To read all four parts from the beginning click here and scroll to the bottom.
Dr. Sawyer’s opinion in the testimony was as follows: “As a physician” he can come to no other conclusion that she committed the crime. Several points – In the first place absence of motive that would cause anyone to kill her– 2nd a man would not select a razor; 3rd the child was killed first & no one would lean over the mother to kill the child. He goes on to blame her beliefs stating the form of religion doesn’t matter, hers happen to be spiritualism, when “ardent & enthusiastic” beliefs are involved, the line between sanity & insanity become very obsure. By medical men religious insanity is deemed the worse kind. His theory is she went to bed without plan, but her stresses caused a religious frenzy, she jumped out of bed, grabbed the razor, went & opened the door, then killed her son. Then she killed herself.
The coroner then says – Could not all the circumstances be accounted for on a hypothesis that some person killed her? He replied, No, why were they not murdered together? “The boy lived a long time after his mother died.” [This, by the way, is a direct contradiction to what he said a few minutes earlier in his testimony, so either the paper got it wrong or he did actually contradict himself.]
The doctors who completed the autopsy, Dr Lovejoy & Dr. Drinkwater, found no other violence other than their throats cut & no other pre-existing condition in their bodies. They agreed on all that was found in the autopsy with one exception, Dr. Drinkwater was not convinced Celia was to blame.
Sunday the bodies were removed from public view at the request of Mrs. Bickford’s sister, Mrs. Shepard of Lowell who was organized the funeral arrangements. The funeral was held Monday afternoon at 2:30 pm at the Unitarian Church and they are laid to rest side by side in Hilldale Cemetery.
A few other bits of information come to light in the week after the murder. Mrs. Bickford’s religious beliefs were brought into serious question and seemingly outright blamed for the deed because she identified herself as a Spiritualist. However, no indication, other than was implied by Doctors, seems to imply she was in anyway fanatical in her beliefs. In addition, it is reported the money Clarence would have inherited was “trifling” and after the sale of the property had been reduced to 62.50, and therefore was not enough to be a motive for murder. It is said at one time she expressed to her doctor that if it weren’t for her child she would not be inclined to journey on.
The verdict of the jury was decided and the conclusion was: “That the deceased, Clarence Bickford, came to his death between the evening of the seventh day and the morning of the eighth day of October, by wounds inflicted in the neck with a razor, by the hand of his mother Celia Bickford, while in a fit of temporary insanity, and that the deceased, Mrs Celia Bickford, also came to her death by wounds in the neck with a razor, by her own hand, at about the same time, and under the circumstances aforesaid.”
The outcry – October 20, 1870 – Tri Weekly Publisher, Haverhill, MA:
“We have received a communication from an unknown person in relation to the late tragedy insubstance expressing dissatisfaction in relation to the verdict and also with the convictions expressed by some that the deed was done in a state of religious insanity. The writer also would have the authorities offer a reward for farreting out the [??line].
We [the paper] agree with the correspondent that no evidence exists which tends to prove religious insanity. None was offered before the jury, and we have yet heard of none, and we have no doubt she was entirely free from the operation of causes of this nature. If insane, she was made so from other causes. Thus far we have given freely and fairly all the facts, incidents and rumors which have come out and every opinion.
We are in favor of the offering of a reward by the city authorities, for we no more believe the woman committed the deed herself, than that Louis Napoleon did it, and this, we are satisfied, is the opinion of five out of every six of our citizens.”
[The letter published under this statement reads]
“Haverhill Wednesday Oct 19, 1870, Messes, Editors: The article relating to the recent tragedy in our city, contained in your paper yesterday, was read by the writer with much interest, and I write to protest against the terrible affair being glossed over by attributing it to religious fanaticism or anything else, until further efforts have been made to unravel the mystery. The late Mrs. Bickford has worked in my family and her religious belief was never spoken of.
Does that seem like a fanatic? Had the awful deed laid to her charge been committed years ago, when want stared her in the face, it might have seemed more reasonable, but for the sae of her son she tried to do her duty in her humble sphere as well as she could. And now in behalf of an outraged community, I earnestly request that there may be a sufficient reward offered by the city authorities, or somebody else that shall induce some one to try to ferret out the mystery. As a citizen of Haverhill I am unwilling to share the reproach of hushing up an affair like this without the most strenuous exertions being made to solve the awful mystery which now hangs over it. ~ A Resident”
Thus far, I, Amylynne Baker-Santagate, have really tried to just present as many of the facts in the case as I could, albeit gathered from newspapers and subject to their interpretation not having found the original Coroner’s Inquest file. I have really intentionally tried not to interject my opinion. However, from the beginning, before I even started reading all this nonsense, I have not felt or thought for one second Celia did this. Nothing I have seen since has even slightly swayed me to come to the same conclusion as that jury. It makes NO sense to me that she would suddenly “break” in the the middle of the night and kill her son & then herself, and even with a master’s degree in psychology I can’t wrap my head around it in this case.
