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Law book on chairSeveral years ago, a woman came into our library with a question that only a book could answer.  She had heard a rumor that a murder was committed on or near her property in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, many years ago, and she didn’t know if the building where the murder was committed was still standing or even if it was on her property, nor did she know the name of the victim or murderer.

After searching old newspaper reports in the local history library, we narrowed it down to the 1917 case of Lincoln McKinley Grant–named after three Presidents of the United States— who at age sixteen killed his employer, a local farmer, with an ax while he was milking a cow, and hid the body under a manure pile in the basement of the barn, where it was discovered months later in skeletal condition.

The motive for the crime was apparently Grant’s infatuation with the farmer’s wife.   (The wife was also arrested for being an accessory before the fact, but the charges against her were later dropped.)

The details of this lurid case, including the location of the building, are preserved in the only known manuscript copy of the case transcript, in the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries.    It is difficult to know whose satisfaction was greater, the patron whose question was answered, or the librarians who were able to answer it due to the fortuitous preservation of one book.

 

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