How do I find out about a murder?
June 27, 2007 1:04 PM   Subscribe

I need help researching a 1950s murder in Massachusetts, but I live in Atlanta and know no one there to find the info for me. Where do I begin?

A family member was involved in a grisly murder back in 1954 in Lowell, Massachusetts in the French-Canadian neighbourhood. I only found out about this recently and would like to get the full story.. especially as to what happened to him after he was caught. Or was he caught? We're not sure.
My grandmother was secretive over the whole thing, but I'm sure that back then this would've been a big news story. I don't know anyone that lives there and I'm not sure where to begin on finding out what happened.
Do I call the library? The newspaper? Do people charge for this?
posted by czechmate to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would definitely try your local library first. A lot of libraries have databases for historical newspapers (like the NY Times) which may have more information. (If you want to post more info here, the Mefi librarians may be able to help, too.)
posted by leesh at 1:09 PM on June 27, 2007


I suggest using the Boston Globe's Archive Search [note: Stories from editions of The Boston Globe between 1924 and 1979 have not yet been digitized for the online archives, but are available for purchase].

You can also contact a librarian at the Boston Public Library via the 24/7 Reference desk -- online or by phone.
posted by ericb at 1:12 PM on June 27, 2007


Have you tried contacting the Historical Society?
posted by saladin at 1:12 PM on June 27, 2007


I think those are probably both great places to start. You could definitely pay an investigator for something like this, but I would think calling the reference desk at the library and explaining to someone what you were trying to do could get you a lot of help. Ditto the newspaper, you may need to ask for the archives. Also,according to Wikipedia, there's the "Center for Lowell History, University of Massachusetts Lowell" at the Lowell campus of UMass. Those would be the first three places I'd start, without spending much money.
posted by pupdog at 1:13 PM on June 27, 2007


Here's the link for the Center for Lowell History, my typing-fu is weak today.
posted by pupdog at 1:15 PM on June 27, 2007


Besides the good ideas already mentioned, you might try contacting one of the reference librarians at the Pollard Memorial Library (that's the public library in Lowell).
posted by box at 1:16 PM on June 27, 2007


Also -- check out the Lowell Sun newspaper.
posted by ericb at 1:19 PM on June 27, 2007


Online archives of Lowell Sun are available for pay at http://www.newspaperarchive.com/. Specifically, you can browse to "Lowell Sun, The", and then "refine your browse" to the relevant time period.
posted by katemonster at 1:23 PM on June 27, 2007


I guess it wouldn't hurt to give more info, you know, just in case.

The year was actually 1948 or 1949 (I just got off the phone with my mom) and she's pretty sure it happened in the summer. In 1954 her and her family moved into an apartment complex in Lowell, MA in a French-Canadian neighbourhood. My grandmother told my mom to never tell anyone her maiden name. She said something nasty happened with one of her relatives in this particular building.
Fast forward many years later and my mom finally asks her mom what happened with the relative.

His name was Henri (very distinguishable last name that I don't want to say here, but will gladly release via email upon inquiry) and we're not sure if he was having an affair with a nurse or if he had met her that night.. but he raped and murdered her. He then tried to set the apartment on fire to cover up his tracks.. and we believed that he was caught and sent to prison.
Did he stay in prison long? Did he die in prison? We're not sure. Hell, we're not even sure he was really caught. There's some speculation to that.

Here's just an extra bit to the story and the main reason I want info. The man is my grandfather. My parents are 3rd cousins. Which means my grandmother's maiden name is also my maiden name. It was my paternal grandfather who is the murderer... and my father never knew. Until my mom told him. But she couldn't give details because she didn't know either due to my grandmother being secretive and my mother never questioning her further.
My father passed away recently.. and never knew the truth about his father and I need to know. I can't let this mystery go on any further.

I'm going to email those librarians that most of you have recommended... I wonder too, if this type of thing was reported way back when? Did they report such things in the newspaper? With names?
posted by czechmate at 1:42 PM on June 27, 2007


I wonder too, if this type of thing was reported way back when? Did they report such things in the newspaper? With names?

Oh, yes. Murder, rape, and all the rest have always been big news stories. A local weekly where I live recently republished several stories from a murder case in the 1920s...names, intimate details, who-was-sleeping-with-whose-wife, etc.
posted by frobozz at 1:50 PM on June 27, 2007


BTW -- you can also search news archives at Google's News Archive Search.
posted by ericb at 1:52 PM on June 27, 2007


I have access to the Newspaper Archive for free through my library and found the Lowell Sun newspaper for the entire year of 1954. You would probably need to narrow it down to at least a month or spend lots of time looking through each issue page by page.

