More than a year has passed since on a certain winter morning
our communities were startled by the intelligence that. in one of the most
retired of our County villages, during the peaceful quiet of a Sabbath evening,
one of the foulest and most unnatural murders that ever stained the criminal
actual. of any locality, had been perpetrated. Three aged persons, the inmates
of the same home, whose lives had been passed in plodding industry, and whose
history was as uneventful as human experience can be, were suddenly involved in
as dark a tragedy as the mind of man can conceive, and in the midst of it
hurried out of existence. The details flew from hp to hp; hardly had the unseen
fiendish actor finished his bloody work, before the avenger, with the unerring
instincts always bestowed on such occasions, was on his trick; step by
step investigation was pursued, probability was succeeded by suspicion, and
suspicion deepened into positive certainty, as all the attending circumstances
were scrutinized and probed and searchingly examined, by skilful men, who were
after the secret which a "guilty man can nowhere ..beater, and pay it is safe."
To-day, the tragedy begun at Halifax nearly fifteen months ago finds a fitting
and consonant finish in the execution of the extreme sentence the person of the
chief actor of the law, upon ht it, and the soul of the murderer has been sent
to meet his victims, in the world which is thought to right the wrongs of this.
The details of the crimes of William E.Sturtivant, the Halifax
murderer, and the circumstances which attended and followed them, have been
given to the public in our columns as they occurred: but as we issue an extra
sheet today for the especial purpose of presenting the closing scene of this
melancholy business, a summary of the events and incidents in its history may
serve to make the record more complete, and call to mind the points which
perhaps are half forgotten by this time; and it will certainly serve to show the
regular steps over which the perpetrator of such a crime must irresistibly pass,
from its commission to its punishment.
DETAILS OF THE CRIME.
On Sunday evening, February 15th, I874, William E. Sturtivant
left his home at Keene's Corner, Hanson, and started on foot and alone for the
residence of his great-uncles, Thomas and Simeon Sturtevant. in the neighboring
town of Halifax. The distance between the two points was between four and five
miles. It was no labor of love which prompted that journey in the darkness, on a
disagreeable winter night. No considerations of exercise or recreation could
have induced it, for he had already walked nearly nine miles that day, to make a
call upon relatives in East Bridgewater. Shortly after leaving his own
residence, on the evening in question, he possessed himself of a newly formed
stake, from a cart on the premises of a neighbor, which can use as a walking
stick to assist his journey, or as a cudgel for offensive or defensive purposes.
He is young and in health; his movements are rapid, and he soon reaches the
house. His trip has been made in silence and utter loneliness. Much of the
distance was through woods, and he has met no troublesome fellow travellers on
the road. He reaches the house of his relatives, enters, performs his errand,
and returns as he has come.
No eye had seen him, coming or going; there was no human
witness of his proceeding within or without the house at Halifax; and yet the
marks of his presence and his mission are as clearly to be read as though his
journey had been performed in open daylight, and his crimes publicly
THE MURDER DISCOVERED.
The next morning the three aged occupants of that house were
found cruelly murdered, their heads pounded, to a jelly. - Thomas and Simeon,
the two brothers, within the house that should have sheltered them, and Miss
Mary Buckley, the housekeeper, outside, though almost within its very shadow.
The news flies with lightning rapidity; friends and neighbors assemble from near
and far; the inquisitive officers of the law - whose business it is to bring
dark things to the light, and uncover hidden secrets - search up and down for a
clue which they may follow, till it leads them to the murderer. In a
surprisingly short time they have found it, and the deed committed without human
witnesses becomes more clearly apparent, from the very peculiarity of the
circumstances attending it; and the bloody cart-stake, the unique currency, the
bank-bills, the foot-prints in the earth, tell a tale which no cross-examination
can cause to waver, an no ingenuity turn to false purposes. All these evidences,
and many others, point directly to but one man in the whole world as he who did
the deed; the motive, the opportunity, the result, are all apparent, and William
E. Sturtivant is the man who holds the fatal end of this terrible chain.
THE GENERAL BELIEF.
So thought the Trial Justice before whom he was first
arraigned, on the Wednesday following his Sunday walk; so thought the jury
summoned by coroner Kingman; so thought the Grand Jury, at Plymouth Court House,
on May 8th following. So thought, as we shall see, the jury assembled to pass
upon his guilt at the sitting of the Supreme Court, in June and July following;
and such has been the unwavering, inevitable conviction of every one familiar
with the developments of the case since its inception.
THE REASON WHY.
