Boston Evening Journal 17 Feb. 1874, p. 2-3.
Horrors Truly Multiply. We gave this morning the details of a terrible tragedy which took place in the little town of Halifax, in Plymouth county, on Sunday night, in which three persons were brutally murdered. Further particulars of the terrible affair will be found in another column. The object of the murderers appears to have been to obtain the money which it is reported the murdered brothers possessed to a large amount, and which they kept by them. No clue as yet obtained to the murderers, but the town authorities, assisted by the entire community in which the tragedy occurred, will leave no effort untried to detect and bring to punishment the perpetrators of the terrible crime.
THE TRAGEDY AT HALIFAX. ADDITIONAL PARTICULARS. The Murders Probably Committed on Sunday. INTENSE EXCITEMENT. Coroner’s Inquest to be Held To-day.
The additional facts relating to the horrid tragedy at Halifax, so far as we have been able to gather them, are that it was probably about eight or nine o’clock in the evening of Sunday that the murders were committed. It was the custom of the brother having charge of the cattle to go to the barn at nine o’clock to fodder them. It appears that the hay laid for the cattle was not disturbed. It was also found that the lantern and measure of grain near the lifeless corpse of William [sic, Thomas] indicated his being on the way to his barn when he met his death. The brother Simon [sic, Simeon], who was in his bed, had been in poor health for some time and had occupied the front room in the lower story of the house, which is a large old fashioned structure. Here the walls were spattered with blood, allowing that he was killed in the same way that the others were. A bloody cart stake which was used was found. The case of drawers where one of the brothers kept his valuables was thoroughly examined and stirred up by the murderer, and it is probable that a considerable sum of money was taken. In Miss Buckley’s room it was found that her trunk had not been disturbed, and in it was found $900 and a gold watch. The most intense excitement prevails through this usually quiet region and the roads are alive with teams on their way to the scene of the murder. Coroner P. D. Kingman of Bridgewater will today summons a jury of inquest, and every fact bearing upon the case will be carefully noted. Miss Buckley had been the housekeeper for a few years, but was best known in Bridgewater, where she was highly respected. Her life had been most signally marked with acts of kindness and charity. Edward Inglee, Esq., Chairman of the Selectmen, has been active in calling to his aid such officers as will be efficient in the search for the guilty party.
The brothers Sturtevant, who were foully murdered in Halifax on Sunday night, were the wealthiest citizens of that town, and were among the most highly respected. They were rigidly economical, and hoarded all the money they obtained, never depositing any in savings banks. They held on to their landed property with great tenacity, and could not be prevailed upon to part with any portion of their immense possession of woodland at any price. Once, however, while attending an auction sale, Simeon Sturtevant was asked how much he would take for a certain piece of land, and replying, “Fifteen hundred dollars,” his interlocutor, having come prepared to purchase, laid down the money and the sale was effected, greatly to the chagrin on Mr. Sturtevant. A gentleman who owns land adjoining the estate of the Sturtevants, describes them as tall, stalwart men, Simeon being over six feet in stature. He is of opinion that they had in their possession a considerable sum of money at the time of the murder, which fact being known to the perpetrator of the crime, induced its commission.
Bridgewater, Mass. Feb. 17. Plymouth county and the country for miles around is in great excitement over the triple murder Sunday night, in Halifax, and hundreds are in an about the house where the crime was committed. Detective Philbrooks [sic], who arrived this morning, W. H. Crocker and Town Constable Kingman of Bridgewater are engaged in working up the case, which now looks dark, as so much time has been lost by delaying to notify experienced officers. The people have not developed anything. The story of the murder as far as known was given in the dispatch to this morning’s Journal. An inquest is being held in the house occupied by the Sturtevants, and the jury is composed of A. B. Thompson, C. H. Paine, J. T. Z. Thompson, Edwin Boyden, Martin Horsland [sic], and C. P. Lyon. Philip D. Kingman is the Coroner. An autopsy being made by Drs. Millett, Brewster, and Pillsbury. The principal testimony taken relates to the discovery of the bodies. Mr. Thompson, a near neighbor, called at the house Sunday evening and left about seven o’clock with some papers he had borrowed of Mrs. Buckley, the cousin who lived with the Sturtevant Brothers. Thomas, the elder aged seventy years, had brought in the night’s wood and completed his chores. He saw no one in or near the house besides the occupants. Mrs. Buckley, taking up two papers, said she was going to read that evening. About 9 o’clock he looked from his window and noticed a light in Sturtevant’s. [TO BE CONTINUED]
THE HALIFAX TRAGEDY. Additional Particulars. [Continued from Second Page]
The lamp Mrs. Buckley sat down to read by had been blown out, and was found half full of oil in the morning. With the story of Stephen P. Lull, that the body of Thomas Sturtivant found near the door in the porch was warm, and the blood oozing from Simeon in the bed looks as if the murder was committed that morning, probably at daybreak.
