Thursday, March 24, 2022

An old-fashioned mystery from Raymond’s past

By Ernest H. Knight

A plank of wood of a dimension seldom found these days though once a common product of local sawmills was at the center of a full-fledged mystery in Raymond in the 19th century.

Panther Pond is shown near where Raymond resident Henry
Britton went missing on the evening of Easter Sunday, April
14, 1895. A massive search of the area ensued in the
community for much of the next month trying to find out
what had happened to him. SUBMITTED PHOTO
It had all the elements of a whodunit – a disappearance on a Sunday, strange lights on Panther Pond that night, a broken umbrella on one side of the road with its handle on the other picked up by a suspect but not reported, blood spots on discarded work clothes, a coat hung out to dry that had not been in the rain, the hat of the missing person found in a gravel pit on Thursday that could not have been missed by several people on Wednesday or earlier, a scattering of lead pellets on and by the road, and conflicting statements as to the drinking habits of the people involved leading to a proliferation of random speculation in and about Raymond Village.

On Easter Sunday, April 14, 1895, Henry Britton, who lived alone in a house on Route 85, went to visit friends on the Meadow Road. It was a cold and rainy day and very few were out that afternoon to notice who might be on the roads, but Henry did stop at Smith’s Hotel at the corner of Main Street and Meadow Road for something to ward off either chill or snake bite.

When he failed to appear for a job he was supposed to do on Monday, his house was entered on Tuesday, where it was evident he had not been around for several days. A massive search was made by groups of people from in and around the village sweeping over wooded areas and the Jordan River with no results other than some perplexing items noted above.

Henry was accustomed to crossing the river in his travels to and from the village by means of a bridge consisting of a single plank some 36 feet long by 11 inches wide, an immediate and logical suspect as the cause of his disappearance. But with no corpus delecti to offset all the other evidence at the Meadow Road end of his Sunday jaunt, the search and investigation continued.

The Cumberland County Sheriff made a number of visits to Raymond, once arriving late at night to personally talk to a man who had seen the strange light on Panther Pond.

After getting directions in the village, he arrived at the house at midnight. He knocked at the door and to quote the newspaper account “the person who came to the door opened it and disclosed the form of a woman in her nightdress. At the same time that she opened the door she said in an affectionate tone ‘Is that you old honey bunch?’ This sight and the greeting took the sheriff by surprise, but he pulled himself together and managed to answer ‘Yes.’ It was now the women’s turn to be surprised and pull herself together, which she accordingly did. She finally explained that she was expecting her husband and thought it was him of course.”

But on Sunday, May 12 as arrests were about to be made, the bubble of mystery was exploded by the finding of the body of Henry Britton in the river only 50 feet or so below the bridge when it arose amid its own air bubbles to the horror of men working nearby.

Having been missed in the searches of the river, helped by closing the spillway in the dam at the outlet of Panther Pond, and freed from being trapped in a deep hole, the authorities concluded that the body was dislodged by the concussion of logs being rolled down the steep banking from the road into the water.

As Henry’s watch and money were safe in his pockets, foul play was ruled out and his demise was officially attributed to his unstable condition when trying to perform a slack wire act on the bouncy 36-foot plank in the darkness of a stormy evening.

Henry Britton was laid to final rest beside his parents that same night and Raymond returned to normal.

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646. <

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