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Fannie Sprague Murder Still Unsolved

FJ Knight House in South Berwick / SeacoastNH.com

Murder at the F.J. Knight Farm

The knight verdict

Even during the darkest hours of his trial, Edwin Knight openly told reporters that he expected to be acquitted. He did not believe, Knight told all who asked, that God would allow an innocent man to be convicted. Louis Wagner had made identical statements after the Smuttynose Island murders right up until his final moments on the gallows in 1875.

As the trial entered its second week, Yeaton opened his surprise defense by putting his client on the stand first. Knight offered a meticulous defense and attempted to cast suspicion back onto Samuel Locke. The rubber boot tracks, Knight admitted, were his. The blood stains on his clothes came from shoeing a horse, he said. When the prosecutor asked point blank whether he had killed Fannie Sprague, Knight said emphatically and loudly for all to hear, "No sir, I did not."

Knight’s sister Almeda testified that the blood on her brother’s knife was fish blood from breakfast the morning of the murder, and that she had washed the knife clean. Knight’s wife appeared on the stand in the eighth day of the trial to confirm her husband’s whereabouts on the day of the murder. She had patched his clothes and she had asked Fannie to work at their house, she said. Most of her comments at trial, the prosecutor pointed out, conflicted with her original statements at the coroner’s inquest six months earlier.

Yeaton produced a host of witnesses to sully the character of Samuel Locke and praise the character of Edwin Knight. The defendant had so many friends and relatives in South Berwick, the prosecutor claimed, that even an investigator for the state admitted to being a "dear dear friend" of Knight. Each lawyer took an entire day to sum up. Yeaton insisted that his client had no motive to harm Fannie Sprague, and that no direct evidence linked his client to the crime. Attorney general Seidman said that Knight’s real victim was not Fannie, but her unborn child whose identity Knight wanted to conceal from the world. The judge spent Saturday morning February 16 instructing the jury, reviewing the evidence, and defining legal terms.

The jury began its deliberation at 12:34 pm that Saturday. They returned a verdict of "Not Guilty" at 3:40 pm that same afternoon. "Never has there been such a demonstration at the Saco courtroom," the Biddeford Daily Journal reported. The courtroom exploded into shouts, whistles and cheers that drowned out the judge’s gavel. The verdict came so quickly that it made the late edition of many New England daily newspapers. Edwin Knight and his family were able to catch the evening train home. Edwin Knight opened a South Berwick boarding house called Lake View Farm. He died in 1931.

 

Copyright © 2010 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears on alternate Mondays in the Portsmouth Herald and exclusively online here at SeacoastNH.com. He is currently working on two books (one for children) on privateers in the War of 1812 to be published next year.

 

 

 

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