In Episode 124, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger start their adventure in Milford, Massachusetts, looking for a local farm boy who went missing in February of 1846. Then they head to Boston where a break in the case came two years later when a psychic medium gave the family the whereabouts of the boy’s body. According to the newspaper reports, her insight unraveled the entire case of the boy’s mysterious murder.
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*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
JEFF: Ray, imagine you send one of your kids on an errand and he goes missing.
RAY: Okay, so pretty much my worst nightmare ever. Got it.
JEFF: The police get involved. You reach out to friends and neighbors.
RAY: I’d post flyers, get on TV and radio asking for help, Amber alerts; I’d get all the help I can to find my kid.
JEFF: Of course. Any parent would do the same. So imagine if days and weeks go by, and there’s no trace of your child. Police are stumped, and you’re losing hope.
RAY: This is an awful scenario to imagine, Jeff. What’s your point?
JEFF: Would you be willing to turn to a less traditional means to find answers? Maybe even a psychic?
RAY: I’m sure I’d be willing to try anything when it comes to finding my kid.
JEFF: That’s exactly what Mr. Bruce of Milford, Massachusetts, did back in 1848. And according to the reports, this psychic found answers.
JEFF: Hi, I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 124 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, thanks for riding along with us as we chronicle every legend in New England. And an extra thank-you to our patreon patrons who have been the backbone of our show. These folks contribute $3 bucks per month and get early access to new episodes plus bonus episodes that no one else gets to hear. If you can help us continue to grow and break new ground on more stories and content, go to patreon.com/newenglandlegends and sign up.
JEFF: Also, thank you to those who subscribe to our regular podcast, it’s free, and you can find us anywhere you get your podcasts. And thanks to those who reach out to us through our Web site, social media, or our legend line which is 617-444-9683. Did you know some of our story ideas come from you legendary listeners? This week’s did! Thanks to Bret Kramer, who is also one of our patrons, for the heads up on this one. He did a lot of research on this story.
RAY: So Jeff, we’re in Milford, Massachusetts, looking for a missing kid?
JEFF: That we are. This is where our story begins. So let’s head back to 1846 and set this up.
JEFF: It’s a brisk February day in 1846, and we’re at the Bruce Family Farm in Milford. Mr. Bruce has just loaded up a sleigh borrowed from his neighbor, with a load of straw, a few others supplies, and two horses to pull the cargo to Boston for sale. Mr. Bruce’s son is tasked with carting the goods.
RAY: Mr. Bruce sees his son off as the boy heads northeast toward Boston.
[HORSE NEIGH AND TROTTING FADING]
RAY: What Mr. Bruce doesn’t know, is this will be the last time he sees his only son alive.
JEFF: The trip to Boston is about 30 miles from Milford, which is about a two-day ride assuming good weather and conditions. So Mr. Bruce doesn’t expect to hear anything back for at least five days.
RAY: On the fifth day, Mr. Bruce assumes his son will come riding up at any moment with the sleigh and the money for the cargo. Money the family will need to get them through the rest of the winter. But on the fifth day, there’s no sign of his son’s return.
JEFF: No need to be alarmed just yet. I mean the horses could have hit a bad stretch of road and been delayed, or some other hiccup.
RAY: But then day six passes, as does day seven. Mr. Bruce’s concerns are growing.
JEFF: We need to point out that young Master Bruce is a good kid. He’s not known to get into trouble. He’s responsible, which is why his father trusted him to take the horses into Boston on a borrowed sleigh. So now the family is scared. They send out letters in all directions. They notify law enforcement. They ask friends and neighbors to ask others. They ask everyone they can think of… but… nothing. Not a word. The young boy is gone. When the weeks fade to months, the Bruce family gives up any hope of figuring out what happened to their son. They can only assume the worst.
RAY: From here we jump ahead two years to the Spring of 1848. Mr. Bruce’s daughter is heading to Boston when she finds herself on the steps of a Mrs. Freeman. Mrs. Freeman is a mesmerist, a clairvoyant who gives psychic readings. When Miss Bruce walks in and tells the clairvoyant Freeman of her brother, and of her family’s efforts to find him, suddenly Mrs. Freeman receives a psychic vision.
