The Baby in the Suitcase

The Baby in the Suitcase

It started with the discovery of the bruised and battered corpse of a baby boy in an old dress suitcase. The suitcase turned up on October 1, 1907 in the backyard of a home in Prospect Hill, a well-to-do neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island.

A police investigation led to a tenement rooming house on Benefit Street, more than half a mile from where the suitcase and its grisly contents were found. It was the home of Mabel Brown, age 36. Mabel told the police that her sister, Sarah McDonald, had lived in the house until recently, but had left for Worcester, Massachusetts. Mabel said Sarah hoped to find work there in a carpet factory.

Mabel identified the baby as Eddie McDonald, the eleven-month-old child of Sarah. She told police the baby was a “heavy and strong child, with pretty, light, curly hair and good form.”

The police searched Sarah’s room. According to The Boston Globe, the room “presented a shocking scene and the stench in the place was all but unbearable.” Evidence in the room led the police to the theory that after Eddie was killed, his body was hidden inside a feather bed cut for that purpose. Later it was moved to a closet, and then to a trunk, before it was finally put in the suitcase.

Mabel admitted to police that the suitcase had previously belonged to her mother. She denied any knowledge of the boy’s death and said she’d been out at the theater on the night of September 30, 1907, when the body, hidden in the suitcase was removed from the house. She also insisted she hadn’t noticed the foul smell coming from the room. Mabel admitted to the police that in the past she’d been a prisoner at the state prison in Cranston, Rhode Island, for “keeping a nuisance.” (What kind of nuisance wasn’t spelled out, but it was likely either a saloon or a brothel.

The police went to the home of another sister, Maggie Brown, in Worcester, Massachusetts. They found a woman there who claimed to be named Irene Clark. She denied ever having been to Providence and said she’d lived in Worcester for two years, during which time she worked for the Massachusetts Corset Company. But when police questioned her further she was unable to tell them the names of any businesses in Worcester and she didn’t know the name of the landlady at the boarding house where she claimed to live. Convinced she was Sarah McDonald, they arrested her and took her to Providence.

At the Providence jail she admitted the baby boy was hers, but she denied he’d been murdered. She said he died of natural causes and she’d kept the body for a week, unsure of what to do with it. Ultimately she decided to put it in her mother’s old suitcase, carry it more than half a mile north in a rainstorm, where she left it in a yard behind a house.

Sarah Heagney_back_marked

The back of Sarah Heagney’s criminal identification card.

According to the medical examiner, Eddie’s injuries showed that someone had beaten him to death “in a rage.” Sarah was charged with the baby’s murder.

Sarah pointed the finger at Patrick Edward McDonald; the man she claimed was her husband. He gave himself up to authorities. The police found no evidence that he was involved in the boy’s death and they let him go. Further investigation revealed that the couple was not actually married. Sarah’s surname was her maiden name — Heagney. Born in 1885 in Rhode Island, she was the 22-year-old daughter of Irish immigrants, Frank Heagney and his wife, Sarah Kane Heagney.

Oaklawn

The Oaklawn School for Girl in an undated photo.

In 1900, when she was 15, Sarah was a resident of the Oaklawn School For Girls, a juvenile reformatory in Cranston, Rhode Island. Oaklawn was located in a walled complex with other state institutions including the state prison, an insane asylum and a workhouse for the homeless.

The Providence police wondered why Sarah hadn’t simply disposed of Eddie’s body in the Providence River, less than a quarter mile west of her boarding house. Why did she carry the suitcase, which likely weighed close to 20 pounds, more than twice as far and leave it the backyard of Charles H. Jefferds?

By 1907 Jefferds, age 52, had been a widower for almost ten years. He was a well to do “provisions dealer” — a wholesaler merchant selling to grocery stores and markets. He had an adult daughter, Geneva, who lived with him, and three sons: Lawrence, Charles Jr. and Chester. The family was wealthy enough that during the early twentieth century they always had one or two female servants living with them.

There was no mention in the news of Sarah having worked for the Jefferds family, but according to the back of her arrest card she had worked as a maid. If she worked for the family and become pregnant by Charles Jefferds or one of his sons, it might explain why she went to the trouble of taking her baby’s body to their property and leaving it there. Girls and women who worked as servants were sometimes viewed by the men who employed them as fair game for sex, consensual or not.

RI State Prison

The Rhode Island State Prison in an undated photo.

After she was arrested the press lost interest in Sarah and didn’t report on the outcome of the case. By 1910, according to the US Census, she was one of 16 female inmates at the state prison in Cranston. It may be that she was sent to prison as a punishment for the murder of her child.

The census enumerators in 1910 were tasked with asking how many children a woman had given birth to. That column in Sarah’s listing on the census form was left blank. There is no record of her after the 1910 census.

In and Out of the Colony

In and Out of the Colony

The police have been asked to be on the lookout for George A. Lewis, 27 years old, who escaped from the Gardner Insane Colony, Sunday. He is of slight build and has dark hair. He was dressed in a gray suit.

Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts), October 19, 1908

His name was recorded by the Worcester police as “Arthur or George Lewis” when he was arrested on October 4, 1913 for carrying a gun, B & E and larceny. His police identification card carries the following information:

Age: 28 years

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 170 pounds

Descent: African

Skin color: Coffee

Occupation: Hotel Waiter

His right hand had been broken at some point and he had scars on both sides of his head. (The scar on the right side is visible above his temple in his profile photo).

He was held for a grand jury hearing, but no newspaper articles about a charge or conviction were found. In his mug shot photos his eyes don’t quite focus and he looks like he’s unconcerned about his predicament.

