Podcast 240 – Wallingford’s Shoebox Murder Mystery

In 1886, a man’s torso was found stuffed in a shoebox on the side of a Wallingford, Connecticut, road. Whodunit?

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In Episode 240, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger investigate the Parker Farms section of Wallingford, Connecticut, on the trail of a gruesome unsolved murder dating back to 1886, when a man’s torso was found stuffed into a shoebox by the side of the road. Who was the victim? Who was the killer? And why? This event had Wallingford on edge for months.

Read the episode transcript.

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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd

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The 1886 Shoe Box Murder Mystery Haunted Wallingford, Connecticut.

The 1886 Shoe Box Murder Mystery Haunted Wallingford, Connecticut.

*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

RAY: Jeff, what are you doing with a magnifying glass so close this busy Wallingford, Connecticut, street?
JEFF: Ray, I’m trying to solve a mystery… a crime that left a mark right near here.
RAY: Near the Parker Farms Elementary School? This seems like a peaceful neighborhood. What kind of crime?
JEFF: Murder.
RAY: Murder most foul?
JEFF: Murder most foul.
RAY: Between the hat you’re wearing and the magnifying glass, you’ve got the look. I’m waiting for the Pink Panther to jump out.
JEFF: Ray, we’ve come to Wallingford, Connecticut, to explore the unsolved Shoebox Murder Mystery.
JEFF: Hello, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, and welcome to Episode 240 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
JEFF: So glad you’re here as we search for the weird, the haunted, the out-of-this-world, true crime, and other stories that have left a permanent mark on New England. We’re a whole community of legend hunters out there celebrating these odd tales from our past. It takes a village, as they say, and we’re glad to be your neighbor. If you’ve got a story lead for us, don’t assume we’ve heard it. You can email us through our Web site, reach out to us through our Super Secret Facebook group, or call or text our legend line anytime at 617-444-9683.
RAY: Also, be sure to share this episode with your friends. Great things happen when you share this podcast.
JEFF: Before we explore the Shoebox Murder Mystery in Wallingford, we want to take just a minute to thank our patreon patrons!
RAY: Our patreon patrons have been with us since almost the very beginning. We don’t have some big podcast network to handle our bills, we work for you.
JEFF: That’s right. We really appreciate those of you who can support us and all the costs associated with bringing you a new show every week for the last 240 weeks in a row… if you’re counting. There’s our productions costs, travel, hosting, and marketing costs. It’s been a huge undertaking, but totally worth it knowing people like our patreon patrons are behind us.
RAY: For just $3 bucks per month, our patrons get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
JEFF: We appreciate it.
RAY: Okay, so we’re in Wallingford, Connecticut, in this residential neighborhood near the Parker Farms Elementary school searching for someone who used a shoebox as a murder weapon?
JEFF: No… I’m afraid it’s more gruesome than that. This is the kind of crime a town doesn’t forget. Events like this one leaves a stain that doesn’t wash away.
RAY: Then let’s head back to the summer of 1886, and visit the crime scene.
RAY: It’s Sunday morning, August 8th 1886, and Wallingford local Edward Terrill and his dog are walking down the road next to Parker farm. It’s pretty wide open around here. Some hills, some trees. It’s a beautiful summer day for a walk.
RAY: When suddenly, Edward’s dog is excited by something near some low-lying bushes.
RAY: The dog is clearly excited.
JEFF: Edward follows his dog to the side of the road to discover a box resting under the brush. The box is about 30 inches long and 12 inches wide, and designed to hold a dozen pairs of shoes. The box has been scraped and gouged to remove the identifying label on the side. The best Edward can guess is that this crate must have fallen off of a wagon riding by, and been left behind.
RAY: Okay, Edward is opening the box now…
JEFF/RAY: Ohhhhh! What IS that?!
RAY: The cover is off the box now, and there’s something wrapped in tarpaper inside. It’s definitely not shoes.
JEFF: The smell is terrible. Okay, Edward is peeling back the tarpaper… oh my… oh
RAY: It appears to be the torso of a man. The arms, legs, and head have been cutoff. There’s bloodstains inside the box. This is the most awful thing we’ve ever seen!
JEFF: Edward drops the box….
JEFF: And runs into town to alert the Wallingford authorities.
