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The unsolved murder of Dr. Dean: Why a 100-year-old crime still matters to Jaffrey

  • Mark Bean, co-owner of DD Bean and Sons Co., has done a lot of research on the Dean murder and wrote a paper titled “The Death of William K. Dean: Murder by Person or Persons Unknown” on his findings. He also spoke about the murder during an Amos Fortune Forum on July 6.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—



Tuesday, July 31, 2018 10:8AM

The murder of Dr. Dean was a horrific crime and a polarizing tragedy for the town of Jaffrey. One might wonder why the anniversary of such a dark event is being commemorated.

First, Dr. Dean’s homicide is not only one of the most intriguing unsolved murder cases of the twentieth century, but it still has relevance today. The case has all the shock value to captivate our attention nearly as much in 2018 as it did in 1918: a gruesome, coldblooded murder, a national security threat from a hostile foreign government, conspiracy theories, cover-ups and scandal.

Even without social media, the spreading of fake news was rampant, and the effects on the town, as well as on justice, were devastating.

Yet this is more than just a story about an unsolved murder that happened in Jaffrey. This is a story about the people of Jaffrey. This was a pivotal chapter in our collective history.

Jaffrey is a unique and special place: the historic village of Jaffrey Center, our mills and factories, important civic organizations, beautiful churches, and of course, the mountain. Yet despite all its attributes, Jaffrey has struggled to establish a common identity for itself. We seem to be lacking a shared vision of who we are and what we want to become.

The story of the divide that occurred in the aftermath of the Dean murder indicates we have struggled with this issue for a long time.

In the early 1900’s, Jaffrey’s population consisted of large numbers of French Canadian immigrants who worked in the mills and factories. Many of these workers still spoke French, and nearly all were Catholic. The mills, on the other hand, were mostly owned by an upper class of Protestants.

Based on these religious and socioeconomic affiliations, the divisions back in 1918 were severe, but so was the passion. The very fact that the wounds ran so deep indicates there must have been an intense sense of community.

The remembering and retelling of this story provides an opportunity to channel that passion for community from our past and dispel some of the apathy that impedes us today. We should embrace the Dean murder mystery as another aspect of what makes us special. It is our story to lay claim to.

We not only gain insight into our identity as a town by having an accurate historical perspective on why this case became so divisive, but now that those old wounds have healed, we can have some fun with it as well. After all, how many towns commemorate a murder?

In the end, we should never forget, despite everything else this story may be, it is also the story of a man, a citizen of Jaffrey, who was brutally murdered, and no one was ever held accountable for the crime.

Dean’s friend, Charles Rich, the prominent citizen who became a prime suspect in the case, is quoted as saying, “… eventually the guilty one will be discovered. The saying ‘murder will out’ has a basis in the experience of man. Something overlooked by the guilty man will give a clue from which a solution will be worked out.”

Ultimately, maybe that is the most important reason why this story still matters. Will there be some heretofore overlooked clue that provides the solution to the mystery? Is it true there is a “basis in the experience of man” for us to still believe, even if it takes one hundred years, that “murder will out?” Stay tuned!

Mark Bean is a Jaffrey native and currently lives in Nelson. He is the co-owner of DD Bean and Sons Co. in Jaffrey. On July 6, Bean spoke about the Dean murder during the first Amos Fortune Forum of the 2018 season.