Podcast 340 – The Dream Pond Murders

On a stormy October day in 1841 Eugene Clifford set out in a rowboat on Fairfield Pond with his wife and infant daughter. Was it an accident or murder?

In Episode 340 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the shores of Dream Pond in Fairfield, Vermont, in search of clues that could solve an 1841 double murder. After Eugene Clifford tragically loses his wife and infant daughter on a stormy day on Fairfield Pond, his neighbor has a profound dream that gnaws at her until she makes a startling discovery. Was it an accident or murder?

Read the episode transcript.


Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Guest Voice Talent: Lisa Strykowski
Theme Music by: John Judd

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

RAY: Late March really isn’t the ideal time of year for a rowboat ride in this northern Vermont, pond, Jeff.
JEFF: No, it isn’t. This pond was iced over until just recently. It’s cold and windy up here today. This is NOT a place where you want to fall in, either.
RAY: I get it! You’d go hyperthermic pretty quick in water this cold.
JEFF: You would. So officially, the name of this body of water is Fairfield Pond.
RAY: Which makes sense because we’re in Fairfield, Vermont—just a bit south of the Canadian border.
JEFF: Right… but unofficially it’s been called Dream Pond or Dream Lake depending on who you ask.
RAY: I guess it’s kind of dreamy out here… or maybe it is in the summer.
JEFF: Yeah, it’s called Dream Pond not so much because of the way it looks… but because they say a local woman once had a dream that led to a shocking discovery by the side of the pond that solved… a murder.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 340 of the New England podcast. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Whether it’s true crime, ghosts and hauntings, roadside oddities, aliens, or the just plain weird, we love it all. And we appreciate you spending some time with us twice per week. New episodes every Thursday, and from the Vault with new commentary each Monday. You can help us out by subscribing, posting a review for us, or telling others. That’s how we grow.
JEFF: We’ll explore this strange tale of murder right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: Okay, Dream Pond is just a better name.
JEFF: I agree.
RAY: Fairfield Pond in Fairfield, Vermont… that just feels kind of lazy. Like they couldn’t think of a better name, so they just named it after the town.
JEFF: Right?!
RAY: Here’s a little background on Fairfield, Vermont. It is now and always has been a small town. The town was organized in 1790 and became renowned for being a farming community. The rolling hills were perfect for growing hay, corn, and plenty of pastures for dairy cows. They’re also known for maple syrup production.
JEFF: And within this small town is a pond. Fairfield Pond officially, but as we said before, it’s also known as Dream Pond depending who you ask.
RAY: Jeff, have you ever had a dream that felt too real?
JEFF: I have. I remember having a dream about my grandmother shortly after she died. I was only ten years old and she was my first big family loss. I felt like it was more than a dream. Like she was there, you know?
RAY: I’ve had the same experience. I feel like I’ve been visited by loved ones who’ve passed on. It’s such a strong feeling. Very emotional. Way more than a dream.
JEFF: Dreams are powerful things. Most of them are forgotten by breakfast, but some of them gnaw at us… they make use do things we wouldn’t normally do. Whether that’s change our behavior, maybe check on a friend or loved one we hadn’t thought about in months, or take some precautions. A dream figures prominently in this true crime legend we’re about to explore. So let’s head back to the year 1841, and explore Fairfield, Vermont.
RAY: It’s October of 1841, here in Fairfiled, Vermont. It’s a quiet farming community, and that’s just the way folks like it. It’s the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone. So when a newcomer shows up in town there’s some excitement!
JEFF: That’s when Eugene Clifford arrives in town. He’s British. He’s charming.
RAY: Where did he come from? Why did he show up in Fairfield?
JEFF: No one is quite sure. He seems to tell different stories to different people. Some think he was a British soldier in Canada who deserted his post and started a new life. Others think maybe he was some kind of outlaw on the run. But like I said, he’s charming. So most forgive his vague backstory.
RAY: Pretty soon, Eugene takes a job working on the Marvin farm in town. The farm is owned by Stephan and Sappho Marvin who work the farm with their hired farm hands. Sappho has a dear friend named Betsey Gilmore. She lives a short distance away.
JEFF: Oh right, the widow Gilmore lives just down the road by the pond. She’s an Irish immigrant with a 40 acre farm. She’s there all by herself since her husband died, the poor thing.
RAY: Betsey comes to visit her friend and neighbor, Sappho almost daily. You can’t miss her walking up the road wearing her Spanish shawl. She wears it almost everywhere. Pretty soon, the widow catches the eye of farm hand, Eugene Clifford.
JEFF: Maybe it’s Betsey’s eyes, maybe it’s her laugh…
RAY: Maybe it’s because she’s just about the only person in town he can date…
JEFF: Good point, or maybe owning her farm and land also sounds appealing. No matter the reason, Eugene quickly woos Betsey…
JEFF: A wedding soon follows, and the two move into the Gilmore farm.
RAY: Betsey is grateful for companionship and help again. She’s got a glow about her. And pretty soon… Betsey is with child.
JEFF: These folks move quick! They only met a couple of months ago and now there’s a baby on the way.
JEFF: And pretty soon, baby makes three. Baby Mary Ann is welcomed into the world.
RAY: While things may look good from the outside, word has it that Eugene has his eye on a different, younger widow in town.
