It was Monday morning, and the day promised to a beautiful one. Waldo got tired of waiting for his sister to leave and decided to walk on ahead of her with his cousin to the Pembroke Academy, where the both attended school. He left the home at 8:00 am. Josie was running late, she was waiting on a friend, and finally at 8:30 am, she grabbed her lunch and school book, said her goodbyes and headed out the door alone, with a bright smile on her face, ready to walk the 2.3 miles from her home to school. Waldo arrived home at approximately 4:30 PM and after noticing that Josie wasn’t home asked where she was as she had not been at school that day. The family was immediately worried as this was out of character. Right away her dad started organizing a search party. This is Josie Langmaid’s story.
For this episode, we are veering from the typical unsolved or cold case from Southern Ontario as we travel all the way back to Pembroke, New Hampshire in the fall of 1875. In 1875 the town of Pembroke boasted a population of between 2500 to 2800 people. Many of whom were French Canadians who worked the woods as wood-cutters or on the farms. There were no telephones and no cars.
James Langmaid was a well-known individual in town, on the board of selectman, a successful farm, and was in the process of brokering a deal or in the midst of building a business block in Suncook that year. They lived a comfortable life and James was able to pay the education of all his children. He had 4 living children at the time. Josie was the oldest and was just shy of her 18th birthday, the second oldest was her only brother Waldo, who was 15 at the time. Both Josie and Waldo were James’ children from his first marriage.
The Langmaid’s lived approximately 2 miles from Pembroke Academy where both Waldo and Josie were attending school. Josie did very well in school and was often described as bright, intellectual and cheery. Josie was an elegant and slender fashionable young lady with a light complexion, light hair and eyes. She was intelligent, did very well in school. And her best friend was Lilia Fowler.
On Monday, October 4th, 1875, both Waldo and Josie were getting ready to walk to school. Josie was running a bit late, and although they typically walked together, Waldo decided to leave ahead of her and walk to school with his friend likely to ensure that he arrived on time. He left the house at 8:00 am. A half and hour later, at 8:30 Am, just put on her waterproof blue cape, grabbed her lunch and school book, said her goodbyes and left the house to walk the 2-mile route to school. Josie would have to pass a total of 6 homes to get to school, 4 of which were close to her home. A large part of the route is wooded and not populated. With only 2 houses, further apart, Amos Hoyt’s house and Mr. Hartford’s residence.
On that Monday morning, she was seen by Amos Hoyt’s family as she passed their residence, who lived ¼ mile from the Langmaid’s residence. They weren’t close enough to her to speak, but did recall seeing her pass by that morning. Once on Academy Road, another resident Deacon Giles passed, coming from the opposite direction, and said good morning to her as he passed. He was the last known person to have seen Josie that morning prior to being murdered. She had made it past the Hartford residence. By this time, she was about 1.3 miles from her school and this section of the route was dense with wood and brush with no human habitation within ½ mile in each direction.
Waldo arrived back home after school at approximately 4:30 PM and noticing that Josie was not home, asked where she was as she was not at school that day. Her family was immediately concerned as she had left for school in the morning and the situation was out of character for her.
He dad started looking right away, and to his closest neighbour, David Merrill, to help with his search. They subsequently sent messages all over Pembroke and Suncook Village for help to search. Approximately 200 men with lanterns showed up from Pembroke and Suncook village. They split off into teams or went out individually and then search officially started as the sky drew dark.
Mr. Copp, a friend or Josie’s dad, and one of the 200 searchers saw a glimpse of an object lying flat on the ground at approximately 8pm. As he drew closer, he realized it was that of a body with skirts thrown around her and exclaimed “’Tis her”.
Josie was lying on her back, covered in blood. She had been decapitated and her head was not with her body. It was a disturbing and grisly sight that deeply affected all those present. She was nude from the waist up and her garments were cut from her body. They were saturated in blood and subsequently thrown back on top of her to mostly cover her body. Part of her chest and one knee were still visible. One leg was slightly bent at the knee with her foot resting on the other leg. She still had on her boots. One of her arms was twisted and pinned under her torso while the other arm lay resting over her chest. Of the body parts and limbs that they could see, at first glance didn’t look horribly disfigured.
The ground and leaves were saturated with blood where her neck was located. He blue cape and head were missing and a few green twigs tied in a Frenchman’s knot lay upon her.
It wasn’t long after Mr. Copp exclaimed that he found Josie that her father ran over to him only to be taken aback and shock at such a scene. When he saw the state of her body, he fell to his knees and screamed “Oh My God!” out in anguish and grabbed and hugged her mutilated body as he cried.
Several men formed a circle around him, removed their hats, bowed their heads and quietly shed a few tears while others made a hasty stretcher to be able to carry her body back to the open wagon waiting on the road, about 80-100 feet, to bring her body back to the Langmaid home. Nearly 200 searchers solemnly followed in procession with lanterns lit against the darkening sky as they made their way slowly there.
As they reached the house, the other members of the family came to meet the wagon with broken hearts.
Physicians had been on scene and followed to the home in order to complete a quick examination while the search continued. At this time, they were able to determine that she had been raped and then horribly mutilated. Her external sexual organs and part of her vagina were cut off, likely to try and mask the rape.
During the initial examination, the search party continued. At this time, they were able to locate her hat, which was about 33 feet from the spot where her body was located. The hat itself wasn’t significantly damaged, but mainly indented and there was evidence of blood on it. The search ended just before 11 PM.
The search party returned to the woods the following morning at 8:00 Am to continue their search. Her head was found 1/3 of mile from where her body was located, wrapped in the blue waterproof cape she had been wearing. Another 600 feet further west, opposite and open field, by the roadside, they found and apple and Josie’s school book. A stick or club was also located that was broken into 3 pieces. One end had been whittled and one section had evidence of blood with grass stains, as though the perpetrator attempted to wipe the blood off in the dirt and grass. This area appeared to be where she was first assaulted as here was evidence of a severe struggle. This was about halfway between where her body was found and where her head was located.
The theory was that she was incapacitated, then dragged to where her body was located, raped and murdered, mutilated and then her head was wrapped in her blue clocked and deposited further away along the route the murderer was taking.
According to early calculations, Josie would have likely reached this location around 9:25 AM on Monday Oct 4, 1875. Based on the location itself, authorities believed the perpetrator would know this spot or be acquainted with the topography of the country, as it seemed to be the only spot on the road where you could easily go undiscovered.
Once the head was located a thorough examination or autopsy was completed. The autopsy results show that Josie was raped and beaten but her cause of death was exsanguination due cut throat and subsequent beheading. The physicians determined that she was still alive when this was done. The mutilation to her genitals were done after her death.
It was determined that a sharp knife or razor was used to cut her throat, and possibly an axe due to the damage to the back of the neck when she was decapitated. The head was twisted to the side by force at the time this occurred and there was evidence of a medium sized boot heel imprint on her cheek. The partial semi circle of a heel with 5 nail heads was evident. There were other boot imprints on other areas of the cheek but one was fairly pronounced. The physicians gave their opinion that the perpetrator was an unskilled person, based on the cutting of her neck and the mutilations to her body. The spinal column was severed between the first and second vertebrae.
Continued on Part Two …