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From the Archives: Haverford’s 1935 Yuletide Murder

On December 23, 1935, the seventy-year-old Mary Ginder, a housekeeper and dietician at Haverford College, hosted a Christmas dinner for her family and close friends in a private room in Founders Hall. 

Towards the end of this meal, the door to the dining room swung open. Inside the doorway was a figure holding a shotgun with a Christmas card attached. Some of the guests laughed at the sight, taking it to be the prank of some students staying on campus over winter break. However, these thoughts were quickly dismissed when the figure moved behind Ginder and pulled the trigger. Ginder died on the spot. 

The assailant was Roy Crittendon, a dishwasher fired on December 15, eight days before the murder. The Haverford Alumni Magazine from 1999 reported that he was fired for drunkenness on the job. A New York Times article from the day after the shooting said that he was fired after an incident with Haverford’s head chef. 

As the latter explanation goes, in the days before the murder, the chef asked Crittendon to make a fruit salad, but Crittendon reportedly did not know how to.  After alerting the chef of this fact, Crittendon was summoned before Ginder and fired. In addition to working as a housekeeper and dietitian, Ginder was responsible for supervising general food operations at Haverford. Whether Crittendon was fired for intoxication or an inability to make fruit salad, Ginder had dismissed him.

After shooting Ginder, Crittendon fled campus, only to later turn himself into the Lower Merion police department. After being arrested, Crittendon reportedly claimed that he had also intended to kill the college chef. Crittendon was tried in court for Ginder’s murder. According to the Haverford Times, his defense attorney pushed for clemency, arguing that “a background of intoxication and intolerable working conditions at the college constituted extenuating circumstances.” Despite this, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

However, on March 22, 1937, Crittendon appealed his case on the grounds that the prosecuting attorney had invoked racial prejudice to sway the jury’s decision. Crittendon was black and took issue primarily with the closing remarks of the prosecuting attorney, who likened Crittendon to “a beast of prey . . . stalking for its victim.” The prosecutor went on to make an analogy in which Crittendon was referred to as a “rabid dog,” “a rattlesnake,” and “a loathsome creature of some kind.”

Unfortunately for Crittendon, this appeal was rejected. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court did not feel that the prosecution’s remarks’ prejudice would have been enough to change the outcome of the jury’s original guilty vote. Crittendon was put to death at 12:36 am on June 28, 1937.

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