During a random google search, I stumbled across this tragic story and decided to write it because of the similarities, it feels close to home. I live near a small rural town called Oakham, in the county of Rutland, which you may be becoming familiar with through Phoebe’s series on historic towns and villages and a few local articles I have added myself. The sad event takes place in a small village near Oakham, Massachusetts; the next along is called Rutland. Ironically, the village of Coldbrook Springs no longer exists, as with much of my own neighbourhood, it was sunk during the making of a reservoir.
From St Andrews, New Brunswick, Elizabeth Ann Craig married Frank Naramore in 1890 at the age of 19, against the wishes of her family and friends. Of course they were right, as Elizabeth – Lizzie – was to find out over the next ten years. As she gave birth to one child after another, whilst Frank drank his wages away consistently, whilst being unfaithful and abusive, the family fell deeper into poverty.
Later described as dependably undependable, Frank earned a fairly good wage at a sawmill in Oakham, Massachusetts although was often late or absent from work. But his selfish pastimes ensured there was never any money. The family settled in an abandoned farmhouse just outside of the village of Coldbrook Springs near the town of Barre, in around 1897 and for four years the locals saw a proud hard-working mother struggle to clothe her children and keep her home clean, and the family fed. Often when Frank was paid, he would arrive home late blind drunk, with no money left. Lizzie did what she could. On several occasions those locals stepped in and spared a few groceries, so that she had something to give the children.
In March 1901, Lizzie was pushed to seek further help from the Poor board in Baldwinville, their previous home. A few days later, the overseers came out to the house to inspect the family’s living conditions; they found Lizzie and her six children living in abject squalor, with no heating, and no food in a few rooms of the house. They agreed to help. The solution they proposed was to remove the five older children – Ethel aged 9, Charles aged 7, Walter aged 6, Chester aged 4 and Elizabeth aged 3 – and place them with five foster families, whilst at the same time placing Lizzie and baby Lena aged 10 months, in a poor home. They left and assured Elizabeth they would return the following week.
A few days later, on March 21st, Frank left for work. Colleagues noted he seemed cheerful, and it seems he may have stopped on the way to order a few groceries for his wife, potatoes, flour and so on, from the local store. A member of staff offered to drop the groceries to the house, which was on his way home. At around 3 o clock, George Thresher stopped at the house to deliver the food. There was no response to the knock at the door. George found it to be wedged shut, which was most unusual; he also couldn’t hear the usual sounds of the children playing around the house. He went to the small window and peered inside. He was horrified to see blood splattered everywhere, and what appeared to be Lizzie laid on a bed.
George dropped the groceries and ran back to work to raise the alarm. Somebody was sent to alert Frank at the sawmill; a party went back to the house, and managed to break in. It was quickly apparent an awful, violent crime had taken place, and word was sent to notify the authorities. As the men walked around the few rooms, they saw the two eldest children laid in one bed, and the four younger ones in another, alongside their mother. It was quickly apparent the children were all dead, but when the authorities arrived, and the process of moving the children began, somebody reached out to take the baby Lena, wrapped in her mother’s arms. Lizzie stirred. She was alive, but barely. A deep slash to her throat had caused extensive blood loss.
Lizzie was taken swiftly to the local hotel to receive medical attention. To begin with, the prognosis was not good, and it was feared they would lose her. Her husband was distraught with grief at the loss of his children, and the drama surrounding his wife’s condition. Would he lose her too? As the night wore on, the Doctor hesitantly suggested she may survive after all. But then came the bombshell. The murders of the children were at their own mother’s hand.
During her treatment, a very weak Lizzie had explained that she was overcome with fear that the Overseers were going to remove her children, including the baby, and leave her alone in a hostel somewhere, never to see them again. The terror was more than she could bear, and in a moment of irrationality she had decided instead to take their lives, and her own.
She described placing them all in various rooms of the house, and then taking them one at a time to the kitchen, eldest first, had bashed in their heads with an axe. When she reached the baby she used a club. She laid them out on the beds, and took her husband’s razor, firstly attempting to cut the arteries in her legs, which was unsuccessful, she had then slashed her own throat, before curling up next to her children and waiting to die. The authorities and the local townspeople were horrified. They hadn’t realized just how desperate Lizzie had been. Sorrow was expressed at how the poor children were dreadfully bruised and bloodied about the heads.
Lizzie was arrested and charged with the murder of her eldest child, nine-year-old Ethel. She pleaded guilty at her trial in Worcester, but in a somewhat surprising outcome, the Judge found her not guilty by reason of insanity. It was felt that post-natal depression following the birth of her youngest child, coupled with the continuing struggle to survive, her husband’s poor treatment of the family and the overwhelming fear of losing her children, had caused Elizabeth to experience a period of extreme irrationality during which she acted completely out of character, in the only way her confused mind knew how. She was sentenced to life in a nearby asylum for treatment.
The local villagers were present with Frank Naramore, his brother and brother in law, at the funeral service for the six Naramore children which was held in Barre; the Pastor, Reverend Charles Talmage, having done his homework accused every one of them for failing Elizabeth and the children in their time of need. Had they tried harder, and taken a little time, exercised a little more charity, the tragedy could have been avoided. The finger of blame for the results, he pointed squarely at her husband. No money was offered for the funeral or burial of the children in Coldbrook Springs; and there was no pauper’s section in the nearby Riverside cemetery at Barre, so the children were quietly interred in an unmarked spot outside of the cemetery wall, near the entrance gate.
Frank Naramore left Coldbrook Springs following the children’s deaths and his wife’s incarceration. Popular legend has it that he was never heard of again, however through a descendant’s genealogy efforts, it has been discovered that Frank was probably residing in Worcester close to where his wife was undergoing treatment, and it was there that he remained. In 1930, aged 67 he is listed at the home of Charles Voller and his family on Congress Street, and the following year living at 44 Exchange street, in the street directory, recorded as a carpenter. He died in 1936, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Hope cemetery. From an obituary, he died alone with no friends or family.
After five years being treated in Worcester Asylum, Elizabeth Naramore was declared sane and discharged. In 1907 she visited the unmarked graves of her children in Coldbrook Springs, and then moved to Boston where she took a position as a clerk in a department store. Elizabeth then fades into the oblivion of time. In 2002, following the efforts of Senator Robert Wetmore who lives near the cemetery which sits quietly on Granger Road, Barre Historical Society, Secretary of State William Galvin, and others, a memorial stone was finally dedicated to the children, over 100 years after their deaths. Galvin donated $4000 for a piece of Canadian granite which bears the inscription on one side of the children’s names, and on the other a brief synopsis of the events which surrounded their deaths. Guarded by a lone Oak tree since their interment, a lonely croup of indentations was all that remained, but now the children are remembered once again, and visitors continue to pause and leave the little ones a toy.
Although it is not common knowledge, the horrific deaths of the Naramore children, and the reasons behind them, did not go unnoticed. As a result of this tragedy, many measures and policies were introduced in an attempt to reduce such a terrible event happening again. Many of those implementations are still in place to this day, although there have been several more similar cases over time, it is felt that the number is only a fraction to what could have been without.