In Nashua, New Hampshire a young woman's skeleton was found in the walls of an old attic where it lay secreted for 25 years.
Could it be an accidental death? However police wondered if this was the work of a cunning murderer who escaped detection by hiding his handiwork for a quarter of a century.
Whoever hid the bones beneath the attic floor of a rookery that once was a church, and then a business building, took great pains to erase ways of identifying the woman. He removed her clothing and stripped the flesh from her bones. But strangely enough a photograph was found close to her. It was a woman in an old-fashioned dress. The photograph was identified as a young bride who vanished from Nashua 27 years back.
What a strange thing to find among those dissected bones. Was it a sentimental mistake on the part of the murderer, or just a decoy to lead police astray?
Recently condemned the old Union Block at High and Main Streets, faced demolition from the top floors down. A crew started to knock off the roof and rip up the attic floor. Some workers learned that 75 years before it had been a church, but for the last 50 years it housed businesses, some of a dubious nature.
New Hampshire was a dry state and had speakeasies and bootleggers long before prohibition was the law of the land. The Old Block was reputed to be the longest bar in the state.
The workmen knew that knocking out these old building sometimes yielded a stash of valuable items including coins, and the time-honored custom was finders, keepers. So every time the rotted planks yielded to crowbars they looked carefully through the debris to see what lay below. Suddenly one of them came across a board that resisted his pull, and he saw it had been double-nailed.
What the man saw caused him to drop his tool and swear an oath. The others surrounded him, as the foreman came up the stairs.
What they beheld was the skeleton of a human foot. There was no mistaking what it was. So many men gathered on that part of the flooring it gave way with a crash, and from the plaster that fell to the story below more bones were found.
Police were called, and then the medical examiner came to the building. The cavity was explored and a leg bone came to light. The bones that fell from the ceiling were part of an arm and a pelvis.
Police supervised the rest of the demolition. They sifted through debris sent down by the chute, and found among them pieces of human vertebrae. From this small collection the medical examiner determined they belonged to a woman in her twenties.
As the work progressed a skull was pulled from the bottom of a partition wall with a tattered newspaper from the Nashua Press dated March 28, 1902. The newspaper had long since closed its doors.
Police examined records of who rented the building, but the spaces had been let and sublet to numerous people, including bootleggers which usually gave false names and addresses.
The police turned to the photograph, and found only one studio in Nashua that dated back to 1902, but it had changed hands five times. Most of the old plates had been thrown in the trash, and those that remained did not match the unknown woman.
However a citizen of Nashua, A. G. Tipping, had been a partner in the Nashua Laundry during 1902 and recognized the girl. He said her name was Blanche Menter Blackmun. She came from Boston and worked in the laundry. She married and suddenly quit her job. He remembered her well because she was one of the prettiest girls that ever worked there.
Police reviewed the laundry's records and it showed that Blanche left without notice in 1902, however most thought she left because of her recent marriage. Mr. Tipping remembered her as being in her early twenties which corresponded with the medical examiner's findings.
Others came forward and confirmed the identification of the woman in the photograph as being Blanche Menter or the "Boston Beauty" as she was called. Everyone agreed that she left town abruptly and never wrote to any of her friends.
Was Blanche then the victim? However Inspector McCarthy who was in charge of the investigation thought the clue was too good to be true.
He knew that whoever killed this woman had kept her somewhere else and took his time to deflesh her bones. He probably minced the meat and disposed of it in myriad ways. The eyes, the hair and even the brain had been removed, leaving only clean bones that appeared to have been boiled as well.
Inspector McCarthy knew this took a lot of time and patience, and only a calculating mind knew exactly how to plot each step, including scattering bits of the skeleton through the floor and walls. Could someone this meticulous have left behind a photograph?
The main motive for stripping the flesh away from the bones was to prevent odors that soon would have betrayed the strange burial. Once he was sure this would never happen, he felt sure the building would never be demolished in his lifetime.
The inspector said, "No, that job was done by a thorough, hard-headed, practical man who must have thought of every contingency including the fire hazard which might have caused the block to be torn down at any time. That murderer did not knowingly leave anything that would help and he was certainly not a careless fellow."
Police diligently continued in their investigation and found Blanche's husband in Billerica, Massachusetts. Mr. Blackmun came to Nashua and said he divorced his wife in 1918, and she immediately remarried a man named Edward C. Marshall, and moved out to Denver. She died later that same year, and he received a letter informing him of the death of "Mrs. Marshall, your former wife."
The Inspector was not surprised, and this confirmed his suspicion the killer knew Blanche left town suddenly, and that people would be wondering what happened to her. Somehow he got her picture, and thought that by dropping it with the bones, the search would be led astray.
He knew if any discovery was made he would read about it in the papers, giving him enough time, to make his escape. That is, if he was still alive.
Their biggest obstacle was how much time had elapsed since those bones were hidden away. If they could learn who owned the picture, they could trace how he acquired it. Perhaps follow his movements and find if in some neighboring town, a young woman went missing.
However like some mysteries, the more you know, the more it deepens. Even though many people identified the picture as the "Boston Beauty", Mr. Blackmun said the woman was not Blanche. Jennie Menter Andersen, a cousin also denied it was her.
The inspector wondered how this killer had been able to find a picture of a woman who looked remarkably close to the likeness of a woman who conveniently left Nashua abruptly. It also matched Blanche's height and weight.
He never found the answer to those questions, neither the name of the lady hidden in the attic, nor more importantly the name of the one who put her there.
THE FATE OF THE BOSTON BEAUTY
Investigation into the fate of Blanche Menter Blackmun Marshall proved that indeed she was not the Mistletoe Bride of Talbot Block. She was born in 1887, and despite her title of the “Boston Beauty”, happiness was not in her stars. She married Reuel Blackmun as recounted by the citizens of Nashua. On April 5, 1913, she gave birth to a premature baby, and on October 16, 1914, she gave birth to a stillborn son. As Reuel told police they divorced and she married Edward Marshall and moved to Colorado. She died in childbirth along with her daughter Etta Mae in 1918. She was 31 years old.
THE STORY OF THE MISTLETOE BRIDE
The story goes back to the Elizabethan period when Lord Zouche a friend of Sir Walter Raleigh and Francis Bacon built Bramshill House in Hampshire. His daughter wed Lord Lovell during the Christmas holidays. There was much feasting and drinking.
The young bride, tired of the festivities organized a game of hide-and-seek. She was the first to hide, and it took some time before all realized she had not been found. The frantic bridegroom searched for days, and in fact spent the rest of his life in the mansion.
Fifty years passed, and in old age he came across a secret chest. Inside he found the bones of his bride. She had lain imprisoned there all these years. Visitors and servants to the great house have been terrified by the moaning of the ghost of the "Mistletoe Bride".
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer