Smithfield Bridewells – 1913

Smithfield Bridewells, aka Jails – 1913

     The following images were taken from Smithfield Town Council records dated April 3, 1913 concerning the location and maintenance of Smithfield’s “bridewells”, also known as jails, and the duties of Smithfield police officers.  

Click on images to enlarge. 

Smithfield Police – A Concise History

Smithfield Police – A Concise History

Written By James H. McVey, Deputy Chief, (Ret.) 

     Originally published in the Smithfield Police FOP 1991 Yearbook.

Click on images to enlarge.

     To learn more, click here: Protecting Smithfield In A Simpler Time

Highway Robbery – 1901

This incident occurred on “Barnes Hill”, on Putnam Pike, in Greenville, in the vicinity of where the Greenville Public Library stands today.   The Smithfield Town council later offered a reward for the capture of those responsible.

Woonsocket Evening Reporter
November 9, 1901

Protecting Smithfield in a Simpler Time

Retired Smithfield police officers, Ray Trombley, (Left), and Jim McVey, (Right), recall what it was like to serve and protect in a time before modern police technology.

Retired Smithfield police officers, Ray Trombley, (Left), and Jim McVey, (Right), recall what it was like to serve and protect in a time before modern police technology.

Originally published In Your Smithfield Magazine – September, 2014

By Jim Ignasher

The pitch and wail of police sirens echoed in the night as a caravan of cruisers snaked through the streets of Providence in hot pursuit of a stolen Cadillac.  Blue lights reflected off storefront windows as tires screeched and cars careened around corners.  The Cadillac made its way onto Route 95 towards East Providence driving the wrong way against highway traffic at speeds topping 90 miles-per-hour!  The cruisers followed.  Leading the procession were Smithfield Officers Raymond Trombley and Joseph Parenteau who had initiated the chase.  When they reached the Washington Bridge the Cadillac and cruisers crossed into the eastbound lane.  In the distance ahead Trombley saw a police roadblock and as the Cadillac barreled forward the sound of gunshots rang out.  

In a recent interview Ray commented, “I said to Joe, I hope they don’t miss and hit us!”

It was the late 1960s, and even though nearly fifty years have passed since that incident, Ray can still recall the license plate on that Cadillac – GX-222.

Trombley and Parenteau had been patrolling Douglas Pike on the midnight shift when they noticed the Cadillac with two youths inside.  They activated the cruiser lights, but the driver refused to stop and fled in the direction of North Providence.   In the vicinity of Twin River Road the officers tried to force the Cadillac to the side of the road by pulling abreast of it, but the driver swerved at the cruiser trying to ram it.  As the pursuit entered North Providence, and then Providence, cruisers from those jurisdictions joined in.  The Cadillac was finally cornered in the town of Warren where it was discovered that the two occupants were escapees from the Rhode Island Training School.    

Back in Smithfield the two officers received high praise from the Town Council however, the chief saw things differently. “The chief wasn’t happy with us.” Trombley recalled.  “We blew the motor in the car as a result of the chase.” 

Such multi-jurisdictional high-speed pursuits involving gunfire are rare today, but there was a time when such things weren’t uncommon; when officers could chase a vehicle for virtually any reason and “warning shots” were allowed.  Police work has changed drastically since then, and recently Smithfield’s two longest retired police officers, James McVey, and Raymond Trombley, got together to recall what it was like to be a town policeman in those bygone days.    

Prior to the completion of Route 295 in the mid 1970s, Smithfield’s population was roughly several thousand people, so the officer on the beat knew most everybody, and they knew him.  In many ways Smithfield was still a small town.

Jim McVey was appointed to the force as a special officer in 1950, and recalled that when he joined the department there were only three full-time officers.  The rest of the department consisted of part-time “specials”, later called “reserves”.  Jim was appointed full-time on June 8, 1955.  Shortly afterwards, he was the first Smithfield officer to attend an eight week training academy run by the State Police at URI.  This was a very important step for the department for beforehand new officers received minimal formal training.  “I believe I was one of the first police officers in the state with a college degree to enter law enforcement,’  said Jim, ‘which makes me feel good today to see how changes have evolved from when no education at all was required to be an officer, compared to today when many police agencies require some form of college degree.”    

In the 1950s the department only had one cruiser which was equipped with a one-way police radio that could receive, but not transmit.  Therefore, officers always carried a quantity of dimes to use in payphones in case they needed to call the station, which in those days was located in the Town Hall.  The station, by the way, wasn’t manned 24 hours like it is today.

