A little after 1:00 pm on Tuesday, September 3, 1878, Charles Stannard saw his twenty-two-year-old daughter, Mary, leave their home in the Rockland, Connecticut carrying a tin pail; she was off to pick berries, just a few hundred yards away. Mary never reached her destination. At 6:00 that evening, Mary’s father found her lifeless body lying in the path leading from the house. She had been stabbed in the throat, and left lying on her back with her hands folded across her stomach. As the news spread through Madison, so did rumors and speculations as to her killer. By Thursday all speculation pointed to one man: Mary’s Methodist pastor and onetime employer, the Reverend Herbert H. Hayden.
Date: September 3, 1878
Location: Rockland, Connecticut
Victim: Mary E. Stannard
Cause of Death: Stabbing, Poisoning
Accused: Rev. Herbert H. Hayden
Mary E. Stannard was described as “a very simple, easy-minded girl.” She was known to be honest, but easily influenced and manipulated by others. Around two years before her death, Mary gave birth to a son out of wedlock. The father was a married man living in another town. In the 1870s most women in this situation would be treated as outcasts, but Mary was more an object of pity than blame. Mary’s friends and neighbors made it clear that they saw her not as a sinner, but one who had been sinned against, and did what they could to help her.
Neighbors began to suspect that Reverend Hayden’s relationship with Mary went beyond that of employer and employee. They had been seen together “in lots, and other unfrequented places, evenings.” One instance that many remembered was an oyster supper to benefit the Rockland church in March 1878. The Haydens had left their three children in Mary Stannard’s care as they attended the supper. The site of the supper was not far from the Hayden’s home, and at one point in the evening, Reverend Hayden excused himself and went home to check on the children. It was alleged that during his absence he was engaging in improper intimacy with Mary Stannard.
In August 1878 Mary, in a despondent state, went to live with her friend, Mrs. Jane Studley, in Guilford, Connecticut. When Mrs. Studley questioned Mary as to the cause of her sadness, Mary admitted that, beginning one night in March 1878, she had been “criminally intimate” with Reverend Hayden, and believed herself to be five months pregnant. Mrs. Studley told Mary she should confront Hayden and ask for assistance. Mary took her advice and wrote a letter to her half-sister, Susan Hawley, explaining her situation and included a letter to be delivered to Reverend Hayden. She told Mrs. Studley that she had requested Hayden to pick her up and take her to New Haven for an abortion, then leave her at the Studley’s to recover. When Mr. Studley heard of this plan, he wanted no part of it. He sent Mary packing.
Mary went to Susan Hawley’s house where she intercepted and destroyed the letter to Hayden; she had decided to see him in person. The result of this meeting, according to Susan Hawley, was that Hayden had told Mary that he had seen a doctor in Middleton and gotten some “quick medicine” to end the pregnancy. The afternoon of Tuesday, September 3, Mary had been on her way to an appointment with Hayden.
On September 9, a hearing began to determine whether there was enough evidence to try Reverend Herbert Hayden for the murder of Mary Stannard. The hearing, which lasted seventeen days, was extremely contentious. The prosecution asked for more time to continue their investigations but the defense wanted to push ahead, with no break in the proceedings. The defense moved to have the testimony of Jane Studley and Susan Hawley disallowed as hearsay. In both instances, the judge ruled for the defense. The prosecution had a knife belonging to Reverend Hayden which, according to their expert witness, had traces of human blood. They wanted to admit it as evidence, but only if it was kept out of the hands of the defense attorney. When the judge said all should have access to the knife, the prosecution decided not to enter it, and all but directly accused the defense of wanting to tamper with evidence, resulting in a prolonged and bitter argument between opposing counsels. In the end the prosecution realized that they did not have the evidence necessary to indict Reverend Hayden for murder, and public sentiment briefly turned in the Reverend’s favor.
A postmortem examination had been performed on Mary Stannard’s body at 3:00 am, on September 4, where it was determined that a blow to the head, leaving a star-shaped wound, was inflicted before her throat was stabbed. It would be the first of at least four postmortems before and after the hearing, and by the end, all of Mary Stannard’s vital organs were preserved in glass jars. Two significant pieces of information had been revealed after the first hearing: Mary Stannard was not pregnant at the time of her death, and her stomach had contained enough arsenic to kill twenty people.
It was known that on September 3, the very day of the murder, Reverend Hayden had purchased an ounce of arsenic in Middleton. The case was retried, including the new information, in front of a grand jury who indicted the Reverend Herbert Hayden for the murder of Mary E. Stannard.
The trial of Rev. Hayden, commencing more than a year after the murder, was just as contentions as the first hearing. All of the witnesses called in the hearing were called again in the trial and subjected to intense questioning. This time the prosecution’s case was dominated by medical and scientific experts. More than a hundred witnesses were called to testify, including fifteen doctors and at least four Methodist clergymen.
The defense floated a number of alternative suspects, including Mary’s father Charles, sixty-year-old Ben Stevens who had been staying at the Stannard house, and various local indigents. All had sufficient alibis and insufficient motive. At one point the judge subpoenaed every male citizen of Rockland to testify to his whereabouts on September 3, hoping to determine who could have killed Mary. It brought him no closer to the truth.
Twelve distinguished professors from Yale University—and three more from the University of Pennsylvania— were called by the prosecution to testify on the chemical and medical properties of arsenic. In the eyes of the press and public, their academic expertise was overshadowed by the arrogance and erudition of their testimony, which ran the gamut from superhuman intellectual certainty to reluctance to admit the certainty of anything. Professor Edward S. Dana (who “never used a word of one syllable when one of five would answer the purpose.”) during a question concerning the microscopic measurement of arsenical octahedrons stated that it was something that “no ordinary mortal could understand.” At the other extreme was Prof. Moses C. White who refused to be pinned down on anything. When asked if he had seen a certain object he replied, “my eyes saw it,” but would not state with certainty the he, himself had seen it.
Hayden had admitted to buying an ounce of arsenic for killing rats, and told investigators they could find it in his barn. Sure enough, they had found an ounce of arsenic, in an unlabeled tin, in Hayden’s barn. What the experts proved, through microscopic analysis of the arsenic crystals, is that the arsenic in the barn was not from the same batch as the arsenic Hayden had bought in Middleton on the day of the murder.
But it was the testimony of Reverend Hayden and his wife that had the greatest impact on the jury. They were relaxed, reasonable and poised, in a way that their accusers were not.
The trial went on longer than three months and cost the town more than $30,000. The case was given to the jury on January 16, 1880 and they deliberated for eighty-two hours before telling the judge they could not reach a unanimous verdict—they were a hung jury. It was later revealed that one juror was not swayed by the testimony of Hayden and his wife; he believed that they were lying and could not be convinced to change that belief.
Verdict: Hung jury
The State Attorney agreed to release Reverend Hayden upon payment of a nominal bond. Hayden was welcomed back the Methodist ministry, where he remained briefly before returning to his original occupation of carpentry. Hayden was never retried for the crime, and no one was ever convicted of murdering poor Mary Stannard.