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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Massachusetts Butchery.

Two young boys walking down a road in Lexington, Massachusetts, on January 4, 1887, found a bloody shirt atop a stone wall by the side of the road. They stopped to look around and saw a bundle of clothes lying on the crust of snow on the other side of the wall. The bundle consisted of an entire suit of men’s clothing, from undergarments to overcoat, all saturated with blood. The boys gathered the clothes and hurried back to town. The Lexington Police examined the clothing and believed that it was evidence that a murder had been committed within the previous 48 hours.

Their speculation was confirmed the following morning when L. I. Brooks, a farmer from Lincoln, Massachusetts saw what he thought was a large snowball in a patch of bloody snow. Looking closer he saw that it was a severed human head with two or three deep gashes in the left side. About four feet to the right of the head he found a severed arm. He left the body parts where he found them then drove his sleigh as fast as possible into Lexington to inform the Selectmen. A search party was sent out at once and by the end of the day, they had found the naked body of a man, half hidden by bushes in a gully about a mile from where the head was found. The head, left arm, and right leg of the body were missing. The search continued, but the missing leg was not found that day.



As the police began making inquiries about missing persons in neighboring towns, Mr. L. B. Pillsbury, a news dealer who ran a boardinghouse in Somerville, reported that the victim was probably one of his boarders. Several residents of the house believed that the deceased man was George A. Codman, based on the detailed description of the clothing in the previous day’s newspaper. In particular, a pair of work gloves that had been patched with bed ticking were almost certainly Codman’s gloves which had been mended by his girlfriend, Jennie Fisher. The identification was confirmed by Codman’s brother who viewed the remains.

22-year-old George Codman had been a milkman who made regular deliveries in Boston and Cambridge. As a rule, he would leave the house around 2:00 a.m., make his rounds and return for lunch at around 1:00 in the afternoon. Codman had not been seen since 2:00 Tuesday morning.

Mrs. Osgood, who rented a stable to Codman described him as a hard-working, painstaking young man who always paid his bills on time and when he wasn’t out on his route he was in the stable cleaning up. In November, Codman told Mrs. Osgood that he was working too hard. He wanted to go back to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving to visit his father and grandmother but did not have the time. She suggested that he hire a boy to take care of the stables. Soon after this, Codman hired 17-year-old James E. Nowlin.

Around 2:00, on the afternoon that Codman failed to show up for lunch, Nowlin went to the boarding house and told Mrs. Pillsbury, “Codman will not be home to dinner. He is going away and sent me to get his coat and box of change.” She recognized Nowlin as Codman’s employee and let him into Codman’s room. He left with the coat and the box. After he had gone, Mrs. Pillsbury found that he had also emptied Codman’s wallet and cast it aside.

When James Nowlin was questioned, he told police that he had seen Codman at 11:00 on Tuesday morning, sitting in his own sleigh with a stranger. He told Nowlin he was going away for an indefinite period of time and left Nowlin in charge of the business.

They questioned Nowlin again after they learned that he had gone to the boarding house and left with at least $295. They had also searched the stable and found poorly cleaned blood stains on the floor as well as an axe and a butcher knife both stained with blood. Now Nowlin said he had witnessed the murder but it had been committed by two others, Tom Nevins and Mike Sweeny. Sweeny had been in the house of correction that day; Nevins also had an airtight alibi. When the police confronted Nowlin again he confessed:
Well, I might as well die for it. I did it alone. Codman came in and stood with his back toward me. I reached for the knife, then cut his throat. Codman cried 'Don't' and followed me to the ice chest, where he fell dead.


Nowlin cut the body up so it would fit in the sleigh then dropped the clothes and body parts along the road, fifteen miles from his home. He told the police where they could find the missing leg.

Theft was the motive given for the murder. Nowlin knew that Codman was expecting a large payment from one of his customers and expected to steal at least $600 from him. But there was reason to believe that the motive ran deeper than that. After killing Codman, Nowlin mutilated his face, presumably to make him harder to identify. He did the same to Codman’s genitals; there was no reason for this if theft was the motive.

It was reported that when Nowlin was first hired, Codman had him driving the milk route but found that he was taking too long. It turned out that the milk cart was seen for hours at a time, parked outside the house of “a dashing young widow” who lived on Shawmut Avenue. Codman took back the route and relegated Nowlin to the stable. It was said that Nowlin became angry when he saw that Codman had parked the cart in front of the same house.

When the case went to trial the following June, the prosecution stuck to theft as the motive. It was a simple, straightforward story, and Nowlin had already confessed. They also wanted to avoid any evidence that might show Nowlin to be mentally imbalanced since his defense was insanity.

Neither side mentioned the genital mutilation in court. The defense claimed that Nowlin had inherited insanity from both sides of his family. His father hanged himself in prison in Canada and several of his mother’s relatives were certifiably insane. James Nowlin’s immediate family believed he was insane. But the jury was not convinced; Nowlin was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang.

When James Nowlin faced the gallows at the East Cambridge Jail the following January, he was stoic and remorseful, saying:
“When a thing of this kind is done there is no undoing it. God knows in my heart and soul I am sorry. If I had known as much about the Bible then as I do now this thing never would have happened.”
At 9:23 on January 20, 1888, the trap was sprung and Nowlin’s death was nearly instantaneous.



Sources:
“A Butchery,” The National Police Gazette, January 22, 1887.
“The Codman Murder,” Boston Daily Advertiser, June 22, 1887.
“Crime Confessed ,” Boston Daily Advertiser, January 7, 1887.
“Executed,” Boston Journal, January 20, 1888.
“Indications of a Tragedy,” Boston Herald, January 5, 1887.
“Insanity the Defense.,” Boston Journal, June 22, 1887.
“Jealousy, Greed and Gore.,” New York Herald, January 8, 1887.
“The Lexington Mystery,” Boston Journal, January 5, 1887.
“Nowlin Guilty,” Boston Journal, June 24, 1887.
“Slain for $600,” Boston Herald, January 6, 1887.

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