Other Men’s Wives

Other Men’s Wives

Joseph Evans was a matrimonially challenged man. His first wife, Mary Jane, died of blood poisoning in 1899, leaving him with three sons under the age of nine. Joseph needed to find a woman to care for him and his children.

Three years later Joseph married 35-year-old Rebecca Kane and the family moved into a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. All seemed to be well, except for the fact that Rebecca Kane was actually Rebecca Burnham, wife of William Burnham of Reading, Massachusetts, and mother of two sons with William.

Due to disability and age — he was 73 — William had not worked for years, so the townspeople of Reading provided financial support to the family. Rebecca saved $1200 of this money and handed the cash over to Joseph Evans, who briefly boarded at the Burnham home. Joseph used the money to set himself up in the furniture moving business, buying horses, wagons and “other accoutrements.”

Using their new horses and wagons, Joseph and Rebecca moved most of the Burnham furniture and belongings, including William’s overcoat, to their Cambridge home. The large expenditures for the moving business brought Joseph, who was not a wealthy man, to the attention of the police. On February 20, 1904, the couple were arrested and charged with bigamy.

Joseph claimed he didn’t realize Rebecca was already married. Rebecca claimed William had a first wife still living, so her marriage to him wasn’t valid. Local sympathy was with William and the Burnham sons.

The bigamy charges were eventually dropped. Presumably Rebecca returned to William, along with their furniture and his overcoat. Joseph needed to find another wife.

Wouldn’t you think Joseph would carefully vet the marital status of the next woman with whom he lived? Unfortunately he didn’t, and a year and a half later he found himself in police custody again. This time the charge was murder.

On the evening of Tuesday, August 1, 1905, Joseph fatally shot a private detective named George Frazer in the hallway of his Cambridge home. A Rhode Island man, Allan J. Barber, hired Frazer to locate his wife, Gertrude. And locate her he did — in the home of Joseph Evans. The story was that she was the Evans family’s “housekeeper.” Allan and the local police wisely remained outside while Detective Frazer entered the Evans home alone.

I bought the pistol to protect myself. I had no idea who the visitors were. I had my children and property to protect, and feared that burglars were attempting to break into my home.”

— Joseph Evans, quoted in the Fitchburg Sentinel, August 3, 1905

Joseph was tried for murder and acquitted on the grounds that he was defending his home against unwanted intrusion.

Allan Barber sued his wife for divorce in November 1905, alleging adultery, though no one was named in his petition. Gertrude sued her husband for non-support and sought $5000 in alimony.

On February 9, 1907 Joseph Evans and Gertrude Hemenway Barber were married in Arlington, Massachusetts. Hopefully they lived homicide-free and happily ever after and Joseph never needed to find another wife.

Featured photo: Joseph Evans, carte de visite mugshot (front and back of card). Collection of the author.