Friday, August 26, 2022

A matter of historical record: Courtroom drama stuns as Windham murderess is revealed in 1895 infant death

By Walter Lunt


Facing a sentence of life in prison, Rose Dolley, her head buried in a tear-stained handkerchief, sat in superior court in Portland, where she was on trial for the brutal and horrific slaying of her infant son on Thanksgiving Day 1895.

As explained in Part One (The Windham Eagle, Aug. 12, 2022), the young Windham woman, who was unmarried, gave birth in Portland at a home for unwed girls. Her mother, Ellen, fearing shame and dishonor would be brought upon the family, demanded her daughter give up the child. That idea fell through and as the pair returned to Windham with the child during an early season snowstorm, the horse and carriage came to a stop just beyond the Prides Corner bridge where the babe was taken into the woods. It was found dead a month later, face down in an icy bog. The coroner would later testify that he found “…part of a white apron around the child’s neck. It was tied in a hard knot…” and that death was due to strangulation.

Following an investigation that included an eyewitness to a woman entering the woods and to retracing footsteps through brush, barbed wire fences and wetlands in the snow, Sheriff Samuel Plummer arrested both mother and daughter, Rose for murder and her mother as an accomplice. Rose’s trial drew hundreds of spectators who followed an unfolding drama, dubbed “The Prides Corner Mystery,” that made newspaper headlines throughout New England.

Evidence presented by the district attorney was overwhelming and pointed toward certain conviction.

But in an unusual legal twist, defense counsel William Anthoine, who represented both women, stunned the courtroom by asserting Rose was innocent, that the infant was dead when taken into the woods because the mother, Ellen, had killed the child during the wagon journey. Rose, however, had confessed to the crime during the prosecution phase of the trial.

This was yet another astounding turn of events that brought about surprise and astonishment to the thousands of courtroom followers in six states. According to the Jan. 30 Portland Evening Express, “Counsel Anthoine stated that the defense would admit that murder had been committed but would show that the child was dead when taken by Rose from the carriage. It would also show that Rose did not touch the child from the time it was given to its grandmother in Portland…until she took the baby from her mother’s arms just before going into the woods. The defense would show that, if murder was committed, it was committed by the grandmother, Ellen Dolley, and not by Rose Dolley.”
In his stern and almost fiery address to the court, Anthoine declared, “Ellen Dolley believed that the wages of sin is death and she considered herself as one of the instruments of God’s justice. Ellen Dolley refused to let her daughter come home (to Windham) when the child was born. She called her daughter every name that she could think of and told her that as she had disgraced the family, she might get out of it as best she could. She offered no sympathy to her unfortunate child, said no consoling words, but left her, heaping imprecations on her head and cursing her for the disgrace she had caused her family… (Mrs. Dolley) said she wished the child was dead. They drove on gentlemen (towards Windham), through the gathering gloom, the mother and child suffering the agonies of the damned under the cruel lash of her mother’s tongue, the grandmother of the child plotting murder in the heart. At last, they reached the woods beyond Prides Corner when Mrs. Dolley suddenly asked Rose, who was driving, to stop the horse. Mrs. Dolley then jumped out like a cat and took the child with her (into the woods).”

The first witness to be called by Counsel Anthoine was Patia Dolley, Rose’s younger sister and a daughter of Mrs. (Ellen) Dolley. The young girl’s testimony was said to be given in a convincing manner. She was at home in Windham the night of Nov. 25 when her mother and Rose arrived home from Portland. Her key testimony revealed that Rose had arrived in dry clothes and dry footwear. Her mother, however, had immediately entered her bedroom and changed her clothes.

Anthoine’s second witness was Rose Dolley, who reluctantly stepped into the witness box. Here the story of the ride from Portland to Windham that stormy night changed dramatically. Under intense questioning from her counsel, Rose said she drove the wagon and that she and her mother argued about bringing the child home. Rose recounted how Mrs. Dolley grew increasingly anxious with each passing mile, and finally, as they entered the wooded area at Prides Corner, ordered Rose to stop the horse. Mrs. Dolley got out of the carriage with the baby and disappeared into the dark woods, ignoring Rose’s pleas for an explanation.

