by Walter Guptill
According to 1910 US census records, Edward Bennett, age 39 was born in England ca 1871. He immigrated to the United States in 1905 and settled in South Thomaston, Maine with his wife Edith Windram Bennett, whom he married c. 1902, prior to his immigration to the states. Newspaper accounts at the time of his death indicate he worked as manager of Littlehale's Grain Mill in Rockland, Maine and also engaged extensively in poultry raising. Together, Edward and Edith had three children, Edward Jr., Barbara H. and Nancy.
Edward's beloved wife Edith died on August 9, 1911 from pneumonia.
Her death set up a series of tragic events that both shocked and saddened the local community.
According to a local newspaper account in the Rockland Courier Gazette, dated August 29, 1911, Edward, distraught over the loss of his wife, murdered his three children and then committed suicide. Headline of the day, "MURDERED HIS THREE CHILDREN - Shocking Crime of Edward Bennett, at Ingraham Hill, Followed by His Own Suicide - Grief Over Wife's Death Led to the Deed --- Cyanide of Potassium and Chloroform Used --- Bennett's Body Found in the Sea."
The article goes on to relate details of the event and his tragic note about his grief and desire for his children to return to their mother.
Headline, The Rockland Courier Gazette, Saturday, September 2, 1911, "Three Hearses In the Cortege. Burial of the Murdered Bennett Children and Their Suicide Father an Awesome Spectacle -- A Cablegram That Came Too Late."
The article describes details of the funeral details and the cablegram. "Tuesday morning wile Coroner Otis was determining upon the funeral arrangements there came from Birmingham, England a cable directed to "Bennett," Ingraham Hill, and signed "Dad" --- from the father-in-law of the infanticide. It read: Cable Assurance of welfare. Grief enough already. Writing."
The cablegram was written by Mrs. Bennett's father on the very eve of the awful tragedy. According to the news account, "It is now believed that the suicide (Bennett) may have intimated to the latter (Mrs. Bennett's father) the he (Bennett) contemplated ending the misery caused by his wife's death. Without waiting for the mails and powerless to act, Mr. Bennett's father-in-law cables his words that may prevent his rash deed." The report goes on to speculate, "Had that dispatch reached Edward Bennett Sunday morning instead of Tuesday morning it might have stayed the hand of the assassin-suicide. Who can tell?"
It was an event that shocked not only the local community, but the entire country according to the press at the time.
The suicide note left by Bennett was addressed to the rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, The Reverend Mr. Woodman. It seems that the letter, or at least portions thereof, were released and printed in the local press. In a letter to the editor of the Rockland Courier Gazette, published September 2, 1911 the Rev. Mr. Woodman writes... "The Rector of St. Peter's wishes to state that the letter addressed to him was not given to the press by him, that his knowledge of it, being out of town Monday, was when seeing it in the papers, nor has he yet received the letter or been communicated with regarding it."
The Rector Woodman continues, "Of the unseemliness of the public exhibit of the dead there can be no question." Owen Wister says in effect, "Somewhere in every grown man is a boy who is afraid of the dark". So in us all maybe a morbid inclining to the horrible, which was put in repulsive evidence by gruesome curiosity to see what ought not to have been made possible, and which in the opinion of the writer was an outrage upon the helpless dead. It was known Mr. Bennett had lived aloofly. And Englishman's reserve and sense of caste, with untoward fortune, made more poignant this agony of bereavement.
Rev Woodman continues his letter and describes the scene at Mrs. Bennett's graveside service as follows: "One who had made many a grave (conducted funerals), and made Mrs. Bennett's and the later four, told the writer he had never seen such absolute agony as when Mr. Bennett knelt by his wife's grave and lifted his eyes skyward without sound or word. It was indeed the grief that does not speak, whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break. We cannot even dimly guess at the agony, we who were nearest, yet even so only in the outer vestibule of acquaintanceship. Alone, in a strange land, bereft, an Englishman's reserve, a strong man's capacity for suffering --- a hopeless future from his standpoint of what was due children of gentle birth --- wrong, yes, but "Who can be wise, temperate, amazed; all in a moment?"
The letter to the editor concludes, "There are words that Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Kind Henry, as he stands by the dead cardinal, We might wisely lay them to the heart; Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all. Close up his eyes and draw the curtain close; And let us all to meditation." Signed: Russell Woodman
Excerpts from Courier Gazette, 2 September 1911
Clipping from New York Times, 29 August 1911
The beyond-the-grave discovery of a 1900s triple murder/suicide
Story by Kay Stephens
Penobscot Bay Pilot
Edward Bennett Memorial - Find a Grave