RAY: When the authorities return, they quickly confirm that this is indeed a man’s torso, and it doesn’t take a forensic genius to conclude that he’s been murdered.
JEFF: Yes… I think we can rule out suicide.
RAY: In a small town like Wallingford, word about this gruesome murder spreads quickly. In the coming days, the newspapers pick up the story. Papers like New Haven’s Morning Journal-Courier. Give this a read, Jeff.
JEFF: It says: The remains of the murdered man found on Sunday were given in charge of Undertaker Griswold, who brought them to town and they were deposited in the tool house at the cemetery. Coroner Mix came up this morning, and it is probable that a post-mortem examination will be made of the body. The box which contained the remains was carefully examined, but no clue could be obtained from it. The name of the party to whom the box had been addressed having been erased, the chances of discovering any clue to the identity of the remains, or the crime, are very slight.
RAY: Without much to go on, the public rumor mill quickly takes up the case. It’s clear, someone wanted this man dead. VERY dead. And they didn’t want him identified.
JEFF: While the medical examiner explores the remains, people start to speculate on the identity. Some think it could be the body of Albert J. Cooley of Durham, Connecticut, which is the next town over from Wallingford to the east.
RAY: Some believe Cooley stole $1,500 dollars from the pension of a local slaughterhouse. Cooley was known to have tattoos on both arms, a deformed foot, and a bad eye. So he would have been easily identifiable… you know… unless you cut off his appendages.
JEFF: Someone working at a slaughter house would have the tools and the know-how to take off a man’s legs, arms, and head for sure.
RAY: The biggest problem with this theory is that Albert Cooley is still alive. They found him in Durham.
JEFF: Then there’s the Yalesville connections.
RAY: Yalesville is the town just north of Wallingford.
JEFF: Right. One local investigator claims he’s found evidence that this specific show box was last seen in Yalesville. A Witness said he noticed the box with the name of the company clearly gouged out of it. This investigator believed at least at one point, this box was seen near Young’s Slaughterhouse. The idea is being floated that the body may have been dead for 2 or 3 months. And the victim is a German butcher named Martin who had been missing for more than two months, and perhaps one of his fellow butcher had a big problem with his co-worker.
RAY: So police are exploring this Yalesville butcher disappearance and hearing there were arguments, that Martin was the rough sort, and maybe this could have been a self-defense killing.
JEFF: But that makes no sense because if you killed in self-defense, why would you have to go through such great lengths to dismember the body? You’d tell police you were defending yourself.
RAY: Exactly. By now, police have determined that they feel it’s unlikely that the body was left in the box by Parker Farm at night, because some hemlock branches were laid over the box to quickly hide it. So this must have been done during the daylight, otherwise the perpetrator would have had to use a lantern at night and that would have drawn too much attention.
JEFF: Meanwhile, Medical examiner, Mr. Mix, determines the body belonged to a man between the ages of 20 and 40 years of age, who died between 5 and ten days before he was found by Edward Terrill. A large quantity of arsenic is discovered in the man’s stomach.
RAY: Oh man, so that means two things, first, this isn’t likely the body of the Yalesville butcher named Martin, and second: this guy was poisoned, and then dismembered!
JEFF: That he was. So then another theory starts to circulate. You see, there’s been a rash of arson fires around Wallingford these past few weeks, so some people believe maybe this is one of the arsonists who was getting ready to rat out his cohorts.
RAY: The funny thing about this theory is that it’s based on nothing except the fact that there hasn’t been a fire since the body was found. So maybe this rumor is giving the real arsonists something to think about?
JEFF: Maybe.
RAY: Unsolved murders keep everyone on edge. Not knowing who the victim is, gnaws at you. I mean if he was someone who did a bad thing, and this was his comeuppance, that’s one thing. But what if he’s the victim of some highway robber who still out there, ready to look for his next victim?
JEFF: Throughout August, the newspapers run all kinds of unsubstantiated stories. There’s one account that suggests a local resident saw a bag near the bottom of a well near where the body was discovered. When they returned the following day with the tools needed to pull the bag out of the well, the bag is gone. But they discover what looked like a piece of a human scalp near the well.
