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The Halifax Murderer


....The same year, 1875, also saw detailed coverage of the final act of another lurid and sensational crime. The paper headlines the story "Execution of Wm. E. Sturtivant, the Halifax murderer" and above the large-type name features a rare illustration, a woodcut or lithograph bust of a relatively young man with a moustache and long string tie. The murder had taken place more than a year ago, Feb. 15, 1874, when Sturtivant walked to the Halifax house of his two great-uncles and murdered them and a housekeeper - "their heads pounded to jelly," the paper tells us, by a cart-stake. The motive apparently is money. The paper describes the convicted murderer as "young, unscrupulous and poor, conditions out of which crime has frequently arisen." It says later that whether the murder was "the result of an emergency" that arose while he was robbing his stingy relatives or "was part of his original plan, has never yet been clearly exposed."

The lengthy story of the execution again devotes itself to supporting the prosecution claim against the "ingenuity" of the murderer which "has at times been naturally turned to schemes for effecting his release." We are then given an account of the prisoner's state of mind as his execution date approaches: "On Sunday night he seriously talked of suicide." In true Victorian fashion we are told of his final goodbye to his wife (that "wretched" woman, who "was attacked with nervous spasms" during the last interview), "his eyes filling with tears, betraying the depth of emotion he could scarcely repress." The next morning he was hanged. (REF)

......OR NOT GUILTY???



EXECUTION OF Wm.E. Sturtivant





He Continues Defiant!

Exercise in the Prison!

The March to the Gallows!

His Firmness on the Fatal Platform!

The Last Act!


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.


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 committed.


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.


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.


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 clearly disclosed.


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 general denial.

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 degree."


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.


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.


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]

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