Copyright by Brian Lindner
We feel it and we hear it all the time – things are so much worse today than “in the old days.” The crimes are more brutal. The kids are worse. There are so many more violent domestic assaults than in our parent’s or grand parent’s times. It all makes good talk but it just isn’t true. The “Good Old Days” were just as foul and nasty as today. To illustrate the point, let’s take a look as some random crime stories fromVermont’s past.
During the night of April 27, 1880, 12-year-old Alice Meaker was awoken by her aunt Emeline Meaker on the family farm in Duxbury to go for a ride in the wagon. On the slight hill adjacent to today’s Parro’s Gun Shop on Route 2 inWaterbury,Alicewas force-fed poison and when that failed to kill her, the aunt finished the task through strangulation. Alice’s tiny body was unceremoniously dumped in a swamp a few miles further up the road. With Alice dead, Emeline planned to continue to collect the child support payments and enjoy the money for herself.
Emeline was later convicted of First Degree Murder and became the first female to hang inVermont. A large number of indignant protestors held rallies to save her life based solely on her gender but all efforts failed. After three years of exhaustive appeals, Meaker was hung in a botched execution at the Windsor State Prison on March 30, 1883.
So you think domestic assaults are worse today? In the remote woods near Stowe hikers can still find the old stone foundation of the farmhouse where on March 12, 1882 Mathew McCaffery terrorized his entire family. With his hands, knife and axe he brutally murdered his wife and mother in view of their seven children. It wasn’t until two days later when one son was able to escape and run for help. Judged “insane,” McCaffery died of old age at the Vermont State Hospital.
How many times have you been to a scene and left just shaking your head in astonishment at what you had just witnessed? Imagine Barre Police Chief Brown responding on May 12, 1901 to the Charles S. George residence for a reported shooting.
It seems that Mr. George had built an indoor shooting range down the main hallway of their house where he enjoyed firing his Flobert rifle into a target. It was pretty much of a regular routine and “the Flobert cartridges do not make much noise when exploded” so nobody seemed to mind.
Unfortunately, the master bedroom was off the same hallway and one morning as Mr. George was plinking away, his wife stepped out of the bedroom and into the hallway. She was struck in the neck by her husband’s next round. The poor woman quickly bled to death but he was never prosecuted because the shooting was “purely accidental.”
And you think reporters sensationalize stories today – how about this headline from the Montpelier Evening Argus on May 06, 1908: “Homicidal Maniac Shoots Louis Neveaux on State St.”
It was a warm spring evening when the streets ofMontpelier were surprisingly busy with walkers. At 0945 Neveaux was strolling along the sidewalk on State Street in front of thePavilion Building when a 24 year-old female named Christine Bau casually walking in the opposite direction suddenly pulled a .32 caliber pistol and shot Neveaux twice in the groin at point-blank range. As he dropped and lay bleeding on the sidewalk, Bau placed the gun to her forehead and shot herself. In a suicide note found in her purse Bau had written to her parents that, “I hope to kill someone first then myself…..Love to all. Your loving daughter.” Neveaux survived with lingering injuries that haunted him until his own death in 1943.
Impaired drivers seem to plaque our highways. It is a never ending battle but it isn’t anything new. On July 31, 1924 a group of five school boys were walking on the sidewalk in Waterbury when Dr. Henry Hopkins approached in his “high powered”Hudson.
Dr. Hopkins suddenly slumped over the wheel and his car plunged into the boys who had no time to leap to safety. Raymond Lefebvre (11) was killed instantly and Bert Lavelle (19) died the next day. Ray Flannery (12) and Howard Lefebvre (14) were both critically injured but eventually recovered. Only Edward Lefebvre escaped with minor injuries.
DMV immediately suspended Dr. Hopkins’ license because of his ongoing “spells.” Local residents who remember Hopkins agree that it was widely believed that he was a routine user of pain killers and other medications that would impair his judgment and actions thereby causing his frequent “spells.”
And kids are worst today? Bethelwas rocked by the December 15, 1940 murder of Jennie Kendall (73) by three school boys. Haven Wood (15) along with George Wood (11) and Donald Rogers (11) beat Kendall to death with a poker so that they could steal her piggy bank with its few coins.
It wasn’t just cars that attracted all of the attention. According to newspaper accounts, it was on February 12, 1961 when George Rocheleau (28) was alleged to have been drinking alcohol when he crashed into the side of Camels Hump in a single engine plane. He jumped out of the wreckage and stumbled his way down the mountain leaving his female passenger to fend for herself in a remote area in deep snow. She was rescued late that night.
It seems that there are more police shootings than ever before. The job entails ever-increasing dangers. Well – maybe.
How about October 08, 1926 when U.S. Customs Agent Edward Billings Webb did a routine motor vehicle stop in Sunderland Hollow on U.S. Route 2 in Colchester? During the stop he got into a physical altercation with Walter G. Mason who pulled a gun, pushed it into Webb’s belly and pulled the trigger. Webb died three days later. Deputy Murray Tucker was wounded in the same fight before Mason escaped. Webb is buried inMontpelierwith his headstone visible from I-89.
Then there is the case of U.S. Custom’s officer Louis A. Babcock. In the darkness of August 17, 1931 he was on a boat in Lake Champlain chasing rumrunners bringing alcohol down from Canada. It wasn’t until after the high speed chase was over that Babcock was missed. Apparently he bounced overboard in the heat of the action, he drowned and the body was never found despite massive searches.
In the days before VSP, DMV Inspectors served as the state wide police force. Then as now, law enforcement officers are most likely to lose their lives in automobile accidents. So it was on September 09, 1935 when Inspector Robert D. Rossier crashed his motorcycle near Brattleboro while returning from a day of patrolling. He died later that night leaving a new bride who never remarried.
Stories like these are endless. The job was tough then and it hasn’t gotten any easier. Earlier law enforcement dealt with the same characters and problems as now.
However, one thing has clearly changed – the paperwork. Despite years of research, not one single piece of official documentation has ever been found on any of the cases outlined in this article. In earlier times paperwork even on major cases was light to non-existent. In that aspect, things are indeed far worse today.