Dispatching in those days could be described as “hit or miss”.  The police station had a dispatch radio, as did the Chief’s house.  The station was “Station A”, and the Chief’s house was “Station B”, and sometimes calls were dispatched from either location.  The chief’s house also had an extension phone from the Town Hall, so that if nobody was in the station, the chief or his wife would pick up and take the call.  Unfortunately, the radio at the chief’s house had limited transmission capabilities – only 14 watts. 

On other occasions a call might come through from the State Police barracks in Scituate.  They would put out a broadcast such as “Attention Smithfield Police, respond to…”  The message would be repeated three times.  Since an officer couldn’t acknowledge via radio, the State Police never knew for sure if the call had been received, and sometimes they weren’t.  Such a system might seem archaic today, but even a one-way radio was a vast improvement over the days of no radios.

Jim recalled one night where he was on patrol with Deputy Chief Charles Young on a midnight tour. “There was a terrific storm raging that night, with thunder and lightning everywhere.  We drove from the station over to Greenville and checked the businesses there, and then over to Esmond, and up Whipple Hill onto Douglas Pike down towards Twin Rivers.  All of a sudden we came upon a bunch of cars and fire trucks all over the road in front of Bell Farms, (Today known as Twelve Acres.) with the Chief standing out directing traffic.”  

At that time the farm had on its property a small professional fireworks factory.  Unbeknownst to Young and McVey, lightning had struck the building setting off an explosion.  Due to storm related problems, Young and McVey never received a radio call of the incident.

When Ray Trombley joined the department on December 13, 1964, the roster consisted of thirteen full-time officers and a cadre of “reserves”.  “I was the thirteenth officer.” he recalled.  By then the fleet of cruisers had grown to three – Cars 193, 194, and 195, as designated by the police license plates, and each was equipped with two-way radios – a significant improvement.  The day and second shifts used two patrol cars, each patrolling one-half of the town, but the midnight shift used only one car with two officers patrolling the entire town.  This was done for safety reasons, which is why he and Joe Parenteau were riding together the night of the chase.  And with only three cars for the entire department, one might understand why the chief was upset over the blown motor.

Both Jim and Ray enjoyed two-man patrol cars for it gave them someone to talk to when things were slow – “Unless the other guy was a smoker”, Ray said with a laugh.

Ray recalled that all he had to do before going on patrol for the first time was qualify with his department issued pistol – a World War II vintage .38 caliber revolver.  Going to the academy would come later.  

As to police cars, Jim remembered that early cruisers had manual-shift transmissions which were difficult to operate at low speeds while creeping around buildings at night.  “Trying to shift, steer, and operate the hand-held spotlight all at the same time was difficult.” He said.  Luxuries such as automatic-transmissions, and air conditioning for Smithfield’s police cars didn’t come until much later.  

Those early patrol cars also lacked protective cages to separate an arrestee from the officer.  That situation was rectified after a patrolman was involved in an accident while transporting a prisoner. 

While speaking of accidents, one may be surprised to learn that Smithfield’s roadways have borne witness of many horrific car wrecks over the years.

“The very first accident I ever handled was a fatal in front of the Greenville Baptist Church” said Jim.  Unfortunately it would not be the last.  Ray also saw his share, “Especially at Seven and One-sixteen” he said. “Before they put a light up there, there were a lot of bad accidents.”   

Police work has always been inherently dangerous, and even simpler times weren’t necessarily gentler.  A case in point involved a time in 1952 when Jim stopped a car with Connecticut plates on Washington Highway.  He only intended to give the juvenile driver a warning until he learned the car was stolen.  The youth was transported to the State Police barracks in Lincoln where it was further learned that he was wanted for shooting at a Norwich police officer!  When a Connecticut trooper and Norwich officer arrived to take custody of the prisoner, the Norwich officer asked where the gun was.

“I tossed it out at the state line” was the reply.

“Tell the Smithfield officer what you would have done with the gun if you still had it” the officer ordered.

 Looking at Jim he said, “I’d have shot him!”

In another incident Jim recalled the night of May 19, 1961, when he pursued a stolen Pontiac with two men inside who tried to break into Cole’s TV on Route 44.  The chase continued along Putnam Pike and into Glocester where Jim fired a warning shot from his service revolver blowing out the Pontiac’s rear window.  Speeds were in excess of 100 mph, and as glass from the window blew backwards it peppered the front of the police car causing small leaks in the radiator.  As the cruiser began loosing coolant, the chase roared through Chepachet where a state trooper joined in.   Everything came to an abrupt end at Jackson Schoolhouse Road where the driver of the Pontiac lost control and crashed.  Subsequent investigation revealed that both men were armed, and had broken into several other businesses that night in Johnston and Providence. 

