The year is 1940, the place is Rockland, Maine and one day Pauline Young, who is only 16 years old, inexplicably disappears on Halloween Day, and despite an intensive search for her she is not found, until one day.
The Phelps family lived in a duplex on 28 Crescent Street. Thelma Phelps, the mother had two children by a prior marriage, Pauline age 16, and Evangeline age 13 who lived at the Pownal State School, where children with disabilities or behavior problems were institutionalized. She had married John Phelps, a man 20 years her senior, and had two children with him, Rachael age 11 and Bernard age 9. Mrs. Phelps worked at the almshouse and her husband at the W.P.A. which hired unskilled labor.
On Halloween Day, when Thelma Phelps arrived from work at night, she asked her husband where Pauline was at, he told her he did know but thought that she had gone to a friend's house on Thomaston Street. She told the city marshall Fish to pick her up and bring her home if he ran across her. However in the next few days, no one saw or heard from Pauline, it seemed the earth had swallowed her up, and it turned out that indeed was quite accurate of her whereabouts. The police had come to the home and searched for her there, but no trace of her was found.
On November 9th, her stepfather John Phelps was stumbling and bleeding profusely near the police station at 2 a.m. He’d tried to kill himself by taking five poison pills. When that didn’t work, he slashed his left wrist with a jack-knife. He was taken to Knox County Hospital where he made a complete confession to the police after they insisted on knowing why he had tried kill himself.
According to John Phelps, age 54, Pauline had been "unruly" after he told her he didn't want her to go out that evening of October 31st, and he had locked all the doors to prevent her leaving. The newspaper quoted Phelps:
She cursed and came at me with a butcher knife. I threw a hammer at her and it struck her on the forehead. I turned her over and she was not breathing, and I knew she was dead. I didn’t know what to do with the body, but finally removed the head with an axe and a knife and carried it out to the henpen where I buried it. The body I dragged down the cellar stairs,.
He stashed the body in the cellar until the next day when his children were at school and his wife was at work. He then dismembered it into five or six pieces and buried it under the house porch.
The next door neighbors had heard a commotion, but they made no report initially, however they became suspicious when the days passed and Pauline was not seen again, and within a few days they notified authorities.
Her mother told police she had not reported her missing as it appeared that it was common for Pauline to spend days away from home staying with friends. She told police she had been at work when the crime was committed. Mr. Phelps suspected he would be found out eventually which is when he attempted suicide. Newspapers of the day reported opposite prognosis for him, in one he was sure to die shortly, in others the doctors said he would survive.
Based on the information provided by Phelps, police found two bags under the porch of the house, one underneath the henhouse and another under a dog house. The fifth was under a shed behind the two-story frame structure. Digging up the shallow graves they found her shoulder in one bag, her legs in another, an arm and her chest in a third bag, a thigh and her torso in another and in the last bag was a single thigh. No head.
So they checked Witham’s Wharf, “where it was understood the head had been thrown,” the newspaper reported. They dragged the harbor. Nothing.
The head has never been found.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer