St. Lawrence County is known for its picturesque waters and pristine seasons. But underneath this fair facade lies a sordid past, rife with tales of killings and cunning, like the man who slashed his wife to death after instructing a constable to close the door and depart; a robbery that descended into the brutal axing of a mother and her two small children; the unsolved case of a young woman bludgeoned to death on school grounds in an upscale neighborhood; and the gruesome poisoning of one man at the hands of his son, his wife and her lover. Join author Cheri Farnsworth as she investigates these and other notorious cases of murder and mayhem in New York’s North Country.
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SCARBOROUGH FAMILY MASSACRE
SHOCKING MURDER — We understand that on Monday, the 12th inst. [sic] at Massena, in St. Lawrence County, a woman, her two children, one aged only six months, and a French boy, were murdered in a shocking manner.
The author of this diabolical act is supposed to be a Frenchman who had an antipathy against the family and took the opportunity, when the man was absent, to murder his wife and children.
The names we have not learned. The Frenchman has been taken into custody.
— Plattsburgh Republican, February 24, 1816
Michael Scarborough was born in Canada on January 6, 1785. He was one of the area's first settlers, arriving prior to the War of 1812 in which he served. After the war, he returned to his young wife and daughters on their sprawling Louisville farm near today's intersection of New York 37 and 56. Flynn's Broaster, once a popular local eatery, stood on this land until it was razed in a controlled burn in November 2006. It was there on Scarborough's estate — just past Stewart's on Route 56 — that his family was nearly obliterated while he was away on business one ill-fated winter's day. Scarborough, who made a comfortable living running a lumbering business and store in the town of Massena, later told authorities that Jean Baptiste Gerteau (also known as Louis Conrad) must have noticed the large wad of cash he was holding while paying his men the day before the murders. He never dreamed Gerteau would rob him of it — or, far worse, of his family — at the earliest opportunity, using any means necessary. The Frenchman, Gerteau, was one of Scarborough's employees who lived nearby. Somehow he knew the layout of the Scarborough home, where his young brother-in-law Jean Macue worked and was boarding; and he knew that Scarborough always kept money on hand. He even knew where to find it — or he had been told.
When Scarborough set out on February 21 for a few days, Gerteau hunkered down in his barn until the wee hours of the morning. Then he crept, scythe in hand, up to the door of the Scarborough residence and — apparently finding the door unlocked — stepped inside. There, just inside the door, he noticed an ax and replaced his scythe with it. How is it that the door was unlocked? Had young Macue been a willing accomplice to the burglary, unlocking the door and providing a floor plan to Gerteau, while entirely unaware that a simple robbery would escalate to a bloody attack on everyone inside, including himself? We'll never know. But according to author Gates Curtis in his 1894 Our County and Its People: A Memorial Record of St. Lawrence County, New York, Gerteau then "passed through the room where Macue was sleeping in a bed on the floor and entered the room where Mrs. Scarborough with her two children were sleeping." He snatched the money carefully from the corner of a drawer and turned to leave when one of several scenarios unfolded, as you'll see below. Some sources reported that he feasted on "cakes and sweetmeats" before fleeing on foot. At daybreak, neighbors went to the home and discovered footprints leading away from the house in the fresh snow. The door was then locked, so they peeked inside and, Curtis said, they "observed the corpse of one of the victims." Forcing the door open, they saw the full, horrifying scope of the crime: three people hacked to death, and one little girl lying in a pool of blood in critical condition. The authorities were summoned, and a search party set out and followed Gerteau's blood-dotted trail. They caught up to him about two miles south of St. Regis. On the grim journey back to the scene of the massacre, Gerteau admitted he was guilty and offered further details freely. He confessed that it required an entire bottle of whiskey to get up his nerve for the deed. And clearly he was still under the influence; for once he opened his mouth, there was no shutting him up, no matter how vile the atrocities he admitted to:
I raised dat axe up to strike der woman, but I could not do it. I say to myself, "Ah, mon Dieu, no!" I pull out de bottle from my pocket and take one big, big drink — put bottle back in pocket, and pick up axe. Den I strike — strike — and kill him woman and baby and boy, easy. [sic]
The only paper I was able to find that reported on the crime in 1816 was the Plattsburgh Republican. Most towns in the area did not have a local newspaper yet. Because the Plattsburgh media was basing its report on information relayed from across the miles — and because they had to throw something together hastily — some of the first details they published were inaccurate and much was considered unfit to print at the time or even decades later. L.H. Evert's History of St. Lawrence County, New York in 1878 said, "The details connected with this brutal tragedy are too horrible and sickening to relate." The unfortunate victims, it turned out, were Maria Scarborough, Michael's wife; their infant daughter, Adaline; and Jean Macue, who was only fourteen or fifteen years old. Three-year-old Marian somehow survived her wounds. The names of the parties in this tragic story have often been spelled differently in various news articles (i.e. Macue/McCue/Manu, Maria/Marcia, Conrad/Conard, Gerteau/Grateau/Croteau, and Adeline/Adaline). I spell them here as they were most commonly reported in the earliest articles.