Today’s officers have computers in their cruisers that allow for instant information on vehicle and criminal data, but in the 1950s and 60s such was not the case.  When dealing with suspicious persons or vehicles and officer had to rely more on instinct and judgment.  One tool at their disposal was the state’s “two-hour-hold law” which allowed an officer to arrest a person for two hours while a follow-up investigation was done.  This law has since been repealed, but at one time it was a valuable asset to police work.  

Police officers in the 1950s and 60s made far less than other occupations.  Jim worked nine-hour days, 54 hours per week, all for $42.00 before taxes, and officers didn’t receive overtime. By the 1960s Ray had it a little better working 44 hours a week and taking home about $78.00 gross. To help make ends meet, he took a second job at Cavanaugh Company in Greenville. 

As to time off, a Smithfield patrolman in the 1960s got one-and-a-half days off each week.  Ray said some officers would work out a schedule between themselves filling in for each other on the half-day so one week they would have one day off, but the next they would have two full days off.  Only the most senior ranking officers got weekends off.  Ray’s days off were generally Monday and Tuesday.  

When Jim went on the force an officer had to pay for his own uniforms.  Ray recalled how his first uniform was free, but “used”.  “They gave me a shirt and a pair of pants. The pants had a 34 inch waist, and I was a 29!”   

By the 1970s the department had outgrown its Town Hall accommodations, and both Jim and Ray played a role in making the current police station a reality.  Since then, the department has grown far beyond what anyone could have imagined in the 1950s, and is once again facing a similar situation.

Jim retired as Deputy Chief in 1977, and Ray in 1984 as a Captain.  Sometimes they still miss police work, for the job is like no other, and they loved doing it.  Despite that, having worked in the era that they did, each doubted they would want to go into law enforcement today.  The world has changed, and the way they were trained for the job might not fit today’s way of doing things.  Modern police officers are forced to operate under restrictions and mandates that weren’t a consideration when Jim and Ray wore a badge.   

The Mysterious Skeleton of Putnam Pike

By Jim Ignasher

 Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – October 2010

Few things would be more unnerving to the average homeowner than to be digging in one’s own yard and happen upon human remains.  Fortunately such discoveries are rare, but at least one case occurred in Smithfield on the evening of April 11, 1977, when a man digging in his yard literally unearthed a mystery that has yet to be solved.

The man, who will remain anonymous to protect his privacy, had been removing a tree stump in order to widen his driveway when he uncovered a human skull.  Smithfield police were called to the scene, and Patrolman John Whitecross later recorded in his report, “The skull had a full set of teeth and appeared to be that of a human.  It was found approximately 3-4’ down in the ground and 20’ from the west corner of the garage.” 

It was apparent by the skull’s brown coloration that it was old. Of course the obvious questions were, who did it belong to, and how did it get there?  Had the homeowner uncovered an unmarked grave, or were the bones connected to something more sinister?

Smithfield police detectives Brian Burke and Joe Parenteau were assigned the case.  There were no known cemeteries in the area, and further examination of the site showed no evidence of wood fragments, screws, or any other indications that the bones had been buried in a coffin. 

The state Medical Examiner’s Office was contacted, but the detectives were informed that a forensic investigator could not respond to Smithfield until the following day.

The next morning Burke and Parenteau returned to the site, and began to carefully scrape away at the dirt where the skull had been found.  After a few minutes they had uncovered several more bones which led them to believe that an entire skeleton was buried there. The depth at which the bones had been found left no doubt that they had been deliberately buried, and not simply covered by erosion. 

Shortly before noon a forensic investigator arrived, and after examination of the bones, determined they were between 40 to 100 years old.  If the police were dealing with a murder, it was definitely an old one. The investigator said he would send two technicians to conduct a more through excavation.  In modern terminology, this would be known as a “forensic excavation”, where the dirt would be sifted through a screen to be sure that no evidence such as small bone fragments, jewelry, or even a bullet was missed.  However, this procedure was never carried out, for apparently the technicians felt further digging was unnecessary.  According to the official police report, the two technicians arrived at 1:30 p.m. and only wanted to collect the bones that had already been unearthed by the detectives.  The bones were taken to Providence for further examination and testing.    

