"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

As I have mentioned before, I have a file of old newspaper stories that are "Mini Mysteries"--murders, mysterious deaths, or disappearances where there is just not enough information available to make a regular blog post out of them. This dual death reported in the "New York Times," December 10, 1871, is one of them. It sounds like something that would inspire a novel by Thomas Hardy or Theodore Dreiser:
The sudden and mysterious death, two weeks ago, of a young woman in Grangerville, Saratoga County, in this State, created a deep impression. This was due not alone to the sad event itself, but to the inexplicable nature of its cause. No one could throw any light on the matter, although there was room for a certain terrible suspicion. Within a few days of this poor girl's decease, or murder, another tragic circumstance occurred, and the two are now indissolubly connected together. Yet, to say that the last event proves anything definitely as to the character of the first, would be irrational. It simply renders a conjecture, which was thought of before, more plausible to some minds and less so to others. Let us, however, briefly recite the known facts:

During the evening of Saturday, Nov. 25, two persons were driving in a buggy on their way from a place called Wilton, to Easton, Washington County. These two people, now both dead, were one Frank Wilber, a widower of thirty-five, and a Miss Sarah Deyoe, his housekeeper. The girl had acted in this capacity for some years. It is proper to say that none of the accounts of the local Press suggest that any improper relation was supposed to exist between the two. Whatever may be inferred from the wretched end of their earthly careers, the tongue of scandal was silent while they lived.

Miss Deyoe had been visiting at the house of her parents, and Wilber went after her to fetch her home. Their intercourse, so far as known, had always been amicable, and nothing is known to have happened on this occasion to render it otherwise. It appears that on the fatal Saturday night several inches of snow lay on the ground, and the roads were very bad. At Grangerville, a place through which the buggy was to pass on the journey named, there is a saw-mill and a bridge. Now, according to Wilber's statement, a few rods before the vehicle came to this bridge the axle broke. The rear wheel got into a rut, and Miss Deyoe was flung out, striking on her head. There were marks on the snow showing this, and also marks as if her companion bad jumped out.

The wife of the miller, however, a Mrs. Proper, testifies that she was lying in bed awake that night near an uncurtained window. Through this she saw a horse and buggy with a man--no woman in it--dash furiously by. The horse was running away, the man trying, she thought, to check him. In a moment the buggy turned and tore back in an opposite direction. A few seconds later and the horse reappeared, flying again on his first course. This time he had nothing but the thills and the axle-tree attached to him. The body of the wagon was gone, but the man was on foot behind in pursuit. She alarmed her husband, who rose, went out, and confronted the man, who was Wilber. A Mr. Snyder, who lives hard by, also came up, and afterward a Mr. Thorn. Here comes the inexplicable part of the matter. The four men hurried to find the missing girl. Wilber professed total ignorance of her whereabouts or the extent of what had happened to her. A search took place, which was for some time unsuccessful. At last Mr. Proper saw a trace of blood on the rail of the bridge. He held his lantern over the aide, so as to throw light below, and saw the body of the girl, partly submerged, and lying on her face in about two feet of water.

The body was lifted out, Wilber helping quietly, and carried to the mill. He was frightfully lacerated, and the clothing, even to the under-garments, torn to shreds. Wilber showed no agitation, but was silent, as if dazed. After the corpse was placed in the mill, he started back on foot to tell Miss Deyoe's parents of what had occurred, and returned with tho dead girl's father, after walking ten miles, at about 4 in the morning. On the Monday following Wilber attended the funeral, and afterward returned to his home.

Now the question is how did Miss Deyoe come by her death. The body was found two hundred feet from where the marks in the snow show the girl was thrown out. The wounds on the corpse and the condition of the clothing were totally incompatible with the theory of a single fall and concussion. Besides this, blood and bit of clothing were subsequently found between the two places. Yet Mrs. Proper saw the buggy traverse just this intervening space with the man alone in it. Again, footprints were found along the side of the road extending from the spot where Miss Deyoe pitched out, or was supposed to have pitched out, for about twelve feet. Then there was a track, or trail, as if a body had been dragged under or behind the buggy. At the junction of two roads, a little further on, a pile of lumber stands, and around this the body of the girl must have been, by the signs on the snow, twice dragged. That the buggy was smashed, as Wilber said, there could be no doubt. The facts spoke for themselves. But there was and is a doubt whether or not he assassinated Miss Deyoe first, and then carried out tbe ensuing scene by way of accounting for her death. If we suppose, as has been suggested, that the young woman was caught by some extraordinary accident and swung under the buggy without Wilber's knowledge, and the body became detached, all bleeding and mutilated, at the bridge, how came it that Miss Deyoe could afterward, or should afterward, surmount the rail and throw herself into the water? The idea that she could have been kicked over by the horse is dismissed by those who have examined the locality as simply impossible. Besides, how is it that there were no screams, and that Mrs. Proper, although she could see horse, man. and buggy so distinctly, and the latter in two different conditions, saw nothing of a body clinging to it? The improbability of Wilber committing the murder rests on his previous good character, and on the fact that no bad feeling was ever known to exist between himself and the deceased; the probability that he did commit the crime is founded on the apparent impossibility that the different things that happened could have happened otherwise.

The last act of the dismal drama occurred two days after Miss Deyoe was buried. On the Wednesday succeeding that Monday, Wilber was himself found dead, his body was at the bottom of his own well, into which he had plunged headlong. Did he kill himself out of remorse, or because he knew he was suspected, and the circumstantial evidence was so strong against him? Heaven only can tell, for there are no other witnesses, and with Wilber's suicide the knowledge of the secret passes away from the earth. Theories there will be in plenty, and plausible conjectures without end, but the real heart of the mystery will only be known when we all meet at compt. and the sea gives up its dead.


  1. A sad little tale. Certainly, there could have been more to the pair’s relationship than was known. But if there had been any grist for the rumour mill, the wheel would surely have been grinding.

  2. Very unfortunate. We really have no idea what their relationship might have been. Perhaps a weird and difficult to explain accident happened and Wilbur panicked. He then fell all over himself when he tried to make the scene look better while actually making it worse. He wouldn't be the first to get into that situation, especially if he knew their relationship wouldn't be acceptable and that it might all come out in an investigation. Guilty knowledge can make people do strange things.


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