I suggest seeing if your local library will have free access to the Newspaper Archive (most likely). Otherwise a local university may provide access for a small fee.

Obviously as you mentioned the newspaper may not have much info in which case you would need to search police records. Those may be long gone or in the Massachusetts state archives. The newspaper is your best starting place.
posted by JJ86 at 2:16 PM on June 27, 2007


You might also try posting your query at websleuths.com. There might be members in that area who can do some research, or even someone is familiar with the case.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:50 PM on June 27, 2007


JJ86 -- as per czechmate post, it appears that the murder happened in 1948 or 1949.

And here's a link to the Massachusetts Archives which JJ86 mentions.
posted by ericb at 2:52 PM on June 27, 2007


I suggest seeing if your local library will have free access to the Newspaper Archive (most likely). Otherwise a local university may provide access for a small fee.

I just checked with both sources.. no and no. Neither of them cover the Lowell Sun. That was a great avenue though. How do you access old police records? And prison records? Is that public information?
posted by czechmate at 2:53 PM on June 27, 2007


You might try simply calling The Lowell Sun. Most of the people who work there probably grew up in the area, and someone may have heard of the murder. Or someone there may be willing to help you look through the archives, perhaps if you're willing to be interviewed for a human interest followup story.
posted by cerebus19 at 3:13 PM on June 27, 2007


Whatever you do find, please follow this up. Please.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:10 PM on June 27, 2007


My sister works for the state crime lab in Massachusetts. This is what she said.
If it was a murder that was investigated and/or prosecuted by the police (municipal or state) I believe that you can request a copy of the police report and any other copies of official documents. I can find out for certain tomorrow at work if you want, but asking one of the troopers. But I think you can request the files under the Massachusetts Public Records Law (which is a lot like the FOIA, but for the state). I will offer a caveat that public records, particularly from that time period, are likely to be grisly, upsetting, insensitive, or just very inadequate. But they would give a different view of information than was available to the general public at the time.

Information on how to do this is here:

http://www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/prereq/reqidx.htm

Let me know if this person wants me to follow up at work.
posted by jessamyn at 5:43 PM on June 27, 2007


Thank you so much jessamyn. I had no idea I could actually request those kinds of records.
The Massachusetts Archives was also a huge help. I can request prison records to find out if he ever went in (my mom believes he was) and if he ever made it out. No one in the family knows what happened to him after all of this, and no one spoke of him again, until the day my mom told me all of this.

Once I find the date it happened, I'll be sure to request the police report.
I contacted 2 librarians and one news reporter at the Lowell Sun. I'm hoping someone gets back with me about finding the news story on this. I think my mom would like to have closure on this as well.. she blames herself for not asking her mother further questions.

If anyone else would like to try their hand at finding this story.. (spacing it out so it won't be Googled) his name was Henri (or Henry) G u i l l e m e t t e.
Very distant relatives of mine are composing the family tree, and I'd like this particular part of the branch ignored by them.
posted by czechmate at 6:10 PM on June 27, 2007


I found a Chicago Daily Tribune article from Feb 18, 1951 that describes the slaying, but gives a different first name.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:44 PM on June 27, 2007


Text from article...possibly not the person you are looking for, but it seems relevant.


“Lowell, Mass., Feb 17, 1951. Miss M a r y K o u t o u z i, was stabbed to death in an office building today. Police said a rejected suitor confessed the crime a few hours later.
A r t h u r G u i l l e m e t t e, a Lowell ex-convict, was charged with first degree murder after giving police a description of the slaying. Miss K o u t o u z i, a civilian payroll clerk at Fort Devens was knifed three times in the chest as she walked downstairs from a dental appointment.”
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:03 PM on June 27, 2007


Sounds like you're hot on the trail now, but another angle you may want to use as you follow up is genealogists. If you can find someone who isn't burdened by too many requests or who is interested in your family or this particular angle you may well get a free locally-based researcher, but you may also need to pay a fee to a society or facility and reimburse expenses like photocopying. At the very least, they will be able to get you phone numbers or even e-mail addresses of people who can help.