In the meantime, Smithfield police continued with their investigation.  Town records made no mention of any cemeteries in the area, and research of birth and death records of all previous property owners going back more than one hundred years proved fruitless.  

Detective Burke interviewed long-time residents of the area. One man remembered hearing from his grandfather that a “sick house” had once been located near where the bones were found.  The sick house was where people with communicable diseases such as Small Pox were brought and kept in isolation during the 19th Century to prevent epidemics. Could the bones be that of someone who died at the so-called sick house?

Police interviewed two women in their 80s who had lived in Greenville all their lives, but neither could remember any un-solved murders or missing person cases.

One elderly gentleman recalled a legend about a Native American princess who had supposedly once lived in the area.  Details were hazy, but it seemed she had wandered off sometime in the mid 1800s and was never heard from again; but was it fact, or simply a folktale?

As one might expect, the case attracted the attention of the media, but there wasn’t much to report.  On April 13, 1977, The Evening Bulletin reported that the Medical Examiner’s preliminary findings showed the bones to be of a young woman, buried, “more than 40 years ago, but not longer than 75 years ago.”  It was also reported that investigators were still awaiting other test results.

Two days later, Detective Burke received a brief preliminary report from the Medical Examiner’s office that stated the bones appeared to belong to one person; “…buried for over 50 years with no evidence of foreign material (such as jewelry or bullets, etc.) and no evidence of ante mortem trauma.”  (“Ante mortem” means, before death.)  The report stated additional tests were in progress and could take several weeks.  

 On June 16, 1977, the Providence Journal reported that an orthopedic surgeon and anthropologist would study the remains for additional clues.  It was further stated that the bones, “were buried no more than 50 years ago”, but their exact age was unknown.  The article concluded with one of the investigators explaining that the case was “lagging because more recent deaths were given priority”.

Three days later, a small news item appeared in The Evening Bulletin, under the headline, “Bones May Have Been Teenager”, which stated that according to the chief medical examiner, the bones, “may have been those of a teenage girl who died of tuberculosis 50 to 100 years ago.”  (Discrepancies between the various news reports were never explained.)  

The medical examiner’s autopsy report does not offer much more in the way of clues.  The report stated  it was, “highly probable” the remains belonged to a white female, between 12 and 16 years old, who stood approximately 4’10” inches tall.  The report went on to state that the person was, “probably in good health”, and that x-rays didn’t show any signs of disease, or signs of  injury which would indicate foul play.  Unfortunately, the report does not narrow down the time of death or state a cause.   

 So, who was this young girl, and how did she come to be buried where her remains were found?  The autopsy report would seem to indicate that it’s unlikely she died at the “sick house”.  It also seems unlikely that she was a Native American since the autopsy report also states, “The teeth do not exhibit distinctive racial traits.”, and the race is classified as “Caucasoid”. (White)

The Native American princess legend may have its origins in an actual incident that occurred in the Tarklin section of Burrillville in 1831.  In that case, researched by former Smithfield resident Thomas D’Agostino, a woman named Hannah Frank, who was a Native American, but not a princess, was murdered by her two brothers who were opposed to her upcoming marriage to a Vermont peddler. 

Thus, the simple act of removing a tree stump uncovered a mystery that remains unsolved.  Although no evidence of a crime was discovered, that doesn’t prove one wasn’t committed because a forensic excavation was never conducted.  However, after all these years the question seems moot, for if a murder was committed, those responsible would surely have gone on to their final judgment by now.  

The story of this young girl may never be known.   Who was she?  How did she die?  Perhaps the answers still lie buried with the rest of her bones under a driveway on Putnam Pike.

The Great Georgiaville Liquor Raid of 1898

By Jim Ignasher 

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – March, 2010.

Officially, with a wink and a nod, there were no unlicensed liquor establishments in Smithfield.

Officially, with a wink and a nod, there were no unlicensed liquor establishments in Smithfield.

As the sun settled low on the horizon casting long shadows that marked the end of the day, five men stood on the platform of the Enfield station waiting for the evening train. (Enfield later became known as Esmond.)  To the untrained eye, they might have looked suspicious grouped together in their long overcoats, but they were in fact a contingent of Smithfield police officers under the command of Town Sergeant Jenckes Smith.  Their mission that evening was to conduct surprise raids on unlicensed liquor establishments in Georgiaville, but to accomplish this Smithfield’s tiny police force would need extra men and that was the purpose of meeting the train. 

The train arrived shortly before 5 p.m. and two officers from Johnston and one from East Providence disembarked.  After a brief discussion, the eight men set off for Georgiaville.  The date was December 19, 1898. 

