Boston Harbor in the late 1800s. (Courtesy: New York Public Library)
Boston Harbor in the late 1800s. (Courtesy: New York Public Library)

On July 23, 1885, a mutilated body was found in the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts. A janitor at a nearby club house made the initial discovery. On the next morning at ten o’clock, harbor police noticed a sack floating in the water.

The New York Times reported that the bag “had been carefully sewed up, and there was a piece of Brussels carpet inside it.” That piece of carpet would prove to be one of the strongest clues in the case. Catch up with Part 1 of this true story.

On July 25, 1885, the Times published the latest developments of the shocking murder mystery:

The Charles River Mystery

Boston, Mass., July 25.—A most important and vital fact, it is thought, has been developed in connection with the mysterious Charles River tragedy. The murdered woman was a victim of malpractice. This fact was ascertained at the autopsy held yesterday. Yet the well established fact that the woman died from strangulation seems to controvert the other. That the two are somehow connected there is no doubt, and the detectives are now working hard to discover the missing link which shall throw light upon the whole affair.

In the early hours of the investigation, law enforcement officers originally thought that the victim was a woman named Nellie Halsey, who apparently had a habit of drunkenly walking onto ships. However, that belief by the Boston police changed by July 26. Police were now concentrating their efforts on confirming that the woman who was brutally killed was named Rose C. Gilbert.

On July 26, the Times reported one glaring bit about Rose Gilbert: her husband, Lawrence, was a butcher.

Trying to Solve a Mystery

Worcester, Mass. July 26.—Officers here are hunting up the antecedents of Rose Gilbert, 30 years of age and of French parentage, whom they believe to be the woman whose body was found in Charles River. A brother of Rose Gilbert, living here, named Samuel Hickey, says she married Lawrence Gilbert, a butcher, at Providence ten years ago. They kept a restaurant here three years ago. Hickey will visit Boston tomorrow and try to identify the remains.

While Boston police were looking to confirm the identity of the victim, the remaining body parts were recovered in the Charles River. Local newspapers reported it had been “cut into four sections.” The Times reported:

Boston, July 26.—The latest developments in the Charles River mystery was the finding today of the remaining portions of the murdered woman’s body, which had been cut into four sections, the trunk being severed at the waist and the legs being cut off above the knees. Today some passengers on an East Boston ferryboat saw one of the legs floating near the East Boston slip, and notified some boatmen, who picked the limb up. As they were returning to the wharf with it the other leg was sighted and was also recovered. The legs were then brought to the city and placed with the rest of the mutilated body at the city undertaker’s establishment.

The Times published that there were “numerous theories” regarding the identity of the woman, the motive for the murder, and the way the killer or killers carried out the act.

According to the newspaper, the woman’s body may have been covered in cheap clothing in order to “avoid detection,” meaning that some people believed the victim was actually a woman of a “higher class of society.”

Next up: In Part 3, I’ll reveal more about the big clue regarding the piece of Brussels carpet and the reports of a second murder in the Charles River.

Bonus Content

In a similar edition of The New York Times from July 29, 1885, I noticed three interesting stories vertically published one on top of the other.

First, one headline read, “Music in Central Park.”

The New York Times published this article on page 8 of its newspaper on July 29, 1885.

The story said, “There will be music on the Mall in Central Park this afternoon at 4 o’clock by Cappa’s Seventh Regiment Band. The following is the programme: March of ‘Morton Commandery’ by Wiegang, Overture of ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ by Nicolai, Cornet solo of ‘Dreamland and Var’ by Levy and Mr. Walter B. Rogers, Grand selection of ‘Bohemian Girl’ by Balfe, Waltz of ‘Nanon’ by Genee, ‘Albion, Songs of England, Ireland and Scotland’ by Baetens with a ‘picolo’ solo from Mr. E. Audurean, Baby polka of burlesque by Bial, Ballad of ‘I Think of Thee’ by Lindblatt and Galop of ‘Infernal’ by Bela Keler.”

The headline of the next article read, “Found An Infant In His Rail.” The article read as follows:

A policeman was called to No. 250 West Twentieth-street Thursday night by Mr. Edward Wall, who had found in the hallway a female child which was wrapped up in an old plaid shawl. Pinned to the shawl was a note which stated that the child was Mary Ryan, born May 20, 1885. She was properly cared for and baptized. Her father is dead and her mother, who is poor, asked that the babe be sent to the Founding Asylum. Matron Webb sent the child to the office of the Department of Charities and Correction.

The third article we’ll look at in this section of bonus content displayed the headline, “Tough Little Tommy Farrell.”

The New York Times published this article on page 8 of its newspaper on July 29, 1885.

The article read, “Tommy Farrell is only 17 months old, but he is tougher than a goat. He was playing on the street yesterday afternoon near the corner of Second-avenue and Seventy-ninth-street, when street car No. 226 knocked him down and ran over him. The careless driver stopped his team and ran back, expecting to pick up a dead baby, but Tommy fled before he reached him. It was discovered on investigation that he had only received a slight scratch on the left leg.”

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments