Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Wilton Tragedy.

Moses Lovejoy was a respected, well-to-do farmer with a large spread in Wilton, New Hampshire. He had two lovely daughters, Ellen and Ida; both were intelligent and refined. Everything was rosy until 1868 when Moses hired Edwin Willis Major as a farmhand.

22-year-old Edwin Major came from Goffstown, New Hampshire; he was five foot ten, thickset and muscular with a heavy black mustache. When Lovejoy hired him, he already had a reputation as a bully, feared by people in town. Major was soon intimate with both of the Lovejoy girls; at the time, Ellen was 19, Ida was 13.

In July 1869, Ellen returned from picking blueberries, then suddenly collapsed and died. Her death could not be explained and was vaguely attributed to a spasm. Those who laid out her body for burial believed that she was pregnant when she died. The following November, Ida discovered that she was pregnant. Edwin Major was the father; he married Ida, and they lived together in her father’s house.

At first, it appeared that marriage would reform Major. He joined the Baptist Church in the Centre village and, for a time, was a zealous convert who became sexton of the church. But when money disappeared from the church’s charity fund, suspicion fell on Major, and he was expelled from the church. When relations became strained between Major and his father-in-law, he and Ida left the farmhouse and moved to French Village.

Major took a job at a furniture factory but was soon discharged for undisclosed reasons. A short time later, one of the workshops at the factory burned down. Suspicion rested on Major, but no movement was made toward his arrest. People lived in terror, fearing that if they brought charges against him, Major would retaliate and burn down their buildings.

In the five years since the wedding, Ida gave birth to four children, two of which had died suddenly, but no investigation was made. In 1874, Ida was pregnant again. Major started telling people that his wife was ill, suffering from spasms. He said that Ida was a “camphor subject,” meaning she habitually took camphor oil, a cough suppressant that could be addictive or even fatal when taken internally.

On Saturday, December 19, 1874, Major took a train to Nashua, New Hampshire, where he met with several physicians. He asked about procuring abortion, an illegal operation at the time; for his cousin, he said. When Major returned on Sunday, Ida appeared to be in good health. At 6:00, she prepared supper; at 7:00, she was dead. Ida had begun having spasms, and when neighbors were called to help, she was too sick to recognize them. They summoned a doctor, but she was dead before he arrived. This time the doctor was suspicious and sent for Coroner B.B. Whitmore. He did not arrive until after Ida’s funeral the following Tuesday.

Coroner Whitmore ordered Ida’s body disinterred and held Major in custody pending an inquest into her death. He sent Ida’s stomach to Boston for analysis by Dr. Edward S. Wood of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Wood analyzed the stomach contents using Drogendorff’s process, including three tests; 1. Taste, 2. Reaction with sulfuric acid and bichromate of potash, 3.the physiological test—the substance was fed to a frog. The frog died instantly, and Dr. Wood determined that Ida’s stomach contained strychnine. He presented his findings to the coroner’s jury, who concluded that Ida was poisoned by Edwin Major.

As Major awaited trial, Ellen Lovejoy’s body was exhumed. Though she had died five years earlier, her stomach was still intact; it was sent to Dr. Wood for analysis. He performed the same tests, this time administering the substance to a dog, producing death. Ellen had also been poisoned with strychnine. In addition, the exhumation proved conclusively that Ellen was pregnant at the time of her death. 

Edwin Major’s trial for murder began on September 13, 1875. Though public sentiment was strongly against Major, the evidence against him was circumstantial. The trial lasted about twelve days, and after deliberating for eighteen hours, the jury was hopelessly split and could not agree on a verdict. The second trial held the following December lasted four days, and after two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. He was sentenced to hang on January 5, 1877.

In the year between sentencing and Major’s scheduled execution, his supporters circulated a petition to commute his sentence to life in prison. Major was confident that he would not be executed and was devastated when the governor refused the petition.

Major was hanged in Concord, New Hampshire, on January 5, 1877. At the scaffold, he was pressed to make a confession, but he reiterated his innocence. Major appeared calm on the gallows, but before the trap was sprung, his nerve deserted him, and he fell upon his knees, utterly broken down. He died without a struggle. 

