My great aunt was murdered somewhere in the USA around 1970 by her husband. I only know her first name. How do I find out the details?
March 20, 2012 3:31 PM   Subscribe

My great aunt was murdered somewhere in the USA around 1970 by her husband. I only know her first name. How do I find out the details?

My grandmother's sister was born around 1924 in Clapham, London, UK as Josephine Egginton.

When her mother died - sometime around 1929 - she was sent for adoption to New Zealand (on the ship Ruahine). I don't know why she was sent for adoption, but I suspect that there was a good chance that she was illegitimate somehow.

She was adopted in New Zealand by Mr and Mrs Mellors. When she grew up she met an American Serviceman based in New Zealand.

They married, and moved to the USA where at some point (I am told) he shot her and then killed himself in front of their children. This would have happened within +/- 3 years of 1970.

The above information has taken me years to find. And now I have reached a dead-end.

How can I find a list of murder-suicides in the USA for around that time? Or at least try to identify something more about her?
posted by pandini to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite search might turn up something.
posted by fellion at 3:37 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking out loud on this one, but how about going through the military? They might have info including the maiden name of his wife.
posted by Madamina at 3:37 PM on March 20, 2012

Could you track down her marriage in New Zealand? That'd give you the husband's name.
posted by easily confused at 3:41 PM on March 20, 2012

If it was a military marriage (i.e. done by the commanding officer) I doubt that New Zealand has any record of it. It would be an American marriage, not NZ one.

And if they intended to move to the US, they most likely would want it to be an American marriage.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:43 PM on March 20, 2012, without any real sexiness with the fuzzy search, is a swing and a miss on Josephine Egginton and Josephine Mellors, I'm sorry to say.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:46 PM on March 20, 2012

My own experience (that will not help you in the least...):

Thirty-some years ago my aunt murdered my uncle. She went to jail for a while, so I know there are records somewhere, but I don't know enough details to track it all down. I've tried all sorts of google searches and I've found some court information from later appeals, but I've never been able to find a true history of what happened.

I'm only interested for curiosity's sake, so I don't want to bring it up with family members (and reawaken the bad memories).

If you ever find a way to get this info, please share.
posted by tacodave at 3:49 PM on March 20, 2012

If you can flesh out the how and where of these details it's take years to find, that might help. (Unless you mean waiting for people to mention something off hand.)

Also, have your tied searching obits for both her maiden name and common alternate spellings?

Do you know anything about the adoption agency/service/church. They may be able to help.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:58 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

The national archives of the United States might have records of her arrival in the US as an immigrant. It's worth a look.
posted by pickypicky at 3:59 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have access to Lexis-Nexis and have you tried a newspaper archive search? Probably best attempted with a talented librarian with some expertise? I'd start with all available US newspapers, make the range 1965 to 1975, and start with a plain "Josephine" and "murder-suicide." If that doesn't turn anything up, try some of your other keywords ("serviceman" "New Zealand" "Mellors" "Eggington" etc.). That would be the quickest way to get a broad search of a bunch of U.S. news sources.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:00 PM on March 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

So i think your best chance is to find the marriage info. I would check every Mellors in New Zealand at about 1944. (I find Auckland to be the best chance) Then find marriage records for any Mellors (I wouldn't assume they kept her first name). Then you'd have some choices for first and last name last name and could try to track in the US.
posted by beccaj at 4:01 PM on March 20, 2012

I'd ask a librarian to help with a newspaper search, honestly. They tend to have access to the pricey indices.
posted by SMPA at 4:03 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: @Lesser Shrew - the details have come from my mother's recollections, and then searching the National Archives at Kew in London, and and There's no-one in the family left to ask, unfortunately, and things were swept under the carpet anyway, presumably due to the legitimacy issues.

