#18 – The Butcher of the Frontier – Part 2

Josie’s funeral was held on Wednesday, October 6th, 1875, at 11:00 AM. Approximately 1000 people attended her service. Shortly after the funeral service, several men went out again to complete another search to see if there was any other evidence as to who the murderer was. During this search they located, at approximately 4:30 PM they discovered pieces of Josie’s belt buckle and near it the backcomb and switch of false hair she had been wearing on that Monday. A handkerchief would later be found on November 7, 1875.

There were two initial arrest made on suspicion in the rape and murder of Josie Langmaid. One was against a William Drew who was around 22 years old, had a reputation for following his vices with little self control and wore his wife’s boots. It was alleged that he made untoward comments to Josie in the past. He was eventually let go as the boot impression did not match his boots.

Another individual was arrested on suspicion. He was a homeless person, who was transient, so would pick up odd jobs here and there. Almost none of the people in the area actually thought he was involved an he was let go almost immediately.

In and around the 8th of October, Selectman Thrueworthy Fowler received a letter from a Judge Farnsworth, of St. Albans Vermont. The letter indicated that a Mr. Joseph Lepage was a suspect in the murder of a young school teacher, named Marietta Ball, who was attacked, raped, mutilated, and murdered while walking to a friend’s residence after the school day. He also mentioned that this Lepage had subsequently moved from St. Albans to Suncook in the spring of 1875. The letter mentioned that Lepage’s children worked at the Suncook factory. Upon receiving this letter, he went to the Suncook Factory and the overseer had pointed out where Lepage lived. When Trueworthy went to the house, he instantly recognized Lepage. He had hired Lepage to do some work for him as a thresher. He was taken into custody for questioning.

A few main items came up during the investigation; Andrew Fuller, Trueworthy Fowler’s son, who was working for him and was 20 at the time, recalled a conversation he had with Lepage when they were working at the front of the house one late afternoon at the end of September. He indicated that one day his 16-year-old sister came home from school and Lepage started asking questions about her, who she was, where she went to school and how she got there, which route did she take.  Not thinking anything of it, he told him and showed him the following day when they were driving around the area. His sister’s name was Lilia Fowler and was very good friends with Josie Langmaid. Josie and Lilia went to the same school and traveled the same route to get there, often going together, along with Josie’s brother Waldo and a cousin.

A young boy of 13 advised that about a week before Josie’s murder, Lepage was asking about another teen by the name of Sarah Prentiss. He continued his line of questioning about her the following day and then made some obscene comments or questions that the boy got embarrassed about and left.

A couple of days before the murder, so on the weekend, a few witnesses indicated that they saw a man, who they later identified as Joseph Lepage walking and stalking about on Academy road. He was brandishing a club or long stick and would dart into the bushes. One mother and daughter were actually almost chased until they came across another man picking berries. This man accompanied the mother back home after she dropped her daughter at school. The mother’s name was Albersia Watson. They were able to offer a description of the person. Lean and muscular, dark eyes, with black wiry hair and beard.

Furthermore, the boot heel comparison to the cast was a match to Lepage’s boot. They had tested approximately 6 or more different boots and only Lepage’s matched exactly, every nail size, width, and space in between.

Some blood analysis was completed.  The specialists confirmed human blood on Lepage’s vest, around the fly of his overalls, the bottom of his pants, and on his hat and overcoat. His shirt was not found. His wife indicated that he came home with a missing sleeve and tears, she washed it and put it to dry on the clothes line and that it disappeared from there. Chemical analysis of both the blood on his clothes and that of Josie’s matched.

A knife with a 3-inch blade was taken from his person when they searched him and they also located a knife and razor in his home after searching the home. This was after he said he did not have a knife.

Eye witness testimony also put him on Academy road around the time when Josie would have been murdered. Josie left her home at 8:30 AM, walking at a normal gait for her height, she would have reached the location where she was attacked at approximately 9:25 AM maximum. The area where she was attached was a little more than a mile from her home.

That morning, Lepage went to Thomas Gardiner’s for work, based on an arrangement he recently made. He showed up there between 6:00 AM54 Gardiner said he wasn’t ready to work, he wanted to have his breakfast and that he would meet him in the woods after breakfast. When Gardiner finished his breakfast, he left to walk to the wood lot and didn’t see Lepage all day, despite being on the lookout for him.

Lepage was later seen near the bakery in Suncook, on Glass street at approximately 6:30 AM. He was then seen on Pembroke Street at 8:00 AM. Between 8:30 Am- 8:55 AM he was seen at the corner of Pembroke and Academy road, turning down Academy Road. This corner is about 1.3 miles from the location where Josie was attacked and murdered.

