Rossier and C.O. Baker on his way into the office. He turned and shot Hayden, and then meticulously walked out the front door, and immediately called for a Sheriff and admitted shooting the judge.
According to Mrs. Hayden, who took over as Editress of the Centralia Enterprise for a short time wrote a month later to defend her late husband’s prior alleged engagements:
“The morning sun of his life had just risen clear and bright above the hills. He had aroused himself and cast behind him the impulsive actions and indiscretions that young manhood is heir to, and standing up a brave, true, fearless man was looking above and beyond into the long stretch of life-“
Mrs. Hayden would sell the Enterprise to Rossier, a close friend of Henry, until it was bought out by the Brundage family to merge with the existing Grand Rapids Tribune.
A Clark County jury would find William Cochran not guilty for the murder of Henry Hayden, and many have suspected that while Cochran admittedly pulled the trigger and ended the life of the judge, there was something more behind his malicious motive, as many started to talk.
Written by H.B. Phillio, taken from the Wood County Reporter, Oct. 23, 1879:
“We give public notice now and here, however, we are not disposed to sit quietly down and vilified and traduced as murderers from one end of the country to the other. Several newspapers have been misled through misrepresentations of the parties referred to, into giving currency to vile falsehoods charging the killing of Mr. Hayden to a ‘ring’ ….to the undersigned, as editors of local papers in this city — to the first because ‘they wanted to get rid of them’ — and to us because nobody has been wise to explain”
Whether or not the the Editors at the Grand Rapids Reporter, and Grand Rapids Tribune sought the death of Mr. Hayden, or if the matter was strictly a part of a love triangle between Cochran, his wife and Judge Hayden is left to interpretation.
Nobody was ever brought to trial for the murder of Henry Hayden after Cochran was found not guilty, which makes this case, and will forever likely be, unsolved.