Lowell, MA public library genealogy resources

Lowell, MA GenWeb

G_____ family GenForum

Regarding Google -- I'm not sure that spaces are quite enough here, but I'm also not sure that this is something that you need to worry about too much. You didn't even know about it for decades. Other than a small few it's likely forgotten and won't affect people's opinion of you in this day and age.
posted by dhartung at 8:58 PM on June 27, 2007


Arthur? No, that isn't him. However.. I'll ask my mom about that one. That particular spelling is quite rare.. sometimes it's missing an L or a T.

I thought about the genealogy side of it.. and I just might try that again. Although I have spoken to a few distant relatives about our side and Henry's father was the only brother they they had no information on. From what I heard, his father was a cruel and brutal man... and every one tried to forget he even existed.
posted by czechmate at 10:02 PM on June 27, 2007


Sister also says:
As a follow-up to this, I just spoke to a Sgt. in the Massachusetts State Police. He said that it would have been local jurisdiction only, so any records would be with the local agencies archives. There *might* have been a roving trooper back then, but it's unlikely. He reports that any paperwork would be very slim, but might contain pictures and a description of the crime. The best way to try to get this is through the method I mentioned earlier. As a family member, it is likely you can get every scrap they have left (which might not be much)

The Sgt. also suggested that you can petition the district attorney for any records they would have kept. Since it was prosecuted and there was a conviction, they would have any information on the court case side of things, potentially including the sentencing.
posted by jessamyn at 7:25 AM on June 28, 2007


I just got word back from the reporters and the librarians and both of them said there is no way they can help me and don't know of anyone who can. The librarian said if I knew the name of the victim, I could find her death certificate and pin point a death, but she knows of no one who would go through the archives to find this.

As for Arthur.. mom said she doesn't believe he is in relation to any of our immediate family.

I will definitely contact the local jurisdiction for the police report (and maybe the DA for court report?) once I get the date. The date now is really holding me up.

I have to admit though.. if pluckysparrow was able to find that murder via Chicago newspaper, why isn't this case in there? Was he merely a suspect in the case? Did family know about this mistress and when she ended up dead they just assumed? Tragically all of my great-aunts and great-uncles who may know the story have all passed away. I'll keep digging and hopefully stumble onto something.
posted by czechmate at 11:12 AM on June 28, 2007


I think the reason pluckysparrow found it is because you can easily use keywords searches on these newspaper archives. But the keywords are harvested by OCR which is hit or miss with old newspapers. I've run a few OCRs on old newspapers with Adobe Acrobat pro and the results were astonishingly bad.

The problem you ran into with the archivists is that much of this work is very time consuming and difficult. Working with microfilm is especially tough. I've spent days in front of a microfilm reader and my eyes hurt and I felt sea-sick.
posted by JJ86 at 5:47 AM on June 29, 2007


A quick search through the newspaper archives and the only reference I find to Henry Guillemette on a search of all of MA is an article on Page 26 of the Lowell Sun from December 8, 1947 with a picture. It was a man on the street question about a boxing match:

Henry Guillemette, 437 Moody street, millworker:

"I didn't hear the fight broadcast, but from accounts I've read, I think that there would have been complaints and criticism no matter who was awarded the decision. I'm glad the Brown Bomber is still on top."

posted by JJ86 at 6:10 AM on June 29, 2007


That's him! That's where they lived! There's a picture of him? Can I see it? I'm just itching to know what he looks like!

I knew this would be time consuming and difficult so I don't harbour any ill feelings toward them, I do understand. Luckily I found a law student there that offered to do the research for me for a small fee.. I hope she can pull through for me and that I just didn't get scammed.
posted by czechmate at 6:41 AM on June 29, 2007


Here is a copy of the article. Hopefully you will be able to find some more useful information.
posted by JJ86 at 7:52 AM on June 29, 2007


It's possible his name was changed in documentation, whether intentionally or not. I was browsing around the Lowell city directories from the 30s through the 50s on Ancestry.com (which has a free 3-day trial that doesn't require a credit card). I discovered these entries:

From the 1938 directory:
Henri Guilmette; wife Cecile; profession "musn" (musician, I assume), living at 204 Cheever

From the 1956 directory:
Harry Guillemette; wife Cecile; profession "musn"; living at 468 Moody with son Harry, Jr. (a shoe worker).

Now, those could be two different people, but that seems unlikely to me. Whether this man has anything to do with this question, I don't know.
posted by cerebus19 at 11:04 AM on June 29, 2007


Thank you for that copy JJ86.. I'm sending it off to my mom to see if she recognizes him.