George Allen Lewis was born on June 15, 1883 in Littleton, Massachusetts, the youngest of three children born to George and Abby (Smith) Lewis. Abby died of gastroenteritis in 1897. By 1900 George and his father moved to Boston, where his father worked as a day laborer and George attended school.

An article appeared in the Boston Post on November 25, 1901, about the attempted murder of a young, recently married, black man named George Lewis. George’s wife, Mary, hit her husband on the head with a hatchet after a quarrel stemming from visits she received from another man. “My only wish is,” she is reported to have said to Lieutenant Garland, “that the axe was not sharper. I wanted to kill him.” Mary Lewis had a violent past and had been involved in an earlier assault case in which someone threw a lighted lamp at her.

George survived the attack and told police that he loved his wife and simply had asked her to give up her male friend. Police were convinced “he had come pretty near being a model husband.”

Possibly the head injury George suffered, described as deep gash three inches long that bled profusely, caused a traumatic brain injury that eventually made him mentally unstable. By 1908, George was a patient in an asylum called the Gardner State Colony in Worcester County, Massachusetts.

A history of Gardner describes it as a “colony for mentally disturbed patients who were able bodied and sufficiently cooperative to engage in construction work for the institution.” The Colony had both an agricultural and a livestock farm and was self-supporting. Escapes were common, and after George escaped, in October 1908, the police were asked to be on the lookout for him. He was back as a patient in the Colony by 1910, when the federal census listed his occupation there as “housework.”

Gardner Insane Colony

Map of the Gardner State Colony from the 1907 annual report of the institution

His arrest in 1913 may have occurred after another escape, but it’s also possible he had an improvement in his mental health. The goal of the physicians who ran the Colony, according to annual reports published between 1903-1911, was to rehabilitate patients and release them back into the community. The Worcester city directory for 1915 lists a “George Lewis” who worked as a waiter and boarded at 23 Washington Street. The city of Worcester was less than 30 miles south of the Colony.

George was back at the Colony by 1918. In September of that year, a Gardner official filed a World War I draft registration card for him. His father, a resident of Roxbury, Massachusetts, was listed as his next of kin. George was no longer able to write his name, so someone at the institution signed for him with an “X.” The box where his occupation should have been written was instead stamped “INSANE.”

George was still a patient of the Colony when he was counted on the federal census in January 1920. Ominously he was one of the few inmates who had no occupation — apparently his mental condition had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer carry out even simple tasks. George was not listed on the 1930 federal census at the Colony or anywhere else.

In 1935 the Colony’s name was changed to the Gardner State Hospital. The hospital closed in 1976 and in 1981, a prison opened on the site. There’s a cemetery from the Colony years and a list of 132 people who are buried there appears on FindAGrave, but George’s name isn’t on the list. However the description of the cemetery notes that there could be as many as 600 more unidentified souls buried there and it’s likely that George is one of them.

Featured photo: Worcester Police Department Criminal identification card photos taken on October 4, 1913. Collection of the author.

The High Cost of Murder

The High Cost of Murder

ARRAIGNED ON MURDER CHARGE

Worcester, Dec. 23. — Henry Gauthier, 28, and Felix Vadenais Jr., 19 years old, were arraigned in the district court today on a charge of murdering Joseph S. Goldberg in Manchaug, Monday night. They pleaded not guilty and the case was continued to Jan. 6 at the request of the government. They were remanded to jail without bail.

Fitchberg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts), December 23, 1914

The dead body of Joseph S. Goldberg, wrapped in a horse blanket, was discovered in his wagon by the sheriff on a cold evening in late December 1914. Joseph’s murderer had draped his body over the seat of the horse-drawn wagon and started the rig on the road towards the town of Millbury, Massachusetts.

Joseph, a second-hand clothes peddler, stopped by a drug store in the village of Manchaug around 9:15 pm on the night he was murdered. About fifteen minutes later he was seen heading to a barn where he planned to leave his horse and cart overnight.

His murderer or murderers found him at the barn. He was hit on the head with a blunt object. Then the 35-year-old Jewish Russian immigrant was shot in the chest. The wound was instantly fatal.

Manchaug map

Police believed the motive for the murder was robbery. The day before he was killed, a witness claimed Joseph pulled a large roll of bills out of his pocket while he was making change for a customer. After his death, only six cents was found in his pockets.

Joseph lived with his wife, Dora, and young son, Milton, in the city of Worcester, about 13 miles from where he was killed. Dora was five months pregnant when her husband was murdered.

Two young men, Felix Vadenais and Henry Gauthier were arrested the following day for Joseph’s murder. The men were kept in jail until after the 1915 New Year. Officials then determined that they didn’t have enough evidence to charge Henry, so he was released.

Felix Vandenais_back_marked

Criminal identification card of Felix Vadenais made by the Worcester Police Department.

Felix was charged with murder in the first degree on January 22, 1915.

On April 16, 1915, after a trial lasting 11 days with three hours of deliberation, the jury found Felix not guilty of the murder. Joseph’s daughter, Judith, was born four days later.

Ten days after the jury acquitted Felix of murder, The Boston Globe printed an article about the cost of the trial — $6500 by that date — to the taxpayers of Worcester County. The defendant’s attorneys’ fees, along with a payment for “establishing the case” for Felix were listed at $775. It was expected that the expert witnesses, two professors from Harvard and Tufts, who testified about the blood evidence but had not yet sent in their bills, would cost the county another $7500.

No one was ever brought to justice for the murder of Joseph Goldberg.

Featured photos: mugshots of Felix Vadenais taken by the Worcester Police on December 21, 1914. Collection of the author.