By Thomas D’Agostino
Halifax, Massachusetts, in the late 19th century was a close-knit little community of about 600 people. One journalist in the 1870s referred to the town as such, “no lawyers and none needed.” This would change, however, when on February 15, 1874, a gruesome triple murder took place in the Sturtevant home.
The two elderly brothers, Simeon and Thomas Sturtevant, lived with their elderly cousin and caretaker, Mercy Buckley. It was well known that they were very wealthy farmers and kept their money hidden within the confines of the home. Though the neighbors were in the habit of checking on the trio, days would go by where the three would not be seen or heard from. On February 16, a neighbor happened to be passing the rear of the home when he noticed the body of Miss Buckley lying in a field some 40 rods from the house. (A rod is a unit of measurement equaling 16-1/2 feet. It was the common use of measuring up until the 20th century. Miles, acres and city blocks were laid out in rods and their measurements are the same today but now measured in feet instead of rods.)
Her head had been beaten so badly, she was barely recognizable. He hurried to the house where he found Thomas near the door, also beaten to death. Simeon was found upstairs in the bedroom in the same condition. The whole community was, to say the least, in utter shock.
Right away the police had a suspect in the nephew of the brothers, William Sturtevant. It was no secret that William owed money and had no means of paying his debts. This was coupled with the fact that his wife had just given birth.
One of the telltale signs pointing toward his guilt was a trail of coins leading from the Sturtevant house to his. This was due to a hole in one his pants pockets he had filled during the incident. When the police searched him they found in his stockings dollar bills issued in 1863, the same ones that the uncles kept in their home. The fact that only a portion of the money was taken was also a factor, as William had no way of carrying a large sum, therefore would only take what he could fit on his person.
All this was but circumstantial and although weighed heavy on the side of justice, it was what happened next that sealed William’s fate. The police escorted William to the crime scene for a walk-through; William seemed composed though nervous, then it happened. As he passed Miss Buckley’s parrot, the bird began screeching, “Murderer! Murderer!”
William then broke down and confessed killing his uncles and Miss Buckley with a cart spoke, then taking what he could carry in currency. The trial was so popular that tickets for the event were in high demand. Sturtevant was found guilty and executed on May 7, 1875. A special train was commissioned to bring crowds in to witness the execution. He would be the second to the last person executed in Plymouth County.
The two brothers are buried in the Tomson Cemetery in Halifax next to each other. On their stone, under their names, is the word “Murdered” carved into them. William is also reported to be buried somewhere in the cemetery in an unmarked grave.
A gruesome story with a strange ending is not uncommon in New England history. This particular one, instead of a copycat murderer, tells of a copycat screaming murder.