When her mother later reappeared without the baby, Rose demanded to know, “Where have you been so long, and where is the baby?” Her mother’s curt reply was that she had taken care of the baby. Rose attempted to get out of the carriage, but her mother prevented her from doing so and the two quarreled bitterly for the rest of the ride. Rose further stated that the child was alive when Mrs. Dolley took it from the carriage. Her testimony was delivered amid loud sobs and several lengthy breaks while she regained her composure.

The judge, jury, prosecution, and the courtroom spectators listened in dazed silence. Counsel Anthoine’s presentation had gone far beyond what he had told the court to expect to hear. Now, it appeared, it was Ellen Dolley who was on trial.

On cross examination, referencing Rose’s earlier confession to the crime, the prosecution asked her, “Did you not know that your mother had committed a greater crime in killing the child than you had?

“Yes,” answered Rose, “but I was the cause of it all. I wanted to protect my mother.”

The Portland Evening Express observed, “The pitiful story of the defendant yesterday…served to reawaken public sympathy in her case. The generous hearted public believed her tale, the jury believed it…even the prosecuting officers being impressed with her apparent truthfulness.”

The following day, Jan. 31, 1896, spectators, mostly women, mobbed the lower corridors of the city building to witness the next sensational development. They were, reported the Evening Express, “All anxious to get a look at the girl who had been heroic enough to even confess to the murder and put herself on record as an inhuman parent to save her own mother from punishment and from prison.”

Ellen Dolley took the witness stand and corroborated the testimony of her daughter, Rose. In an unusual legal move, Judge Bonney instructed the jury to find Rose Dolley not guilty. They did so, without leaving their seats.

On Feb. 4, Ellen Dolley, 49, pled guilty to the murder of her 6-week-old grandson, William. As reported in the press, “She uttered the word (guilty) in a very low tone but the stillness in the courtroom was so intense that it was distinctly heard by all.”

Her defense counsel, William Anthoine, who, in effect, had prosecuted her, called for a reduced sentence declaring the deed was committed during an outburst of violent temper, that her initial efforts to convince her daughter to give up the child showed that “she had not murder in her heart.”

Attorney General Powers countered for murder in the first degree, proclaiming,” Her frenzy could not have been aroused by a sudden knowledge of her daughter’s shame, for she was aware of that shame before the child’s birth,” and he insisted the evidence brought out in Rose’s trial revealed premeditation.

The judge’s decision was announced on May 5: “That Ellen Dolley be confined in the state prison at Thomaston for the term of her natural life.”

According to research conducted by Louis Dunlap and Jean Dyer and Annette Vance Dorey, author of Maine Mothers Who Murdered, Ellen Dolley served only nine years in prison. Her attorney, William Anthoine, petitioned successfully for her full pardon in August of 1905, arguing that Mrs. Dolley’s crime was manslaughter (not first- degree murder) and that the maximum sentence had been served. She was living on the family farm of her son, George, in Windham when she died in 1931, the same farm where our story occurred. Her great-grandson, Lawrence Dolley, remembered seeing her there and described her as “feisty.”

Rose Dolley changed her name to Hazel R. Dolley and moved to Boston. She married Leslie Wentworth in Portland in 1919 and in 1940 was living in Gorham, Maine with her husband; she later worked at Pineland Hospital. Rose Hazel Dolley died in 1964 and is buried in Chase Cemetery in Windham.Lisa Elizabeth of Standish is a direct descendant of Ellen Dolley and only recently learned the story of her distant grandmother. “The story was harsh, awful, very sad. The story was (obviously) hushed through the generations – like a family secret. I admired Ellen for her courage – she could have walked away, but she didn’t. She owned up for what she did. I think she just momentarily snapped. After 100-plus years, I forgive her.” <

Friday, August 12, 2022

A matter of historical record: Spectacular murder trial of Windham mother and daughter grips New England in late 1800s

Rose Dolley and her mother Ellen were put in
jail in Portland, shown above, for the murder
of Rose's baby boy in December 1895.
Part One

By Walter Lunt 

Observers in the Portland courtroom sat motionless and silent, listening intently to incredulous testimony from the young lady from Windham who was on trial, accused of an unthinkable crime. Rosalie (Rose) Dolley sobbed uncontrollably, spilling tears into a handkerchief behind a black veil that covered her face. The warrant for her arrest, dated Dec. 8, 1895, stated that she was being charged with the murder of her infant child and that her mother, Ellen Dolley, was charged with being an accessory before the fact in the crime.

