The Hillmon Case: Who Is This Man?

The Hillmon case is:

  • One of the most famous decisions of the United States Supreme Court in the 19th century.
  • The source of one of the most important rules of evidence used in American and British courtrooms.
  • A ripping good story about how a 23 year old waitress took on three Wall Street insurance companies for more than a quarter century, featuring a cowhand, a cigarmaker, a disappointed fiance, the Supreme Court, and way too many lawyers.
  • A mystery that two 21st century academics tried to solve once and for all.

The corpse of John Hillmon, or Frederick Adolph Walters, or possibly someone else, was at the center of a lawsuit you might think of as an American Jarndyce v. Jarndyce: it lasted forever, and by the end there was nothing left because the lawyers had gotten all the money. But even after the lawsuit was over, the mystery remained: who was buried in John Hillmon’s grave?

Explore the links above to learn more about the lawsuit, the law it produced, and the enduring mystery it left behind.