Who Really Killed Maria Crue?

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While doing searches on Burgesses in Massachusetts I ran across an article on Nellie Burgess. Nellie was found drowned; they immediately suspected suicide even after acknowledging that she had been a witness in a highly publicized murder trial. I am not so sure those assumptions would have been the same today. I decided to do a bit of research on the death of Mrs. Maria L Crue and see what I could turn up.


Mrs. Crue (1849-1880, born in Massachussets) was found in her home murder, and from physical evidence it had been a brutal murder. Stearns Kendall Abbott was the accused man in the murder case. In the Fitchburg Sentinel, Jan 28, 1881 the defense described the relationship that Mrs. Crue had with Mr. Crue as previously tenuous. It seemed from a period of 1873 to 1877 Mrs. Crue had problems with fidelity in her marriage. Mr. Crue on occasion was known to have chased with an axe from the home various paramours. Mr. Crue was also known to have threatened his wife on occasion. All this occurring while they lived in Lexington. The supposition was once they had moved to Groton the relationship had healed.


Stearns Kendall Abbott, born July 1838 in Vermont, and had been a private in the Civil War, would be the stranger in town. Abbott’s past would come back to haunt him. Born in a large very poor family, Abbott learned how to steal. His first attempt at thievery was to forge a claim ticket for $15.00. He was caught and sentenced to 5 years in jail. After his release he broke into and stole money to help out his family from a store and was caught and imprisoned again for 6 years. He stole a horse and buggy and served 4 more years and embezzled $250 and spent 2 more years in jail. His next try was $17.00 from a house and spent another 3 years in jail. By this time he was 42 years old and a month and a half out of jail when he moved to Groton. The one good thing that came from all of that incarceration was that he had learned a trade, wood working. He was looking for small jobs and had stopped at several homes inquiring of work on the 17th of January 1880. He would speak with Henry Hewins about employment, which placed him directly in the vicinity of the Crue house. The newspapers would report that he was a printer.


In March another suspect was made note of in the newspaper. A printer, John H Dearborn, that had been employed in the area, about 3 miles from the farm house, during the time of the murder was a suspect. The day of the murder, January 17, 1880, this man didn’t show up for work and didn’t return to his boarding house room until the morning of the 17. The man was said to have kept a diary and written in the diary the day of the murder “Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” It was stated that the man had a morbid fascination with the murder and spoke of it frequently. He owned a gun that was the same caliber as the murder weapon and even knew the victim through religious exercises at the Methodist church.


Although finger print analysis wasn’t then what it is now, bloody fingerprints were found at the scene that were distinct, one hand was missing a portion of a finger. This man had lost a portion of the tip of one finger. He shaved his moustache following the murder and disappeared. They showed pictures of this man to the witnesses, one said it could be the murderer and the other said not. Further investigation into the man’s past would turn up, his wife had divorced him and the police in various other locations were looking for him.


By March 11, they had caught up with John H. Dearborn. He was then employed with the Hopkinton Times at Contoocook. In an interview Dearborn claims to have been employed in November 1879 in Ayer for the Sentinel until June or July of 1880. He went from there to Scituate and then left Scituate in January of 1881.


Although they wouldn’t convict Dearborn of the murder it seems that Dearborn and Abbot not only had the same type of profession, printers according to newspaper reports at the time, they also resembled each other. Many of the witnesses, after Abbotts conviction would say that they couldn’t be positive it was Abbott and not Dearborn when shown photos. Mrs. Murphy, the keeper of a house of ill repute would state that Abbott had been at her house, that Saturday afternoon, January 17, 1880. Her niece would back up that statement.


Nellie Burgess would testify to a conversation that she had with Jennie Carr about the man she saw at the Crue house on the day of the murder. Nellie had seen Mr. Crue at the Carr house and Crue had asked her not to testify against him at the trial. She stated that she had seen a man about 9 o’clock in the vicinity of the murder acting suspiciously that she did not recognize. She found the imprint of a shoe at the scene and measured it against the boot of Mr. Crue.


The New York Times, April 21, 1881


Stearns K. Abbott Reprieved

Given Time to Show Further Evidence of His Innocence.


Boston, April 20 – Stearns Kendall Abbott, who was to have been hanged on Friday, for the murder of Mrs. Crue, in Groton, was reprieved today by the Governor and Council, after a long secret session, to June 23, in order that his counsel may have an opportunity to introduce new evidence. This is the case in which Wendell Phillips has taken so prominent a part of late and after the refusal of the Executive Council to commute the sentence, came out in a sharp letter on the latter’s course. The reprieve of Abbott, it is stated, does not imply any growing belief that the Governor and Council are any more convinced of his innocence than hitherto, but simply that they wish to give him every reasonable opportunity top to prove his asserted innocence.  He has been expecting that the sentence would not be executed and it was argued that it was only justice to give the condemned man further time. Further efforts will be made by Abbott’s counsel to discredit the character of the witnesses against him. While the Council was in session it was stated outside that the additional evidence on which a reprieve was asked for was based upon a statement that Jennie Carr, one of the principal witnesses against the prisoner, once had an illegitimate child in the Charlestown district, and that she accused Crue of being its farther. This, it was claimed, tended to show undue intimacy between the parties, which might have tended to prejudice her testimony. The attorney general was reported to have given his opinion that a reprieve should be granted.


The case is an aggravated one. The woman was found dead in her home, a farm house, with the marks on her body of a severe struggle. The chain of circumstantial evidence connecting Abbott with the deed is very strong, and the case was fully heard. Few doubt Abbott’s guilt, but there is a strong difference of opinion as to whether it was a premeditated murder, which alone would make a capital offense. Abbott had been a printer, and was tramping. The deed was done while the woman was alone in the house.


