Francis M. Carroll

Framed after dubious accusation

Francis M. Carroll, a deputy sheriff in Oxford County, Maine, was convicted in 1938 of the murder of Dr. James G. Littlefield. In 1960, Carroll was exonerated after evidence of his innocence — and of a conspiracy to frame him — was brought to light during a hearing on his petition for a state writ of habeas corpus.

Dr. Littlefield's body, along with that of his wife Lydia, was found in the trunk of his parked car in North Arlington, New Jersey, on October 16, 1937. The attention of two North Arlington police officers had been drawn to the car because a pair of feet were protruding from one of its windows. The feet belonged to Paul Nathaniel (Buddy) Dwyer, eighteen, who lived with his mother in South Paris, Maine, where the Littlefields also resided.

Dwyer confessed that he had slain the couple, but after being convicted based on the confession changed his story, now claiming that Carroll had committed the murders. Dwyer said that Dr. Littlefield had learned that Carroll had engaged in incest with his daughter Barbara, Dwyer's sweetheart, and had committed the murders to prevent disclosure of the incest.

Based on Dwyer's bizarre new story, a special prosecutor was appointed. Carroll was indicted and convicted on August 12, 1938, based primarily on Dwyer's testimony. Although Carroll and Dwyer could not both be guilty under the conflicting prosecution theories on which their convictions rested, both were imprisoned until September 20, 1950, when Carroll's conviction was vacated and his release ordered on a state writ of habeas corpus.

In issuing the writ, Superior Court Judge Albert Beliveau declared that the prosecutor in the case "deliberately, purposely, and intentionally . . . practiced fraud and deception on the court and jury." To deny the writ, said Judge Beliveau, "would be a dereliction in the performance of my duty, false in my oath, and would thereby perpetuate a gross miscarriage of justice."

Case Chronology

October 13, 1937 — Dr. George G. Littlefield and his wife Lydia, both sixty-four, disappear from their hometown of South Paris, Oxford County, Maine.

October 16, 1937 — The Littlefields' bodies are found in the trunk of their parked car in North Arlington, New Jersey. Paul Nathaniel (Buddy) Dwyer, eighteen, who was sleeping in the car with his feet protruding from one of the windows, confesses that he killed the couple.

October 17, 1937 — Dwyer waives extradition and is flown to Oxford County, Maine, where he is committed to the custody of Francis Carroll, a forty-three-year-old deputy sheriff and the father of Dwyer's former girlfriend, Barbara (Babs) Carroll.

November 5, 1937 — Dwyer is indicted for the murder of Dr. Littlefield, although not for that of Mrs. Littlefield (perhaps owing to uncertainty whether her death had occurred in Maine).

November 29, 1937 — Dwyer trial opens in Oxford County and he pleads not guilty.

December 2, 1937 — Dwyer changes his plea to guilty and is sentenced to life in prison.

Late 1937 or early 1938 — Dwyer accuses Carroll of having committed the crime, to prevent the doctor from disclosing that Carroll and Babs Carroll had engaged in incest.

May 27, 1938 — Babs allegedly acknowledges that she engaged in sexual activity with her father on several occasions beginning when she was eleven years old. Carroll is arrested and jailed in lieu of $15,000 bond on the incest charge.

June 24. 1938 — Special Attorney General Ralph M. Ingalls obtains an indictment of Carroll for the murder of Dr. Littlefield.

August 1, 1938 — Carroll's trial opens before an Oxford County jury. On the courthouse steps, a vendor sells autographed copies of a provocative photograph of Babs in a bathing suit.

August 12, 1938 — The jury finds Carroll guilty. Judge William H. Fisher sentences him to life in prison.

September 20, 1950 — Carroll is released unconditionally on a state writ of habeas corpus granted by Superior Court Justice Albert Beliveau based on extensive prosecutorial misconduct in the case.

October 19, 1959 — Dwyer is released on parole after Maine Governor Clinton A. Clauson commutes his life sentence to time served.

Case Data

Date of crime: October 13, 1937
Jurisdiction: Oxford County, Maine
Type of crime: Murder
Sentence: Life
Defendant's age at time of crime: 43
Defendant's gender: Male
Defendant's race: White
Defendant's prior adult or juvenile conviction record: None
Victim: George G. Littlefield (Dr. Littlefield's wife Lydia also was murdered, but Carroll was not charged with her murder)
Victim's gender: Male
Victims' race: White
Victims Ages at time of crime: Both 64
How defendant initially became a suspect: Accused by 18-year-old Paul Nathaniel Dwyer, who was found sleeping in a car; the victims' bodies were in the trunk. Dwyer confessed to and was convicted of the murders before he accused Carroll. Dwyer claimed that Carroll killed the doctor to silence him about incest in which Carroll had engaged with his daughter Barbara and then killed Lydia Littlefield out of fear that the doctor might have told her about the incest.
Date of arrest: May 27, 1938
Type of proceeding resulting in conviction: Jury trial
Date of conviction: August 12, 1938
Principal evidence presented at trial purporting to establish guilt: Testimony of Dwyer accusing him of the murders
Date of release: September 20, 1950
Total days incarcerated: 4,422
How case was resolved: During a hearing on a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus, evidence of official misconduct leading to “a gross miscarriage of justice” came to light.
Date of resolution: September 20, 1950
Factors leading to resolution: Efforts of pro bono appellate counsel
Individual(s) responsible for bringing miscarriage to light: Appellate attorney
Compensation: None
Post-release criminal record: None

— Rob Warden