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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Murder Most Vile (Part I)

LAST PUBLIC HANGING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: On May 6, 1868, Samuel Mills was hanged on a special gallows next to the jail in Haverhill Corner. Thousands gathered to see the execution. Mills can be seen in a white shroud at the upper center of the photograph. 

CHRISTIE WARDEN'S MURDERER: George Abbott aka Frank Almy was executed at the NH State Prison on May 16, 1892 for the murder of Hanover resident Christie Warden.  His execution brought to an end a long career of crime that impacted a number of the towns in the area.

CROWD SURROUNDS ALMY'S HIDEOUT:  To avoid capture for the murder of Christie Warden, Frank Almy did out in the Warden's barn.  On August 19, a crowd of local men surround the barn. With shouts of "lynch him," Almy was hauled away.

This is a chapter we would gladly omit, but we should not be deemed a faithful historian if we did not write it.”  William Little, The History of Warren, New Hampshire, 1870

This is how Little introduced his chapter “A Brief Account of Two Murders.” I have avoided this topic before, but tackle it now. As with Little, I give brief accounts of local murder cases from 1739 to 1925.

As there is more information than one column can accommodate, the topic will be presented in two or three parts. The first one will cover local first degree murder cases in which the perpetrator was found guilty and punished. The others will be published over the next couple of months and will cover other local cases. The information for both columns is taken from local histories, online sources and newspapers archives.

Death was a constant fear for early settlers of the Connecticut River Valley frontier, but a series of murders around 1779 shocked local inhabitants. At that time, Toomalek, step-son of the legendary local scout Indian Joe carried out several murders in Newbury and Haverhill.

 Toomalek causes his mother Molly and the whole native community along the Oxbow much trouble by his”lawless conduct and ferocious and revengeful disposition.” Rev. Grant Powers, in his description of the events, described Toomalek as being “truly fiendlike with a murderous disposition.”
Toomalek fell in love with a Lewa, native woman, but she rejected his advances were rejected, marrying instead Michael of the native community. In an attempt to shoot Michael, Toomalek missed and killed Lewa instead. A native council found him not guilty as the death was accidental. Subsequently, Toomalek confronted Michael and Michael was stabbed to death. The council called Toomalek’s actions self-defense.

Toomalek’s character proved true when he became involved in another affair leading to the death of Pial-Susup, , son of Capt. John Vincent, a leader of the local native community. This time, Toomalkee was found guilty and sentenced to being executed by Capt. John, in keeping with the tribal customs.
 Interestingly, Toomalek was allowed to be free on the assumption he would show up for his execution. It is said that he did showed up at the appointed time and “with a steady firm voice exclaimed ‘Now kill me! Kill me quick.”  Capt. John shot him through the head.  
The first person to be hanged at Haverhill was 21-year old Thomas Powers, an African-American.  He was executed for rape on July 28, 1796.  In a document entitled “Last Words and Dying Speech,” Powers explained that he was born in Connecticut and admitted that he had “from very early began the practice of villainy and debauchery.”

He came to Lebanon in 1793 and, on Dec 7, 1795, waylaid a young woman on horseback and raped her. Three days later, he was apprehended and imprisoned in Haverhill. Escaping on April 5, he stole a horse from Frye Bailey of Newbury. But unfamiliar with the territory he got lost. “Suspected on being a rogue,” he was again imprisoned, and again escaped. He found his way to Capt. John Mann’s in Orford where he hid before going to Lyme. There he stole a horse and rode to Hanover, where he was recaptured for the final time. 

He was tried for rape at Plymouth, found guilty and returned to Haverhill for public hanging. Noah Worchester, pastor from Thornton, preached the sermon. In his final message, Powers stated he had sold his body to doctors for $10. The two doctors took the body for dissection. One of them, a Dr. Lacy of Hopkington, NH, skinned the body and tanned the skin and had it made into a pair of boots.

The practice of public executions had been used in New Hampshire before. In Dec 1739, Sarah Simpson and Penelope Kenny were both publically executed in Portsmouth for the crime of “feloniously concealing the death of an infant bastard child.” At that time the Provincial law required the death penalty for murder, rape, homosexual acts, abortion, burglary, counterfeiting and treason.

 Eliphaz Dow of Hampton Falls, NH was found guilty for the Dec 1754 murder of Peter Clough. Clough’s death came during a fight resulting from a long-standing feud between the two men. Dow struck Clough with a hoe. Despite pleas of self-defense, he was found guilty and on May 8, 1755 he was executed in Portsmouth. He was the first man executed by New Hampshire.

 A similar fate befell Daniel Davis Farmer who was hanged in Amherst in 1822 for the murder of Ann Ayer of Goffstown. 

 Vermont also held public executions. In 1808, Cyrus Dean was executed in Burlington before a crowd of 10,000. He was a member of the crew of the Black Snake, a boat used to smuggle items from Canada via Lake Champlain. In Aug 1808, a confrontation between federal agents and the crew of the Black Snake caused the death of Lt. Daniel Farmington. Dean was tried and found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

A second execution and a nation-wide movement against the death penalty caused the Vermont legislature to debate such public spectacles. On Feb 8, 1839, Archibald Bates was executed for murder in Bennington. He had shot his sister-in-law. The jury handed down a verdict of guilty after 15 minutes of deliberation.

 Estimates of the crowd at the time ranged up to 25,000, but later revisions settled on about 10,000. One woman was said to have walked 40 miles so as not to miss the event. One observer wrote: “The conduct of the spectators was degrading to human nature.” After discussing such public spectacles, the Vermont Legislature pass a law that all future executions would be within the prison yard at Windsor.