In today’s day and age, one may wonder why such a show of force was necessary to raid unlicensed liquor establishments, but to understand history, one has to take into account the values and attitudes of the times, and not be prejudiced by Twenty-first Century hindsight.  The officers were only doing their jobs by enforcing the law, but what set the night’s events into motion was a local political battle that had begun months earlier.

The 1920s were not the only days of prohibition of alcohol in America.  In Rhode Island, prohibitionists were active nearly one hundred years earlier, and over time they gained enough political clout to get laws banning the sale and use of alcohol passed in 1852, and in1874, but both laws didn’t remain in effect for very long.

Yet another Rhode Island prohibition law was enacted in 1886 that was repealed in 1889.  At the time it was repealed, the matter of prohibition was left up to every city or town to determine for itself by popular vote whether to remain “dry” or go “wet”.  Smithfield elected to remain a “dry” town by a vote of 155 to 121.  

Human nature hasn’t changed since the beginning of time, and as with any banned substance, those who want it will seek out those willing to fill the demand.  So it was that many liquor establishments operated throughout Rhode Island in spite of state laws or local ordinances.

Smithfield was still a small town in 1898; the kind of place where everyone knew everybody else. Officially, with a wink and a nod, there were no liquor serving establishments within the Town of Smithfield, despite the fact that several were known to exist.  This situation more or less remained a non-issue until the matter of granting liquor licenses came up before the town elections held in the spring of 1898.  Who raised the issue is not clear.  Perhaps it was brought forth by those selling alcohol who wanted to legitimize their businesses. Whatever the case, the matter of issuing liquor licenses was defeated by a narrow margin of only ten votes; 112 in favor; 122 against.  The town would remain “dry”.

 After the election it seemed that business would return to normal, but then a group of concerned citizens approached the newly elected Town Council with a petition demanding that some action against the liquor establishments be taken.  There was after all, a law. The initial response of the Council was that there was no money to fund such enforcement measures.  However, the issue had ignited a political fire that demanded attention, and forces were rallied.  At a town financial meeting held June 14, 1898, it was voted that $500 dollars be appropriated to enforce the law.  Sentiment ran so deep that it was added that if the $500 should not be enough, more money would be allocated.  The voters had spoken, and the politicians had listened. This should have been a warning to anyone in the liquor business that trouble, at least for them, was coming.

The first stop for Town Sergeant Smith and his men were two reputed establishments near the railroad crossing on Farnum Pike.  One proprietor, apparently having received advanced warning, was caught in the act of trying to empty his supply.  After claiming it was all the liquor he had, more was found on hidden under a trap door in the floor.  The owner of the other business was not there, but at his “regular” job at the Bernon Mill. An officer was sent to arrest him, but he fled before the constable’s arrival.

Word of what was afoot spread quickly throughout the village and there were some, no doubt, who disposed of their private stock down their kitchen sinks.  However, the officers were after bigger fish, and concentrated only on businesses that had been previously observed openly selling alcohol by undercover “spotters”.

The next stop on the list was a well known bar room.  The bartender had made every effort to empty all bottles and jugs before the officers arrived, but he forgot about a quantity of liquor hidden at the bottom of a coal bin and was arrested.

The largest quantity of booze was found at what had once been called the Georgiaville Hotel, today a private residence.  Apparently the proprietor was one of a handful in the village that hadn’t received word of what was happening for he had made no attempt to empty his merchandise. Caught red-handed, he cooperated with police, and turned over two-and-half barrels of beer, six gallons of whiskey, and nine more of cherry rum.  

The last place to be raided was a barber shop where It was rumored that the barber would cut hair in the front while running a bar room in the back.  No liquor was found on the premises, but the owner was taken into custody anyway because one of the undercover “spotters” had seen him serving alcohol on an earlier occasion.

When it was over, four men were in custody and the hunt was on for another.   The amount of contraband seized filled two buckboard wagons. Of the four men arrested that night, one pled guilty, was fined $20, and given ten days in jail. The others duly pled “not guilty” and were released pending the outcome of their trials.   

The raid was reported in a local newspaper, and one might gather from the article that unlicensed drinking establishments only existed in Georgiaville.  However, it was also reported that a Greenville man had been arrested and was awaiting arraignment on “similar charges”, but his name and the location of his arrest were not recorded.   In any case, one can be sure that alcohol consumption wasn’t only confined to the Village of Georgiaville, and the raid of 1898 sent a loud and clear message that liquor establishments in Smithfield would not be tolerated – at least for awhile.  

raid2

Police Tales of Yesteryear

By Jim Ignasher

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – June, 2012.  

