Skip to comments.Final tribute to century-old tragedy
Posted on 06/30/2002 12:41:36 PM PDT by pabianice
The story could easily have been ripped from the headlines of today's tabloids: Mother of Six Says, 'I Killed Them All'; Attempts Suicide. Bereft of all hope, a destitute mother married for a decade to a man who was an uncaring father and an abusive husband, took the lives of her six children to save them. In a last act of desperation, she vainly tried to take her own life.
BARRE (MA)-- A little more than a century ago, an unspeakable tragedy stunned this community and the small neighboring village of Coldbrook Springs.
That village no longer exists, taken by the Metropolitan District Commission for watershed land.
And in large part, the story of the Naramore family and the events of March 21, 1901, have been laid to rest with the bodies of the six children who lie in unmarked graves in the paupers' corner of Riverside Cemetery on Granger Road.
Anonymous for a century, the children were not alone, however, said former state Sen. Robert D. Wetmore, who lives a short distance from the cemetery.
A giant, solitary oak that shades the site has stood sentinel over the graves since the children were buried, awaiting the day their names, ages and story would be etched in granite for all to read.
That day has come.
Through the combined efforts of Mr. Wetmore, the Barre Historical Society, state Rep. Anne M. Gobi, D-Spencer, and Secretary of State William F. Galvin, The Coldbrook Tragedy will be sand-blasted into a piece of Canadian granite by Gerry Granite Works in Gardner.
Mr. Wetmore said it was about a month ago when Albert Clark, town historian, told him the story of the Naramore family in response to his interest in a nearby marked grave at Riverside.
I was interested after reading accounts of the tragedy and contacted Representative Gobi, he said, suggesting state agencies that might have the money needed for a historical project at the end of the fiscal year.
Mr. Galvin provided $4,000 to cover the cost of creating and placing a 4-foot-by-3-foot granite marker near the six graves, now only identifiable by slight indentations in the ground.
Lester W. Paquin, a member of the Barre Historical Society, said there has been interest in placing a Naramore memorial marker at Riverside for as long as he can recall, but until recently, those efforts were simply good intentions.
In 1991, on the 90th anniversary of the event, Mr. Paquin researched the archives of the Barre Gazette and Historical Society files and put together for the Barre Gazette an account that chronicled the events leading to the killings, the day of the carnage and the outrage that swept the community afterward.
He said the late Michael J. Ryder, then Barre police chief, was one of several who took an immediate interest in the story.
Mr. Paquin said Chief Ryder was so captivated by the story that he spent an evening at the Henry Woods Memorial Library, poring over the source material himself.
The story could easily have been ripped from the headlines of today's tabloids: Mother of Six Says, 'I Killed Them All'; Attempts Suicide.
Bereft of all hope, a destitute mother married for a decade to a man who was an uncaring father and an abusive husband, took the lives of her six children to save them.
In a last act of desperation, she vainly tried to take her own life.
Leaping from the yellowing pages of old newspapers, the story is as compelling as any murder mystery. In fact, a similar story in Texas captivated the nation earlier this year, as Andrea Yates was sentenced life in prison in connection with the drowning deaths of her five young children.
Elizabeth Craig, a native of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, was 19 when she met and fell in love with Frank Naramore of Baldwinville.
From the outset, Miss Craig's family and friends disapproved of the union, and with little money and few friends, the couple moved to the once-stately home of the Whiting and Babcock families in Coldbrook Springs.
Mrs. Naramore was described as a hard worker, a loving mother and a person of integrity by those who knew her best.
The Rev. Charles Talmage, pastor of the Barre Congregational Church, would later reflect that the worst decision Miss Craig ever made was to marry Frank Naramore.
Her husband was universally regarded to be ill-tempered, abusive, adulterous and drunk more often than sober.
When he worked at the Parker Lumber Co. sawmill two miles from his home, he was well-paid, but was not considered to be dependable.
After the killings, an investigation of the family's background by Rev. Talmage turned up one instance where Mr. Naramore had drawn two weeks' advance wages, telling friends he was traveling to Worcester to buy furniture for the family.
He returned home three days later with no furniture and no money.
This instance and others proved to be a pattern, and Mrs. Naramore was left to make do with what little she had.
Seeing the steady decline in the family's situation, Mrs. Naramore had reached out for help. Initially, it was friends and neighbors. As a last resort, she went to plead for help from the Overseers of the Poor in Baldwinville, where she had once lived.
Help arrived, but it was not at all what she had hoped for.
The home visit from the Overseers of the Poor, a few days before the day of the killings, was a fateful and decisive one.
The overseers assessed the living conditions and the lack of food in the dilapidated home and told Mrs. Naramore they would return in a week, take five of her six children and place them in foster homes and find shelter for her and her youngest child, 11-month-old Lena, in a poorhouse in Holden.