Newspapers from Bangor to Boston were enthralled with the case against the two Dolley women and printed front page stories, sometimes under banner headlines, as each nefarious detail emerged.

The whole affair began the previous year when Rose, then 17, became engaged to James Libby, 40. The two decided to postpone the wedding for at least a year. Libby, however, died suddenly in May of 1895; a short time later, Rose discovered she was pregnant; bearing a child out of wedlock, in those times, was seriously frowned upon and usually brought shame and dishonor to the entire family.

Rose told no one, not even her immediate family, of her condition and left home to take a job at a boarding house on Peak’s Island. Eventually, word got back to her mother, Ellen, that Rose was “in trouble.” Furious, Ellen visited Rose and insisted she go to the Temporary House, a home for unwed girls, in Portland.

After Rose gave birth to a baby boy named William on October 7, Ellen forced her daughter to give up the child to a Portland couple who, ostensibly, would adopt it. Days later, for reasons that remain unclear, Rose and Ellen returned to the home and reclaimed the child. The baby, however, would never arrive at the Dolley home in Windham.

As Rose would later confess to Cumberland County Sheriff Samuel D. Plummer, the night they retrieved the child from Portland was the evening of the season’s first snowstorm, Nov. 25. As the horse and wagon moved north through wind-whipped snow along the Bridgton Road toward their home in Windham, they argued about the disposition of the infant and how they would explain the situation to family and neighbors – perhaps claim it was someone else’s child. Ultimately, all seemed hopeless and about a quarter mile beyond the Prides Corner bridge the horse would pull up to a stop. Rose said she stepped from the wagon with her child and entered woods on property owned by Oliver Leighton. While wandering aimlessly through the trees, underbrush, and brooks, she was spotted by a man named Winfield Lawrence who was returning to his home following a welfare check on a neighbor. Later, he could not identify the girl due to the bad weather and because a shawl was wrapped about her head and shoulders. After about an hour, Rose said she returned to the wagon and her waiting mother…without the baby.

The next morning, both Lawrence and Leighton returned to the wooded area and followed the meandering tracks of the mysterious woman. The following day, results of their exploration were reported in the Portland Evening Express under the headline A Mysterious Case (that is) Exciting the People at Prides Corner – the story stated, “…they went down the road until they found the track through the woods made by the woman in her flight…For more than an hour they followed the tracks in the snow, which seemed to be made by a woman wearing a small sized shoe. The trail led over logs and through a deep tangle of underwood, across brooks and over bogs. On the edge of a brook the men picked up a baby’s hood and a lady’s handkerchief with no initials on it. The entire distance followed by the men was about five miles and tracks finally came (back) to the Bridgton Road, about half a mile below the point where the woman (went in).” The story went on to speculate that a child may be in some sort of danger, perhaps even murdered, and that the matter would undoubtedly be investigated by the sheriff’s office.

The newspaper’s assumption was correct. The next day Sheriff Plummer and two deputies “put in” with Oliver Leighton. On the track trail they discovered additional items of clothing, described as a blue worsted cord and tassel from a baby’s jacket. Authorities (along with dozens of Prides Corner residents) were now convinced the mysterious woman in the woods was carrying a baby.

On Dec. 2 a search party was organized. At least 50 men and a foxhound initiated a systematic search of Leighton’s woods; more clothing turned up: a baby’s white dress, “…clean and lying on top of the snow.” The sheriff and the Prides Corner neighborhood were now convinced there was a deceased child somewhere in those woods. Sheriff Plummer announced a reward of $50 to anyone who should find a child’s body. More searches were conducted in the following days, but to no avail.

