The Merry Widow Murder Feb 24, 2017 12:04:55 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Feb 24, 2017 12:04:55 GMT -5
The Merry Widow Murder
On Monday, October 5, 1936, a group of WPA workers having lunch near East Boston Airport (now Logan Airport) saw a burlap-wrapped bundle floating in the water. When one of them poked at it with a stick, the burlap slipped and exposed the silk-stockinged leg of a woman. Later that afternoon, fishermen found the other leg, also wrapped in burlap, bobbing about in Boston Harbor.
The limbs were turned over to the medical examiner, Dr. William J. Brickley, whose scientific detection was comparable to those on an episode of CSI. X-rays revealed the bones were neither brittle nor porous, but had reached full growth and from this, Brickley estimated the woman was between the ages of 25 and 40 and approximately 5'2" in height. The woman’s feet had callouses on the heel and he concluded the lady preferred high heels, was fond of dancing and wore a size 3 shoe. His findings were published in local newspapers and Mrs. Isabelle Murphy, a Boston resident, realized she knew only one woman with such small feet. She immediately telephoned Mrs. Grayce Asquith (above) and when there was no answer, contacted the police.
In 1924, Grayce Griffin, a petite, attractive brunette, married a dairy farmer of Weston, Massachusetts. Three years later, her husband died, leaving her well off and she and her mother lived together until the latter’s death. On her own, the 40-year-old widow purchased a small cottage on Whitman’s Pond in East Weymouth and occasionally worked as a shoe model. However, she craved romance and excitement and most of her time was spent partying, dancing and dating. Her lifestyle attracted the attention of neighbors and on at least three occasions, her parties became so noisy the police were called to restore peace and quiet.
When Weymouth police were asked by the Boston force to check on the cottage, they found the house in disarray; food and dishes indicative of a late supper in the dining area; blood stains all over the place, including the bathroom; bundles of rags and a meat cleaver in the cellar.
It wasn’t long before rumors began circulating that Mrs. Asquith kept a black book with the names of prominent gentlemen friends whom she may have been blackmailing. But her friends maintained she was a decent woman who simply enjoyed socializing. Police quickly dismissed the nasty rumors and focused there attention on two men: John A. Lyons, 39, a bond salesman and World War I veteran, whom Mrs. Murphy said was Grayce’s most ardent suitor, and a pudgy, 50-year-old Italian immigrant by the name of Oscar Bartolini.
When questioned, Bartolini admitted he had been a frequent visitor at the bungalow and was immediately taken into custody as a material witness. Speaking in broken English, he told of driving Lyons to the bungalow the last time he had seen the “Merry Widow of Weymouth,” as locals sometimes referred to Mrs. Asquith. “I drove him to her place and left them alone,” Bartolini declared. However, the evidence indicated someone had been murdered in the bedroom by a man wielding an axe-like instrument and the body had then been dragged into the bathroom and dismembered. Police also established that on the night of September 19, Bartolini did, indeed, drive Lyons from the station to the bungalow and the three had several drinks. Bartolini did deny this and claimed he read the newspapers until 8 o’clock, at which time Grayce and Al started to kiss. “Then I left,” he insisted. But some who knew Bartolini recalled he was jealous of Lyons and had once worked as a butcher. Additionally, Mrs. Asquith’s attorney came forward and revealed that his client had contacted him about Bartolini, complaining that he had assaulted her, but ultimately decided against pressing charges.
The corpus delicti was positively identified when, on October 23, Grayce’s head, also wrapped in burlap, surfaced. The torso was never recovered. Police reconstructed the crime as a double homicide. They believed Mrs. Asquith and Lyons were seated, side-by-side, at the table in the dining nook and did not see their killer as he tiptoed in carrying a meat cleaver. They surmised the killer swung the weapon, bringing it crashing down on the lady’s head, and before Lyons could react, he was, in turn, struck on the head. Terrified and bleeding profusely, Grayce managed to make her way to the bedroom, but before she was able to bolt the heavy door, the intruder rushed inside and struck her again. Once both victims were dead, the killer somehow got Lyons’ body into his car, drove to the shore and tossed the weighed corpse into the ocean. Returning to the cottage, he removed Grayce’s clothing as well as his own, dissected the small woman in the bathtub, wrapped the legs, torso and head in burlap and tossed them into Boston Harbor. When Bartolini’s Quincy apartment was searched, police found burlap potato sacks that matched those in which the body parts were wrapped.
Bartolini (pictured above) was charged with murder October 30, 1936, and with the noose tightening around his neck, his defense attorneys launched a diligent search for the missing Lyons. If they hoped to save their client, they had to have an accomplice or at the very least, present a plausible alternative theory that Bartolini had nothing to do with the woman’s murder and participated only in the coverup.
The trial of The Commonwealth v. Oscar Bartolini began September 7, 1937, in Dedham. For more than a week, the jury heard testimony and considered evidence – which included a toe print Bertolini left in a pool of blood beneath the bathtub – and after deliberating seven hours, returned with a verdict of guilty. Judge George F. Leary wasted no time sentencing the convicted killer to the electric chair.
But Bartolini wasn’t ready to die and scaled the grilled windows of the jail to the topmost rung and before plunging 30 feet to a concrete area below to what he hoped would be his death, called out, “Goodbye, everybody! Goodbye!” But he survived and never took his “last walk” to the chair. Many were still unconvinced of his guilt and believed he was targeted because he was an immigrant, but the most pressing question was: Where was Lyons? Bartolini’s disposal of Grayce Asquith’s body was sloppy, so how could he have concealed the much-larger corpse of a man so well that no trace of it was ever discovered? Some were convinced Lyons killed his sweetheart and forced Bartolini to dismember and dispose of her body. The many unanswered questions persuaded more than 30,000 people to sign petitions requesting his sentence be commuted. Governor Charles F. Hurley acquiesced and in 1939, commuted his sentence to life in prison. After serving 24 years behind bars, in 1961, Governor John A. Volpe – who was of Italian descent – pardoned Oscar Bartolini. Upon release, he was seized by immigration authorities and deported to Italy.
After more than 80 years, we’ll probably never know what really happened to the Merry Widow of Weymouth and her beau.
Sources: The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 1942; New England Historical Society; and The Commonwealth v. Oscar Bartolini.