On a cold winter morning on Monday, February 16, 1874, 41 year old shoemaker Stephen P. Lull cut through a path behind the Sturtevant house on Thompson St. in Halifax, Plymouth County, Massachusetts when he noticed an unusual shape in the field behind the house. As he came closer, he was horrified to discover the body of his neighbor, 69 year old Mary Buckley, lying face down on the ground “with her head beaten to a pumice”. The murder weapon, a four foot long piece of wood, was found later that day several feet away from Mary’s body. Lull hurried to the Sturtevant home to notify the two elderly Sturtevant brothers of their cousin Mary’s death. He was shocked as he entered the home to find the body of 74 year old Thomas Sturtevant on the porch with a lantern at his side, and the body of 70 year old Simeon Sturtevant dead in his bed. All three victims had been violently bashed in the head.
Neighbors quickly gathered at the Sturtevant house, and tended to the bodies while speculating who could have committed such a horrible crime. There was evidence that some money had been stolen from the house, but a number of valuable items remained in the home. The Sturtevant brothers were known to be wealthy and frugal and untrusting of banks, so robbery seemed the most likely motive to the crime. Telegraphs were quickly sent to local, county, and state officials who were called to arrive as quickly as possible. Telegraphs were also sent to newspaper offices around the United States notifying the nation of the horrific scene, and some papers printed the details faster than police actually arrived on site.
CRIMINAL THE GHASTLY RECORD OF THE DAY’S DOINGS
A Horrible Tragedy at Halifax, Mass.- Two Men and One Woman Murdered- Story of the Triple Tragedy
A dispatch from Bridgewater states that at Halifax, Mass., a most terrible murder has been committed. The victims were two unmarried brothers, named Simeon and Thomas Sturtevant, and their housekeeper, named Mercy Buckley. The three victims lived in a solitary house, on a cross road, about a mile and a half from the Halifax school-house. The three were understood to be blessed with a good share of funds, which they kept in the house. They had lived in the house for many years, and although they had many friends among the neighbors, sometimes several days would pass without anyone visiting them. Yesterday, a neighbor by the name of Lull was passing in the rear of the dwelling of the Sturtevants, when some, forty rods from the house, in a field, he discovered the body of Miss Buckley, upon the ground, with her head beaten to a pumice. He at once gave the alarm, and proceeded to the house where she lived when he was shocked by a ghastly spectacle of the dead body of Thomas Sturtevant near the door as he entered. Upon still further search, it was found that Simeon, the other brother, was also lying lifeless upon his bed, with his head also bearing evidence of having been beaten with a club. The nearest neighbors were but twenty rods distant, but no clue at present has been reached as to who the authors of this shocking murder. Word was at once sent to the neighboring towns and to Plymouth, and no effort will be spared to bring to light the authors of this awful tragedy. It is not known that any considerable amount of money was in the possession of these unfortunate victims; still it is conjectured that the motive was robbery.
[Photograph of the “Halifax Tragedy House” by photographer J.H. Williams of South Scituate, Mass. courtesy Historic New England.]