On March 2, 1816, a week after the paper had first announced the murder, the Plattsburgh Republican ran another article with additional details:
The murderer entered the room where Mrs. Scarborough, aged about 24, and her two children, a girl of 2 years and an infant of three months old, were asleep about 5 o'clock in the morning. He struck Mrs. S twice across the neck with an axe which nearly severed the head from the body. The infant had a blow on the head with the head of the axe and died in about [illegible] hours. The little girl is said to have 3 marks of the axe on her head and one on her shoulder, but hopes are entertained for her recovery. He then went into the room where the French boy lay ... [and] struck him with the axe and cut his throat.
Having taken these murderous precautions to prevent detection, he broke open a trunk and took from thence 22 Dollars and 3 cents — he expected to have found 500 Dollars.
Franklin Benjamin Hough offered a different take in his 1853 book, A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York. He said Gerteau killed his victims after he found the money he was looking for, not before like the Plattsburgh Republican reported. "He might have made his escape unobserved; but fearing detection, laid [the money] down, raised his weapon, and with a blow, nearly severed the neck of the woman." The St. Lawrence Republican of December 14, 1881, relates two other versions in "The First Execution in St. Lawrence County." The first was given by Mrs. Scarborough's niece and published in the Antwerp Gazette in 1881. She said that when Scarborough left for Montreal, he left Jean Macue to stay with his wife and children; and it was expected that Gerteau would return to his own house nearby. Instead, Gerteau hunkered down in Scarborough's barn, unbeknownst to anyone, and began his killing spree only when he was caught in the act of burglarizing. She also pointed out that Gerteau admittedly killed a nephew out of greed years before the Scarborough family massacre:
The next morning, neighbors noticed there was neither smoke nor stir about the house and barn, and, going over about 10 a.m., found the doors locked and a man's track leading from the house. On looking in, they saw a young Manu [sic] lying dead upon the floor. Breaking into the house, they found Mrs. S. and two children chopped to pieces in the parlor bedroom, while a third child, Marian, had a fearful gash across her face, but was alive, and recovered, and is still living. Mr. S.'s desk had been broken open and a small trunk, usually containing money, was gone. Parties immediately followed the track ... and he, going through byways and lots, was soon overtaken. When he saw the men, he threw the trunk into some brush, but ... told where to find the trunk, which, on opening, was found to contain 75 cts. He said he stayed around the barn all day and at night went into the cellar and ate as hearty a meal as ever in his life; he then took an ax and started to break the desk open, but found they were sleeping there, instead of in the usual rooms. Manu awoke as he entered, and he laid his head open with the ax. After splitting open the desk, the babe nestled around and awoke the mother; then he killed all as he supposed. He confessed he had also killed a little nephew years before, that he might inherit the property.
Joseph Fields, a neighbor, was allegedly the first man who came upon the crime scene, so he was intimately familiar with the case. His son, David, told the St. Lawrence Republican his father's account of the incident sixty-four years after it happened. In this version, a boy was lifted through a window into the Scarborough residence by a crowd that had gathered to see why nobody was answering the frantic rapping on the windows and door. He returned with the grim news:
[Fields] had made arrangements with Mr. Scarboro [sic] for the use of a couple of ox teams for the purpose of getting in his supply of firewood, and started before daylight to go to Mr. Scarboro's for them. It was a bright moonlight morning, but had snowed during the night. As he approached the Scarboro residence, he discovered tracks of a man, leading away from the premises. The cattle in Mr. Scarboro's barn were making piteous indications of distress, and Mr. Fields went into the barn and fed them. He then went to the house and found the tracks led from the house to the barn. He found the house locked, and it was impossible to waken the inmates. He then suspected something was wrong. He went to the bedroom window where the family slept and rapped. There was no response. He then alarmed the neighbors, and when a number had gathered, a window was forced open and a boy sent in to see what was the matter. He soon returned and reported all the family dead. A pursuing party was organized, of which Mr. Fields was one. They took the track and in a few hours Gerteau was overhauled making his way to St. Regis. His hands and arms were red with the gore of his victims.
One thing all accounts agree on is what transpired after Gerteau was apprehended and arrested. He was tried at the county courthouse in Ogdensburg on July 3, 1816, with the honorable judge William W. Vanness presiding and pleaded not guilty to the three indictments against him. But the jury found him guilty of murder on all counts and sentenced him to be hanged in nine days. It would be the first execution in St. Lawrence County's history. The court records from that day, according to Hough's History, say, "Louis Conard, otherwise called Louis Gerteau, otherwise called Jean Baptiste Gerteau, for the murder of Maria Scarborough, whereof he was convicted, was called to the bar, and the court sentenced that he be taken to the place from whence he came, and from thence to the place of execution, and that on Friday, the twelfth instant, between the hours of one and three, to be hung by the neck until he is dead, and may God have mercy on his soul; and further, that his body be delivered to the medical society of this county, to be delivered to some person authorized to receive it."
