Saturday, November 12, 2011

Murder by Candlelight

Just three years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the first settlers put down roots in what would later become Essex County, Massachusetts. If the legends are true, that the Plymouth colonists lived in harmony with one another and at peace with the natives, the same cannot be said of Essex. From the earliest days, life in Essex County reads like an adventure book filled with Indian fighters, highwaymen, pirates and witches. My new book, Murder and Mayhem in Essex County, published by The History Press, tells the stories of these nefarious characters and relates the dark side of Massachusetts history, north of Boston.
Like Murder by Gaslight, Murder and Mayhem in Essex County abounds with murderous deeds and bad behavior, but the stories begin about 200 years earlier— murder by candlelight. The book covers the period between the first murder in the Puritan settlements of Essex County, and the first execution of an Essex murderer by electric chair; 1636 – 1900. While founded as a new world of Christian righteousness, and priding itself on civility and the rule of law, Essex County’s history is as bloody and barbaric as that of any part of America.
Here is just a sample of the stories in the book:

  • In 1637 William Schooler and John Williams were hanged together for Essex County crimes. Schooler raped and murdered a young woman and Williams broke jail and killed his cellmate.
  • In 1691, Elizabeth Emerson murdered her twin bastard infants; six years later her sister, Hannah Emerson Duston escaped Indian captivity by scalping ten of her captors.
  • Essex County had a long history of witchcraft that neither began nor ended in Salem.
  • The shores of Essex were plagued by piracy, including the terrorism of Rachel Wall, New England’s only female pirate.
  • In 1795, Pomp, an African slave, dispatched his cruel master with an axe blow to the head.
  • Highwayman Richard Crowninshield was hired to murder Captain Joseph White, by White’s two nephews, in 1830.
  • In 1885, a successful inventor shot his business partner in cold blood, then pled insanity.
  • An aspiring young singer was murdered by an obsessed ex-lover in 1894.
  • In 1900, a dismembered corpse was found, stuffed into three feed bags, floating in a pond.

Essex is one of the oldest counties in America. In the 277 years between the first settlement and the turn of the twentieth century, murder and mayhem were never far from the lives of its citizens. Establishing a new country in a harsh land sometimes calls for harsh measures, but we can take pride in the fact that, more often than not, justice prevailed.

For more information on Murder and Mayhem in Essex County, go to

Anyone interested in reviewing the book, please contact


Ranae says:
April 13, 2013 at 10:09 PM

I just want to say that I absolutely love this website. I came across it yesterday on a Google search and I can't stop reading these stories. Thank you for putting in what must be an amazing amount of time in doing this

Robert Wilhelm says:
April 14, 2013 at 9:41 AM

Thank you, Ranae!

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