April 30, 1881 Mrs. Thomas Stearns was interviewed and made statements to the press concerning Jennie Carr, one of the states star witness. Mrs. Stearns stated that she had rented a home to the Carr family and found them to be a bad set. She ended up suing the Carr’s for two summers worth of back rent. She had heard rumor that Crue had married Jennie Carr following his wife’s murder and thought that reason enough for motive. Jennie’s testimony was that she had called on the Crue house to borrow a cup of molasses and found the doors locked. She supposedly heard a body being dragged across the floor and the man that opened the door she identified as Abbott.


By May 3, 1881, Jennie Carr would be questioned about her reputation and previous connection with Crue. After first firmly denying any connection, she would break down and admit to perjury. She would also name Henry Hewins, another government witness, as the father of her baby. This would be news to Henry Hewins. By this time there is little doubt that Abbott was the victim of a conspiracy. Her testimony would prove to be unusable and still Abbott was kept in prison for life.


The Fitchburg Sentinel, August 23, 1881


The body of the girl found drowned Sunday in the Suffolk canal at Lowell, was identified Monday forenoon as Nellie Burgess of Groton. She was a witness in the Stearns Kendall Abbott murder trial and had recently worked in the Tremont and Suffolk mills; bur for the last two weeks was at Sherman’s boarding house on the carpet corporation. She left there last Friday and probably committed suicide. She is said to be married, but the name of her husband is not ascertained.


The 1880 Census has a Nellie E Burgess, born about 1839 in Maine living at a boarding house at Lowell, Middlesex, Massachusetts. She was single and a dressmaker. The 1870 Census would find her in Lawrence, Essex, Massachusetts with the same occupation.


The New York Times, January 28, 1885

A Very Doubtful Confession


One Which if True Would Relieve A Man From A Life Sentence


Boston, Jan 27, – In the State prison serving a life sentence, having barely escaped

Hanging, his sentence having been commuted while the gallows was being erected, is Stearns Kendall Abbott. The crime of which he was convicted was the murder of Mrs. Maria L. Crue, of Groton, in her house, situated on a farm about a mile from the village. This was one of the several noteworthy criminal cases of recent years in this state. Today the story was made public that James Crue, the husband of the murdered woman, had just died in the out-of-the-way town of Bolton, in Worcester County, and before his death had made a confession of the murder. It was also added that a written confession of the murder, from whom no one knew, was sent to Abbott’s counsel from someplace in the West after his arrest, and that this was withheld because it was supposed to have been written by a crank and of no value. The fact that the evidence against Abbott was circumstantial, and no reasonable motive was shown, and that the Chief of that State Police believed him guiltless of the crime and bestirred himself in the effort to secure his reprieve , and that in the investigation before the Governor and Council which resulted in the commutation of his sentence, the evidence of one of the principal witnesses against him at the trial was impaired by new evidence submitted, made it easy for many who had followed the case to believe today’s story.


But inquiry soon showed that it was not to be credited. The report was that the confession had been made to Dr. Perley P Courey, of Clinton, who had attended Cru, but a dispatch states that this physician knows nothing of the case and has not attended Crue; that other physicians are equally ignorant of the affair, and furthermore that Crue is believed to be alive, not in Bolton, but in the town of Lancaster. It is a curious fact that Judge Lord, before whom Abbott was tried, the prosecuting attorney, Attorney General Marston, and the senior counsel for the defense, George Stevens, have all died since the trial. Abbott is spoken of by Warden Usher, of the State prison, as an industrious, well-behaved and useful prisoner.


I kept searching to find out if they ever let Stearns Kendall Abbott out of jail.


Daily Kennebec Journal, April 28, 1911


Other Sentences Bring Total Time to Three quarters of His Life


Boston, April 27 – Prison doors which shut supposedly for life on Stearns Kendall abbott 30 years ago, after his conviction of the murder of Mrs. Marion Crue at Groton, swung open for him today through the approval of a majority of the Executive Council.


Abbott always denied that he was guilty of the murder.


The pardon committee, at whose suggestion Governor Foss acted in the case, gave three hearings for the petitioners and at the conclusion all but Lieut. Gov. Frothingham voted for the pardon. At the full Council meeting today, Councilor W. S. Glidden joined in opposing the pardon.


The grounds upon which it was granted were that Abbott had suffered sufficiently and that there were grave doubts as to his guilt.


The murder of Mrs. Crue took place January 17 1881 and a few days later Abbott was arrested. At the trial it was shown that he was in the vicinity of the scene of the murder about the time it was committed, that imprints of shoes corresponded to those he wore, while one witness stated that he saw Abott talking with Mrs. Crue that day.


He was convicted and sentenced to be hanged but through the earnest appeal of Wendell Phillips, punishment was commuted to imprisonment for life by Governor John D. Long.


One of the witnesses at the hearing last month was the late Secretary of State Olin, who investigated the case for Governor Long and recommended commutation of the death sentence.


When Abbott walked out of prison today he was in his 73 year and as he served for lesser offences before the Crue murder, nearly three-quarters of his life has been passed in jail.


At the pardon hearing a relative stated that there was a home for him in Pennsylvania and Abbott will leave Massachusetts at once.



  1. Hi there – I came across your website looking for information on Stearns K. Abbott. I believe he might be the brother of one of my ancestors. I would love to know what your resources are for your paragraph on Stearn’s family, since my ancestor is a dead end for me. Thanks!

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