Published January 7, 2007
Barre's real-life whodunit murder of 1919
"One Less Woman - A Vermont Murder: 1919," by Patricia W. Belding, illustrated 184 pages, Potash Brook Publishing, $16.95.
Barre history buffs are no doubt familiar with the city's three B's: Broadwell, Baker and Brown, an alliterative trio of murders that sent shockwaves through the Granite Center of the World in 1919, 1958 and 1982. The latter two murders remain unsolved.
The first, however, the 1919 strangulation-murder of Lucina Broadwell, a 29-year-old mother of three, was wrapped up that very year, its cast of characters long dead, buried, and forgotten largely for years - until Patricia Belding came along to do some literary exhuming.
The result is "One Less Woman - A Vermont Murder: 1919," the fourth self-published work by the Barre author/historian. The book, first released on May 3 (on the 87th anniversary of the murder) is now in its second printing.
Belding, who retired as a librarian from the Aldrich Public Library in 1993, is among a cadre of local writers who, through their books, document and preserve local history. In some cases, the information they contain is the only documented source of otherwise anecdotal material. The Broadwell murder, for example, has been part of Barre lore for years, but this is the first time the facts have been presented.
Authors, especially local authors looking to publish books about local topics, are hard-pressed to find willing publishers, says Ben Koenig of The Country Bookshop in Plainfield. Koenig says he carries a few self-published titles by local writers, including Belding's second book, "Through Hell and High Water in Barre, Vermont," which was written eight years ago. He says the books have done well in the store and online.
A self-published book can do more than stoke the fiery ego of an aspiring author.
"This is information that would be lost otherwise," says Marjorie Strong, assistant librarian of the Vermont Historical Society. Strong says the self-published book genre is and will continue to be vitally important to researchers. The library's collection of self-published books, written by established authors and amateurs alike, includes Civil War memoirs, collections of letters and town histories that date to the early 1800s.
Strong praises Belding's work. "She is a meticulous researcher and tells a totally fascinating story," Strong says. "She and Russell (her son) are like that." Russell is the author of the self-published "From Hitching Posts to Gas Pumps. A History of North Main Street. Barre, Vermont. 1875 - 1915".
Belding, in an interview, said she turned to self-publishing with her first book, in 1996, titled "Where The Books Are," an architectural and historical overview of Vermont's public libraries."
Belding recalls her efforts to get the book published. "The Vermont Department of Libraries (who asked her to write the book and gave her a $1,250 stipend) sent out at least 10 feelers to book publishers around the area. No one wanted to do it." So she and her husband opted to print, distribute and market the book on their own.
"How I happened to do 'One Less Woman' is all very complicated," says Belding, who has published her books through her own Potash Brook Publishing, named after the brook located across the street from her Delmont Street home. (Coincidentally, that is the brook where the body of Vermont's lieutenant governor, Hollister, was found after he drowned in the Flood of 1927. His body was found just down the road from the Beldings' home.
Shortly after 9/11, Belding was asked by the Barre Fire Department to help write its history. She declined but did agree to help research the mysterious departure of a fire chief back in 1919. "He left very quickly, and we wondered if there was some scandal." As it turned out there was none, but what the leather-bound 1919 volume of "Barre Times" newspapers did reveal to Belding was a trove of material about the Broadwell murder and trial that became the basis for her book.
Belding's real-life murder mystery, written by paraphrasing newspaper articles, editorials and commentary (and illustrated with historical photos and illustrations), paints a vivid and accurate portrait of the seamier side of Barre in the years shortly after World War I. The city, a melting pot of ethnicity, at the time was still reeling from the aftermath of the Spanish influenza.
Lucina Broadwell, in addition to being a mother and wife, was also a part-time prostitute, plying her trade at the 110 South Main St. home of Isabelle Parker. Whether this was done for supplemental income or retribution (her husband was rumored to stray from marital bliss on occasion) is a secret she took with her to the grave to which she was committed three days after her nude body was found in a garden behind a house that once stood on the site of what is now The Family Dollar Store on Main Street.
George Long, who was convicted of the crime, roomed at the Parker boarding house/brothel, which Belding reveals, also served as a clearing house for some of Barre's elite who were looking for the occasional extra-marital affair. Mrs. Parker kept detailed accounts of her clientele and their preferences in a "little red book."
Belding speculates that one or more of the individuals listed in that book may have played a role in Broadwell's murder. "I would imagine some people were a little nervous about it."
Although Long was found guilty of the murder (Parker, by way, was convicted and served prison time for running a brothel), "One Less Woman" leaves the reader wondering if he was in fact the killer. Long maintained his innocence through the trial and while imprisoned.
Belding, 76, an avid reader, says she enjoys a good murder mystery herself. She also reports that she has considered writing books about the Baker (the linoleum store murder) and Brown (the Barre Heritage Day murder) but decided against it. Her next book, instead, is likely to be about village greens in Vermont.
Patrick Timothy Mullikin is a frequent contributor to Vermont Sunday Magazine. He is a part-time editor at the Times Argus.