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Chapter LXVI


from Memoirs of a great detective:
incidents in the life of John Wilson Murray

compiled by Victor Speer

IT is a far cry from Paris, in France, to Hagersville, in Canada, but soon after Murray's return from abroad a telegram called him to the little town in the county of Brant. The people were talking of a tragedy. There had been a funeral, and they believed the closed coffin hid the evidence of a murder. They had gathered at the house on the day of the burial, but few, if any, saw the face of the dead. The women spoke in whispers, and some vowed there was no body in the coffin. Others thought the body might be there, but in pieces. A few were in favour of lifting the lid boldly, but others shuddered and shook their heads. Among them were those who said the coffin held the dead intact, and not in pieces. But as to the manner of death they were mute. It was a gruesome mystery.

   "The dead was a woman," says Murray. "I went to Hagersville on receipt of the telegram to the Department. I had the body exhumed and a post-mortem made. She was a young woman, but was so emaciated that she seemed to have been simply a yellow parchment drawn tight over a skeleton to masquerade as a human being. The body had not begun to disintegrate, and there were traces of a bygone beauty. I marvelled at the emaciation. It reminded me vividly of the pictures of the starved of India, found dead during the famines, with their bones almost protruding through their skin. The woman seemed literally to have wasted away to skin and bones. The body bore marks of brutal treatment. There was a gash in the abdomen, and a broad path across it showed where a hobnailed boot had torn its way. The bosom was bruised as if it had been beaten with a hammer. On the temples were black and blue marks. Drs. Jones, McDonald, and Jarvis noted these wounds. To make sure no poison had been administered I had the viscera examined by Professor Ellis, in Toronto.

   "The body was that of Lillian Carpenter, a bride of six months. She was married to James Carpenter, who had a farm in the township of Tuscarora, near Hagersville. I looked up Carpenter. He was a bad lot. His neighbours had no liking for him, and those who knew him best distrusted him most.

   "There had been several incendiary fires in that section of the country. Farmers had lost cattle, and flocks of sheep had been broken up in the night and driven to the woods, and many stolen or killed. A midnight marauder seemed to be living a high-handed life in the county. There was an Indian reserve near Carpenter's farm.

   "I called on Carpenter. He was a low-browed, sullen-faced, surly bully.

   "'How did your wife die?' I asked.

   "'None of your business,' said he.

   "It was a real pleasure to set to work on the case with renewed zeal and determination.

   "'Did you see her die, Carpenter?' I asked.'

   "'Naw, why should I?' he growled. 'She ought to have been good and glad of a chance to die. She was no good, anyhow.'

   "I learned from friends of the dead woman that she was an epileptic. Then I understood why the burly Carpenter regarded her as worthless or worse than worthless.

   "It was a difficult case in which to get specific evidence. Carpenter's neighbours were not given to visiting frequently at his house. They told me much about cruel treatment, but I wanted eye-witnesses. At length I went among the Indians on the reserve, and I met an old Indian whom I had known for some years, and he led me aside into the woods, and sat down with me on a log, and, under pledge of secrecy, told me of a haunted house where, in the night, screams had resounded. Some of the Indians had come to look upon the house as under a spell, and were in the habit of going to it under cover of darkness, and sitting in the shadow, waiting to hear the spirit wail.

   "'It wails like a woman,' he told me. 'It cries out in long, loud, shrill cries.'

   "'Has no one ever seen it?'

   "'Oh yes,' said he. 'It takes the shape of a woman. It has been seen various times. My son has seen it rush out of the house all in white, with its long hair streaming down its back, and its feet bare. It ran through the woods, shrieking as it ran, and waving its arms. The man of the haunted house pursued it, beating it, and knocking it down. It begged for mercy, and would clasp the man's legs, and kiss his hand and his feet like a dog. Then it would fall over, and the spirit would work upon it, making it writhe, and jerking its face all out of shape, trying to turn it into a dog or a cow, or a wild beast. For hours in the, night it would lie out in the woods, and twice it had not even the white robe on it. Then it would creep back into the house after the man who had kicked it, when it fell over, and had left it lying in the woods.'

   "'When was the spirit seen last?'

   "'Not for two weeks,' said the old fellow. 'They tell me it is buried away, and that the voice sounds out no more in the haunted house.'

   "'Where is the house?' I asked.

   "'I will show you myself to-night,' he said.

   "That night the old Indian led me in a roundabout way to the house of James Carpenter. I saw some shadowy figures squatting near by.

   "'Our people; they are listening for it,' said the old fellow.

   "'It will not come again; it is gone for ever,' I said.

   "'Not the voice,' said the old fellow. 'Voices never die.'

   "'But what is the voice without the spirit?' I asked him.

   "'The voice is the spirit,' he answered.

   "I kept all this a profound secret as I had promised. But I set to work among the more civilised of the Indians to obtain competent evidence of Carpenter's beating his wife, and driving her out of the house. Meanwhile Carpenter was locked up in gaol. After his arrest a woman in Petrolea wrote a letter saying she was the lawful wife of Carpenter, and that they had one child, then with her. She added that Carpenter nearly starved her to death, and that she still bore upon her body the marks of his brutality, and that she would carry them with her to the grave. She gave the year of their wedding as 1888, and the place as Waterford.

   "Carpenter was tried in Brantford on December 10th, 1896 for murder. He was defended by Lewis Hyde, who made a strong fight to save him. But the evidence could not be upset as to his brutality. My search among the intelligent Indians was not fruitless. Carpenter was found guilty of manslaughter, and was sent to Kingston Penitentiary for a long term of years. The Indians listened in vain thereafter for thc voice of the wailing spirit of the haunted house."

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