Sunday, April 10, 2011

Murder in the Vale of Tempe

George Abbott was a young child when he began his career as a thief and by his thirtieth birthday he had spent a third of his life in jail. When he left prison he changed his name and tried to change his evil ways, traveling and taking honest employment. While working as a farmhand in Hanover, New Hampshire he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Christie Warden. When Christie did not return his love Abbot went back to his old ways and took it at gunpoint in the shady hollow known as the Vale of Tempe.

Date:  July 17, 1891

Location:   Hanover, New Hampshire

Victim:  Christie Warden

Cause of Death:  Gunshot

Accused:  Frank Almy (George Abbot)

George Abbott came from a prosperous New England family. His grandfather, Eliphalet, the owner of Abbott’s Mills, dominated the town of North Thetford, Vermont. His father, Harris Abbott owned a small business in Salem, Massachusetts. George Abbott’s mother died three days after his birth in 1857 and he was adopted by his uncle and aunt, Israel and Mary Abbot. In 1867 they moved from Salem to the family estate in North Thetford.

Young George was handsome and intelligent and did well in school, but had a habit of taking things that did not belong to him. He was an avid reader but his taste in literature tended toward dime novels, which some said “…only served to stimulate his evil intentions.”

He was soon stealing jewelry, tools and farm implements from his neighbors and stashing the loot in a cave overlooking the Connecticut River. At age 14 he stole a stove from the house of Daniel P. Prescott. The theft was traced to George but his family’s considerable influence allowed the matter to be settled out of court. Some time later George Abbot saw Prescott out walking his dog and without a word pulled out a revolver and shot Prescott’s dog, then pointed the gun at Prescott saying:
“Stop where you are or I’ll treat you just as I did the dog.”
Prescott did not report the incident.

In the early 1870s Abbott teamed up with one of his uncle’s employees, Peter Duplissy, to commit a series of house burglaries in the Connecticut River Valley between Barnet, Vermont and Lyme, New Hampshire. He was eventually caught holding a pocketbook containing a number of stolen watches, two revolvers, a dirk, a bottle of chloroform, a bottle of strychnine and a bottle of arsenic. On his person he was carrying another revolver and another dirk. This time his family could not help him and George Abbot was sentenced to four years in the New Hampshire State Prison. His father Harris Abbot was so ashamed that he hanged himself in his barn.

When he left prison, Abbot expressed a desire to go straight, but he soon took up where he left off, with a new gang of thieves, burglarizing homes in the Connecticut River Valley and hiding the swag in a cave. His cave was discovered and after a gunfight in which Abbott reportedly received at least twenty gunshot wounds he was arrested and sentenced to fifteen years in Windsor Prison.

Abbott was a model prisoner but he had no intention of serving his full term. Over the course of seven years he accumulated pieces of string and cord and sections of iron pipe which he managed to fashion into a crude rope ladder. On September 30, 1887 Abbott used the ladder to make his escape.

Then Abbott drifted through the south, working as a ranch hand in Texas, an oysterman in Baltimore, an engineer in Savannah, and a riveter in Edgemoor, Delaware. He changed his name to Frank Almy, the name by which he would be known for the rest of his life.

In July 1890 Abbott/Almy drifted back to New England and got a job at the farm of Andrew H. Warden in Hanover, New Hampshire. After a week’s trial, Warden hired him through the following March. Andrew and Louisa had two sons and five daughters—the two oldest daughters had already left home. 15-year-old Fanny Warden took an instant dislike to the new farm hand, but Frank Almy did much better with 28-year-old Christie.

Christie Warden was attractive, intelligent and vivacious, described as a “medium-blonde type” with a “fine rounded form and discrete manners.” She was secretary of the Grafton Star Grange and worked part time as a secretary for Professor Charles H. Pettee of the State Agricultural College in Hanover. Christie and Frank Almy began a courtship of sorts; they went on sleigh rides, attended church together, and exchanged Christmas presents. They had sessions of reading aloud to each other from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii.

