A Chronicle of Massachusetts' Most Infamous Murder Cases
This one hour lecture is an entertaining and fascinating look at some of Massachusetts' most infamous murder cases, both solved and unsolved. Audiences that like mystery, suspense and a little blood and gore will love this lecture. It is fully illustrated with photographs and artwork culled from archival, microfilm and literary sources. Many of the murder sites and historical locations have been photographed by the lecturer in order to give the audience a sense of the modern day context of the crimes.
The following are the cases examined in "Mass Murder":
Jesse Pomeroy "Boy Fiend": is the story of the famous boy torturer turned murderer. In 1871 & 1872 boys in Chelsea and then South Boston began to be found bound and beaten. The culprit was soon found to be 12 year old Jesse Pomeroy. He was sentenced to the boys reformatory in Westborough for his minority but was released two years later. When the horribly mutilated body of young Horace Millen was found on Savin Hill Beach in Dorchester it didn't take long for the police to figure who the murderer was. Once Jesse was in custody he also confessed to the murder of young Katie Curran when her body was found in the basement of his mother's seamstress shop in South Boston. Jesse would become the youngest person in the Commonwealth to be convicted for murder and also the longest "lifer" in the state's history. He would serve 43 years in solitary confinement and another 15 years in the general population until his death in 1932 for a total of 58 years in the depths of the Massachusetts prison system.
"Jane Toppan "The Angel of Death": After four members of the Davis family of Cataumet died in succession in the summer of 1901 suspicion fell upon the nurse who had been treating them, Jane Toppan. After the bodies were exhumed it was found that they had all been poisoned with a lethal combination of Morphine and Atrophine. Just as she was to be brought to trial she pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the hope that she would be committed to a mental institution. The jury found her so and committed her to "The Taunton Lunatic Asylum." There she spent the rest of her life and devolved in to a raving maniac by the time of her death in 1938. She would later admit to killing as many as 31 people before the Davis family in the various hospitals and private nursing positions she worked in.
The Boston Strangler: The world famous serial murder case in which several women in the Boston area were strangled to death in the early 1960s. Though the crimes were attributed to Albert DeSalvo, recently investigators of the case have since suggested the murders (sometimes known as the silk stocking murders) were not committed by one person.
"The Case of the Merry Widow" - The Grayce Asquith Case: When a leg wrapped in a burlap bag was found in Boston Harbor in October 1936 the search was on. The press said leg belonged to a woman who was small in stature, possibly in her 30's and a brunette. Before long a woman came to police telling them that her friend Grayce Asquith, a widow was missing. Police knew of Mrs. Asquith she was well known as the "Merry Widow" because of the constant parties that took place at her bungalow. When the police went to her bungalow on Whitman Pond in Weymouth they found a bloody mess. Upon further investigation it was found that a body had been dismembered and bits of flesh had been washed down the bathtub pipes clogging them. It was also found that Mrs. Asquith's fiance John Lyons was missing as well. Other body parts and later her head were found in Boston Harbor with no evidence of Lyons. By the end of October police arrested Italian immigrant Oscar Bartolini, Asquith's handyman. A bloody footprint at the house on the bathroom floor matched his foot and materials used to wrap the body parts were found at his apartment in Quincy. He was summarily convicted and sentenced to death, later commuted to life in 1939. Bartolini was released in 1961 and quickly deported to Italy. His defenders, of which there were some on the Governors Council, believed it was the fiance, Lyons who had committed the murder and Bartolini had only discovered the body and disposed of it for fear of being accused. Lyons nor any his remains were ever found.
"Down the Well" - The Bathsheba Spooner Case: In March 1778, Joshua Spooner, a wealthy gentleman farmer in Brookfield, was beaten to death and his body stuffed down a well. Four people were hanged for the crime: two British soldiers, a young Continental soldier, and Spooner's wife, Bathsheba, who was charged with instigating the murder. She was thirty-two years old and five months pregnant when executed. Newspapers described the case as "the most extraordinary crime ever perpetrated in New England."
Phillis and Mark: A Case of Petit Treason: When Paul Revere wrote in his account of his midnight ride, “After I had passed Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains,” he was referring to a well-known local landmark along his route through Charlestown (present-day Somerville). On this site twenty years earlier a slave named Mark Codman had been hanged and his body gibbeted (suspended in chains) for murder and petit treason for killing his master, John Codman. A former ship’s captain, John Codman was a wealthy fifty-eight year old slave master and landowner in Charlestown when he was murdered by his three slaves, Phillis, Phoebe, and Mark Codman in 1755. Only Mark and Phillis were convicted. Mark was sentenced to be hanged and Phillis to be burned at the stake. This celebrated case has become well-known as one of the few times in American history when a woman was sentenced to be burned to death.
The Lizzie Borden Case: Lizzie Borden was a New England spinster who was the central figure in the hatchet murders of her father and stepmother on August 4, 1892, in Fall River. The murders, subsequent trial, and ensuing trial became a cause célèbre. The fame of the incident has endured in American pop culture and criminology. Although Lizzie Borden was acquitted, no one else was ever arrested or tried, and she has remained a notorious figure in American folklore. Dispute over the identity of the killer or killers continues to this day.