RAY: And that story makes people even MORE nervous, because it would mean the killer was nearby watching and saw the bag was discovered, and fished it out before authorities could return for it. In September, a thorough search of the nearby area reveals two human arms and legs wrapped in tarpaper, just like the torso. They now have most of the body, but without a head, there’s not much chance to find any identity to this corpse.
JEFF: People in Wallingford are scared. The pressure is on to solve this case.
RAY: The police are able to trace the box to a shoe factory in Fall River, Massachusetts. The shoe factory explains that they filled the box with shoes, then sent it to a wholesaler in Chicago who distributes to local retailers. A Chicago retailer put the shoes on their shelves for sale, then tossed the box in the backyard of the store where it sat for months, before a mysterious man showed up and offered to buy the box.
JEFF: So now police believe maybe the victim is from Chicago. There’s speculation that maybe the victim is one of the instigators of the Haymarket Square Riot that took place on May 4th. Someone threw a bomb at police. Eight people died from the violence that ensued. Though there wasn’t much evidence, eight radical labor activists were convicted. It was a real blow to organized labor. So some believe maybe this shoebox victim was someone who knew too much, and needed to be silenced.
RAY: Okay, I can buy that maybe some dirty deeds went down in Chicago and someone was killed. And I can buy the whole poisoning and dismembering thing, so the victim can’t be identified.
JEFF: Okay.
RAY: But then you’re going to cart the body by horse and carriage all the way from Chicago to Wallingford, Connecticut, to get rid of it?! That’s almost 900 miles! I mean, there’s got to be someplace closer to Chicago to dump a body. Plus, the Fall River shoe manufacturer has more than one box, right?
JEFF: You’re right. It doesn’t add up, Ray. When a murder like this takes place, one thing you do is to check around locally. Are there any men between the ages of 20 and 40 missing? If not, then you conclude the victim isn’t a local.
RAY: In the coming months police chase a few more dead-end leads from people who claim they know, but then it turns out they don’t. Or they change their story. As weeks turn to months, the case turns cold. Ice cold. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: You can’t overstate the kind of terror a crime like this brings to a community like Wallingford. When a person is brutally murdered and dumped in your town, and police have no clue who the victim is, or whodunit, everyone is nervous. They look over their shoulders a lot. They start giving strangers visiting town the stink eye.
RAY: I can imagine. What gets me is, if a murderer went through all that trouble to dismember a body, why dump it on the side of the road where it can be found? Why not carry it out in the woods, or dump in in a lake?
JEFF: Now you’re thinking like a pre-meditated murderer, Ray!
RAY: Seriously, though! You’ve gone through a lot of trouble, it seems like just a little more would ensure no one would ever find out.
JEFF: We can only speculate, especially after 136 years have gone by. Maybe the person who dumped the body wasn’t the killer? Maybe this was someone hired to do an awful job, and he took the body this far, panicked, left it, and took off. We really don’t know.
RAY: Technically this is still an open cold case for the Wallingford Police Department, though no one is expecting any new leads to come in at this point.
JEFF: Hmmmm where were YOU back in early August of 1886, Ray?
RAY: I’ll be honest. I don’t have an alibi.
JEFF: If it makes you feel any better, neither do I. Most of what we know about this story comes from the newspaper archives. We found articles in New Haven’s Morning Journal-Courier, the Meriden Journal, and Hartford Courant. As you can imagine, it was big news back then.
RAY: This unsolved murder in Wallingford, Connecticut, will haunt this community for as long as anyone still talks about it.
RAY: No one likes an unsolved mystery, especially a murder.
JEFF: Unsolved murders lend themselves to all kinds of speculation and wondering. They really do haunt us because we know these kinds of crime can happen again.
RAY: Please make sure you’re subscribed to our podcast, you can find us wherever you get your podcasts, and it would mean a lot if you’d post a review for us. It goes a long way in helping others find us.
JEFF: Thank you to our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.

Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.

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