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Remembering a 1958 Halloween night murder and the verdict that still haunts the city

Remembering a 1958 Halloween night murder and the verdict that still haunts the city
October 2022

Businessman Jack Dobbins was found dead after a night of partying in what the press called “The Candlestick Murder”

The apartment at 14 Queen Street where Jack Dobbins lived and was found dead.

Halloween, historically, is supposed to be equal parts fun and fear. But on October 31, 1958, it was fear that left an indelible stain on the city.

Jack Dobbins, a 29-year-old businessman, was helping tend the bar at Club 49 at 368 King Street. The club allowed gay men to discretely mingle and meet, one of the few such establishments during that era. Dobbins befriended and provided free beers to 18-year-old John Mahon, who was stationed at the Air Force base. Dobbins also had served in the Air Force. After the club closed, they went to a few other bars and then to Dobbins’s apartment at 14 Queen Street.

There were more drinks; and then Dobbins made a move for Mahon, who ran upstairs to a bedroom and returned with a large candlestick.

Club 49, which advertised itself as “the gayest spot in town” on its matchbook, welcomed a mix of gay and straight revelers and, at the time, was one of the few clubs where gay people could meet discretely.

Back at the base, Mahon told his friends he had “beaten up a queer,” stolen money, and left. When Mahon read in the papers that Dobbins was found dead the next morning, he turned himself in and was charged with murder and theft.

Although the trial would not be held for months, it was over before it began in the court of public opinion. The newspapers called Mahon “clean-cut” and titillated its readers with tidbits about the victim: Dobbins had no girlfriend; he was a meticulous dresser; and he liked art and antiques (such as his prized candlestick that had been used to kill him). Mahon’s lawyers called it a “justifiable homicide.” After the jury deliberated for more than a few hours, the judge demanded a decision before he went to sleep. Eight minutes later, the foreman delivered a verdict of not guilty, as people in the courtroom cheered.

The candlestick murder, as the press called it, and its injustice, haunts us still.