By this time, more newspapers had picked up the “The Prides Corner Mystery” story. It soon became must-reading all over New England, nearly as notorious as the Lizzie Borden axe murders only four years earlier.

On Dec. 9, the Portland Evening Express ran a banner headline: SOLVED AT LAST. The story read, “…at last a reader of the Express…came to the front and gave officers some information. It was to the effect that a young woman named Rose Dolly (sp), who lived in Windham, had given birth to a child in the Temporary (home for unwed girls) in Deering about six weeks before the finding of the footprints in the woods.”

The sheriff’s investigation was then speedy and complete. Interviews with the girl’s home led to the identification of the clothing found in the woods, as well as the identification of the Portland couple who had temporarily cared for the child. This led to the discovery that the child’s mother and grandmother had reclaimed the baby and was taking it to their home in Windham…on the same evening of the snowstorm and the discovery of the tracks. Sheriff Plummer immediately visited the home of the Dolley’s in Windham, where he found Mrs. (Ellen) Dolley, her son, Warren, and three younger children. Rose was not there. All gave conflicting stories regarding the journey from Portland on the snowy night and about the whereabouts of Rose and Rose’s baby. Both Ellen and Warren were immediately arrested as possible accomplices of a crime. The newspaper reported that the scene at Mrs. Dolley’s house when she was taken away from her children “…was very affecting. (She is a widow) and protests her innocence. She has lived in Windham 30 years and is said to have been very much respected there.”

Upon further questioning, Warren finally admitted he had recently driven his sister (Rose) to Portland, that she left him without word of where she was going and that she carried with her a small extension grip (suitcase). A search of the Dolley house turned up an address in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Armed with a picture of Rose, the sheriff boarded the midnight train, located her at the Dorchester address and returned her to Portland. On Dec. 12, the Portland Evening Express, in a simple three-word headline revealed the latest stunning turn of events: “ROSE HAS CONFESSED.”

Both Rose and her mother, Ellen, were put in jail in Portland. Warren was ordered to provide surety bond and was allowed to remain at the Windham home to provide care to the younger children.

Many observers in the public square clung to the belief that Rose Dolley had given up her child, and that baby William was alive and well somewhere in the hands of loving adoptive parents. Those hopes were dashed on the afternoon of Dec. 29; William Leighton had stumbled across the body of an infant approximately one-third of a mile from the main road. Footprints of previous search parties had passed near the child, but the tiny body had been covered with sticks and branches and Leighton found it quite by accident.

Later, at the trials of Rose and Ellen Dolley, a coroner would testify that the infant was lying face down in a swamp and ice had to be cut away from around the body. “A cloth was tied tightly about the child’s neck. There was a look of anguish on its face.” The ruling was death by strangulation.

The county attorney ordered the child’s body be buried at public expense and that no ceremony be held.

On Jan. 29, 1896, a local newspaper reported “The trial of Rose Dolley of Windham, on the charge of murdering her infant son, was begun this morning in the superior court (in Portland). Judge Bonney presiding.” The trial of Mrs. Dolley, accused as an accomplice, was scheduled after that of her daughter’s.

Crowds of spectators swarmed the court, composed chiefly of women, many from Windham who were friends or neighbors of the Dolleys. A few had driven in from out of state. Sheriff Plummer allowed only as many as the courtroom could absorb comfortably. Photographers were barred from taking pictures of the defendant, so news writers provided a written description of the girl: “Rose Dolley was brought into the court from jail by the sheriff…and heavily veiled, was carefully guarded through the surging crowd. She made a very favorable impression on those who saw her this morning. She wore a brown cloak, braided with black…She had on a very pretty dark-green dress trimmed brown. Her hat was also brown with a small feather (that) curled gracefully over one side. Rose Dolley is not a very evil or bad looking girl. Her eyes are large and black, her hair brown and complexion fair. The prisoner sat with her head bowed and face often hidden in her handkerchief.”