Instead, I am left with a million questions, just like you the reader. I want more details. I want pictures/drawings of the scene, DNA tests and blood spatter analysis! I want to know they actually put time into this investigation and didn't just wrap it up in 4 days and blame her! I want more testimony less influenced by opinion & more focused on the facts. . The weapon appeared on the scene out of no where. Where did this razor come from and where did Mr. Bickford’s razor go? What happened to the letter? Why does her body seem so artificially posed if it was her who did this? I want to know where the house was. I want to know why none of the family appears to have testified. In general something is just very fishy about the whole thing. I think Dr. Sawyer made up his mind or was influenced to say it was suicide from the onset. I’d like to know his credibility and if he has ever had any connection to the relatives of Mr. Bickford. Why was Dr. Drinkwater not convinced? I want to know - was the outcry about the verdict silenced as quickly as the murders?!! And finally, I want Amy Allen and Steve DiSchiavi from The Dead Files who both follow me on Twitter (shameless plug) to come help me settle this case! lol
None of these questions will likely be answered with any certainty and the remaining are not likely to happen, but there has to be more somewhere. Therefore, this will continue to be an ongoing research project, and occasionally updates on newly found information will be posted.
Please share your opinions! What do you want to know? What do you think? Was Celia innocent or guilty?
Thriller Thursday – Bickford Case Source List:
The following can be found on AmericanAncestors.org or GenealogyBank.com
Lowell Daily Citizen, Saturday, October 8 1870
Lowell Daily Citizen, Monday, October 10 1870
New York Herald, Monday, October 10 1870
Boston Traveler, Monday, October 10 1870
Lowell Daily Citizen, Wednesday, October 12 1870
Boston Journal, Friday, October 14 1870
Boston Journal, Saturday, October 15 1870
Hartford Daily Courant, Saturday, October 15 1870
Lowell Daily Citizen, Monday, October 17 1870
The following can be found at the Haverhill, MA Library
Haverhill Tri-Weekly, Saturday, October 8 1870, (Archives)
Haverhill Tri-Weekly, Tuesday, October 11 1870, (Archives)
Haverhill Gazette, Tuesday, October 11 1870, (Main Floor)
Haverhill Tri-Weekly, Thursday, October 13 1870, (Archives)
Haverhill Tri-Weekly, Saturday, October 15 1870, (Archives)
Haverhill Gazette, Tuesday, October 18 1870, (Main Floor)
Haverhill Tri-Weekly, Tuesday, October 18 1870, (Archives)
Haverhill Tri-Weekly, Thursday, October 20 1870, (Archives)
Massachusetts Vital Records can be found at NEHGS on AmericanAncestors.org
NH Vital Records can be found at FamilySearch.org
Military Records for George W. Bickford & Widow’s Pension Index Card shows George W. Bickford, widow Celia Bickford, Co E 11th Regt NH Inf, declared invalid Sep 2 1865, Application No. 86 668, widow filed Dec 19, 1867 application No 155,854, certificate no. 128,331. – Ancestry.com
Memorial History of Hampstead, by Harriette Eliza Noyes & Index by Helen F. Evans – both at Hampstead Public Library
Census Records are via ancestry.com & FamilySearch.org
Hilldale Cemetery Grave Survey, Haverhill, MA, in process by Amylynne Baker-Santagate, Summer 2013, Not yet published.
Administration of Joseph Bickford – New Hampshire Archives – October 1869
Records Not Found & where I looked/inquired:
1865 Massachusetts Census in Haverhill, Massachusetts
1870 Federal Census in Haverhill, Massachusetts
Birth Record for Clarence Bickford in NH Vital Records; Hampstead, NH Public Library; AmericanAncestor.org (All of MA) & FamilySearch.org (All of NH & MA)
Birth Record for George W. Bickford – NH Vital Records & FamilySearch.org
Death Record For Joseph Bickford, or his wife Sarah Bickford - NH Vital Records & FamilySearch.org
Original Coroner’s Inquest Case File – Haverhill, MA: City Hall, Public Library, District Court, Buttonwood Museum, the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s Office, & Massachusetts Archives search completed by Elizabeth Bouvier.
Hampstead, NH Civil War Veterans – Hampstead Public Library
Haverhill Residential Maps for property ownership of the house and land where the crime was committed.
Essex County, MA Registry of Deeds
Amylynne (Baker) Murphy