A mill murder mystery!

August 30th 2017 by Lydia Smith

The Northwestern Miller is fast becoming a favourite in finding inspiration for my blogs! This week’s topic comes from one of the oldest journals we have in the collection, dating back to 1899. The article in question is that of the tragic story of a Mrs Winifred Bailey, an elderly hermit woman who lived alone and ran her family mill by herself. Mrs Bailey suffered many misfortunes in her early life, she was caught up in a mysterious murderous robbery, a prison trial, and a deathbed confession. Do you think you can solve the murder mystery? Read on to find out the details…
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In 1836 Mrs Bailey was the young daughter of a miller, who had promised her hand in marriage to Stephen Letton, a successful farmer. However that summer the young girl met Thomas Bailey, whom she fell in love with and the betrothal to poor Mr Letton was broken off. Thomas and Winifred were quickly married, and yet in a curious turn of events Letton became a close family friend, his unrequited love seemingly not a cause for awkwardness or resentment. A few months after the marriage, both Mr Bailey and Mr Letton announced business trips that coincided with each other. Bailey claimed he had “unfinished business” across the country while Mr Letton had decided to move to West Virginia. Because of their companionship, the two men decided to travel together some of the way until their routes differed. On their journey they stayed a few nights at the house of a friend of Mr Bailey’s, before going their separate ways. On their last night together, Letton borrowed a large sum of money from his friend, on the promise he would repay him upon arrival at his destination. The night after Bailey left, a murderer entered his host’s house killing all those inside, and took a package of money before attempting to burn the house down. The police were able to recover the bloodstained wrapper which had contained the money, the only clue in catching the culprit.

Upon Bailey’s return he received the money he had lent to Letton, he did not realise at this point he was a key suspect in his friend’s murder. He was known to be close to the dead man and since he had stayed at his house just the previous night, these do sound like suspicious circumstances. To incriminate Bailey, a police officer was assigned to follow him and check every note he paid out until they found a note with a bloodstain (curious methods!). When Bailey finally used the incriminating note he was immediately arrested, his prosecutors claimed the blood on the wrapper matched exactly to the bloodstain on the note. They stated his bloodied thumb would have stained both the wrapping and the top note. Of course Mr Bailey protested his innocence, he pointed out that the money was given to him by Mr Letton, and that he had no motive to murder his good friend. Unfortunately this did not convince the juries, and to make matters worse as he was unable to prove his alibi. He claimed he had stayed at a small cabin the night of the murder, yet when it was visited by officers there was no one there to support his alibi. The somewhat interesting methods used by police only get worse! They then attempted to track down Letton who had been linked to the bloodied money, but couldn’t find him so proceeded to accuse Bailey of murder! It is likely they just wanted to find a culprit to satisfy the public, but were they right? Did they imprison the right man?

Winifred’s husband was convicted of murder and died in prison after only a few months of marriage as a free man. She never doubted her husband’s innocence and repeatedly sought to disprove his guilt but to no avail. However, the story does not end here. A few year later Mrs Bailey received a letter which claimed Mr Letton was fatally wounded in a brawl, yet on his deathbed made a remarkable confession. He admitted that he had orchestrated the murder and planned it so Mr Bailey would be accused and convicted. You may ask why would a man do such a thing to his close friend? It was simply a case of revenge, he wanted to get vengeance on the man who stole his would-be wife! After all that time Letton had convincingly led everyone to believe he harboured no bitterness, yet was actually gaining their trust so he could enact his brutal revenge without being suspected. You have to admire Letton’s cunning and tenacity, he had impressively planned the whole debacle down to the finest detail and managed to evade the suspicion of the authorities. Obviously, however, it is not an advisable way to get revenge!

Did you correctly guess it was Letton? And did you suspect his motives? After everything, Mrs Bailey retired to her old mill to live in solitude, with only the company of her pet cat and dog. She ran the mill by herself, with only the help of a “half-grown boy”, a common practice at the time when there was no family to help out. She was probably one of the few women at the time who was a miller in her own right, the profession being physically strenuous and often considered men’s work. Mrs Bailey was certainly victim of unfortunate circumstances, but she seems to be an interesting character in her own right!