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Newburyport, MA - While researching fatal pit bull attacks of the early to mid 1900s, we came across the most damaging fatal attack the pit bull community has ever known. To start, in 1901 a pet pit bull killed its owner's mistress, in 1909 a pet pit bull killed its owner's brother, in 1945, a pet pit bull killed a 21-month old baby in Los Angeles (just 3-months before fighting pit bulls killed Doretta Zinke) and in 1947, a group of pit bulls killed an 11-year old boy in the Bronx.1
Further research showed that a pit bull owned by John P. Colby, producer of prized fighting dogs, killed his 2-year old nephew, Bert Leadbetter.
The Death of Bert Colby Leadbetter
On February 2, 1909, one of John P. Colby's renowned "Colby Dogs" snatched his nephew by the neck, "ferociously shook him like a rag" breaking the child's backbone and spine. The child, Bert Colby Leadbetter was quickly killed. The boy's mother, Elizabeth Colby, had been visiting Colby's Newburyport home on Franklin Street when the deadly attack occurred. The mother was left incapacitated and her husband, Richard Leadbetter was quickly summoned from Lynn.2
Bull Terrier Kills ChildGrabs Him by Throat at Newburyport.
Bert Leadbetter, 2 Years Old, of Lynn on Visit.
Uncle John P. Colby Owner of the Dog
NEWBURYPORT, Feb 2, 1909 -- Bert, the 2-year-old son of Mr and Mrs Walter Leadbetter of Lynn, was killed this afternoon by a fighting bull terrier, owned by his uncle, John P. Colby, at 36 Franklin st.
Mrs Leadbetter and her son had come here to visit her brother, who is a dog fancier. The little fellow wandered into the yard where the kennels are.
The dog sprang at the child's neck and growling ferociously shook him like a rag. Then the savage animal, dropping its prey, snapped at other portions of the body, inflicting a number of wounds.
Mr Colby ran out, drove the dog away and bore the child into the house. He was faintly breathing, but quickly all signs of life disappeared. Medical Examiner Hurd, who was called, found that the backbone and spine had been broken at the base of the brain. The other wounds, while serious, were not necessarily fatal.
The mother was prostrated. Mr Leadbetter was hastily summoned from Lynn.
Mr Colby was very secretive about the affair and declined to give out any details. The police were not notified. Patrolman Hayes, whose beat is at the south end, heard of the death and reported it to the marshal, who ordered an investigation. The patrolman was finally able to secure the particulars.
No action has been taken relative to the dog. Mr Colby told the medical examiner that his own child3 had played about the kennels and had never been molested. - Boston Daily Globe, February 3, 1909
The Myth of "Culling" Man-Biters
Pit bull advocates must resort to lies to protect the breed. One of these lies is that breeders of fighting dogs culled biting pit bulls (also known as man-biters4). They even say that children are especially safe with pit bulls because "instant" culling occurred when any human aggression was shown. We know this is untrue about breeders of fighting dogs, both in the past and current, as well as by pit bulls today who are routinely returned to their owners after an attack unaltered.
Did John P. Colby cull the pit bull that killed his nephew? This is unknown. What is known is that Colby produced man-biters, such as the one that savaged Bert Colby Leadbetter, continued to breed fighting dogs and continued to fight his dogs long after 1909. The death of his nephew did not slow his breeding business down, which continues today over 100 years later. Sadly, Colby and friends likely referred to the incident as a "yard accident" not long after the boy's death.
John P. Colby Popularized Pet Pit Bulls
Prior to the era of John P. Colby's breeding program (1889 to 1941) breeders and fanciers of the "pit dog" (pit bulls bred for fighting) were a tight group. According to a July 1994 issue of the Registrar for International Sportsman (See: Page 5), "The finest dogs were only passed to family and the most trusted friends and the secrecy of their lineage was closely guarded. Colby broke this long-held tradition by offering stud services and pit bull puppies to the "common man."
Colby is attributed to popularizing the American pit bull terrier to the general public and was one of the first fighting dog breeders to do so.
The Sportsman article also notes that Colby was a charter member of the Staffordshire Club of America and backed them in "forcing the breeds acceptance" into the registry of the American Kennel Club (AKC). In 1936, the AKC accepted the breed but only under the name "Staffordshire" to distance the dog from its purpose-bred past: explosive dog-aggression for dogfigting. As a standard for the Staffordshire breed, the AKC chose the fighting dog known as Colby's Primo.
After Colby's death in 1941, his wife Florence continued the Colby breeding program. She was also the president of the Staffordshire Club of America. As stated in the Sportsman article, she "worked closely with the screening process of the American pit bull terrier into the American Kennel Club under the name Staffordshire," which dispels yet another lie voiced by pit bull advocates: The American Staffordshire terrier and pit bull terrier are two separate breeds.
Lastly, Colby's "Famous Fighting Dogs," as advertised in a January 1918 Dog Fancier magazine, were not famous due to their appearance. They were famous for being the gamest pit bulls, dogs bred to finish a fight or die trying. Two of Colby's sons later memorialized the famed dogs in books. In 1936, Joseph Colby wrote, "The American Pit Bull Terrier," and in 1997, his brother Louis Colby coauthored, "Colby's Book of the American Pit Bull Terrier," with pit bull expert Dianne Jessup.
Analyzing the 1909 News Article
The 1909 article refers to Colby as a "dog fancier." Many breeders of fighting dogs still call themselves a fancier today. The name appears innocent, but when combined with pit bulls, it often means "dog fighter." The article also states that Colby was "very secretive" about the incident. We expect that he was. If word got out that the "Colby Dogs" were child killers, the carefully constructed lie, "Pit bulls are merciless in the pit, yet make loyal, loving pets," would be destroyed.
It is noted near the end of the Boston Daily Globe article that "police were not notified." Back in that time period, many "sporting gentlemen" (dog fighters) were officers of the law. It may be that the officer who covered Colby's "beat" was notified, but took no action. He may have even owned a Colby dog. The most telling aspect though, and strong indicator the dog was not culled, was that "no action" was taken about the dog. Colby likely kept the dog because it had breeding value.
2Colby dogs may have victimized other children and adults. We know that in 1906, a Colby dog was shot dead by police for running loose without a collar. ("Boy Bitten, Girl Escapes," The Boston Globe, December 29, 1906.)
3At the time of the incident, Colby's first child, John Pritchard Colby Jr. was about 3-years old.
4Dogmen Conversations About Man-Biters and Man-Eaters, by DogsBite.org (a collection of dogfighting forum board conversations)
12/29/08: Part III: Doretta Zinke, 39, Killed by 9 Pit Bulls (1945)
12/07/08: Part II: Doretta Zinke, 39, Killed by 9 Pit Bulls (1945)
11/29/08: Part I: Doretta Zinke, 39, Killed by 9 Pit Bulls (1945)