WorcesterThen: 1898

 

 

This account of a gruesome murder in Brookfield begins with an unrelated event in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a case of serendipity: loosely, finding something of interest when you were looking for something else.

 

My grandmother’s older brother, Thomas Jefferson Furbush, of Appomattox, Virginia, was born in 1878.  In 1898, at the age of twenty, he was employed as a fireman on the Norfolk & Western Railway. Early in the morning of March 7 of that year his train was proceeding northbound up the scenic Shenanadoah Valley south of Staunton, Virginia, when it ran head-on into another freight train heading south. The cause of the crash was a classic case of falling asleep at the switch.  The erring switchman fled the scene. Whether he was ever apprehended is unknown.

 

The crash took T.J.’s life and caused severe injuries to four others, some of whom may have died later as a result of their injuries.  His mother, my great-grandmother, carried a clipping about the wreck, published in the Lynchburg (Va.) Advance of March 8, for the remainder of her life. It was found in her handbag at her death in 1945.

 

 

 

 

Fortunately the clipping was saved and has been passed down through the family, along with other documents and memorabilia.

 

It was just a small story about the train wreck, running about three column inches.

 

I later was privileged to receive the clipping from my father’s sister, who was a granddaughter of the one who carried it.

 

Left:  A Serious Collision.

 

In the upper-right, the unfinished

headline “Wanted for…” turns out to have led to a story of murder in Brookfield.

     

 

Just inches away from the story of my great-uncle’s death in this obscure newspaper in Virginia was a notice of an ongoing search for the suspect in a triple murder in Brookfield. It stated that the police chief of Lynchburg had received from the chief in Worcester, Mass. a “wanted” circular for one Paul Miller, for the murder of a family of three in Brookfield, Mass. 

 

Well, this piqued my interest, so I went to the Worcester Public Library, sat down at the  reading machine on the third floor with a couple of rolls of  microfilm, and set out to find what I could about the case as it was covered by the local press some 118 years ago at this writing. It didn’t take long, and what a find!  Rather than labor to spin a second-hand story entirely from  press accounts, I’ll let the newspapers tell it as they wrote it, but in an abbreviated form.

 

Below is a set of six headlines, actually multiple headline sets, about the case in the Worcester Daily Telegram over a period of a week in January, 1898.  Headlines were written somewhat differently back then, some might say especially in the Telegram, and this one used a multiple-line format to provide enough enlarged bold print to provide a crude outline of the story of the murders, aside from the text itself.

 

There is no need here to plunge into the gory details of the tale, especially since someone else has already done the job. (See below) 

 

But I recommend a look at the Telegram’s headlines on the murder story.

  

 

Jan. 10

 

Jan. 11

 

Jan. 12

 

Jan. 13

Jan. 13

Jan. 17

 

I take from this three interweaving sub-stories: the gruesome discovery, the horror of the crime in its gory details, and the manhunt.  The search for the killer, an early, low-technology form of manhunt, began with determined optimism but then became less hopeful within a week.

 

Before leaving the newspaper aspect of the story, another facet of the task  of presenting the news at that time was the lack of photography, which was still a few years away.  Below are sketches of the family and of Mr. Newton lying in his bed (going light on portrayal of the state in which he was found):

 

 

 

Both from Telegram of Jan. 11.

 

Researching the story more than a century later, with newspaper accounts likely the only source to be found, how does one go about trying to find out whether Mueller was ever caught, and if so, what came of the case?  I pursued the story in the Telegram a bit longer but failed to find any new clue to the case and gave up the search with only a minor investment of time and effort. My best guess was that he got away with the crime, probably by taking the train to some distant location, changing his name, and doing odd jobs for people knowing nothing of his savage crime in Brookfield.

 

It was pure coincidence that I stumbled across the triple murder story when I was looking at something else on the same newspaper page, and it is another coincidence to discover that the story has been told by someone else during the same period of time I was involved with it.

 

While pulling this material together for the present purpose, an online search on “Paul Mueller – Brookfield – murder” quickly yielded a book published in 2016, by Rachel Faugno, of the faculty of Quinsigamond Community College, entitled Murder & Mayhem in Central Massachusetts, of which a chapter is on the Brookfield triple-murder.  (The History Press, Charleston, SC) 

 

(My files on the subject, which I sent to my home email box from the microfilm reading machine at the WPL, are dated November 12, 2015.)

 

For anyone interested in knowing more about the story, for whatever reason, the Faugno book is the place to start, and probably stop, unless you want to read the original press accounts.

 

In closing,it seems worth pointing out that the Lynchburg paper published the notice nearly two months after the Brookfield crime, by which time the case, if not solved, almost surely had gone cold. The flier from up north probably had little effect on the Lynchburg editor until he needed a small filler to plug an empty space in his paper one morning.

 

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Don Chamberlayne, 2017