True Crime Stories in Vineland

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Vineland Historical Society reopens, debuts exhibit on local crimes.

After being closed the whole month of January, the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society has reopened its doors and introduced their new crime exhibit, “Murder, They Wrote.”

The exhibit offers an in-depth look at the history of crime in the community, dating back to when Vineland was first founded.

“We feel this exhibit is timely because there is a lot of activity in the county right now that is looking into gang violence,” said Patricia A. Martinelli, curator at the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society. “We wanted to do a historical look on crime in support of that.”

Some of the crimes being highlighted include the trial of Charles Landis, who founded Vineland, as well as Hammonton and Sea Isle City. Landis shot and killed a local newspaper editor named Uri Carruth in 1875. The verdict of the Landis trial shocked the city, as he was found not guilty due to insanity.

“Charles Landis met his match in Uri Carruth because Carruth was determined to undermine Mr. Landis’ authority in Vineland,” said Martinelli. “Carruth wrote scandalous articles about Landis and his family in the newspaper. One day Landis essentially had enough. He walked into Carruth’s office and shot him. Mr. Landis was arrested and brought to trial but managed to escape the ultimate punishment by getting a verdict of temporary insanity.”

The case of Margaret Lilliendahl, which remains one of the area’s uglier crimes, is also on display in  the exhibit. Lilliendahl was found guilty in the death of her husband in 1927, but her case wasn’t simple because she lied to police. The lack of technology at the time set police back, but they knew something was off about her story.

“It was certainly not a happy marriage,” said Martinelli. “Mrs. Lilliendahl took a lover, and they created a plot to kill her husband. They originally claimed that two men had hijacked the car and killed Dr. Lilliendahl. The police learned rather quickly that the whole thing had been a scheme. Before too long, they were both in jail.”

Not all of the crimes on display are 100 years old. There are cases as recent as 1979, when Harry Sugar was accused of murdering his wife. He wouldn’t be proven guilty until 10 years after the fact.

“It is something I believe the community still has not gotten over,” said Martinelli.

Over the years, the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society has tried to create displays that are thought-provoking in different ways. They often showcase fun, light-hearted subjects, but last year’s exhibit on prejudice was a change that was well received. They hope to get the same reactions this year.

The Historical and Antiquarian Society plans to make some small additions to “Murder, They Wrote.” Next month there will be an event pertaining to the crime exhibit, which will explore the history of brothels.

They also hope to get a member or two of law enforcement to come give a speech to visitors. 

“Hopefully, we can get together with the County Prosecutor’s Office and have someone come out here to speak with our attendees,” said Martinelli.

The cases of Landis, Lilliendahl and Sugar are certainly some of the highlights of the tour, but there are many other cases that will make visitors’ jaws drop. The exhibit will be up throughout the entirety of 2019. Tours are offered Saturdays, with start times of 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Admission is only $2.

It is recommended that before attending, guests should call ahead of time or e-mail the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society. Tours may be canceled due to bad weather conditions.

Call 856-691-1111 for more details about “Murder, They Wrote,” or send an e-mail to

The Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society does an amazing job of outlining the history of the community, and they hope their hard work helps educate any and all attendees.

“I began studying history because it is a collection of great stories,” said Martinelli. “There is always another story to tell and that is what we are trying to do.”

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