Oct 8, 1870 Mrs Celia Bickford, widow of Pvt George W. Bickford of Haverhill, MA, along with her young 10 year old son Clarence Bickford were found dead in their bed on Franklin St. Their throats cut with a razor, the door slightly ajar and the window shut.
The case first grabbed my interest when I stumbled upon their graves while doing a cemetery census, and for some reason that I can't even explain, I was looked up the death record for a little boy named Clarence and discovered it said homicide. Generally, I only look up further records if I need to verify specific information relating to what I can't read on a stone, but in this case I could clearly read the stone & have no idea what prompted me to look further. Over the next four Thriller Thursday Blogs I will be telling the story and revealing some of the discrepancies in the case in an effort to possibly provide some justice for Celia.
The case was widely discussed at the time, and almost in Facebook fashion copied and spread through newspapers countrywide. The more I've read the more perplexed and interested I've become. I've read articles, looked up the family ties, searched estate files & although I would love to see the original case file of the Coroner's Inquest, it has eluded me at every turn.
Before delving further into the details of the case - let's identify and explore the important details of their history & kin, so to speak. George W. Bickford, b. 1830 in Campton, NH, was the son of Joseph Bickford & Sarah Glines, longtime residents of Campton, NH. He was a Civil War Veteran serving in New Hampshire's Company E, 11th regiment from Aug 1862 through June 1864. He was married at the time having married Celia McDermitt in Lowell, MA on April 28, 1855. Celia was born in Canada about 1833, the daughter of Andrew McDermott & either Lydia or Elizabeth. They had one son, Clarence, who according to his death was born about February of 1860 in Hampstead, NH, but no record in Hampstead or the entire state at NH Vital Records was found. The only notation found in Hampstead was in A Memorial History of Hampstead, by Harriette Eliza Noyes which lists him as being one of the men who helped reach the town Civil War soldier quota, but in a separate index of that book created much later by Helen F. Evans, the notation includes a question mark which may mean there is a question as to that as fact, and he is not found in other Civil War Veteran books specific to Hampstead at the town library.
The 1855 Massachusetts state census shows them in 1855 in Beverly Massachusetts listed as "Beckford" and the 1860 Census in Haverhill, MA shows "Geo Bickford" a30 shoemaker b. NH, wife - Ella M. Bickford a26 b. NH, son Clarence age 6 months born in Ma. Census date July 9, 1860. The census record indicates Clarence was born in Massachusetts, but a birth record was not found in that state either. Celia & Clarence were not located on the 1870 Federal Census for Haverhill, MA.
George W. Bickford had several siblings confirmed by his father's administration papers including:
George W. Bickford had died in Haverhill, Ma on May 2 1866 of unknown causes according to his death record, although a newspaper states he died of disease. The 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. All three of them are buried in marked graves in Hilldale Cemetery, Haverhill, MA. Two grave locations are actually noted for George, one with his wife & son and another with other veterans. The one with the veterans was the only marker found.
After the death of George, the Celia, about age 33, and Clarence, age 6, were on their own. No doubt, life had not been easy for the young widow and her son. Newspapers report testimony from various people in the case agreed she was a positive, hardworking and stable soul even in her darkest times. She had obtained work sewing for Mr Charles Stimpson, and had secured a home for as long as she wanted it, albeit small, from William J. M. Steele who was said to have purchased the house on Franklin St for the use & security of Mrs Bickford and her young son. The land at the time was owned by G.W. Seater who had removed to New Jersey. She paid 2.00 a month in rent for her 12' x 14' space.
By July 1869, she had begun to receive her widow's pension and things were looking up financially due to her steady work and the pension. In addition, her son was due to inherit some money from the estate of his paternal grandfather who had died sometime previous to Oct 1869. She had money in the bank, a solid job, a place to call home, friends that cared about her, a spiritualistic faith, a positive & happy attitude, and a relationship with her son that meant the world to her. She was said to have been in a more prosperous situation than ever before, even better than when she had been married, but then there also was the fear.
To be continued...next week.....
For this series of Thriller Thursday articles I decided to complete it in a less formal format rather than distract from the story with a zillion foot/endnotes. I will include a complete list of sources in the last of the series of four blogs.
Amylynne (Baker) Murphy