Smithfield’s first police car, a Ford Model A

Smithfield’s first police car, a Ford Model A

The evening of October 2, 1933, was a glorious autumn night that appeared custom made for romance.  The weather was clear and crisp, and millions of stars dazzled the sky. So it was that a young man and his favorite girl parked along a wooded area of Ridge Road near the North Providence line.  As the couple sat in the car anticipating what might come next, a man with a pistol suddenly appeared as if out of nowhere.  

“Stick ‘em up and hand over your dough!” he demanded, as if he were in some low-budget B-rated gangster movie.

The couple was in no position to argue, and the young man quickly handed over two dollars, stammering that it was all he had.

Instead of being angry or running off, the robber then proceeded to tell the couple his life story, leading up to how he had recently been released from prison.  His time in jail, he insisted, had been a “bum rap”, and the man swore he was totally innocent of the crime he had been convicted of.  He then went on to explain that the only reason he was robbing them was to raise enough money to leave Rhode Island so he could “go straight.” 

Ah, the good old days, a time when people slept behind unlocked doors and crime was virtually non-existent.  Vintage sepia tone images pasted in yellowing scrapbooks seem to reflect such a simpler time, but did such an era really exist?

Consider the case of the wife of Doctor E. L. Bellou of Spragueville, who often helped her husband with his practice by traveling to Centerdale to purchase supplies, and collect past due bills from patients.  On the evening of October 30, 1901, she was returning home along the Powder Mill Turnpike, (Today known as Route 44.) when she was accosted in the area of the present-day Greenville Library.  Without warning, two rough looking characters emerged from the shadows and brought her horse and buggy to a halt.

As one man pointed a gun at the woman, he told the other, “You take care of the horse, I’ll look after her!”  He had no sooner uttered these words when Mrs. Bellou produced a pistol of her own and promptly shot him!  As the would-be bandit staggered backwards, he fired a shot in return.  The bullet passed through the brim of Mrs. Bellou’s hat and out the canvas roof of the buggy leaving two perfectly round holes to denote its path. Before either of the men could recover, the woman put the whip to her horse which took off at a full gallop.   

Smithfield constables were notified, but a search of the area revealed nothing but a trail of blood that led away from Greenville. Town officials, outraged at the brazen robbery attempt, and subsequent near murder of a well respected woman, posted a $300 reward for the capture and conviction of the men responsible.  Whether or not they were ever apprehended is unclear. 

Although there is no definitive proof that the same two men were responsible, a similar attempted robbery occurred a few days later on a highway in West Greenwich.  In that incident, one of the men was disguised as a woman! 

Fortunately it wasn’t all high crimes and misdemeanors that made headlines in those days of yore.  Most of the time Smithfield’s police officers dealt with more benign issues.  A case in point occurred one afternoon in the summer of 1937 when then Chief of Police Alfred La Croix encountered two pretty teenaged girls walking along Farnum Pike on their way home from Georgiaville Beach clad only in one-piece bathing suits.  After speaking with the girls, the chief drafted a proclamation banning the practice of strolling along public highways in such attire.  A newspaper article pertaining to the incident stated that the ban, which also applied to non-Smithfield residents, did not include sun suits or short pants.   

On the surface one might think the chief was being prudish, for bating suits of the 1930s were quite modest compared to those of today, but it was a time before modern roads and highways, when many “strangers” came to town to swim in local ponds and lakes instead of traveling to the shore like people do today.  With this knowledge one can surmise that the chief was doing his due diligence and looking out for the girl’s safety. 

Apparently traveling peddlers had become a nuisance during the Depression, for in September of 1937 Smithfield’s Town Council adopted an ordinance requiring all peddlers operating in town to have a license.  However, certain vendors, such as butchers, fish dealers, and farmers, were exempt.

Those arrested for crimes in Smithfield usually spent the night in one of the town’s two “bridewells”; an old English term for jail.  One was located in Georgiaville, and the other in Greenville.  Prisoners would remain in the bridewell until they were brought before the judge of the Ninth District Court.  In the early 1900s court was held in what is today the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Farnum Pike.  

An amusing incident concerning the courtroom wood stove happened on June 24, 1938, when the janitor, following the judge’s orders, started a fire to remove dampness from the building.  He apparently did his job a little too well for the resulting heat from the roaring fire, combined with balmy June weather, forced a temporary recess.   