Answers here are already giving me new sources of information - for which I'm really grateful.
posted by pandini at 4:05 PM on March 20, 2012

I just looked in Lexis-Nexis Academic and it only goes back to 1980. Most big city newspapers have archives that you can search, some charge money for articles. A crime that heinous probably would have been picked up by major papers.
posted by mareli at 4:15 PM on March 20, 2012

One thing I would do is consider the and findmypast as "rough." Of course, a good librarian already knows this.

People input things incorrectly all the time - Sara Sarah problems, switching first and middle names. Also, towns are incorporated into cities and change names.

Good luck.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:19 PM on March 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks. A good example of people messing up is, me. She was adopted by Mr and Mrs Mellars, not Mellors. Not that that helps the search ...
posted by pandini at 4:22 PM on March 20, 2012

Do you know the name of her spouse? The national archives also has military service records.
posted by pickypicky at 4:24 PM on March 20, 2012

Response by poster: @pickypicky Alas, I don't know the name of her spouse, or what branch of the military he was in. Or when they met, married or moved to the USA. Or what name she was using at the time!
posted by pandini at 4:36 PM on March 20, 2012

There seem to be many people named Mellars in New Zealand, you could try to get in touch with some of them and ask if they knew her. She would have been around 90 now, there may be people between the ages of 90+ and 60 or so who remember her.
posted by mareli at 4:37 PM on March 20, 2012

New Zealand Adoption Register to double check her maiden last name? An adoption certificate would be very useful in regard to names of parents. Fromt here you can look for existing relatives on the adopted parents side to contact for further information.

You may be able to find the name of town she was living with adoption parents and consider where he was likely stationed in NZ. Perhaps US military has record of the base and servicemen in NZ ?

My next question would be the ship they sailed to US from NZ. When did they sail and what type of ship was it (military or other)? Was it after the war? Can you search records of passengers of the ships that sailed? Because she was married in NZ she would have taken on the husbands last name prior to travel? Also see this link for info

Finally, do you know which town they were living at the time of the murder? Where were they likely buried? You can often search Cemetery Records based on date/year rather than last name. Do you think they were buried together?

If you could find your distant relatives (the children) that would be very interesting.
posted by Under the Sea at 4:49 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

A marriage performed in New Zealand between a New Zealand national and a US servicemember would be registered with the government of New Zealand, even if it was performed on-base by a military chaplain (commanding officers in the US military don't have authority to perform marriages by virtue of their position). So if you can find her marriage records, you'll know the husband's surname, and if you know the husband's surname it will be much simpler to find out the rest of the story.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:02 PM on March 20, 2012

I stand corrected.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:29 PM on March 20, 2012

It requires a membership I don't have to view the records, but has a record of a Josie Rita Mellars in New Zealand in the NZ Electoral Rolls, 1853-1981. It's a shot in the dark, but it might be worth using a free trial to see if that gives you any new information, and you might expand your search to include "Josie" and "Rita."
posted by Dojie at 7:33 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dur-doy! Sorry to keep popping back to point you to the national archives, but I wanted to make sure that I suggested that you look at naturalization documents too-- if she got a green card, that might help you to find her more easily. Also, I wanted to point out that the archives have a service that allow you to hire a researcher.
posted by pickypicky at 7:43 PM on March 20, 2012

I wonder whether searching on your grandmother's name--if she was next of kin--might help you find an obituary or a newspaper article. She might be listed as a survivor. For the same reason, do you know the names of your aunt's offspring? If your aunt went to college, the alumni office might have some info.