News accounts suggest that Mrs. Naramore feared that she would never again see her children: Ethel, 9; Charles, 7; Walter, 6; Chester, 4; Elizabeth, 3; and the baby.
On that Thursday, after feeding the children a meager lunch, Mrs. Naramore brought them to the kitchen one by one, oldest to youngest, took a club and an ax and killed them. She piled their blood-soaked bodies in an adjoining bedroom and then attempted to kill herself by cutting her throat. When that failed, she opened an artery in her leg using her husband's straight razor.
As it turns out, on the day she killed her children, her husband had gone to work at the sawmill and on the way had stopped at C.H. Parker & Son, the grocer in Coldbrook Springs, to have some potatoes, flour and other groceries delivered later that day to the home.
By some accounts Mrs. Naramore seemed more cheerful than usual that morning when he left for work with two biscuits in his lunch pail.
But by then, the damage had been done: The die had been cast.
A customer at the grocery store, who was a neighbor of the Naramores, volunteered to drop off the parcels at the Naramore home about 3 p.m., because he would be passing right by the house.
When he arrived, there were no signs of life -- no responses to his knocks on the bolted front door, or any other door.
He looked through the first window he came to, staggered backward, and fled in terror back to Parker's store.
The neighbor told the storekeeper what he had witnessed.
Someone went to the mill to get Mr. Naramore and a group of men went out to the house.
Breaking down a rear door, the men found the kitchen awash in blood. A bloody ax and wooden club lay against the stone cold wood stove. In an adjoining bedroom, the bodies of the two oldest children lay on one bed; the bodies of the other four children were piled on a second bed.
The infant was clutched in her mother's arms, and all presumed Mrs. Naramore to be dead, until she stirred when an attempt was made to take the infant from her.
Upon seeing his dead children and bloodied wife, Mr. Naramore began cursing and screaming and was taken outside to await the arrival of Dr. Henry J. Walcott Jr. of Barre, medical examiner.
Mrs. Naramore, her throat and leg wounds bound, regained consciousness long enough to confess to Deputy Sheriff Sylvester Bothwell of Barre that, after careful planning, she had murdered her children with a wooden club and double-bitted ax.
The bodies of the children remained at the house where an undertaker prepared them for burial. Mrs. Naramore was taken to the Bemis Hotel in Coldbrook Springs and was arraigned the following Monday before Judge Matthew Walker.
Rev. Talmage, one of the first to reach the house as word spread of the killings, assembled sufficient information about the children to perform the funeral service at the Baptist Church in Coldbrook Springs.
Unnerved by what he had encountered, he began his own investigation of the Naramore family.
The local cemetery in Coldbrook Springs, within walking distance of the Naramore home, did not have a paupers' section, and no one had come forward offering to pay for a proper burial for the children in the Baptist Church cemetery, so the children were buried at Riverside.
According to the accounts of the funeral, the service drew many curiosity seekers. The six coffins were lined up at the altar, and the bruised faces of the children were visible through window glass in the coffin lids. Mr. Naramore was seated with his brother and brother-in-law in the front pew of the church.
The funeral oration was not exactly what people expected.
Rev. Talmage chastised the congregation as representatives of a society that would allow such conditions to exist, prompting such a tragedy.
Absolving Mrs. Naramore of responsibility for the crime, Rev. Talmage indicted society and roundly pointed the finger of responsibility at Mr. Naramore.
Looking to turn the finger of blame from themselves, some blamed the house itself, saying it had been cursed since an itinerant tin peddler hanged himself in an upstairs bedroom 30 years earlier.
Three weeks after the killings, Rev. Talmage addressed the community in Williams Hall and produced the results of his investigation, which again was an indictment of Frank Naramore.
Mrs. Naramore was tried for the crime of murdering her daughter, Ethel M. Naramore, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity, an outcome that had been predicted by District Attorney Rockwood Hoar when he first surveyed the scene of the killings.
The mother of the forgotten six was never tried for the murder of her five other children, but was placed in a state mental hospital for five years. At that time, she was judged to be sane and was released.
After the trial, Mr. Naramore vanished and was never heard from again.
Likewise, after her release from the mental hospital, Mrs. Naramore was never heard from again.
Mr. Paquin speculated that Mrs. Naramore likely became reclusive and moved to a large city such as Boston or New York, where she could live in anonymity, or returned to New Brunswick, where she would have had the support of family members.
No one knows, he said.
The Historical Society plans a dedication of the new marker, once it is in place.
"Mrs. Naramore was tried for the crime of murdering her daughter, Ethel M. Naramore, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity, an outcome that had been predicted by District Attorney Rockwood Hoar when he first surveyed the scene of the killings."
DB, such trials do not go the way you would think they ought to; which again, is why the charges must not exceed the strength of the evidence, if you expect to convict.
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