Murders Mysteries & Misadventures

A Most Mysterious Murder in the Mountains

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If I haven’t mentioned it here yet, I’ve been working on a book based on this blog. At first it was a little secret in case it didn’t work out. In case I couldn’t gather enough material. But I did. I think I have enough for two books actually!

It will consist of almost all new material from what’s appeared on this site. It’s in the editing stages now but there is one story I found that stuck in my mind. It’s so perplexing, I wanted to share it early and to share it here. Maybe someone else will have a good theory for this strange story:

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In mid-September of 1914 the funerals of Mrs. Sara Graff Newlin, a 32-year old mother, and her 8-year old daughter Elizabeth from Chadds Ford were held at the home of Mrs. Newlin’s sister. They were buried in Union Hill Cemetery in Kennett Square, in the same grave, later that day. But the story of their sad demise was not buried.

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Sara and her daughter Elizabeth had been spending the summer in the Adirondacks. Her aunt, Lucy Rexamer, kept a summer home in Elizabethtown, New York in the cool mountain air. Lately Sara had been feeling unwell. With her husband away on extended business in the South and in Texas it seemed like a good time for the popular old-time cure of a change of air.

On a Saturday afternoon, a little after 2 o’clock, Sara and her daughter left the house for a walk through the woods. When they failed to return by dinner Sara’s aunt organized a search party.

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Their bodies were discovered in “a lonely spot” on the side of the road the next morning not far from the house. An employee of the Rexamers, with the interesting name of Lewis Le Mountain, had been driving to town to notify the sheriff of their disappearance when he spotted them. The girl’s stockings were removed: one tied tightly around her throat, the other around her mother’s.

The sheriff’s report said they believed the condition of the child’s body showed signs of a struggle. She had probably attempted to untie the knotted stocking from her neck. The sheriff also reported that Sara Newlin’s body was in a similar condition, showing signs that she had struggled to free herself too and untie the stocking. When asked if it was possible if she had strangled herself then too, his reply was: “They say she could.”

No other clues or footprints were found near the bodies.

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The Coroner’s jury delivered the verdict that Mrs. Newlin had strangled her daughter and then either strangled or choked herself to death too, probably in a fit of temporary insanity. Her family members vehemently doubted the suicide theory and some even traveled to the mountains to investigate themselves. The coroner accepted the verdict but further investigated the case to make certain the two were not murdered.

Meanwhile, the newspapers reported that on several occasions Mrs. Newlin had shown signs of mental imbalance back home. Those in her neighborhood believed that she must have been “seized with another attack” of this insanity. Relatives told the newspapers that she had suffered from nervous troubles and was in poor health when she left for the mountains that July, but her aunt gave no indication that she had been acting abnormally that day.

Sara’s family continued to refuse the verdict as true. The physicians who examined the bodies, according to Sara’s brother, did not see how she could have strangled herself. But no other clues were ever found. For them, it remained an unsolved tragedy.

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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

*The photos in this post are not of the Adirondack Mountains but just photos to accompany the post taken at Longwood Gardens.