“Arrest for Wife Murder,” Sunday Times, December 27, 1874.
“Edwin Willis Major,” Illustrated Police News, January 13, 1877.
“The Gallows,” Chicago Daily News, January 5, 1877.
“Major Held for Trial,” Daily Patriot, January 11, 1875.
“The Major Poisoning Case,” Daily Patriot, September 14, 1875.
“The Major Poisoning Case,” New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, September 15, 1875.
“The Major Poisoning Case ,” Lake Village Times, September 11, 1875.
“Miscellaneous Items,” New England Farmer, December 9, 1876.
“New England Matters,” Boston Traveler, September 6, 1875.
“New Hampshire,” Lake Village Times, July 31, 1875.
“News Article,” Vermont farmer, September 24, 1875.
“Supposed Murder at Wilton,” Farmers' Cabinet., December 30, 1874.
“Twinkles,” Providence Morning Star, November 29, 1875.
“The Wilton Poisoning Case,” Boston Journal, September 18, 1875.
“The Wilton Tragedy,” Boston Traveler, January 3, 1876.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Life and Execution of John Hanlon.

John Hanlon, (alias Charles Harris, Charles Hanlon) was a barber in Philadelphia. On September 6, 1868 Hanlon disguised himself with false whiskers and dark clothing and approached 6-year-old Mary Mohrman who was playing next door to his shop. Her friends saw Mary accompany him into an alley; she was never again seen alive. 

A year later, after two more attempted assaults, Hanlon was captured and convicted of the rape and murder of Mary Hohrman.

Read the full story here: 

Little Mary Mohrman.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Murders in Church.

On April 13, 1895, the mutilated body of Minnie Williams (top portrait) was found in the library of Emanuel Baptist Church in San Francisco. While searching the church, the police found the body of Blanche Lamont, strangled, and posed naked in the church belfry.  Both women had been romantically involved with the Superintendent of Sunday School, Theo Durrant (bottom portrait) who was soon dubbed “The Demon of the Belfry.”

Read the full story here:

  Theo Durrant - The Demon of the Belfry.

Source: Illustrated Police News, May 4, 1895.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Murderous Maine.

 At first glance, the State of Maine seems an unlikely spot for a murder. With its primeval forests and rocky coastline, Maine is a nature lover’s dream. But conditions are harsh; the winters are long and cold, and in the nineteenth century, the isolation could be unbearable. Aa a result, Maine became the site of many brutal and mysterious murders. Here are just a few: 

The Hart-Meservey Murder.
The winter of 1877, Captain Luther Meservey of Tenant’s Harbor went to sea leaving his wife Sarah alone. When Sarah was found strangled in her own home, Nathan Hart, a neighbor of the Meservey’s was tried and convicted on evidence so circumstantial that many in town refused to accept the verdict.
The Smuttynose Murders.
With their men away fishing, The night of March 6, 1873, Maren Hontvet, Karen Christensen, and Anethe Christensen were prepared to be alone in their cold house, but nothing could have prepared them for the arrival, by rowboat, of a deranged axe murderer.
John True Gordon.
John True Gordon was convicted of the axe murder of his brother Almon, his brother’s wife Emma, and their infant daughter, Millie. He shared a gallows with Louis Wagner, convicted of the Smuttynose murders, in Maine's most gruesome execution.
The Bangor Mystery.
William B. Elliot, a constable and tax collector for the town of Glenburn, Maine was found on the road, brutally hacked to death. The identity of his killer remains a mystery.
The Kittery Crime.
On November 14, 1883, Thomas Barrows of Kittery, Maine, was found dead with six bullet wounds in his arms, legs, and head. His wife called it a suicide, but if so, why did he wound himself five times before firing the shot that killed him? And how had he shot himself six times with the five-barrel revolver found near the bed?
"Mary Bean" - The Factory Girl.
A body, identified as Mary Bean, a young factory girl who was treated for typhoid, was found floating in a culvert in the mill town of Saco, Maine, in April 1850. Her real name was not Mary Bean and her condition was not typhoid. When the truth was learned, the story of Mary Bean's death became a cautionary tale exhorting factory girls to guard their virtue.