Benjamin Miller was homesick. So Miller walked into the sheriff’s office in Jena, Louisiana, in November 1915 to confess that he had shot and killed James Kirlin in Riverton 36 years earlier.
“I am tired of dodging from one place to another to escape the consequences of my crime,” Miller reportedly told Louisiana authorities. “I want to go home.”
Kirlin owned a saloon in Riverton. He had begun sleeping in a back room after burglars entered the place and took “a quantity of cigars and upwind of a barrel of whiskey,” according to a story published in the Illinois State Journal on Aug. 19, 1879, two days after the killing.
Miller reportedly was among people Kirlin suspected of the burglary. The evening of Aug. 17, Kirlin, armed with a Navy revolver, reportedly heard prowlers in the saloon and fired two or more shots. Miller, who lived a short distance away, grabbed his own revolver and approached Kirlin. Kirlin may or may not have exchanged shots with Miller – witnesses’ stories conflicted – but a bullet Miller fired struck Kirlin in the chest, killing him.
Miller, who one witness said was “clearly drunk” (he worked at the Riverton distillery), told bystanders, “No damned man shall shove a revolver under my nose.” Miller disappeared the same night. It was the last time – probably – he was seen in central Illinois. According to an Illinois State Register story published after Miller reappeared:
Miller had been for a long time given up as dead by his relatives in Riverton. John Highfield, an employee of the sheriff’s office, talked with Art German, a cousin of the confessed murderer, a short time ago in reference to the crime.
“We supposed he is dead,” said Miller. “It has been twenty-five years since he has been heard from in Riverton and his relatives have despaired of ever getting any more news of him.” …
When Miller escaped from Riverton after the crime, he left a wife and family in the place. For a year afterward, according to Highfield, stories would go around of trips back to see his relatives, made during the night, but authorities were not able to find him. After a time the trips ceased and the slayer dropped entirely out of sight.
Miller’s wife finally married someone else and the family moved away. “Their present residence is not known,” the Register said.
Miller escaped prosecution for his crime. Despite his confession, Sangamon County authorities couldn’t find any of the original charging documents, including the grand jury’s 1879 indictment of Miller. James Kirlin’s nephew, Benjamin Kirlin, told the state’s attorney’s office the Kirlin family didn’t want to pursue a new case against Miller.
It is unknown if Benjamin Miller ever did return to central Illinois. If he did, the visit went unrecorded.
Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. Learn how to support the Society.