Courtesy: Watertown Free Public Library
Courtesy: Watertown Free Public Library

In 1885, a woman was brutally murdered, chopped into four pieces, and discarded in the Charles River in Boston. The case that unfolded named several possible victims and murderers. However, the final suspected murderer was named Frank Mitchell. Police believed the victim to be his wife, Ellen Mitchell. One of the biggest clues was the Brussels carpet that was used as a bag for several of the victim’s body parts. It was found in the water, and the carpet matched the same kind of carpet in Mitchell’s home. It even had their dog’s hair on it. This was all according to reporting from newspapers between 1885 and 1892.

This is the conclusion of the unsolved murder mystery. Continue below, or catch up beginning with Part 1. There’s also Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

When we last left off on this story, it was Sept. 12, 1885. Frank Mitchell had just been indicted for the murder of his wife, Ellen. Newspapers did not print developments after this date for some time. Mitchell was awaiting his trial while behind bars.

The case came to an “abrupt termination” in January 1887. The New York Times published the following on Jan. 14, 1887:

A Mystery Unsolved

No Proof Found That Frank Mitchell’s Wife Is Dead

Boston, Jan. 14.—The trial of one of the most mysterious murderers ever committed in this state came to an abrupt termination this morning, for the present at least, when Frank Mitchell, who for the last 17 months has been lying in jail charged with the murder of his wife, was released by order of the Supreme Court on his own recognizance. This case is the famous Charles River mystery, which created so much excitement in July, 1885. On the 25th of that month the trunk of a woman was found floating in the Charles River. A day or two later another portion of the dead woman was brought to view by the paddle wheels of a passing ferryboat. Still later the remainder was found near the mouth of the Mystic River. After several false identifications and the lapse of several weeks suspicion was directed toward Mitchell, whose wife had been missing since the date of the murder, and it was established to the satisfaction of the police that the murdered woman was Ellen Mitchell, the missing wife.

The husband was at once arrested, and at intervals since it has been stated that he was soon to be brought to trial. The police still firmly believe the Mitchell theory to be the correct one, but the fatal defect in the case of the Government has been the absence of the sufficient proof that the woman whose mutilated remains were found in the Charles River was Mrs. Mitchell, and that Mrs. Mitchell is really dead. This, not withstanding the fact that a portion of the remains were wrapped, when found, in pieces of carpet, formerly in the possession of Mitchell. This summary disposal of the case creates surprise, but the reasons governing the action of the Government can only be guessed at. During his long confinement Mitchell has stubbornly maintained his innocence.

On the same day, an article from The Boston Globe described Frank Mitchell as “short, thick-set Portuguese, with heavy, [with] black curling hair.” The same story said that the government had paid $1.50 per week to keep Mitchell’s bulldog boarded for a year and a half since its hair was found on the Brussels carpet that wrapped several of the victim’s body parts.

In 1892, an article from The Boston Globe fully recapped the entire unsolved murder mystery. It included details that didn’t appear in previous stories. For example, it claimed an axe was used on the body of the victim. The Globe’s story said that the Brussels carpet with body parts inside was “tightly bound with a strong cord.” It also said that on Aug. 5, 1885, Frank Mitchell reported his wife went missing on the night of July 20. It was a Monday night. Finally, judges that were on the case were named Judge Parmenter and Judge Holmes.

The Globe called the case “one of the most mysterious murders ever committed in this Commonwealth.”

Author’s Note

As for my opinion on the outcome of the case, I know no more than you do. Newspapers digitized online are the only available records.

The case seems quite damning regarding the Brussels carpet and the dog hairs. The dressmaker also came forward, saying she heard arguing followed by the sound of a fall on the night Ellen Mitchell supposedly disappeared.

It certainly sounds like Frank Mitchell did it. Another man, however, could have been inside the house and murdered Mrs. Mitchell.

We will likely never receive answers to several questions. First, what happened to the axe or other murder weapon? In what location in Boston was Ellen Mitchell chopped into four pieces? Why did Frank Mitchell wait so long to report her disappearance, even if he knew her to wander off for several days at a time?

Modern technology could likely confirm Frank Mitchell’s innocence or pin him as the likely murderer, but such tools weren’t available in 1885. Of course, by now, everyone from 1885 has passed away. Barring something incredible, this murder will forever remain unsolved.

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