But Christie was bothered by Almy’s refusal to talk about his past. That, together with his violent temper and other habits and actions made her view him as someone in need of reform—a task which she did not wish to undertake. Frank Almy had become infatuated with Christie but she did not return his affections. In early 1891, when she was away in Manchester at a shorthand class Christie wrote him of her feelings:
“…but to be honest with you and true to myself, I think you should know how I feel toward you. You already know, for I have told you, the sort of man I wish to love…You have set yourself in defiance to God and man. I believe you have suffered the misery that must follow. You surely would not wish me, who you love, to share that misery…I would never think of marrying a man to reform him. The reformation must come first.”
But she left the door open just wide enough to give him hope:
“Frank, I shall test the strength of your love. Can you open your heart to all good influences, practice rigid self-control and wait patiently? If it ever so, I believe you must win in the end, for you have many fine qualities that I admire, and I cannot help liking you for all your faults.”
His hopes were dashed, however in March 1891 when Andrew Warden did not renew Frank Almy’s contract. Christie’s brother Johnny reported that Almy wept when he said goodbye to the family.

Almy went back to Massachusetts for two months. While there he showed his landlady a photograph of the girl he loved, Christie Warden, saying:
“If I don’t have her, then no other fellow will either.”
In June 1891Frank Almy took a train back to New Hampshire and late one night he went to the Warden farm. Behind the house they had three interconnected barns filled from wall to wall with hay. He went inside one and dug out a space to sleep, next to a wall with knothole through which he could see the yard. He had brought with him some presents for Christie, a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Light that Failed, and two revolvers.

He waited there for an opportunity to talk with Christie alone, but that opportunity never came. At night he would go out and steal eggs, milk, fruit and canned goods from neighboring farms. One night he broke into the Warden’s house trying to find Christie but she was not there. After learning that she was staying at Professor Pettee’s house he broke in there but found, instead, another house guest, Miss Amelia Thompson. He grabbed her by the throat and threatened to kill her if she told of his visit.

On July 17 Almy learned that Christie would be going to a grange meeting so he went out to meet her coming home. Around 9:15 that evening Almy saw Christie, Fannie, and Louisa Warden with their friend Louisa Goodell walking down Lyme Road near a spot known locally as the Vale of Tempe. Almy jumped into the road brandishing a .44 caliber revolver. He was now wearing a full beard and was not instantly recognized by the women. He said:
“You know me Mrs. Warden. I am Frank Almy. I only want to talk to Christie. The rest of you run along. You go and I won’t hurt you. If you interfere with me I will shoot you like dogs.”
 Then he grabbed Christie by the arm and said:
“Christie, I have come a thousand miles to see you.”
Fannie grabbed Christie’s other arm and tried to pull her back. Almy dragged both of them toward the fence by the road until Fannie stumbled and had to let go. He dragged Christie through the fence to a meadow near a brook. Fannie picked herself up and followed after. She heard her sister shout:
“Oh Fannie, come and help me. He is tearing my clothes all off!”
As Fannie approached Almy fired three shots at her but all missed. Fannie ran back to get help. She returned with Emmitt Marshal a local farmer, arriving in time to hear two more gunshots then see Almy dart in to the brush. They found Christie lying dead, shot pointblank in the head. It would be impossible to tell whether he raped her because the second shot went through her vagina.

A large scale manhunt was undertaken to find Almy and a $5000 reward was offered for his capture. Almy was spotted in locations throughout New England. However, he had not fled the scene, Almy want back to his hole in the hay in Warden’s barn. He lived there for more than a month until one day Louisa Warden found a hole in the barn concealed by a piece of wood. Inside were a jelly jar, empty beer bottles and empty tin cans. She told the sheriff what she has found then on August 19 he and another man staked out the barn. Around 2 AM they saw a barefoot man in tattered clothing enter the barn.