MRS. FREEMAN: The body of your brother lies interred in a tomb belonging to the city on The Neck.
RAY: The Neck is the narrow strip of land that connects Roxbury with Boston.
JEFF: Miss Bruce wastes no time in getting home to Milford to tell her father what she’d learned from the clairvoyant, Mrs. Freeman. At first, Mr. Bruce doesn’t want to waste his time chasing down something like that, but his daughter seems so sure. He shrugs his shoulders, and makes his way to Boston with his daughter.
[HORSE AND CARRIAGE GALLUPING]
JEFF: Right to the doorstep of Mrs. Freeman.
RAY: Mrs. Freeman describes what clothes the corpse is wearing, she even describes the tomb where Mr. Bruce can find his son’s body in the boneyard on Boston’s Neck.
MR. BRUCE: I never thought anything about mesmerism. I’ve heard tell of it often, but never believed much about it. But she seemed so sure.
JEFF: Mr. Bruce heads straight to the cemetery near Roxbury. He speaks with the officials who oversee the graves, and learns there is an unknown boy entombed where Mrs. Freeman said. They offer Mr. Bruce the opportunity to examine the body.
[CREAKING METAL DOOR]
JEFF: They open the groaning door to the crypt, they gain entry into the coffin, and Mr. Bruce is shocked by what he sees.
MR. BRUCE: That is my dear son! I know it’s my boy! The pantaloons on the body are striped very widely, and the shirt has marks which I cannot mistake. I’d swear to it!
RAY: In one of the pockets is a wallet, which his father also recognizes, the wallet contains some thread, needle, and buttons, which the boy had a habit of carrying. Mr. Bruce recognized the color of the corpse’s hair, and even some of the misshapen teeth. (PAUSE) Mr. Bruce is excited to have found his answers, but also overcome with emotion. He takes a lock of the boy’s hair, and places the two teeth into his pocket. Cemetery officials release the body to his father, which is brought back to Milford for burial in the family plot.
JEFF: With the boy buried properly with his kin, and the family mourning now that they have a body, it doesn’t take long for others to get curious. First, they want to know how the boy died, and how this psychic knew so much about it. A week after burying his only son, Mr. Bruce launches his own investigation into what happened. He returns to Boston.
RAY: Mr. Bruce pays another visit to Mrs. Freeman.
MRS. FREEMAN: Your son brought his horses to Mr. Eastman’s stables on Deacon Street.
RAY: Mr. Bruce finds Mr. Eastman, and asks about his son and their horses. When Mr. Eastman opens his accounting books he finds the right date and sees the initial J. and the name Bruce of Chelmsford booked against the charge of horse feeding. Mr. Eastman claims the mistake on listing the town of Chelmsford and not Milford is because that’s how it’s listed in the City Scales book.
JEFF: When young Master Bruce never claimed his horses after several days, Mr. Eastman sold them, as is his policy. The sale paid for the lodging and food for the animals, and the extra $5 dollars was held should the owner return.
RAY: Mr. Bruce also learns from Mr. Eastman who the straw was sold to. Mr. Bruce tracks the man down and is told that his son sold his sleigh to a local jobber.
JEFF: But this doesn’t seem right, because the sleigh didn’t belong to the boy or his father. You may recall it was borrowed from a neighbor. And selling something he doesn’t own is far out of the boy’s nature. It’s right here that Mr. Bruce suspects something sinister happened to his son.
RAY: After finding the local jobber and the receipt, Mr. Bruce declares the signature of his son is a forgery! Mr. Bruce learns from Mr. Eastman that the last time his son was seen alive was the day after he boarded the horses. Mr. Eastman saw him near a street corner. Out of ideas as to where to go next, Mr. Bruce returns to the clairvoyant Mrs. Freeman.
