Unsolved Crime at Marblehead Light House 1895

Tragic and Unsolved Crime at Marblehead Lighthouse – June 21, 1895

This is a tragic story that appeared in the June 21, 1895 Marblehead Messenger and as far as I can tell it was never solved. I don’t usually like to write about sad stories but in this case someone may be missing a leaf on their tree and may not even know it so I thought I would share the article. Maybe some super sleuth can solve it now.

“Mr. M. Twitchell of Melrose was at the Neck on Monday, June 17 with a group of friends, some from Marblehead when he made a horrible discovery. He found the body of an infant child who was murdered and left in the water. Mr. Twitchell was walking across a cove east of the light house when he came upon a brown leatherette traveling bag which had been uncovered by the receding tide. It was located in an area in which another half tide would have most likely covered it up again. There was nothing suspicious about the appearance but curiosity prompted him to open the bag. He discovered inside a young child wrapped tightly in white cotton cloth.”

“Special Officers Nicholson and Knight of the Marblehead police force went to the Neck to retrieve the bag and brought it to the police station for more careful examination. It proved to be the body of a female child, fully developed and weighing about five pounds. She had been wrapped in a pillow case and bound tightly, put in the bag with a seven pound flat iron, intended to keep the bag below the surface of the water. It was carefully planned and only was able to be found because the person who threw it into the water obviously did not know much about the shore and the tides.  The basin where it was found has the appearance at high tide of being a deep hole, but it became bare at low tide.”

“As was required the Medical Examiner Mr. Carleton was notified and the next day, along with Dr. Sanborn of Marblehead an autopsy was held. It was determined that the child was born alive and had lived perhaps twenty-four hours. It was also discovered that death was not by drowning but by blows upon the head. The mark of one blow was upon the forehead, another behind the base of the brain, and both sufficient to cause death.  Someone had a child they did not want, murdered it and threw the body in the water to hide the evidence of their crime.”  Was this act done by a Marblehead resident, a summer resident or an out of towner, we may never know.

The police followed up on several rumors and Trial Justice William Nutting held an inquest which was delayed until December, 1895 while the investigation continued, but nothing turned up.

As reported in the December 20, 1895 Messenger:

Trial Justice Nutting reported today his findings in the inquest held at his office last June, on the recovery of the body of a female infant at Point Neck. The report was delayed with the hope that something might turn up in the way of evidence to point to the guilty person or persons. Absolutely nothing has been learned by the police. The findings are as follows:

            “I find that said child was born alive and came to its death soon after birth on or about the 17th day of June, 1895, by reason of blows dealt upon its head with some flat instrument, or by having its head dashed against some unyielding surface at the hands of some person whom the evidence does not disclose and who is therefore to me unknown.”

            “That after death the body, placed in a valise and weighted with a flat iron, was thrown into the sea at said Point Neck, which valise, containing the body, at receding tide was exposed to view and taken possession of within twenty-four hours, evidently, after its submersion.”

                                                                                    William Nutting, Jr

                                                                                    Trial Judge  

I thought I may have found a clue in the Marblehead Death records for that date of death. There is an “unknown child Gillis” listed as a female, dying on June 17, 1895 with a cause of death ‘death by violence’. So the death was reported to the town, but probably by the medical examiner.  There is a note that the mother was Kate Gillis, but it could have been added later or be a transcription error. As you can see on the image below there were a lot of lines drawn pointing to other lines on the form, therefore it is hard to determine where this Kate Gillis belongs or if it does at all.  The other names mentioned in that column are Manly G. Davis and Rose Gilleo who had a child John Davis who died (listed on the line below the unknown child.)

death record

There was a Katie Gillis who married a William V. Wright in 1896 in Lynn and she was born February 1880, making her 15 at the time of the unknown baby’s death. Could she be the mother? 

What happened to this baby – where is she buried, who did she belong to? A Marblehead unsolved mystery.



2 thoughts on “Unsolved Crime at Marblehead Light House 1895

  1. Very sad. By state statute, the Town of Marblehead has responsibility to bury the dead found in the Town without financial resources in a ‘pauper’s field’. These deaths were usually recorded in the records of the Marblehead cemetery department probably as “child Jane Doe” on or abouts the time of death or, in this case, perhaps between that date and the inquest date. Given the time period, it is likely the body went into Green Street cemetery. At that time and population, the town likely had less than 100 burials annually. It might be worth an inquiry to Cathy Kobiaka, superintendent of the cemetery department to see if the burial records show a “Child Jane Doe” entry in that sixth month period. The records might indicate record of the entry and which cemetery however pauper’s graves were typically unmarked. Still if you could locate a record, I bet we could contact a local monument dealer I know to make up a tiny gratis stone for the poor little thing at least recording her birth and death dates. So sad for someone so innocent to lose her life under tragic circumstances and it go unmarked and unnoticed. Just a thought to solve just a little piece of this history; it might have also been noted in a Town Report entry by the Overseers of the Poor if they were existent that early. Maybe a better sleuth might have other ideas. – Bill Woodfin


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