Whodunnit? The list of suspects for the unsolved murder

  • William Dean’s wife Mary. Courtesy photo—

  • Charles Rich was a friend of Dean’s. He was also the town moderator and a banker.  Courtesy photo—

  • Did hoodlums killed Dean? A rumor claimed Father Herbert Hennon had an illegitimate son who was part of the group of hoodlums. Courtesy photo—

  • Lawrence Colfelt Jr.'s father, Lawrence Colfelt Sr. The Jaffrey Historical Society has yet to find a photo of Colfelt Jr. Courtesy photo—

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

No one was ever charged after the murder of Dr. William K. Dean, but that didn’t stop people from developing theories as to who did it.

The Monadnock Region may never know who the real murderer was, but there were no less than four theories delving into who could have committed such a crime in 1918.

The mentally ill wife

At one point, a popular theory in the murder investigation was than Dean’s wife, Mary Dean, had done it.

Suspicions arose because Mary kept telling people who were searching the property for Dean that he was dead, that his head hurt, and that he was in deep water – he was later found dead, bludgeoned and drown in a cistern on the property.

It was also believed that Mary could’ve been jealous of Dean, as he had been described as a ladies’ man and had been speaking with a female friend the evening before his murder.

It was soon determined, however, that Mary – who was also Dean’s cousin – was not physically capable of carrying out such a crime, as she was frail and said to be suffering from dementia.

The friend and town leader

It is also widely speculated that the town’s banker, judge, choirmaster and town moderator Charles Rich may have had a hand in his murder.

Rich, who was a good friend of Dean’s, showed up the day after the murder with a black eye, leading many to believe he could’ve killed Dean. Rich told people he was kicked by a horse.

Another peculiar fact linking Rich to the murder was that a friend and employee of his named Russell Henchman had gone to Dean’s property the day after the murder to clean up the barn where the murder took place. Henchman also drained the water in the pipes at the house.

It is also believed that Rich lied about being on the property that evening.

To this day, there has yet to be a motive discovered for why Rich would’ve murdered or have someone murder Dean.

German spies

Another theory speculates that Dean may have learned too much about the activities of local German spies and paid the ultimate price.

Around the time of Dean’s murder, many people reported seeing lights flashing on Mount Monadnock. A conspiracy theory was ultimately developed that German spies were using the vantage point of Mount Monadnock to alert German submarines in Boston Harbor about troop movements.

Earlier in the week, Dean had a conversation with Aria Morison – whose husband worked for the federal government in Washington D.C. – telling her that she needed to travel to Boston to alert federal authorities that he had information he would like to share.

Mrs. Morison would travel to Boston the next day – her message would be delivered hours after Dean’s murder, however.

Many believed that a man who lived on the Dean property until a few months before the murder– Lawrence Colfelt Jr. – was responsible for the death of Dean in one way or another.

Colfelt was a mysterious New Yorker who had rented and lived in the larger home on the Dean property. He lived on a trust fund set up by his grandfather and did not work.

Many townspeople suspected that he was German or a German sympathizer.

It was also suspected that Colfelt was angry with Dean, as Dean had asked him to move off the property after he wasn’t properly farming the property. Colfelt had moved to Greenville after leaving the Dean property.

Some suspected seeing Colfelt’s unique car in Jaffrey on the night of the murder, but it was later determined the vehicle was in a repair shop in Nashua. Colfelt also was working at a Portsmouth shipyard at the time and was renting a hotel room.

Partying hoodlums

Another strongly held theory is that hoodlums murdered Dean after he discovered them partying on his property.

It was thought at the time that a group of young men and women had been finding vacant homes to party in. At the time, the larger house on the Dean property was empty.

It has been speculated that the group was discovered by Dean when he went to milk his cow late at night. The group was startled by Dean and accidentally killed him by striking him on the head.

This theory became controversial after Georgiana Hodgkins – the woman Dean had been visiting with before the murder – wrote a book about her personal account of the events dubbed “Prominent Citizen: Prime Suspect.”

In her book she claimed that Harold Griffin, the son of St. Patrick Parish’s pastor Fr. Herbert A. Hennon’s widowed housekeeper, was actually Fr. Hennon’s illegitimate son – a claim later proven false – and was one of the alleged partying hoodlums.

Many believed that a group of area young men and women were incapable of carrying out such a crime.

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com. He is also on Twitter @nhandyMLT.