Frank Almy's Capture
The following day, hundreds of Hanover residents flocked to the Warden farm to help with the capture. The Lebanon Free Press described them as the “curious, the do-nothings, and the fault finders.” They attacked the hay with pitchforks trying to find Almy and eventually they succeeded. Almy started shooting at them. Everyone backed off and for two hours negotiated with Almy trying to get him to surrender. Finally a group of men rushed the barn and captured him dragging him to a waiting wagon. There were calls to lynch Almy, but cooler heads prevailed. Since Hanover lacked a secure jail he was taken to the Wheelock House Hotel.

Almy in the Wheelock House Hotel
Over a thousand angry people gathered around the hotel and there were fears that a lynching would occur after all. But the crowd was placated when they were given the opportunity to view the prisoner. That day 1,500 people filed past the room where Almy was being held just to get a glimpse of him.

Trial: November 16, 1891

Almy pleaded guilty and opted to take his case to a panel of two judges who would determine whether the charge would be first degree murder or second degree murder—whether or not it was a hanging offense. Since his capture, Almy had been identified by a number of people, including the warden of Windsor Prison as George Abbott. Almy vigorously denied this. Not wanting to muddy the waters, the judges refused to allow any testimony relating to George Abbott and tried the prisoner as Frank Almy.

The most powerful testimony came from Louisa and Fannie Warden describing what happened at the Vale of Tempe that night. The two doctors who had performed the post mortem examination concurred that there was no way the shot to the head had been accidental—as Almy now claimed—and the second shot had been fired after he knew Christie was dead.

Frank Almy spoke for several hours in his own defense. He spoke of his undying love for Christie and claimed that she had agreed to marry him. Unfair treatment of him by the Warden family had been the cause of the trouble. He said:
“…had Mrs. Warden only spoken one pleasant word to me I should not be here today.”
The judges ruled the charge was first degree murder and Almy was sentenced to hang on December 1892. Due to some technical problems with the trial, such as the fact that Almy was not present for the sentencing, the case had to be retried. The outcome was the same in the second trial in April 1892 and the verdict was upheld by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in July 1892.

Verdict: Guilty of first degree murder.

On May 16 1893, Frank Almy was hanged in front of an invitation-only crowd of 150 people. He is buried in the prison’s potter’s field in Blossom Hill Cemetery.

Christie Warden is buried in Dartmouth Cemetery.

Several months after the murder a reporter visited the Vale of Tempe and found that every leaf and twig within reach had been taken by souvenir hunters. Today the murder site is part of a golf course.

This is one of 50 stories featured in the new book
The Bloody Century
Bellamy, John Stark. Vintage Vermont Villainies: True Tales of Murder & Mystery from the 19th and 20th Centuries. Woodstock, Vt.: Countryman Press, 2007. 
Holbrook, Stewart Hall. Murder Out Yonder: An Informal Study of Certain Classic Crimes in Back-Country America. New York: Macmillan Co., 1941.
Life, Trial, and Confession of Frank C. Almy. Laconia, N.H.: J.J. Lane, 1891. 


Anonymous says:
April 20, 2011 at 3:19 PM

Very interesting. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous says:
June 13, 2011 at 2:34 PM

Christie was my grandfathers sister. Thank you so much for connecting all the dots for me. I was only been able to come up with bits and pieces. Thank you for posting the information. Bob Warden

Robert Wilhelm says:
June 15, 2011 at 12:08 PM

Bob, Glad I could help, and thanks for letting me know. It is a fascinating case.

Unknown says:
December 18, 2015 at 10:35 PM

I used to live in the farmhouse in Ely Vermont where he boarded for a while.There is a hole in the wall where he would spy on two schoolteachers that stayed in the next room.

King of Rochester says:
September 12, 2020 at 5:24 PM

After the murder, Almy hid in the Salem MA boarding house of my great great grandmother Julia Labelle Allard, and she was questioned by police as well as my great grandmother Mary Ida Allard. The Boston Herald reported on her unfortunate encounter with the murderer in 1891

Post a Comment