The twelve-foot, hinged platform of the gallows was propped up by an upright post at one end and secured by a cord, or rope, at the other end. On July 12, 1816, before a large crowd that had gathered around the gallows, Gerteau was led onto the platform and the end of a rope hanging from a tree limb was adjusted snuggly around his neck. Sheriff Joseph York's solemn duty was to cut the cord supporting the platform with his sword, thus causing the platform to collapse and the killer to plunge. But when York, undoubtedly shaken by the monumental task his title required of him, rode up on his horse and swung his sword at the cord, it refused to cut, even after several attempts. Was it a dull blade or poor aim? Who knows? But, finally, he was forced to get off his horse and approach the gallows on foot with a hatchet. Slowly, thread by thread, the blows of the hatchet worked their way through the stubborn cord, fraying and weakening it until it finally let go, and Gerteau was left dangling and struggling before the horrified crowd who had never seen a man strangled to death so slowly before — or at all. Had the rope been severed with one swift whack of the sword or hatchet, as was expected, Gerteau would have died instantly from a snapped neck. Perhaps, considering his crimes, some might have felt the slow, painful death he endured was in order. But the sheriff would have none of it on his watch and famously yelled, "For God's sake, cannot someone put this man out of his misery?"
A young physician from Lisbon was up to the task. He happened to be standing right next to the suffering man, so he grabbed Gerteau's feet and gave a violent downward yank, causing the noose to tighten and break the man's neck. The doctor's actions infuriated the crowd, according to many sources. However, none explained if this anger was directed at the doctor because he took another's life with ease or if they were upset that they didn't get to see the prisoner writhe in agony a bit longer. Nevertheless, that physician's medical career was over the moment he stepped up to the plate. According to the Massena Observer of September 25, 1924, Gerteau's body was then hurriedly cut down and laid out on a nearby table. No mention was made of the customary counting of respirations or pulse to ensure death was certain and absolute before the doctors began dissecting him. In fact, the article states that the first incision was made "while the flesh was yet quivering."
The site of the hanging was at a tree in the city commons facing Washington and Elizabeth Streets in Ogdensburg. In "Reminiscences of the Burg," dated January 24, 1871, the St. Lawrence Republican told of the fabled oak under which Gerteau met his fate:
Near Myron Hickock's, in Washington Street, were the remains of an old stump famous in the legendary lore of the boys for marking the spot where Louis Baptiste Gerteau, the first man executed in St. Lawrence County, was hanged. The law foreclosed and his "checks were passed in" on the 12th day of July, 1816. This was ten years before our debut here, and of course what we remember of that event, we inherit from our parents, both of whom witnessed the execution. His crime was the murder of Maria Scarborough, her infant and a lad aged fourteen or fifteen, named Macue, near the village of Massena, in the town of Louisville, on the 22nd of February, of the same year. After execution Gerteau was given to the doctors and his bones picked. For many years, his skeleton was in the possession of Dr. Smith, long since deceased, and, we believe, is now in the office of Dr. S.N. Sherman. The bones of this first murderer of St. Lawrence County were the bugbear of many a boy's "nightly vision." If they did not keep us in at nights, we travelled lively wherever we were required to go alone.
The old stump remained till expansion had carried the village line down to Patterson Street and the plow and scraper had thrown Washington Street into a well-rounded turnpike.
Although scarred for life from the physical and psychological trauma she endured, little Marian Scarborough grew to adulthood and married William Monroe of Canada. She was blessed with two sons and a daughter. Patriarch Michael Scarborough lived until he was ninety-three years old, dying in 1878. His second wife, Mary A. Marsh of Cornwall, Ontario, died ten years after him. Eventually, the Scarborough Farm became known as the Casaw Farm, while Amab and Armenia Newgal Casaw lived there from the 1860s until about 1909. The corner has long since been commercially developed, making it difficult to fathom the horrific crime that stigmatized the property so long ago.CHAPTER 2
THE ARSENIC POISONING OF SARAH JANE GOULD
While pretending to her and her friends that you was [sic] the devoted lover and faithful nurse, you was her cold-blooded assassin.
— Judge James to murderer James Eldredge
James E. Eldredge was just twenty-one years old when he became a coldblooded killer. He was born in Canton. After a brief stay in Iowa — where his family moved in the spring of 1856 — he returned to the area, settling in Louisville under the name of Edwin Aldrich. He quickly acquired work as a teacher and was allegedly a very fine one, at that. When school closed in March 1857, Eldredge moved into home of Louisville resident Danforth Britton. As fate would have it, Britton's niece — Sarah Jane Longhey Gould-was living with Britton and his wife at the time. Sarah was the oldest of four children; and her parents died when she was very young. She married John Gould at nineteen and was widowed in 1852 at the age of twenty-one. Eldredge set his sights on the lovely young widow, and their courtship quickly progressed to the point of discussion of marriage; some believed that Eldredge had only promised to marry Gould so she would agree to premarital intimacy with him. As the engagement progressed, Eldredge sank further into debt with Sarah's uncle, not only for his room and board, but also for items he had purchased at Britton's store. He kept putting Britton off by insisting he would pay him in full as soon as he received the large sum of money he was allegedly expecting at any moment from his family out west.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder & Mayhem in St. Lawrence County"
Copyright © 2010 Cheri L. Farnsworth.
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