The Wallingford shoebox murder was discovered on the Sunday morning of Aug. 8, 1886, by three young men rambling through farm country.
Edward and Joseph Terrill and a friend were walking along an old logging road about three miles from the town center when Edward’s dog approached a wooden crate under a tangle of huckleberry bushes. Edward Terrill “thought nothing strange until his dog approached the box and acted in a strange manner, sniffing about the box and whining," the Hartford Courant reported.
The lettering on the outside of the 30” by 12” wooden box said its contents were a half-dozen pairs of ‘machine sewed, fine stitched’ men’s shoes. But it gave off a peculiar smell. The young men pried it open and discovered its ghastly contents: a bloody dismembered male torso wrapped in straw and tar paper.
A medical examiner could only determine the body belonged to a healthy man, 30 to 40 years old, who had been dead five to 10 days. Further examination found in his stomach a large quantity of arsenic – which had also been the cause of the sensational murder of beautiful Jennie Cramer five years earlier.
At first it was thought the body was that of Albert Cooley, an old soldier who had recently taken a $1,500 pension from a local slaughterhouse and then went missing. That theory was abandoned when Cooley turned up alive.
Another theory held that an arsonist who had set a number of fires recently had turned on his accomplice. A third blamed an unidentified tramp who hung around the train station.
By September the victim’s identity was still unknown, though the woods had been searched and police had combed through files and pored over missing persons reports.
Local butchers fell under suspicion. When one butcher’s employee mysteriously disappeared, police thought he might have been the victim – until they found him alive and healthy.
On Sept. 26, a farmer found the victims’ arms and legs near the spot where the box was found, but the head was never recovered. Rumors circulated that the head had been found in a well, but that turned out to be false.
Wallingford Shoebox Traced
The box itself was traced to a Fall River shoe factory, which had sent it to a shoe dealer in Chicago. The dealer had thrown it behind his store and several months later sold it to a man who disappeared. That sparked more rumors that the victim was somehow connected to the Haymarket Riots.
A local prostitute, Mabel Gage, told police she knew all about the murder. Two years later she committed suicide.
Read more about crime in Connecticut in True Crime: Connecticut: The State's Most Notorious Criminal Cases by Brian Ethier. You can buy it from the New England Historical Society bookstore. Just click here.