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Jaffrey’s unsolved mystery

  • The Dean Farm. Courtesy photo—

  • Dean’s body was dug up after self-proclaimed criminal psychologist Willie Wendt DeKerlor found scratch marks at the scene of the murder.  Courtesy photo—

  • Dr. William K. Dean was brutally murdered on Aug. 13, 1918. The crime has yet to be solved 100 years later. Courtesy photo—

  • Dean’s body was dug up after self-proclaimed criminal psychologist Willie WendtDeKerlor found scratch marks at the scene of the murder.  Courtesy photo—

  • Dean’s body was dug up after self-proclaimed criminal psychologist Willie WendtDeKerlor found scratch marks at the scene of the murder.  Courtesy photo—

  • Dean driving his young bull.  Courtesy photo—

  • Dr. Dean on his horse.  Courtesy photo—

  • Dr. William K. Dean Courtesy photo—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, July 31, 2018 10:11AM

Dr. William K. Dean left his home around 11 p.m. on Aug. 13, 1918. The retired doctor-turned-farmer would never return.

It was hardly unusual for Dean – who built his home on a hilltop farm in Jaffrey in 1889 – to leave the home at this hour. Dean had a penchant for milking his cow around noon and midnight each day.

It wasn’t until the next morning that his wife Mary would become suspicious of Dean not returning. A search party would be called to the property, eventually finding the 63-year-old Dean dead in a rainwater cistern about 150 feet from the barn where Dean was thought to have been attacked.

The death was soon ruled a murder.

“This had to have been an unimaginable shock for these people; something entirely outside the context of their normal country lives. People were in shock, and they were afraid,” Mark Bean wrote in his paper titled “The Death of William K. Dean: Murder by Person or Persons Unknown.”

Dean may have drowned in the cistern, but prior to that he had been bludgeoned in the head and strangled. He was tied up with his hands behind his back and had a burlap sack – containing a 27-pound rock – placed over his head.

“The body was taken out of the cistern and it very plainly impressed itself upon the minds of everybody there at that time that it was undoubtedly a case of deliberate, premeditated, well-planned, and carefully executed murder,” New Hampshire’s Attorney General, Oscar L. Young said during a grand jury hearing in April 1919, according to notes transcribed by Jaffrey’s Margaret Bean.

Investigating the murder soon became a challenge, as much of the evidence had been wiped out within 24 hours by a storm and by a local man, Russell Henchman, who came by the property to clean the barn and flush the pipes in the larger home on the property. 

Remaining evidence, including items like the burlap sack and rope found on Dean at the time of his death, are currently in the possession of the Jaffrey Historical Society.

With the community in shock and searching for answers, numerous theories began to take form.

Everyone from Dean’s wife to his friend – the local banker and town moderator – were accused. It was also theorized that Dean may have been murdered by German spies after he learned too much about their local ties, or by a group of partying hoodlums – one of which who may have been the illegitimate son of a local pastor.

“As soon as the crime became known in the town theories immediately developed and were intensely debated. The citizens of Jaffrey were definitely affected personally by the news of the crime, but the shock waves caused by his death were not a result of any personal connection to the man,” Bean wrote.

People yearned for an answer so much that eventually a man by the name of Willie Wendt DeKerlor – also known as Mr. Kent – was called in by Dean’s brother to offer psychological insight into the case.

DeKerlor was a self-proclaimed criminal psychologist, but more than anything was a con-artist.

DeKerlor visited the farm more than a week after the murder to conduct an investigation of his own. During his investigation, he noted scratch marks in the wood of the barn and later, on a stone near the cistern.

DeKerlor used the discovery and get permission to exhume Dean’s coffin.  He would declare that the scratches found at the murder scene matched scratches found on Dean’s face and scars found on the face of Charles Rich, who was later named a suspect. 

DeKerlor also claimed to have seen Rich’s face on a negative of a photograph he took of a bloodstain on scene.

“They might, in the future, form a new means of detecting crime, for the theory would be that as the blood of the murdered man spills at the time when his conscience is still with him, the particles of blood, which known scientific and psychological researches scientifically claim to be the vehicle of the electric body within man, would remain sufficiently conscious as to impress the more sensitive chemical ingredients of the photo filament within the retina of the eye,” DeKerlor said during the grand jury hearing.

DeKerlor was later hired by the town’s selectmen to investigate the case. Selectmen eventually stopped paying him after the issue became controversial.

After an eight day grand jury inquest in April 1919 the verdict on the murder of Dean was “murder by person or persons unknown.”

To this day, no one truly knows who committed such a brutal crime.