The prosecution consisted of a legal trio: the attorney general, county attorney and assistant county attorney. The evidence was presented: the hidden birth, attempts to conceal the child, the snowy journey from Portland, a stop near Prides bridge, the tracks, the discovery and identification of the child and finally, Rose’s confession to Sheriff Plummer. In summation, the county attorney told the jury, “In this case a little child with all of the possibilities of life before it is needlessly, cruelly, and shamefully murdered by (Rose Dolley) who should be the one person in the world to guard it…the evidence bears with certainty…guilt.”

It was reported there was scarcely a dry eye in the courtroom. Rose sobbed pitifully.

Following brief recess, Rose’s court appointed counsel, William Anthoine would stun the court, as well as all of New England with new evidence. The tide was about to turn in the Rose Dolley murder trial. As one observer noted, “(the trial) ended in the way many of the story books do, which the average reader considers overdone. Everybody in the crowded court room was on tiptoe with excitement.”

Next time, Part Two reveals the real murderer. <

Friday, August 5, 2022

19th century Raymond farmers adept at ‘Girt Chain’ use

A girt chain was used by farmers in Raymond
during the 19th century when scales to weigh
livestock were not available in town. Animals
were measured and a complex and unprecise
formula was used to estimate their weight.
By Ernest H. Knight 

Determination of the weights of people, animals or things have long been a necessity for business or pleasure and the means of determination of weight has ranged from guess work and intuition to calculation and mechanical devices.

Many years ago when the weight of things became necessary for exactness, scales were not readily available where needed and transportation to them was difficult and time consuming. For example, the weight of working oxen or beef cattle was frequently needed for selling or health, and what do you do when available hay scales or suitable large steel yards were mounted in a fixed position at some inconvenient distance?

For weighing his livestock any farmer in 19th century Raymond could have at home or in his pocket his own “Girt Chain,” short for girth. It was a fine, light chain 6 or 8 feet long with a ring on one end and through a part of its length small brass plates were in place of links on which numbers were stamped.

The chain could be thrown around the girth or shoulders of an ox or steer and in some manner the numbers translated into the weight of the animal. But how? 

In an 1894 copy of “Ransom’s Family Receipt Book,” donated to the Raymond-Casco Historical Society by Eldred Spiller, which along with all its mixtures of food ingredients, some sounding quite delicious and others quite repulsive, included encyclopedic items of daily usage. One section gives instructions for measuring hay in the mow, corn in the crib, weight of bushels of various farm products and the following:

"TO DETERMINE THE WEIGHT OF LIVE CATTLE – measure in inches girth around breast just behind shoulder blade and length of back from tail to fore part of shoulder blade. Multiply girth by length and divide by 144. If girth is less than 3 feet, multiply quotient by 11; if between 3 and 5, by 16; between 5 and 7 by 31. If the animal is lean, deduct one-twentieth from result; or take girth and length in feet, multiply square of girth by length and multiply product by 3.36. Live weight multiplied by .605 gives net weight, nearly.”

So, you can see that with a simple rule of this sort there was no necessity for expensive or cumbersome weighing equipment, and if a girt chain did not weigh more than an ounce, it could be tucked into a pocket or into a cheek in place of tobacco. And throwing a girt chain over the shoulders of a beast and reaching under the end to complete the circuit there were plenty of bulges of the hide to hit or miss that could move the measurement from one category to another.

Or the number on the tiny brass plate might be upside down or hard to read standing on the shady side or when bothered by passing flies.

A situation akin to the butcher or grocer steadying the scales with a finger while weighing something for a purchaser. And in case of question as to whether the buyer or seller should do the chaining, seniority or reputation could be discussed, and no deal worth a hoot should be concluded without opportunity for both sides to show their sharpness or wisdom by argument.

Of course, the last words of the instructions cover a multitude of sins as how can one side hold out too long when the result is “net weight, nearly.”

Empirical formulas or procedures require a vast number of trial runs and an area where the accepted rule might be large or small. The one given here might have been limited to Mr. Ransom’s sphere of distribution. But do give it a try the next time you want to weigh your oxen. <

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.