There was a time when all motor vehicle offenses carried criminal penalties, and were therefore heard by judges of the District Court instead of the traffic tribunals we know today.   The Ninth District Court docket for May 26, 1938, shows that a Greenville man was fined twenty dollars for operating his motorcycle at an “estimated” speed of 58 mph on Farnum Pike.  How the speed was “estimated” was not stated.  Two other men were fined $5 for operating motor vehicles without a license.

Police reports of those pre-World War II days are scarce – if they ever existed at all.  Many Rhode Island police departments of the era were part-time, and newspapers generally carried more information about an incident than day-sheet entries in a police blotter.  A case in point is the Pawtucket man who was slightly injured on April 23, 1939, when his hastily repaired two-seater airplane crashed at the Smithfield Airport, located where Bryant University stands today.  The crash was blamed on a “bad welding job” and the mechanic responsible was promptly fired.  The plane was owned by the Smithfield Airport Club, an organization consisting of young men interested in aviation.

In the later twentieth century is the story of what was perhaps Smithfield’s best kept open secret; a “safe house” where notorious criminals were kept in protective custody until they could testify in federal court.

In the spring of 1971, a chain link fence was erected around a former mill owner’s home in Stillwater, and soon afterward men with automatic weapons were seen patrolling the grounds.  Those men were United States Marshals attached to the Witness Protection Program however none would admit it at the time.  Town officials who made inquiries and attempted to access the property were rebuffed and turned away.  The Marshals put forth a cover story that the U.S. Department of Interior was developing anti-pollution equipment at the site, but nobody believed it.  Before long it was common knowledge what was going on at the property although government officials would neither confirm nor deny the “rumors”. 

One might be surprised to learn that many famous, and not so famous, underworld figures were sheltered there, ranging from corrupt cops and politicians to international drug dealers and stone-cold killers.  

When a local news station began filming activity at the house the Marshal’s abandoned the site for one more secretive.  Today the former “safe house” is a private residence.

On April 27, 1977, the sleepy village of Stillwater once again made the news when three men used dynamite to blow up the Capron Dam at the bottom of Capron Road.  Millions of gallons of water gushed forth before the dam was repaired.  The men were part of a construction crew digging a trench in the area that kept filling with water seeping from the pond.  Rather than employ pumps, they chose to empty the pond.   

More than just old newspaper accounts survive to give a glimpse of those long ago days.  In September of 2009, Smithfield’s then Deputy Chief of Police, Richard P. St. Sauveur, discovered an old iron key that once locked the cell of the Georgiaville Bridewell, and donated it to the Historical Society of Smithfield. The artifact is presently on display at the Smith-Appleby House Museum.

Murdered for Thirteen Dollars

By Jim Ignasher

Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – January, 2010

The grave of Mary Eddy rests on a quite hillside in Glocester’s Acotes Cemetery.  Her murder sparked what one newspaper termed, “a reign of terror” in Smithfield.

The grave of Mary Eddy rests on a quiet hillside in Glocester’s Acotes Cemetery. Her murder sparked what one newspaper termed, “a reign of terror” in Smithfield.

It was described as a “brutal murder”, and a “horrific act of violence”, not that one would ever use gentle adjectives in such a case.  After all, the skull of the young woman had been crushed; hit from behind by an unknown perpetrator using a blunt object; murdered for her measly paycheck of thirteen dollars; money she needed to help support her parents.   

The incident happened in Greenville, on January 3, 1908, and Smithfield’s Chief of Police, Jencks Smith, was faced with solving it.  Forensic technology as we know it today did not exist in 1908.  In those days, investigators had to rely on common sense, instinct, and a bit of luck.  

On the last day of her life, Mary Eddy arrived for work at 6 a.m. at her job at the Greenville Woolen Mill across from West Greenville Road.  It was Friday; pay day. She had only been working at the mill for three weeks at a tedious job in the winding room, but she was used to hard work, having grown up on her parent’s farm in Glocester.  She knew mill life too, having worked several years at a cotton mill in Centerdale before finding work as a maid. She liked domestic work better than mill work, but when her employer had to let her go, she came to Greenville and moved in with her sister on Mapleville Road.   

At the end of her twelve-hour workday, Mary stood in line to collect her pay of $13.13.  For a sixty-hour work–week, this came to about 22 cents per hour.    