This story is juicy enough that it might have been covered by one of the numerous "True Crime" rags popular at the time. My grandmother's maid died in a murder-suicide at about that time. The deaths were instigated by her (bat shit crazy 80 year-old) husband, who thought she was putting salt peter in his food to stifle his sex drive. That detail was salacious enough that the story kept popping up for years... I last saw it in News of the Weird about 5 years later.
posted by carmicha at 9:16 PM on March 20, 2012

Reading this thread has prompted me into a bit of idle amateur sleuthing....there's a lot you don't know, obviously, but if you have the date of her birth about right and she was still in New Zealand when she met her American soldier, it seems like the likeliest time for that to have happened would have been during WWII. A bit of wiki-ing and a shaky memory aren't bulletproof, but it seems that while New Zealand was involved to a limited extent in the Korean and Vietnam wars, the only time there were large numbers of American troops in New Zealand itself was WWII. The American deployment there started in 1942 and lasted until 1944, and she would have been the right age, 19 or 20.

According to the New Zealand Yearbook for 1947-49 (a statistical abstract published by the government): "From the time of arrival of American Forces in New Zealand in 1942 up to the end of the year 1944, a total of 1,396 marriages between American servicemen and New Zealand women was celebrated in this country."

Furthermore, the book says that any marriage in New Zealand must take place before a Registrar (also that they started letting women be registrars in 1933, way to go Kiwis), and that anyone under 21 who wanted to get married needed permission from their legal guardian.

There's also this historian's account of the New Zealand homefront experience, which mentions that New Zealand women who married Americans sometimes had to wait moths or years to get clearance to immigrate to the States, since berths on ships were extremely tough to come by, and it was basically impossible to get one for a mere fiance. Altogether, if your aunt did marry a soldier, and was born in 1924, this suggests she would have required permission (probably from one of the Mellors, if that info's correct) and that the marriage would have had to have taken place before the guy left, so it's likely she's somewhere in that bunch of 1400 women mentioned above. There's no footnote in the yearbook, but it also seems clear that they kept special track of women who married servicemen --- there may be a separate record you can search.

So that's at least a good space to start looking. Once you have her marriage cert, that should give you a bunch of clues --- the Army was in Auckland, the Marines in Wellington, apparently, so depending on where the marriage took place once you have the guy's name you should be able to track down his service record and that should give you enough to start looking for him in Stateside records. The U.S. Census will release detailed info for the 1940 census next month, and if you have his name that will give you a fair chance of finding where he lived before he enlisted, and where he was likely to return to, and may have had family still alive.
posted by Diablevert at 9:22 PM on March 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Have you also tried to track 1928-1930 New Zealand immigrations via that ship, the Ruahine? That might give not only her birth name, but also possibly her exact birth date --- maybe even the adoption agency and/or full names of the adoptive parents she was going to.

Since she was adopted at about age 5, it's less likely (but still possible, of course) that her first name was changed, so keep an eye out for every variation of Josephine/Josie.
posted by easily confused at 2:22 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have access to the full worldwide Ancestry and I don't think Josie Rita Mellars is the same lady - she was registered to vote in 1978 and 1981 only. Let me know if there's anything you come across that you want looked up on Ancestry, pandini.

There's also Papers Past which is a NZ newspaper archive and which I thought might have an engagement or marriage notice, but it only goes up to 1945 and I've had no luck on "Mellars" so far.
posted by andraste at 3:25 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

The key to unlock this is to find her married name. If she was married in New Zealand, you might try following the instructions here for getting what is called a "printout" of her marriage record.

Since her marriage would have taken place LESS than 80 years ago, there are additional hoops you must jump through in order to order the record. In these instances, just simply state you are trying to trace your long lost Great Aunt for genealogy purposes. Stories about murder, etc., don't usually endear you to record keepers (of this sort anyway... once you are seeking information about the actual murder is when you can reveal that information).

If it is any help, I did throw her first name paired with her maiden surname and adoptive surname into my library's subscription to Newspaper Archive without result. In my experience, sensational stories such as murder seldom talk about the victim's background directly, so even key wording with "New Zealand" and former surnames (such as a maiden name or adoptive name) doesn't help. Therefore, likely it wouldn't just 'pop up' without her surname at the time of the murder.

Get that married name and I bet you'll find that brings you new answers and likely even a few more good questions!
posted by kuppajava at 10:40 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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