Theories as to the Murderer.
There are two theories as to who the murderer was, and but one as to the incentive, which was doubtless robbery. A nephew of Thomas Sturtevant, who bears a bad character, has been on the school ship and in Plymouth jail for stealing, and his name is associated with it. He lives in Hanson, but the fact that Mrs. Buckley’s trunk was left untouched, and contained $1000 and a gold watch which he must have known of, points stronger towards the tramp theory. Only $600 were taken.
It is believed that Mrs. Buckley was sent out on some pretext or had an errand to her niece’s on the Middleborough and Halifax road, across lots, that Thomas had his lantern going to the barn when struck down, that Simeon, who was infirm and weak of mind, was afterward beaten to death as he lay in bed, and that the murderer overtook the old lady and terminated her life with two blows to the head. Some pieces of money were found in the path near the woman’s body, and also the club with which all were killed. The club was a birch one, roughly cut for a cart stake, and nor like any belonging on the premises. The house was found little disturbed, but blood was on every hand, giving to the large square rooms a ghastly appearance.
The history of the people shows that they have been frugal and industrious, and it was generally believed that they had money in the house, for they distrusted all banking institutions. In their day the men were prominent citizens. Both were born in the house they were murdered in, and Mrs. Buckley, after the death of her husband, lived as a nurse and seamstress in Boston, where she has many friends. Her age was sixty-eight years.
The neighbors have not noticed tramps of late, but people in Hanson and adjoining towns have been alarmed by a gang of fellows who have been scouting round, sleeping in barns, looking in windows, opening shoemaker shops and school-houses nights and building fires to warm themselves. No arrests have been made, but it is thought by the officers that the clue as to where the stake came from, when found, will give them something to act upon.
The scene of the crime attracted a great deal of excitement, and as the week went on, several thousand people passed through the small town of Halifax.
Boston Globe, 18 Feb. 1874, p. 5. The Triple Murder at Halifax – No New Details.
…People came from far and near to see the scene of the tragedy, and, yesterday morning, while the jury of inquest was in session in the sitting room, surrounded by thirty or forty persons, witnesses and spectators, the body of the elderly brother, Thomas, was lying in the centre room, in which and in the kitchen there were many people, including a number of ladies who gathered at the kitchen stove; and at the same time, in the front bedroom, Dr. Millett of East Bridgewater was holding a post-mortem examination on the body of Simeon Sturtevant, especially with reference to the character of the wounds on the head, assisted by Dr. Brewster of Plymouth, and Dr. Pillsbury. The jury of inquest consists of Messrs. E. B. Thompson, C. H. Paine, clerk, J. T. Z. Thompson, Edwin Boyden, Martin Howland, and C. P. Lyon. The last person who saw the victims alive on Sunday evening, was a neighbor, Mr. Blake, who was in the house at about 6 o’clock, when Miss Buckley carried some wood into the apartment of the younger brother to make a fire there, he being somewhat infirm. Neither Mr. Blake nor the others in the vicinity remember seeing any strangers around on Sunday afternoon or evening. There have been some tramps hanging around the town for a week, but the deed is not charged, as yet, directly upon any one. Some town folks express suspicions that the deed might have been done by a person well acquainted with the premises, and suggest a young man living several miles away; but up to the close of the morning session of the inquest there did not appear anything to corroborate such a surmise, which appears to be a sort of jumping at a conclusion which is very common where people endeavor by guess to find out what something more definite is required to establish as fact. Possibly, with the aid of the detective, and from the testimony of many persons, there may be developments made on the point in question by the time the inquest draws to its conclusion.
Next Up: A Suspicious Nephew
[Photograph of the “Halifax Tragedy House” by photographer J.H. Williams of South Scituate, Mass. courtesy Historic New England.]