It was already dark when she set out for her sister’s house. She turned off Putnam Pike and started up Mapleville Road.  (This portion of Mapleville Road no longer exists.  As late as the 1980s, it ran between Putnam Pike and Austin Avenue, and was also referred to as “Pig Road”.)  As she walked along the frozen ground, Mary likely felt a certain comfort in seeing the lights of her sister’s house come into view, and eagerly looked forward to her supper and warming before the fire.  Of course, this is only speculation, for within sight of her sister’s house, someone came out of the darkness and struck her from behind.    

As she lay on the ground, her attacker rifled through her clothing until he found her money. Satisfied, he then left her for dead.  It’s uncertain how long she lay there.  A bloody trail indicated she tried to crawl home.  When discovered, she was taken to her sister’s house where she died before morning.

Chief Smith, notified of the crime, began his investigation. The murder weapon left at the scene was determined to be a dye stick from the mill where Mary worked.

Word spread fast leading to wild speculation.  Some said hobos or bandits were responsible, while others theorized it was someone from the mill.  Someone remembered that Doctor Eddy, a relative of Mary’s, had been beaten and robbed several years earlier in almost the exact same spot.  He too had been left for dead, but recovered.  Could the two crimes be connected?

In 1908, it was not unusual for small town police chiefs to request help in murder investigations from agencies that had experienced detectives in such matters.  Therefore, Chief Smith wisely asked for assistance from the Providence police who sent Inspector John T. Haran. 

Inspector Haran discounted the theory that the assault on Dr. Eddy and Mary were connected, and also ruled out the possibility that a tramp or a hobo had committed the crime. He theorized that the killer knew the victim, and had lain in wait behind a stone wall knowing she would be passing that particular spot.

After several false leads in the investigation, suspicion fell on a local 19 year-old mill hand named Earl Jacques, partly because he was said to have had “plenty of money” on the day following the murder, and partly because he reportedly borrowed a bottle of benzene from a neighbor to clean what were thought to be blood stains from his clothes.

Earl was arrested at the mill on January 9.  When Chief Smith and Inspector Haran got into the chief’s buggy with their prisoner, the carriage collapsed under their combined weight, much to everyone’s embarrassment.   With their transportation out of commission, they were forced to walk the suspect down Putnam Pike to Chief Smith’s home on Smith Avenue.  A growing crowed followed them the entire way. Once at the chief’s home, the officers locked the doors and wouldn’t let anyone inside.  Under questioning, Earl denied any knowledge of the murder, claiming he was with a woman at the time.  The woman in question supported his story, and even though investigators still had their doubts, they were forced to release Earl.  

The following night, a Georgiaville mill worker was severely beaten and robbed in the same manner as Miss Eddy.  One newspaper dubbed it a “reign of terror” and mentioned that local residents were keeping firearms at the ready.  Reports of other robberies in nearby towns began to appear in the press; a dozen in all, but there was nothing to indicate that they were all related.

The attacks revived the passing hobo theory among the populace, but investigators weren’t convinced. Admittedly, the murder investigation was at a standstill, but Earl was still their prime suspect.  Unfortunately, sometimes knowing something and proving it can be two different matters.  All they could do was watch and wait, hoping Earl would slip up. 

Earl finally made his mistake when he gave a local girl a ten dollar bill to exchange for him at a Greenville store. For her trouble she received fifty-cents. The girl mentioned the incident to her father who in turn notified police. Earl was arrested again, but this time he was taken to the Providence police station.  There he told investigators the whole story.

In his statement, Earl related how the idea for the robbery came to him about four o’clock the day of the murder when he passed a pile of sticks used in the dye room. He hid one until quitting time.  After running across some fields behind the mill, he hid behind a stone wall on Mapleville Road and waited for the first person to come along which happened to be Mary.  After hitting her from behind with the stick, he proceeded to search her until he found the pay envelope, and then made his way home.

He also confided to investigators that he had been about to confess when they had questioned him at Chief Smith’s home, when they suddenly let him go. Thinking he had gotten away with the crime, he later spent $4.13 of the money, and put three cents in the church collection basket!

At the trial, there were some, including Earl’s mother, who said he wasn’t “right in the head”, and claimed he didn’t understand the gravity of the charges against him.  Whether this was true or not, Earl’s arrest and subsequent confession brought to a close one of Smithfield’s most sensational murder cases.

———–

     The attached file is a letter written by Earl Jacques in 1924 while he was still serving time in prison for the murder of Mary Eddy.  It was submitted to the Historical Society of Smithfield by Smithfield resident Katie Law who found it on Ebay. 

EV JACQUES 9 28 1924 prison mail

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