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charlotte street

Murder on Charlotte Street

On the night of November 20, 1785, in the early years of the Second Spanish Period, a young army officer, Lt. Guillermo Delaney was on his way to see a seductive seamstress, Catalina Morain, who made her home with the Gomila family on Charlotte Street, just north of Treasury Street. Suddenly he was set upon by men muffled in hooded cloaks who stabbed and beat him. He managed to stagger to the doorway of the Gomila home, where he collapsed.

Governor Zespedes took charge of the investigation of the crime, although it was hard to find enough time because of the many other problems besetting the new regime.

The probe revealed that Lt. Delaney was not the only man in Catalina's life. Among her admirers were two soldiers from the artillery detachment stationed at the Castillo de San Marcos. One, Sgt. Juan Sivelly, was already in trouble with his superiors because of his scandalous conduct with a servant girl and, the other was Francisco Moraga.

About 30 townspeople gave their testimony. Some had heard the noise of the struggle, but no one could fix the time, perhaps because in those days there was no town clock to boom the hours.

Poor Lt. Delaney, who was being treated for his wounds, could not identify his assailants since the cloaks they wore were 'standard gear' for nearly all of the 500 men of the garrison, and the hoods had hidden their faces. Catalina's testimony, however, implicated two soldiers, Pablo de Martos and Ramon Cucarella, who were jailed. The investigation lagged while Christmas was celebrated, but shortly after the new year, Lt. Delaney died, and Governor Zespedes had a murder case on his hands.

His knowledge of Spanish law was meager and be had no legal officer, so he applied to Havana for help, but they had no one to send him. Although Spain was a rich and powerful country, people to administer the far-flung Caribbean empire were spread thin, so the Governor had to do the best he could without trained help.

New facts soon developed. On the night of the attack, it so happened that Corporal Moraga had been at the St. Francis Barracks, rehearsing for a play, and his way home led directly past the spot where the lieutenant had been attacked. Also, it was noted that when Delaney was out of the way Moraga's friendship with Catalina had grown much warmer and they met constantly. While at first it had seemed that Moraga and Sgt. Sivelly were rivals, it now transpired that they were good friends and possibly in collusion for the elimination of the third man in Catalina's life.

Although Corporal Moraga had denied he had been at the Gomila house on the fatal night, it now came out that he had been there earlier in the evening and that he was also armed, because he had sharpened a quill pen for Seƒora Gomila with his cutlass.

Sleeping sentries also came into the picture and no one could swear exactly when the Corporal had returned to his quarters that night. Finally the investigating officers decided that Moraga and Catalina Morain were at least guilty, respectively, of perjury and implicating two innocent men; so they were put in jail. The papers in the case, 176 pages of testimony from 55 witnesses, were sent to Spain's viceroy in Mexico City.

The next action in the case is unclear. The viceroy died in a fever epidemic, the testimony went to Spain where its review was delayed by the death of the minister in charge there. Meanwhile, in St. Augustine, the men. who had done the investigating or had given testimony were being rotated back to Spain or to other posts in Spanish America.

Both Corporal Moraga and Catalina Morain languished in prison until the end of Governor Zespedes regime in July of 1790. The final disposition of the case and the question of their guilt or innocence is lost in the archives of the period.

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