Saturday, September 2, 2023

The Groton Tragedy.

Joseph Crue returned from work to his farm in Groton, near Ayer, Massachusetts, about 8:00 on the evening ofvening of January 18, 1880. He was surprised to find all the doors locked and curtains closed. His wife, Maria, should have been inside, but there was no response when he knocked on the door. He found the hatchway to the cellar partly opened, so he entered that way. He lit a lamp in the kitchen and searched the dark house for his wife. He found her lying dead in the bedroom, shot three times in the face and once in the chest.

He ran to his neighbor, who notified the police. The Deputy-Sheriff arrived with officers who attempted to trace the murderer. A tramp in the vicinity that afternoon stopped at the house of the Crues’ neighbors, the Bradleys,  and at several other places asking for water. Under the pretense of buying a farm, he inquired about the Crue place. A young man named Henry Hewin called at Crues’ at about 2:15 on an errand, and Mrs. Crue told him she had a caller who wanted to buy their farm. Around 3:00, Miss Jennie Carr called and found the door locked and the curtains closed. A strange man came to the door, and when she inquired about Mrs. Crue, he told her she had gone to town. 

The Medical Examiner performed an autopsy and found that the pistol shots to her face had been fired so close as to burn her eyebrows and skin. His examination determined that Maria Crue had been raped. She was still wearing a thimble on her finger, so she must have been sewing when attacked. The Examiner would later conclude that she was shot first, then her body dragged to the bedroom where she was raped after death.

Suspicion fell on Stearns Kentall Abbott, who had been applying for a job at a nearby woodworking shop. The previous November, Abbott was released from New Hampshire State Prison, where he had been serving time for larceny. He had also served time for robbery and forgery in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Abbott had been boarding in Cambridge and hastily departed, leaving behind a hat and a pair of shoes. Detective Jones of Cambridge and Inspector Richardson of Boston arrived in Ayer with photographs of six or seven “noted rogues,” including Stearns Abbott. The Bradleys both identified Abbott as the man they had seen that afternoon, and Mrs. Bradley recognized the Abbott’s hat. Jennie Carr and Henry Hewin also picked out Abbott from the photographs.

The community was understandably outraged by the murder, and the Ayer Police commenced a manhunt for Stearns Abbott. The Selectmen of Ayer offered a reward of $300 for the arrest and conviction of the guilty party and put Detective Hill of the Salem Police in charge of the case. They sent Abbott’s photograph to police departments throughout New England. Ayer Chief of Police, Samuel Reed, commenced his own investigation, though the town had not given him any authority in the case. 

On January 28, a man named Charles Ford Chamberlin stopped at the farm of B. F. Cilley of East Weare, New Hampshire, looking for work. Cilley told him he could stay the night, but he was suspicious of the stranger. Abbott’s photograph was posted at the depot, and viewing it convinced Cilley that the man who came to his house was the fugitive. He telegraphed Ayer, and Chief Reed, accompanied by officers from Manchester, New Hampshire, arrived in East Weare the following day. A large crowd was waiting at the station in Ayer when Reed returned with his prisoner on January 30. At the preliminary proceedings in Ayer, Abbott pled not guilty; afterward, the authorities took him to jail in Lowell. 

The fact that Reed was not officially acting for Groton or Ayer, raised the question of who will pay his expenses and who will be liable for the $300 reward that the East Weare farmer expected. Not everyone was happy with Reed’s methods, and some were suspicious of his motives. There were bad feelings toward him extending back to his tenure as deputy under the former High Sheriff when Reed was an unpopular and inefficient officer. Adverse opinions of Chief Reed were said to drive a growing sympathy for Stearns Abbott. A newspaper editor and a prominent minister set up a subscription fund to hire ex-District Attorney George Stevens for Abbott’s defense.

The courtroom was “packed to suffocation” when Abbott’s trial began in Cambridge in December 1880. The defense offered evidence of another man at the Crue residence that day. They also tried to introduce testimony that Mrs. Crue’s reputation had been bad when she lived in Lexington and that she and her husband had been fighting prior to the murder. The judge disallowed it. Many considered the evidence against Abbott to be thin and circumstantial, but despite able representation by Attorney Stevens, the jury found Abbott guilty of first-degree murder after deliberating less than two hours.

Stearns Abbott was sentenced to hang on April 22. His attorney filed an exception on the gounds of the excluded testimony but Abbott was not granted a new trial. By that time, public opinion was strong against the verdict.  A great body of pettioners, headed by abolitionist and civil rights activist, Wendell Phillips, called for a commutation of the sentence. The Governor granted Abbott a respite until June 3, 1881 for further study of the case. Before signing the death warrant, Governor Long sat with Abbott in his cell for three hours, trying to reach the truth of the crime. Then, three days before the scheduled hanging, he commuted Abbott’s sentence to life in prison.

In 1895, after serving fourteen years of his sentence, Abbott petitioned the Governor for a pardon. His request was denied. Finally, in 1911, after thirty years in prison, the Governor pardoned Stearns Abbott, and on April 27, Abbot left Charlestown State Prison a free man. He never wavered in his assertion of innocence.

“Abbott Arrested,” Boston Post, January 31, 1880.
“Abbott Convicted,” The Boston Globe, December 19, 1880.
“Arrested,” Fall River Daily Evening News, January 30, 1880.
“The Ayer Murder,” The Boston Globe, December 18, 1880.
“Commuted,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 1881.
“Criminal,” Boston Post, December 20, 1880.
“For his Life,” The Boston Globe, December 12, 1880.
“The Groton Murder,” Boston Evening Transcript, January 22, 1880.
“The Groton Murder,” The Boston Globe, February 6, 1880.
“The Groton Tragedy,” Boston Post, January 23, 1880.
“Is He Innocent?,” Illustrated Police News, July 6, 1895.
“The Murder at Groton,” The Boston Globe, January 23, 1880.
“New England News,” Boston Evening Transcirpt, February 5, 1880.
“News Article,” Daily Kennebec journal. [microfilm reel], April 19, 1881.
“No Pardons Today,” The Boston Globe, November 28, 1895.
“On Trial for Murder,” Weekly Easteen Argus, December 16, 1880.
“Ravished and Murdered,” Chicago daily tribune., January 19, 1880.
“S. K. Abbott,” The Boston Globe, January 31, 1880.
“Saved From the Gallows By Prayer,” Boston Morning Journal, April 28, 1911.
“Stearns K. Abbott,” The Fall River Daily Herald, January 23, 1880.
“Telegraph Brevities,” The Evansville Journal, January 31, 1880.


LCS says:
September 4, 2023 at 11:23 AM

Very interesting case. I wonder who really killed her. Usually shots at close range in the face signify a crime of passion. My bet is the husband.

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