Saturday, November 3, 2018

Where is Alice Sterling?

Mrs. Alice Sterling of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, traveled to Everett, Massachusetts the morning of Wednesday, April 10, 1895, leaving her daughter Alice in the charge of her husband George Sterling. Mr. Sterling took young Alice along to his barbershop and while he cut hair he could see her playing outside on the steps, but when it was time to go home, Alice was nowhere to be found.

8-year-old Alice Sterling—named after her mother and known as Mamie at home—was a popular and highly regarded child. She was described as “the pride of a household, the pet of a school, and the idol of her brothers and sisters and playmates." Her disappearance caused considerable excitement throughout the neighborhood. Alice was still missing at 5:00 when her mother returned, and her siblings were sent out to look for her. When they were unsuccessful, Mrs. Sterling stopped Officer Perkins as he walked his beat; he made some inequities but found no trace of Alice.

Alice was still missing the next morning and when Mrs. Sterling contacted the police again Officer Perkins began a more thorough investigation. He learned that Alice was seen that afternoon near the barbershop talking with an unidentified man wearing dark clothes. Later she was seen walking down Savin Hill Avenue with a man answering the same description and later near Savin Hill Beach with the same man. Satisfied that Alice had been kidnapped, Perkins relayed the information to his captain who told him to change into civilian clothes and continue the investigation until he could find something definite.

Further down Savin Hill Avenue, he found a woman who had seen a man she knew, Angus Gilbert, walking with a little girl. Later he found a woman who saw Gilbert walking with Alice; she knew them both and had stopped to shake their hands.. 

Angus Gilbert
Angus Gilbert, a 28-year-old immigrant from Nova Scotia, worked as a choreman on the Emmons Estate in Dorchester. He did light work such as chopping wood and carrying water in exchange for board and lodging. At night he worked as assistant station agent in a railroad depot. He lived in a room in the barn at the estate. The barn, all but abandoned, no longer housed animals and Gilbert slept in a room that had formerly been lodging for a hostler. When Officer Perkins learned where Gilbert lived he believed that Gilbert had taken Alice by a roundabout route to Emmons’s barn. 

On Saturday, Officer Perkins arrested Angus Gilbert on suspicion that he abducted Alice Sterling. With Gilbert in custody, the police began a thorough search of the barn. After two hours of unsuccessful searching, one of the officers struck something projecting from the dirt floor of the barn’s cellar. It was a child’s foot. 

The officers sent for the medical examiner. News of the discovery traveled fast in Dorchester and before the examiner arrived a curious crowd had formed at the barn. More officers were dispatched and they held the crowd back while in the cellar the medical examiner, a doctor and two reporters watched, by the light of a lantern, as four police officers dug out the body of Alice Sterling. She had been buried vertically, head first, in a small hole in the cellar floor. If the hole had been three inches deeper, they probably would not have found her.

A superficial examination of the body revealed that the left side of her head had been crushed, probably by a blow from an axe. On the forehead over the right eye was an ugly looking lump. The police found a bloody axe and a blood-stained piece of wood nearby. After a thorough post-mortem examination, the medical examiner confirmed everyone’s worst fear, Alice had been sexually assaulted before she was murdered. 

George Sterling was astonished —Angus Gilbert had been one his best friends for the last four or five years. Gilbert often came to visit the family and had been especially fond of Alice. He would take her on his knee and they would laugh and talk. He jokingly told her if she would hurry up and grow he would marry her. Mrs. Stirling swooned when she heard of Alice’s death. She had been suffering from nervous prostration since Alice’s disappearance and her physician did not believe she would survive.

In police custody, Angus Gilbert denied any knowledge of the murder, but he could not adequately account for his time. He vaguely remembered walking home on Wednesday but was sure that Alice was not walking with him. He had been drinking heavily and could not remember what happened that afternoon, but he knew he hadn’t murdered Alice. He was not capable of murder and even he had done it while drunk he would not have been able to forget. Under severe interrogation, Gilbert admitted that he did bury the body. He had stumbled on it in the cellar and when he saw who it was he was afraid that he would be blamed. But he steadfastly refused to say that he killed her.

Angus Gilbert was indicted for the murder of Alice Sterling. As a formality, to make sure all bases were covered he was charged with three counts—murder by smashing the left side of her head with an axe, by blows to the forehead with an unknown weapon, and by inflicting mortal wounds with a blunt instrument unknown. The court appointed Col. William W. Doherty, a former U.S. Marshal as his public defender.

At his trial in June, Gilbert pled not guilty and Doherty perused an insanity defense. Mrs. Sterling, who had recovered from her prostration but not her grief, provided some drama when she ended her direct testimony by exclaiming from the witness stand, “Only that man has killed my Mamie, my darling! He has murdered her, murdered her!” Then again after her redirect testimony, she shouted, “That is the murderer of my little Mamie; the murderer of her, the murderer!”  Col. Doherty moved for a mistrial after the outbursts, but the motion was denied.

The trial lasted four days and on June 28, the case was given to the jury. After deliberating for an hour and twenty-five minutes they found Angus Gilbert guilty of first-degree murder. The courtroom erupted in applause when the verdict was read. 

The case was appealed but the appeal failed. Gilbert was sentenced to hang on February 21, 1896. The sheriff erected the gallows in the Charles Street Jail; it was last used some twenty years previous to execute Thomas Piper for a similar crime. Though it was not a public hanging, 300 seats were set up on two sides of the gallows for invited witnesses including the family of the victim, members of the jury, lawmen, politicians and reporters. At 10:49 that morning Sheriff O’Brien sprung the trap and at 11:19 Angus Gilbert was pronounced dead.  Gilbert never confessed, asserting his innocence to the end.

“Angus Gilbert Hanged,” Boston Daily Advertiser, February 22, 1896.
“Angus Gilbert Talks,” Boston Herald, February 20, 1896.
“The Arrest of Gilbert,” Boston Herald, April 14, 1895.
“Buried Her in the Barn,” Boston Herald, April 15, 1895.
“Child is Missing,” Boston Journal, April 12, 1895.
“Confessed He Buried Her ,” New York Herald, April 15, 1895.
“Dead!,” Boston Journal, February 22, 1896.
“Gilbert Convicted,” Boston Post, June 29, 1895.
“Gilbert in Court,” Boston Journal, April 15, 1895.
“Gilbert's Trial,” Boston Journal, June 24, 1895.
“A Horrible Crime,” State, April 14, 1895.
“Indicted for Murder Alice Sterling,” Boston Daily Advertiser, April 19, 1895.
“Is He Insane?,” Boston Journal, June 25, 1895.
“Motion Denied,” Boston Daily Advertiser, June 28, 1895.
"Poor Little Alice,” Illustrated Police News, April 27, 1895.
“That Man Killed My Mamie,” Boston Herald, July 12, 1895.
“Where is Alice Sterling,” Boston Herald, April 12, 1895.


Unknown says:
November 9, 2018 at 5:55 PM

The article seems to provide ample evidence the fiend murdered her...God's eternal punishment will far out weigh the gallows if he did do it...

antoine says:
May 14, 2021 at 6:17 PM

Officer Perkins and those inequities must surely seemed a good initial suspect.

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