The Murder of Fred Murphy in Waterbury

Copyright by Brian Lindner

On February 18, 1899, Charles Doherty shot Fred Murphy in Waterbury at the J.E. Pixley farm near Bolton Falls. Both men were workers on the project to build a hydro-electric dam across the Winooski River – a project funded by National Life Insurance Company of Montpelier.

It had been well known that Doherty and Murphy had been in conflict for several weeks prior to the shooting. It would appear that one young and beautiful Julia Rock’s relationship with Murphy was at least one of the major causes of Doherty’s intense dislike for Murphy.

On the day of the shooting, Doherty made it obvious that he was carrying a gun. He made threatening statements both to Murphy and others at the job site.

When both men returned to the J.E. Pixley boarding house, where they and several dam workers lived, they became embroiled in an argument. It would appear that Doherty taunted Murphy to meet him in the adjacent barn to settle matters. (Near current location of the I-89 southbound rest area in Waterbury.)

According to witnesses, as Murphy followed, Doherty suddenly spun around. Murphy tried to duck and move to the right but was hit by a single .32 caliber gunshot wound in the left side. Witnesses stated that the gun was so close as to have the muzzle flash touch Murphy’s clothing.

Murphy was helped inside and was operated on later that evening by Dr. Henry Janes and Dr. D.D. Grout as they removed the bullet. Murphy was in extreme pain despite the nursing efforts of Julia Rock who tended to him until March 13th when he was finally taken to the Mary Fletcher Hospital in Burlington. Murphy was unable to eat and had lost up to 25% of his body weight.

On April 1, 1899 he died in the hospital. Upon autopsy, Dr. Janes and others concluded that the cause of death was infection from the gunshot wound.

After shooting Murphy, Doherty boasted of his deed to fellow workers then jumped a southbound train at the North Duxbury station. Later that evening, he was spotted walking along the tracks in Montpelier Junction. When summoned to stop by policemen, he ran. Doherty quickly tripped and was immediately captured. The officers found a .32 caliber pistol in his possession.

Within days, Doherty’s initial hearing was held in Waterbury at “the old high school.” (The building that now stands at 6 Elm Street but which once stood next to the Congregational Church.) When Sheriff C. C. Graves brought Doherty to the hearing, Randall Blodgett and a small mob met their sleigh, at the top of Bank Hill. Blodgett attempted to take Doherty at gunpoint with the intention of having a mob lynching. While the Sheriff stood his ground, Doherty’s attorney jumped forward and grabbed Blodgett’s gun as Doherty huddled in terror behind the Sheriff.

After Murphy died in April, Doherty was charged with murder. His trial was held at the end of November 1900 and he was convicted of First Degree Murder. After years of legal battles that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, his death sentence was commuted by the Vermont Legislature and he spent the rest of his life in the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury. He died at age 58 on December 17, 1926.

In 1956, R.L. Duffus published a book entitled, The Waterbury Record in which he gives a largely fictitious version of this case.

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