Wm. E. Sturtivant was young, unscrupulous and poor, conditions
out of which crime has frequently arisen. That he was unscrupulous is proved by
the fact that had allowed himself to steal, and had already suffered repeated
punishment for that offence. There was no doubt of his poverty. The Sturtevant
brothers, in Halifax, were comparatively rich; peculiar in their ways;
distrusting their fellow men, and not particularly well loved or even respected
by those who knew them. Their earnings and savings they kept by them, preferring
to be the guardians of their own treasures, and satisfied of their ability to
hold what they had attained. The nature of [gap]…. property, were
favorable [gap], if a desperate man undertook the enterprise. All these facts
William E. Sturtivant well knew; and he had the hardihood, the ability, and
courage to run the necessary hazards to obtain a portion of the wealth. He did
so. Whether the triple murder was the result of an emergency that arose in
consummating his purpose, or was a part of his original plan, has never yet been
WHAT HE GAINED.
In the house of the Sturtivants, on that fatal Sunday evening,
was a quantity of money which would have made the wretched murderer rich - in
his own estimation - had he possessed himself of it. Instead of carrying off
thousands of dollars, he took only hundreds; and the disposition he made of what
he did take, was such as would hardly do justice to the intellect of a child.
All the facts enumerated above were brought out at his trial, during which it
was conclusively shown that he had freely used those three agents which are
always employed to cover crime, - concealment, fraud and falsehood.
His trial commenced at Plymouth on the 29th of June last. The
Court had previously assigned to defend the prisoner, Hon. J. B. Harris,
and Jesse E. Keith, Esq., prominent members of the Plymouth County Bar. The
first named of these gentlemen, who distinguished himself for the assiduity and
ability with which he conducted this case, was called some months since to the
final laying, own of his labors in this world.
The government relied, to prove the guilt of the prisoner, upon
the following points: - his extreme poverty on the night preceding the murder,
and his possession of ample funds on the day following the crime; the finding in
his possession of a quantity of scrip corresponding exactly with that left
behind at the Sturtevant house, on the night the crime was committed; his
clothing freely stained with blood, which he could not satisfactorily account
for; his failure to establish the fact that he was at home throughout the night
of the murder, or at some place other than the Sturtevant dwelling; his failure
to account for sums of money in his possession, and his evident desire to
conceal them from all knowledge; the fact that the circumstances indicated no
one else as the possible murderer, even in the slightest degree; and that all
pointed to him in the strongest manner. The defence was little more than a
The trial lasted five days, commencing on Monday, June 29th.
The case was given to the jury at 5.30 o'clock on the following Friday
afternoon. At 7.35 the same evening they returned to the Court room, and
announced as their verdict that the prisoner. was "guilty of murder in the first
CONTINUATION OF THE CASE.
Exceptions to the rulings of the Court during the trial were
taken by the defendant's counsel, which were duly filed, and argued in chambers
in Boston. They were over-ruled, and on the 25th of January last, at a special
session of the Court appointed for the purpose, sentence of death was passed
upon the criminal, and, as by the terms of the sentence, he was taken back to
the prison, there to await the final execution of the decree.
IN HIS CELL.
The cell in which Sturtivant has been confined in one of three
in a small room on the main floor of the House of Correction [gap]…. prisoners
in one of the rooms above, Mrs. Gardner, the poisoner, spent many years of her
incarceration, and here, also, the Kingston murderer, Deacon Samuel Andrews, was
confined previous to his removal the State Prison at Charlestown. Sturtivant, up
to Tuesday morning last, has occupied the second or middle of the three cells.
At that time he was taken out and removed to the one adjoining.
HIS PRISON LIFE
The prisoner has always appeared to act upon the theory that Government could
not possibly hang him on the evidence presented at the trial. He has never,
until recently been positive in his denial of guilt, but appeared to shield
himself behind, and base strong hopes upon, the fact that he was the victim of
circumstances which alone pointed towards him as a criminal. How much of effect
he has designed in assuming the character and practices of man with a clear
conscience, in whose behalf the eternal principles of right would finally
prevail, can only be judged by an analysis of his whole life. He has never been
a whining or grumbling prisoner, and has given little trouble to his keepers,
aside from the active watchfulness which his known traits and energetic
ingenuity made necessary. He has been neither sullen nor morose; nor on the
contrary, has he shown habitual levity or barbarous recklessness. Always
lively, ready to converse or be occupied, employing his mind and body to
the full extent allowed under his circumstances, he has shown little of hat
dreamy pre-occupation or absent wandering of mind and thought, popularly
supposed to be the peculiarity of those annoyed by remorseful feelings or
haunted by terrible memories. If he is utterly hardened, he exhibits none of
that coarseness in it which makes such a state so fearfully repulsive, and he
certainly has never satisfied the ideal which a visitor might have formed of the
personal appearance of a bloody murderer.
[Extract from ‘Descendants of Samuel Sturtevant’ by kind
permission of Robert H.Sturtevant]