What Happened to Nellie Burgess?

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 The Nellie Burgess that I had previously located in the 1870-1880 Census does not seem to be the same Nellie Burgess that would drown in the Suffolk canal. The 1880 Census has a Nellie E Burgess, born about 1839 in Maine living at an alms 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. This Nellie Burgess would die at the alms house November 1882.


More research turned up these two articles on Nellie’s disappearance. It seems they did think there may have been a chance that Nellie had been murdered by someone that was friends with Joseph Crue. From the snips below she hadn’t painted a very nice picture of Crue during the murder trial.


The Fitchburg Sentinel, August 25, 1881


The Nellie Burgess Drowning Case


Nellie Burgess who was found drowned Saturday morning, in the Suffolk Canal at Lowell was about 17 years old and was identified by Mr. Burgess, with whom she was wed about two months. She lived in Groton with a family named Woods, before coming to Lowell and has been as a servant at several boarding houses in Lowell. Her name was Weaver before her marriage and she was born in Springfield. Her marriage occurred in March, 1880.


One of the theories regarding the cause of her death is that she was waylaid by a friend and vindicator of Joseph Crue, whom she testified against in the Crue murder trial, and that she was thrown into the canal by the person who waylaid her. In the trial of Abbott, for the murder of Mrs. Crue, Nellie Burgess testified, in substance as follows:


“She first testified to a conversation with Jennie Carr in regard to the man she saw at the Crue house on the day of the murder; have seen Crue at Miss Carr’s house quite often; know Crue asked her to go to ride; have seen him hug and kiss her once; Mr. Crue asked me not to testify at the trial against him, as it might hurt him; heard Crue tell his wife, about four months before the murder, the he would cut her throat.”


It is known that she had been receiving the attentions of a young man employed in a barber’s shop in Lowell for some months, until about a fortnight since, when she discarded him, and received the attentions of another young man employed in the same business at another shop. Both the young men were at work on Saturday night she was last seen, till midnight and neither of them was therefore the person who called for her at the place where she was employed early in the evening. It is reported that outcries were heard Saturday night near the place where the body was recovered, but there is no verification of such report.


John L baker says the he saw the Burgess girl on Merrimack street, Lowell, between eight and nine o’clock Saturday night, and the he saw her pass down the street and upon Central street. While near Canal block a well-dressed man, wearing a stiff white hat, who was driving along in a carriage, stopped and asked her to ride with him. She got into the carriage and was driven away. This is the last seen of her alive by any witness who has yet appeared.


The information surrounding Nellie Burgess is a bit confusing. This article gives more background on the young woman. Searching the Census I couldn’t locate Nellie in any of the mentioned households or by any one of the three last names she would have used.


Lowell Sun, August 7, 1881


Suicide or Murder?


Two Powell Cases this Week – Full Particulars


The body of an unfortunate woman was taken from the Suffolk canal, by a Frenchman at about eight o’clock Sunday morning. Undertaker Currier was notified and he immediately removed the body to his undertaking rooms on Prescott street. The woman was apparently about 20 years of age and about 5 feet 3 inches in height. She had dark brown hair, black eyebrows and plump well defined features. She was neatly dressed and wore a light sack and bunting dress, plaited at the bottom about three inches deep. She also wore a bask waist made of black bunting. Her underskirt was of gray material, striped with a woolen border. There was nothing on her person that would help to identify her except that in her pocket a piece of music was found on which the words “Old Arm Chair” were written in ink. Medical Examiner Hartwell of Ayer was summoned. Dr. Irish of this city being absent and he pronounced the case one of suicide. At one time the body was thought to be that of Mrs. Lizzie Athertea whose maiden name was Molloy and it was identified as such by her brother and a number of relatives and friends. This theory was abandoned soon after it being ascertained that Lizzie was alive and well. The body was really identified Monday noon, by table girls who had worked with deceased at Mr. Charles Sherman’s boarding house, No. 7, Carpet Corporation. They stated that her name was Nellie Burgess and that she had at one time worked for Mrs. Damon on the Tremont Corporation. The identification was made more reliable by the fact that Mrs. Damon recognized the piece of music found in the pocket of the unfortunate young woman to have been copied by her little son Charlie.


Nellie Burgess was born in Springfield, Mass., but owing to the circumstances of her birth, she was adopted by a family named Weaver. She afterwards took their name and was pretty well generally known as Nellie Weaver. In March 1880 she was married to Asa Burroughs but she lived with him only a few months. Soon after she took up her residence with a family named Woods, who resided near the Crue house in Groton, Mass., and as will be remembered, she appeared as a witness in the famous Crue-Abbott case, she testifying strongly against the character of Mr. Crue. After leaving the Wood family, about two months ago, Nellie came to this city. Soon after her arrival she obtained employment in the capacity of table girl at several of the corporation boarding houses. At the time of her death she was working for Mrs. Clark, who keeps a boarding house at No. 5 Suffolk Corporation. Mrs. Clark states that at about half past seven o’clock, Saturday night a tall dark complexioned man called for the Burgess girl. He was informed that Nellie had gone down the street. John L Baker, who lives at No. 105 Middlesex street says he saw the Burgess woman on Merrimack Street, between half-past eight and nine o’clock on Saturday evening. He also saw her on Central street at about nin o’clock, she being alone at the time. While passing along on Canal bridge, a rather good looking, well-dressed man, wearing a stiff hat and driving a top carriage stopped and asked her to ride with him. She did so and both drove away. This is the last, as far as has been ascertained at present, that was seen of Nellie Burgess alive. Whether she was foully dealt with or committed suicide is yet to be learned and her death will probably remain among the hidden things of the past.




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