Stearns Kimball Abbott
Framed by lover of murdered woman's husband
When Joseph Crue reported finding his young wife, Maria L. Crue, shot to death in their farm home near Groton, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1880, he was not considered a suspect because he had a solid alibi.
The first lead in the case was provided by Dr. Miles Spaulding, a physician who had been making house calls in the area the day of the murder. In front of the Crue home, he had seen a sleigh, the owner of which was sixteen-year-old Jennie Carr. When questioned, Carr said she had stopped to visit Mrs. Crue but had left when a man appeared at the door and said she was away. In succeeding days, other witnesses recalled seeing a stranger with a scruffy beard and a mustache in the vicinity.
In fact, the man had stopped at a furniture factory not far from the Crue home, asked for a job, and given his name — Stearns Kimball Abbott. He was a forty-year-old transient from Cambridgeport who had been in and out of prison for the previous quarter of a century for burglary, horse theft, and forgery. From Groton, Abbott had traveled to Boston and then to East Weare, New Hampshire, where he was arrested on January 29, 1880. He was returned to Massachusetts, where he was tried for Mrs. Crue's murder the following October before a Middlesex County jury.
The principal prosecution witness was Jennie Carr, who identified him as the man she had encountered at the Crue home the day of the crime. Abbott's court-appointed lawyers, George Stevens and William H. Burt, failed to locate witnesses who could have established that Abbott had boarded a Boston-bound train at Littleton more than an hour before Maria Crue was last seen alive. The defense lawyers also failed to find witnesses who could have established that Jennie Carr and Joseph Crue were lovers — and that Jennie had borne a child by Joseph.
Hearing no exculpatory evidence, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on October 20, 1880. Abbott was sentenced to death and, after the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts denied his appeal on February 21, 1881, his hanging was set for the following April 22. Soon after the appeal was denied, a witness identified only as "a young factory girl in Lowell" claimed that Carr had acknowledged that she had falsely accused Abbott. A few weeks later, that witness's body was found in the Charles River, turning public opinion, according to the Boston Daily Globe, "strong against the verdict" in Abbott's case.
A citizens' group headed by renowned social reformer Wendell Phillips petitioned Governor John Davis Long for what the Globe called "a partial righting of a great wrong." Three days before Abbott was to die, Davis granted a reprieve until June 3, 1881, and appointed a council to reinvestigate the case. In May 1881, Jennie Carr was called to testify before the council. She initially denied both that she had been intimate with Joseph Crue and that she had ever given birth to a child. After a physician who attended the delivery of her child testified, however, Carr acknowledged that she and Crue had been romantically involved at the time of the murder, and that she had given birth to his child — admissions that, to say the least, were highly exculpatory of Abbott.
Governor Long rejected the citizens' groups demand to declare Abbott innocent, but he did commute his sentence from death to life in prison. After Wendell Phillips's death in 1884, the movement to free Abbott fell dormant, but was revived a decade later by a group of Boston protestant clergy. On June 26, 1895, the group presented a petition for pardon to Governor Frederic T. Greenhalge. The Middlesex district attorney opposed the pardon, however, and Greenhalge denied it.
It was not until April 27, 1911 — thirty-one years and three months after Abbott's arrest — that Governor Eugene Foss finally granted a complete pardon and ordered his release. "Since Abbott's arrest many persons qualified to form judgment have been convinced that he was innocent of the crime, and that his conviction was a mistake," Foss wrote. Abbott, seventy-one, went to live with relatives in Vermont. His pardon rendered the murder of Maria Crue unsolved, as it forever would remain. It was too late to pursue Jennie Carr and Joseph Crue, both of whom were deceased.
— Beth Cruz