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This Day in History, 1873

The Boston Belfry Murderer Kills His First Victim

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Bridget Landregan is found beaten and strangled to death in the Boston suburb of Dorchester. According to witnesses, a man in black clothes and a flowing cape attempted to sexually assault the dead girl before running away. In 1874, a man fitting the same description clubbed another young girl, Mary Sullivan, to death. His third victim, Mary Tynan, was bludgeoned in her bed in 1875. Although she survived for a year after the severe attack, she was never able to identify her attacker.

Residents of Boston were shocked to learn that the killer had been among them all along. Thomas Piper, the sexton at the Warren Avenue Baptist Church, was known for his flowing black cape, but because he was friendly with the parishioners, nobody suspected his involvement. But when five-year-old Mabel Young, who was last seen with the sexton, was found dead in the church's belfry in the summer of 1876, Piper became the prime suspect. Young's skull had been crushed with a wooden club.

Piper, who was dubbed "The Boston Belfry Murderer," confessed to the four killings after his arrest. He was convicted and sentenced to die, and he was hanged in 1876.
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For those of you intersted in 19th century forensics, ou can find an image of the skull of his final victim at http://www.countway.med.harvard.edu/archives/iotm/iotm_2004-02.shtml . "During the trial, Piper’s defense attorney claimed that Mabel had not been struck by a bat, but had been killed when the trap door leading to the church belfry fell on her head.  The prosecuting attorney brought Mabel’s skull and a replica of the trap door into the courtroom to demonstrate that the fractures present on the skull could not be replicated with a single blow from a trap door.  Based on this early use of forensic science, Piper was convicted and sentenced to death."

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