That's a possibility that they misspelled his last name and left off an L or a T, which maybe why I'm having a hard time finding him in places.
posted by czechmate at 12:29 PM on June 29, 2007


Mom confirmed that the picture is definitely Henry.. she said she recognized him right away.
She also worries about me posting this here.. she's scared that our family is being judged. Now she regrets telling me. That won't stop my search though..
posted by czechmate at 1:47 PM on June 29, 2007


We've all got skeletons in our family closet. I don't think anyone has the right to be judgemental about your ancestors or you. I hate that family history gets lost because of silly little beliefs or fears. Yes it can be unpleasant to find out your grandfather was a killer but it should be known.

I did find a newspaper reference to the Harry Guilmette that cerebus19 posted but that 1948 article mentioned he was a blind pianist. I'm sure the city directory was a misspelling or just mixed records. In my searches with Wright directories I have found many screw-ups like that which does make for some difficulties.
posted by JJ86 at 2:32 PM on June 29, 2007


I did some searching and found either an eerie similarity or what you were looking for.

Elizabeth "Betty" M. Dose was a head nurse at Beth Israel Hospital. This was in Brookline, MA in 1955. She died on April 24th (Sunday Morning), sometime between 2am and 5am. At first the medical staff ruled it an accidental fire, perhaps the result of an errant cigarette, until Betty's coworkers revealed she did not smoke. The medical examiner then discovered head wounds on autopsy. The Lowell Sun on April 25th:
Brookline Nurse, Believed Victim of Fire, Was Murdered Medical Examiner Says Death Caused By Blows on Head Before Blaze Began

BROOKLINE, April 23 (AP)—A 29-year-old nurse, originally believed to have perished accidentally in a fire, was a murder victim, a medical examiner said tonight. Miss Elizabeth M. Dose was slain by three blows on the head before fire swept her Brookline apartment earlier today, Medical Examiner Thomas P. Kendrick said. Dr. Kendrick said he discovered scalp wounds during autopsy.
A summary of about 8 different AP reports from different papers and articles from the Lowell Sun all in the week following Miss Dose's death: Police then discovered blood on the entry door, on the couch and on the fire escape. Otherwise, police personnel described the apartment as "immaculate" They presumed the killer murdered her, left, then returned to set the fire to conceal the crime. A love interest was there until 12:30 am, then left. He was investigated by police, along with 5 other men, and released. A wandering crook was captured and investigated a few days later, and released.

Another angle was being investigated in the meantime, when a firefighter said in his haste to get Dose's body out of the house, her head did hit something, and pretty hard. That wouldn't explain 3 wounds though, and there's only that single mention of that angle, that I could find.

A handyman, 32 to 33 years old, was then the prime suspect. A crowbar was found in the boiler room of the apartment building and thought to be a possible murder weapon. It was remarked that the handyman had access to Miss Dose's apartment. Incredibly, one of Miss Dose's friends identified a piggy bank taken from the handyman's residence as stolen from Miss Dose.

There's a report that talks about how a few months before the crime, Miss Dose lived in fear. She'd been a quiet person but now she was having all night parties with a "bohemian-like group called the byobs (bring your own beer)." She feared living alone and told a friend she "wouldn't ever again go as deep into love as she had with this man"

But after that initial week of reports, nothing. No word on what happened with that case. Also, the first report says Miss Dose "had not been sexually attacked", which goes against the account you have. Brookline is 30 miles from Lowell.

The suspect's names were never revealed in the reports I read. Again, I can't seem to find anything after that week (April 25, 1955-May 2, 1955) I can go on about the particulars of the case, but perhaps you can evaluate this information. Nurse killed, a supposed fire to conceal a murder, 1950's Massachusetts, nearing summer. I could find no word of apprehension of someone responsible or a resolution of the case. There was also no apparent connection to Lowell either though, and your revision where you say the murder was closer to 1947 than 1954 points more toward eerie coincidence. Also, this would make no sense with the apartment building story and of the warning to not use the last name. Perhaps you can evaluate this and see if anything checks out. I searched through every mention of the last name you gave us, for the period 1940-1960. I could found nothing related to a murder except the already referenced story about Arthur G's killing of Mary K.

I have the pdfs saved from the newspapers. Here's a picture of Elizabeth "Betty" Dose.
posted by cashman at 6:40 PM on October 31, 2007


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