 The county seat at Haverhill continued to host is share of public executions.
On the evening of Dec 17, 1805, Josiah Burnham killed Russell Freeman and Capt. Joseph Starkweather. The three men were incarcerated for debt in Haverhill. The deed was done with a double-edged knife that Burnham had concealed. 

In May 1806, in Haverhill, “Bloody” Burnham was convicted of murder on both counts and sentenced to be hanged on July 15. He was granted a stay of execution “so that he might have further time to prepare for death.” Because Haverhill was the county seat, the execution was held near Powderhouse Hill. On Aug 12, a crowd of 10,000, including people of all ages, gathered. A group of Bradford residents went to the top of Wright’s Mountain that day and through a telescope watch the hanging about 6 miles away.   
After a service that included prayer and an “execution sermon,” Burnham was given an opportunity to speak.  He confessed his crime and accepted his punishment.  

In 1848, Rev. Enos Dudley of Grafton, NH was accused of murdering his wife. He had taken her out for a sleigh ride and returned several hours later with her dead body. He said that the sleigh had overturned resulting in her death. However, when he built a homemade casket and organized a quick funeral, suspicions arose. When her body was exhumed it was found she had been strangled. Dudley was arrested.

In the subsequent trial, evidence seemed to indicate he had been involved in an “improper intimacy” with a young woman. In late 1848, Dudley was found guilty of murder. He was hanged at Haverhill on May 23, 1849. “He solemnly protested his innocence and met his sentence unmoved.”    

Samuel Mills, the Franconia murderer, was executed at Haverhill on May 6, 1868. The news of his crime and execution was carried in varying details from the local National Opinion to newspapers as far away as Iowa. 

In Dec 1866, Mills had killed 68-year old George Maxwell of Franconia in what was described as “a cruel massacre…a crime of a most brutal character.” Maxwell had been bludgeoned to death in his own home after giving Mills shelter. Mills then stole Maxwell’s horse and buggy and made his escape.  He eventually ended up in Montreal and beyond.  

Authorities hired Boston private detective Moses Sargent to follow Mills’ trail. On Jan 20, 1867, Sargent arrested Mills in Illinois and returned him to Boston. He was brought to Littleton and in early April 1867 was found guilty at Haverhill.  Before the appointed date he escaped from the local jail twice.

Reports of the crowd that gathered on the appointed day ranged from 3,000 to 5,000. Some came by special train. One reporter wrote: “Hundreds started at midnight and trudged into town to form a part of the novel and imposing throng.” A notable feature of the crowd was the number of women and children.

After the execution, “the multitudes departed with the gratifying satisfaction that the world is relieved of at least one of the most heartless wretches that ever disgraced it.” That common attitude toward public executions was not shared by the Boston Traveler. Their reporter wrote “Such an execution as this is a disgrace to the civilized state.”

 That view reflect continued criticism of these public events. Within a year of Mills’ death in Haverhill, the New Hampshire Legislature mandated that executions be carried out only within the prison walls in Concord. 

Probably the most notorious local murder of the 19th century took place in Hanover in 1891. The murderer was George Abbott, aka Frank Almy. The victim was Christie Warden. 

Abbott grew up in North Thetford, the grandson of Eliphalet Abbott of Fairlee. From his early years he displayed a tendency toward lawlessness. He was kicked out of the Thetford school for theft and left town. However, he returned to the area in the early 1870s and began a series of burglaries from Barnet, VT to Lyme NH. He broke into one Orford home twice.  In 1874 he was apprehended and spent four years in the NH State Prison. 

Upon release he came back to the area and by November he and his gang was again being sought by lawmen from Woodsville to Lyme. He was apprehended and sentenced to 15 years in Windsor State Prison. In 1887, he escaped and avoided capture by changing his name to Frank Almy.

In 1890 he began living with the farm family of Andrew Warden of Hanover. “Some sort of courtship” developed between Almy and daughter Christie Warden. Worried, Warden fired Almy.  Almy continued to hang around Hanover and on July 17 confronted Christie walking on the road with several others.

Almy dragged Christie away and shots were fired. When help arrived, Christie’s body was found. She had been shot in the head and once in the genitalia, destroying any possible evidence of rape.  Hundreds of armed men began searching for Almy and a $5,000 reward was posted.
Instead of running away, Almy hid in the Warden’s hay barn and for a month lived by stealing food.  His hideout was discovered and on Aug 19, a party of up to 1,000 men surrounded the barn. With cries of “lynch him” ringing out, Almy was hauled away. 

Local newspaper coverage was “intense and lurid” and inflamed local citizens. Almy decided on a bench trial in Plymouth before a two-judge panel. He took the stand in his own defense but the verdict was guilty. But Almy was not there to hear it. He had been removed to Concord for fear of a lynching.

But that removal raised questions about the trial and in April 1892 a second trial was held, again with a guilty verdict. On May 16, 1892 he mounted the gallows at the State Prison. Despite an initial bungling in the procedure, 14 minutes later ”the Thetford terror” was declared dead.

The Orleans County Monitor of Nov 11, 1910 carried a news item about a drunken brawl between two Ryegate men. The headline read “May Mean Another Murder Trial.” The confrontation took place on Saturday night, November 5, 1910 between Andreani Andraguillui and Pietro Nicoli. Nicoli was struck down and found unconscious the next morning.

When, three days later, he had not regained consciousness, an Italian doctor from Barre was summoned. The diagnose was a fractured skull. Andraguillui was arrested.  Nicoli, the reporter wrote, “probably will not live.” There was no further news about this case.
This was not the only case where alcohol played a significant role in the death of a local resident as we will see in the next column. . 

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