JEFF: it’s early afternoon on Sunday, October 16th, 1842. A cold and drizzly Autumn Day in Vermont. Eugene announces that the family needs to go visit some friends across the pond. Betsey suggests maybe another day would be better to visit, but Eugene insists it needs to be today. If they borrow the Marvin’s rowboat, the trip won’t take very long. Betsey doesn’t like the idea of heading out in this weather, but she agrees.
RAY: Stephan Marvin doesn’t like the idea of them going out in this weather either, but still, he allows his neighbor to borrow the boat. Any concerns he has about the welfare of the baby are soon reassured by Eugene who explains the baby will be wrapped in a woolen blanket and his wife’s shawl. The baby will be fine.
RAY: After rowing the boat a few hundred feet from shore… something awful happens…
JEFF: There’s water. Muffled screams. Splashing. The boat has capsized.
JEFF: Eugene returns to Stephan Marvin soaking wet and weeping. He explains that the boat had capsized when Betsey tried to adjust the blanket around the baby just as a strong gust of wind blew by. He said he fell in too, and tried to save them. He could hear their cries for help, but he was too far away, and being a poor swimmer, the best he could do is reach for a nearby floating oar and swim for shore.
RAY: Eugene, Stephan and his farm hands race to the pond to try and search for the missing people.
JEFF: The body of Betsey is discovered tangled up in some reeds and the body of baby Mary Ann is discovered separated from her mother near the shore. After the authorities investigate, the deaths are ruled accidental.
RAY: Still… something doesn’t sit right with Sappho. She’s inconsolable over the loss of her dear friend. Soon, the tragic events begin to invade Sappho’s dreams. For a few days after the tragedy, it’s always the same dream.
SAPPHO: I started to worry that the shawls were never found. They should have been with the bodies or with the boat. We never found them, wouldn’t they have floated? I went in search of the shawls. I went down to the pond, climbed over the fence into a swampy area that I had never been to before. Trees had toppled over in the wind, and I was afraid. Finally, near the shore I saw a shallow hole, I started to dig and found the shawls.
RAY: Sappho’s husband Stephan doesn’t put much stock in dreams, but Bailey, one of their farmhands, does believe there’s something to it. Sappho very much wants to go to the pond and see if there’s anything to her dream. Bailey agrees to go with her and he brings a shovel.
JEFF: Sappho finds the place by the pond from her dream. It’s a section she swears she’s never visited before. But she recognizes it from her dream.
JEFF: Bailey digs into the mud and dirt by the pond.
RAY: What is that?!
JEFF: It’s some kind of fabric!
RAY: It’s Betsey Gilmore’s shawls!
JEFF: It is. If the drowning was an accident, why would they be buried in the dirt?
RAY: The authorities are summoned, and soon, Eugene Clifford is arrested for the murder of his wife and infant child. The motive? He would own his farm outright, then he could marry the young widow across the pond and gain even more land. Sappho Marvin relates her dream in court under oath, and Clifford is found guilty and sentenced to prison. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Eugene Clifford quickly lost his marbles once in jail. Vermont’s laws had recently been changed regarding capital punishment. Part of the penalty was one year in solitary confinement before any further punishment. That was seen as critical that the guilty be tormented by remorse first. The solitude was more than Eugene could take. Haunted by his actions and circumstances, he slowly loses his mind. Once the year was up, Eugene was so incoherent he was moved to insane asylum of Brattleboro, Vermont, instead of the gallows. He died soon after inside the asylum.
RAY: There’s a news clip from the November 8th, 1842, Vermont Gazette newspaper that mentioned how the incident was first ruled an accident but after Quote, “Some suspicious circumstances coming to light, a second inquest was called… and a verdict give: willful murder.” The July 1871 Lakeside Monthly journal documents a lot more details on the events and trial.
JEFF: So this is an example of us being haunted by true crime. The event took place, some supernatural evidence comes to light in the form of a dream, and suddenly a conviction happens because of that dream.
RAY: A skeptic could argue that maybe Sappho had a gut instinct and that’s what invaded her dreams.
JEFF: True, and it did come to light after the murder that Betsey had confided in a few friends that she was afraid of her husband and worried for her safety. And when authorities questioned neighbors across the pond, no one said they were expecting a visit from the Cliffords that fateful day.
RAY: You don’t have to watch too many true crime shows to know when someone is murdered it’s almost always the spouse.
JEFF: And Eugene almost got away with it, too! He WOULD have gotten away with it, but his wife’s friend listened to her instincts and her dreams and saw them through to the point of a conviction. And to this day some locals still call this body of water… Dream Pond.
RAY: And that takes us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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To see some pictures of Dream Pond in Fairfield, Vermont, just click on the link in our episode description, or go to our Web site and click on Episode 340.

If you’ve got a story you think we should check out, please reach out to us anytime through our Web site. So many of our story leads come from you. We appreciate being part of this community with you. Also, you can help us out by posting a review for us on iTunes, or share our episodes on your social media, or tell others about us. That’s how we grow. You can also download our free New England Legends app and join our Facebook group for even more high strangeness.
We’d like to thank Lisa Strykowski for lending her voice acting talents this week, thank you to our patreon patrons, thank you to our sponsors, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.

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