• Medfield Midcentury Memories: Murder in the Tricentennial Year

    by  • September 25, 2017 • 1950s, Main Street, Medfield • 2 Comments

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    MEDFIELD TOWN HALL – the first town hall was built on this site in 1872; it burned in 1874. The replacement burned in 1923. This photo, taken in 1950, shows the third one on the site, with a less expensive flat roof replacement. Note the movie marquee on the town hall and the little A&P store on the left. In 1950 A&P was one of the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. Medfield’s was very small; the much larger Walpole A&P was at the site of the present CVS at the corner of Routes 27 and 1A.

     

    I happened to be looking through the 1950 annual town report this week – interesting similarities and wow! contrasts then vs. now.

    1950 2017
    Population 4,549 (incl. 2000+ at hosp.) 12,024 (2010 census)
    School population 484 (24 in senior class) 2,634 (240 seniors)
    School budget* $88,000 $33 million (up 375%!)
    Property valuation $3.2 million $2.5 billion (up 781%)
    Town debt owed $360,000 $56 million
    Library books** 10,000 92,417 total holdings
    Library cards 1,044 7,583
    Births 58 96 (in 2010)
    Marriages 41 15
    Deaths*** 25 (plus 115 at hospital!) 69
    Field Driver/Fence Viewer 3 1
    Police Dept personnel**** 3 17
    Automobile accidents 43 227
    Murders***** 1 0

    *The school superintendent, George C. Roy, lived at 67 North Street (aka the Cushman house), which, after a long period of neglect, is being restored.
    **The entire librarian staff was paid a total of $1,460.
    ***The contrast in the death rate among Medfield residents (1%) and state hospital patients (5%) I find perplexing and disturbing. If it were a regular medical hospital, with sick people in it, you’d expect a significant number of patients would die of their illnesses. But since it was a mental hospital, I’d assume that a goodly percentage of the patients would be in decent physical health, and their high mortality rate would suggest negligent or incompetent treatment. Do any readers have thoughts on this?
    **** Police Chief Coleman J. Hogan’s salary was $3,708. The two officers’ salaries totaled $4,189.
    *****The murder occurred in early February, 1950.

    The murder is an intriguing story with many questions, which are unanswered at this writing. Hogan wrote nothing in the 1950 report about the murder other than the digit “1” in the column.

    I called former police chief Bill Mann; he didn’t remember anything about it. He said at the time it happened, in his pre-police and pre-Army days, he was driving a cab for Newell’s Taxi in Medfield, and he really knew everything that was going on in town. He mentioned reading, years ago, parts of Hogan’s police diary.

    Current police chief Bob Meaney was away for several days when I tried to call.

    I Googled Medfield murder 1950. There were no stories from the Globe or the Herald. There were two short and very similar items from wire services that had been picked up not locally, but in the Cincinnati Inquirer and the Chicago Tribune (next to an ad for a new Hotpoint automatic washer for $300 and a companion dryer for $250, when the average family income was $4,236):

    Mother Admits Drowning Baby in Washbowl

    Medfield, Mass. – A 31-year-old wife was held on a murder charge after Police Chief Coleman J. Hogan told him she held her nine-week-old daughter under water in a bathroom washbowl. The report of three physicians who performed an autopsy, however, said the infant died of manual strangulation.

    The wife, Mrs. Marion DeVou, was ordered held without bail by District Judge Gilbert W. Cox of Dedham court for grand jury.

    She was arraigned a few hours after Chief Hogan said she unlocked a bathroom door for a physician, who found the child’s lifeless body in the washbowl.

    Hogan quoted Mrs. DeVou as saying the child was one of twins born to her Dec. 6, 1949. The other twin died at birth. Hogan said Mrs. DeVou told him she left her Cohasset home two weeks ago after a “squabble” with her husband James, a Boston production engineer, and had been staying with her parents in Medfield.

    Google found no follow-up stories. If any reader knows more about this murder, please speak up.

    About

    David Temple is the president of the Medfield Historical Society and co-chair of the Medfield Historical Commission. He grew up in Medfield and left to go away to college (history major) and sow a wild oat or two. In 1970 he and Marjorie bought a barn at the corner of South Street and Rocky Lane in Medfield and made it into the home they have lived in ever since.

    2 Responses to Medfield Midcentury Memories: Murder in the Tricentennial Year

    1. Roger Toney '61.
      September 30, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      Good afternoon, David.
      I suspect that the low (5%) mortality numbers at the State hospital was because many of the patients had been soldiers in WWII and suffered ‘shell shock’ or PTSD. The ’50’s were only 5-10 years after VE and VJ day. My sister’s godmother’s first husband had been one of these victims of WWII. They would have been physically healthy, as opposed to the patients in a medical hospital. The treatments for acute mental health in that era and on that scale were relatively barbaric.
      I had an uncle who worked at the hospital but who had passed away years ago, so I can’t confirm this suspicion.

    2. Roger Toney
      September 30, 2017 at 3:59 pm

      David.
      I remember going to the Saturday afternoon movies in the theater above the town hall. Also, the building in the background was Art Will’s Hardware store. And wasn’t the police department in a lower level of the Town Hall but facing a different street?

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