Crime and Scandal

Vermont’s Disappearing/Reappearing Catherine Packard: A Tale of Bigamy and Bootlegging in the Roaring ’20s

In August of 1929, police in Chester, Vt., discovered the body of a young woman buried in a grove of spruce trees. They could not identify her by her remains. But police thought they might know her identity – Catherine Packard.

George Packard of Rutland, a candy store clerk, had reported his wife Catherine missing just months earlier. Catherine Packard, a troubled young woman, had two children. She had grown up as a ward of the Vermont Children’s Aid Society.

Charlotte Packard

Police presented George with a description of the dead woman they had found. Then they showed him a note found with the body. The suicide note said, “I am sick of life and I am going where I will be happy.”

An autopsy showed the girl in the field had poison in her system. George Packard identified the handwriting as belonging to Catherine. Clothing, dental records and the note convinced police that the body was, in fact, Catherine Packard. And then she was buried.

George, meanwhile, remarried in the summer of 1930 to Margaret MacFarland. But not everyone thought Catherine had died. The Vermont Children’s Aid Society refused to accept the proof that Catherine was dead.  George’s mother had an insurance policy on Catherine’s life, but the insurance company refused to pay the death benefit of $459. The company said the proof of Catherine’s death was not certain.

Catherine Packard

Merchants’ Row in Rutland, Vt.

Then, in August of 1930, Vermont was shocked. Catherine Packard reappeared in Manchester, N.H. She was returned to Vermont and questioned. Packard had run off with Robert “Romeo” King, and the couple had been living together in Erie, Pa. Catherine said she was astounded to discover people thought she was dead.

Charlotte Moore Buswell

George, stunned by the reappearance of his wife, sued for a divorce, which was granted. He remarried Margaret MacFarland. King was prosecuted on civil charges for taking up with a married woman and sentenced to a short stay in jail.

But what of the girl in the field now buried under a headstone that read, “Catherine Packard?” Sheriff E.H. Schoenfeld stayed with the case, and in April of 1932 he announced he had discovered the identity of the dead girl. His discovery, however, did little to tamp down the sinister overtones of the case.

Charlotte Moore Buswell had been the prettiest girl in Chester. She had a short, unhappy marriage that ended in divorce. She began running a tearoom in nearby Bartonsville, Vt. In 1925 she disappeared. A friend, Ida Sweet, said she dropped Charlotte off at the train station in Bellows Falls. Non one in her hometown, not even her family, ever heard from her again.

Bellows Falls Railroad Tunnel

But Sheriff Schoenfeld discovered that Charlotte had gone on to join in a rum-running and narcotics ring near Lake Bomoseen. Vermont was a prime location for bootlegging during Prohibition. The border with Canada was loosely patrolled and remote. Illegal liquor flowed steadily. The state’s resorts, lake houses and line houses were convenient for visitors from New York and New England looking to quench their thirst for alcohol away from home.

Lake Bomoseen

The resorts at Lake Bomoseen roared in the 1920s. More than 500 hotel rooms crowded the shore. Searchlights crisscrossed the night sky drawing thousands of visitors to its dance pavilions. And despite Prohibition, the booze and drugs were available for the right price in secluded spots.

neshobe-island-bomoseen

Lake Bomoseen

Charlotte Moore Buswell had gotten caught up in the rum-running life around Lake Bomoseen, the sheriff said. She had been fined $300 for bootlegging in Rutland, after she “disappeared” from Chester. And then she turned up dead. Given the company she kept, her death didn’t shock anyone. But what about that suicide note? George Packard had not been wrong. His wife had written the note.

Catherine Packard said she had, in fact, written the note. But she could not explain how or why it wound up on Charlotte Moore Buswell’s body. Catherine said she wrote the note while training at a hospital in Troy, N.Y., in 1926 at a time when she felt despondent. It had nothing to do with her disappearance, she said. She theorized that someone had perhaps stolen it from her belongings at the hospital. And with no further proof, that’s as far as the mystery ever went.

Thanks to the Ticonderoga Sentinel and the Plattsburgh Daily RepublicanThis story was updated in 2021. Images: Images: Lake Bomoseen, By Jc3s5h – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44282020. Bellows Falls Railroad Tunnel By Beyond My Ken – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60091060.

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