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Fannie Sprague Murder Still Unsolved

Fannie_sprage00HISTORY MATTERS

Some murder stories are told and told again. Others fade quickly from public memory. Why? It has been more than a century since this horrific crime in South Berwick, Maine. The murder is still unsolved. The story has never been told in full – until now. (Story and photos below)

 

The large barn in South Berwick, Maine where Fannie Sprague was murdered on May 1, 1900 is gone now. So is the nearby house where Fannie worked briefly as housekeeper to Samuel Locke. And so too, for the most part, is the memory of her short life and gruesome death.

The victim’s partly charred pregnant body was discovered under a heap of burning rubbish in an unused horse stall inside the barn. Her head had been crushed by a heavy blow and her jugular vein punctured. Blood pooled on the stable floor. Although her face was blackened by smoke, she was easily recognized. Had two local residents – FJ Knight and George Warren -- not seen the smoke and extinguished the fire, Fannie Sprague’s murder might have gone undiscovered. It remains unsolved.

Police at sea

Fannie_SpragueAccording to the Boston Globe, Maine police were "all at sea" in their initial attempts to find the killer. Although Locke made "certain admissions" about his relations with Mrs. Sprague, a widow, the Lewiston Morning Journal reported, investigators were satisfied that the elderly tenant was innocent of the crime. Locke had been cutting wood far from the dilapidated house at the time of the murder. His housekeeper Fannie had been "particularly anxious", he reported, for him to bring his dinner with him deep into the woods that day.

A number of local suspects were interviewed. Their shoes were compared to a plaster cast of a boot print found behind the barn – and all were dismissed. Stover Perkins, an Ogunquit fisherman who had been traveling to Dover reported seeing a tall man with a dark mustache nearby that day. Sprague’s three-year-old son said that "a tall critter" had called his mother into the barn that morning. When she did not return, the boy went off to play at a neighbor’s yard. Two Portsmouth fish peddlers seen in the neighborhood the day of the murder were tracked down, arrested, grilled, and released.

An intense search for suspects followed. The Lewiston paper reported that "the suspicions of the local officers shift from day to day." The farm was suddenly "a Mecca" for sightseers from miles around. But by the end of the week, the South Berwick sheriff admitted that he was facing "as blind a trail as he ever encountered."

Then on May 14 members of the coroner’s inquest group announced that they knew the killer to be "a citizen who stands high in the community." But the group could not reach consensus to officially charge any suspect.

After sharing the front page with news of the Boer War, Fannie Sprague’s murder was pushed aside by other Maine horrors. A schooner was wrecked off the coast. A woman died of an "unauthorized operation." A man was trampled to death by a steer in the doorway of his home. Four bodies with crushed skulls were discovered in a makeshift grave. Four armed bandits attempted robbing the South Berwick bank. An insane man tried to eat his own hands.

CONTINUED NEXT PAGE
Fannie Sprage murder trial

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