|James E. Eldredge|
Date: May 30, 1857
Location: Louisville, New York
Victim: Sarah Jane Gould
Cause of Death: Poisoning
Accused: James E. Eldredge
He settled in the town of Louisville, New York, and under the name Edwin Aldrich, obtained a position as a teacher in a district school. During the winter, he met and began courting a young woman named Sarah Jane Gould. Born Sarah Jane Loughery, she was a 24-year-old widow who had married a man named Gould in 1850, who tragically died two years later. Since then Sarah Jane, along with her younger sister, Helen, had been living with the family of their uncle, Danforth Britton. The Brittons owned a store and tavern and took in boarders. At the end of the school year, Edwin Aldrich took a room there as well, to be close to Sarah Jane.
Though he had given his blessing, Danforth Britton was not as taken with Edwin Aldrich as his niece was. Aldrich was behind on his rent and had run up a large tab at the store and tavern. Britton did not believe his boarder’s tall tales of land and cash in Iowa. He was preparing to evict Aldrich if he did not pay up soon.
Toward the end of May, Sarah Jane developed a slight cough and began taking a patent medicine called Dr. Rogers’s Compound Syrup of Liverwort Tar and Canchalagua. On Tuesday, May 26, she complained that her medicine had made her sick; she began vomiting, and suffered from diarrhea. The vomiting continued all day and when she complained of excruciating pain, the family sent for a doctor who treated her for stomach irritation.
For the next four days, Aldrich stayed by Sarah Jane’s bedside as the pain and vomiting continued. Then on Saturday, she happily announced that the pain had subsided, and she thought she was cured. But it was an illusion, in fact, her body had stopped fighting. Later that day she became delirious; she died that afternoon.
Sarah Jane Gould was buried the following Monday, and no one grieved more intensely or more publicly than Edwin Aldrich. He took every opportunity to commiserate with Sarah Jane’s sister, Helen; they wept together and comforted each other.
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The coroner summoned a jury and ordered the body exhumed. An examination of the exhumed corpse could not immediately determine the cause of death, so they removed her stomach and other organs for further study. They were, however, able to determine that Sarah Jane was six to eight weeks pregnant at the time of her death.
As the investigation proceeded, Edwin Aldrich realized that he was suspected of murdering Sarah Jane. He then took arsenic himself, attempting to take his own life, but he took too much and vomited up the poison before it could do any damage. After he had recovered, Aldrich was arrested for murder.
Though not required to provide a motive, the prosecution asserted that Eldredge had seduced Sarah Jane into “an improper and illicit intercourse” and “being gratified and satiated passion being succeeded, as it naturally is, by coldness, indifference and disgust” he murdered her to remove an obstacle to his next conquest, her sister Helen.
The defense challenged the basic premise of the charge while admitting that Eldredge had arsenic and that he had tried to commit suicide with arsenic, they claimed that there was no proof that Sarah Jane Gould died of arsenic poisoning. The symptoms were not specific enough for the doctors to call the death poisoning and on first examination, the doctors examining the exhumed body could not determine the cause of death. The scientific examination of the organs was not conclusive enough for a court of law. The removed organs were put in a common slop pail, painted on the inside with white lead paint which often contains arsenic, and the cover was secured only by a common bow knot, and the pail left in a room accessible to anyone. The contents could have easily been tampered with before examination.
The jury retired to deliberate at half past noon; at 7:00 the returned to the courtroom with a verdict of guilty.
Verdict: Guilty of murder