MRS. FREEMAN: You have seen Mr. Eastman, and from him you have learned that the last time your son was seen alive by anyone was upon the sidewalk near the stable. I am now prepared to tell you the whole, and where and how your son ended his days. He was invited by a man to visit a notorious gambling and drinking house, and the boy consented to go. When he got there, he was given drink by two men who had drugged his liquor. They did not intend to kill him, just put him into a stupor and take his money. But the poison was mixed too potent, and it took a firm hold of vitality. The youth was thrown into fierce vomiting. In this deadly retching he burst two blood vessels, and in two hours he bled to death. Overcome by remorse, and to shield themselves from the ignominy which their crimes deserved, the devil prompted them to place the body where the eye of mortals should never behold it, and for their purpose, they wrapped it up in a coarse mat, and in the dead hours of the night, having tied a rope about the neck, attached to a stone, they took it in a boat in the bay, and sunk it in the water.
JEFF: The body washed up on shore a few days later and was turned over to the city cemetery unclaimed.
RAY: Mrs. Freeman also gave Mr. Bruce the names of the men involved, but the Boston Mail newspaper didn’t see fit to print the names given the only proof of guilt is the word of a clairvoyant.
JEFF: Still, the local newspaper reporters and Mr. Bruce are so impressed by the turn of events, that a clairvoyant could lead a father to find his lost son, that they test her again. But, according to the newspaper, Mrs. Freeman describes the clothes the boy was wearing in the tomb, and even mentions something no one but Mr. Bruce could know.
MRS. FREEMAN: I know that you carry your son’s teeth in your pocket, and a lock of his hair.
RAY: And that’s more than enough to convince Mr. Bruce that this clairvoyant is for real. His next move is to try and find his son’s killers and bring them to justice. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: This story makes a lot of newspapers back in 1848. Most of the information we know for this story comes from the May 3rd, 1848 Boston Mail newspaper.
RAY: Several other articles on this story claim the Bruce family was from Winchendon, Massachusetts, but this article gets its information from an interview with Mr. Bruce himself. The article even mentions how other articles had reported various bits of information incorrectly. But Jeff, do you think this really happened?
JEFF: It’s really important to note the date of this event. It’s Spring of 1848. The Spiritualist movement is exploding into the mainstream ever since the Fox Sisters heard some strange knocks on the wall in the Hydesville, New York, farmhouse. So suddenly, psychic mediums are on the minds of the masses.
RAY: Ohhh… so maybe this is exactly the kind of good P.R. story Spiritualism needs right now.
JEFF: Well, it doesn’t hurt the movement, no. A story like this shows the practical application of clairvoyants. It’s not just messages from your dead grandma, this is helping to solve a crime with hard proof in the form of a body getting reunited with his grieving family.
RAY: I get it. If I lost a kid, I’d be desperate for any information I could get. I don’t blame Mr. Bruce at all for turning to a psychic. But I am curious… did Mr. Bruce ever bring his son’s killers to justice?
JEFF: We don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be a follow-up article to this one.
RAY: That’s the kind of thing you’d think would make even bigger headlines, don’t you?
JEFF: I agree. Which means either he never finds his son’s killers, so there’s nothing for the newspapers to report… or maybe this story is a little more sensational than any of us would be comfortable with.
RAY: Still, sometimes we find hope in the strangest places. I can only imagine if my worst nightmare ever came true, if I lost a kid without a trace, I’d need some kind of answer more than anything in the world. If a psychic can give me that, then so be it.
JEFF: I agree, Ray. And we hope you’re already a subscriber to this podcast, because it’s free each week, and we don’t want you to miss a single episode.
RAY: And if you enjoy our show, your friends might as well. Please tell a friend or two about us, or post a link on your social media pages. It goes a long way in helping us spread the word.
JEFF: We’d like to thank Wendy Lynn Staats of Sunspot Music for lending her voice acting talents this week, as well as Scott Markus from WhatsYourGhostStory.com who also helped us out. And our theme music is by John Judd.
VOICEMAIL: This is Doug Farquharson from Mendon, Massachusetts. Until next time remember, the bizarre is closer than you think.
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