Suncook, 1910

At around 1:35PM he showed up Cofran woods, to a bunch of men who were building a shanty. One of the builders/workers said he did not see him before this time as they only started building the shanty in the morning and they were already more than ¾ of the way completed and that they had already stopped to have their lunch. Lepage claimed that he had gotten lost in the woods and followed the sound of the axes. He then asked how to get to Joseph Daigneault’s place. He was given directions and then asked if he had enough time to go there and come back in order to walk back home with them. They said yes. He was not wearing an overcoat and did not have an axe at the time, but he did have both when he returned to the men. He went on to Daigneault’s and apparently asked for some wood to be measured and Daigneault said he would do it later. This was about 1:45PM – 2PM and the drivers just returned from a delivery and unharnessing the horses and giving them their 1-hour lunch break before going out on their next delivery.   There are some conflicting stories with regards to amount of times Joseph visited fellow Frenchman Daigneault, but we’ll get into that a little bit later. He then said he was going to retrieve his coat and axe he left in the nearby barn and came back 5-10 minutes later with both.

Joseph Lepage showed up at Thomas Gardiner’s house a little after 6:30 PM on the 4th. Garnier made a comment about not seeing Lepage that day, to which he replied that he got lost in the woods and that he left his axe and coat in the barn near Joe Daigneault’s road. He had said he went to Sam Cofran’s lot and then Joe Daigneault’s lot. The he left and came back 5 minutes later, but didn’t sit down. When Lepage came back in Julie, Thomas’ wife, told them both about the missing girl, Josie. She had said that she was lost, at this point no one knew that she was dead. Then Lepage said that it was too bad that the girl was killed.

Joseph Lepage was arrested for rape and murder on October 15, 1875, 11 days after Josie was violently assaulted and killed.

Tragedy struck the Langmaid’s once again. Following Josie’s death Waldo became very ill and died on December 15, 1875. He came down with typhoid, followed by Pneumonia. He was buried next to his sister.

Lepage’s trial was brought to court on January 4th, 1876. He pleaded not guilty and his defence was that he had an alibi. The trial was presided over by a judge & jury. Before proceeding with the trial, the jury, and prisoner as well as all attorneys were taken to all locations that were to be discussed at trial. The Pembroke Academy was visited and then where Josie’s book, apple, and broken club were found. They entered the woods to where her body was found and where her head was found. They walked to little woods and Hartford’s home was pointed out. They were then driven to the Langmaid home.

The trial last 8 days and the jury only took 1 hour to deliberate and came back with the guilty verdict for murder in the first degree. The blood analysis and boot impression comparison evidence were highlighted as well as the eye witness testimony as to Lepage’s location on October 4th, and his conversations with Andrew Fuller and the 13-year-old boy. It appeared that his original targets were either Lilia Fowler or Sarah Prentiss.

Lepage’s wife’s sister, Julienne Rousse, a resident of Joliette, Quebec, testified that in the morning in June, 1871 Lepage attacked her while wearing a mask. She removed his mask and recognized him to be her brother in law, having known Joseph since she was around 10 years old. He choked and strangled her and rubbed dirt in her mouth, raped her and left her for dead. She had lost consciousness. When she came to, she returned home and told them what had happened. This was the main reason Lepage and his family left Quebec and headed into the united states. Her neck was severely injured and she was barely able to eat or drink for about a month. The bruising around her neck was significant.  She was 20 years old at the time. The detail about the mask matched the details in the assault & Murder of Marietta Ball, to which he was suspect

As mentioned, Joseph Lepage’s defence was that he had an alibi. The defence called several witnesses, all of whom were French Canadian, the main one being Joseph Daigneault who testified that Joseph Lepage had been at his home twice that day. Once from 10 AM until Noon and then arriving again at 1:45 PM.

Coincidently in the case of Marietta Ball, for who he never went to trial, he was also alibied by another French Canadian. Some of the French Canadians believed that he was only arrested because he was French, just like the initial arrest on suspicion of the homeless man was, most likely do to race of that individual.

That being said, the timeline given by Daigneault was contradicted by another witness that the defence called.  

The defence also called their own experts on the blood analysis. After the defence rested its case the Jury deliberated for only 1 hour. They discussed the case and cast only 1 ballot and the jurors were unanimous in their decision. They Found Joseph Lepage Guilty of Murder in the first degree. He was subsequently sentenced to death by hanging to take place the following January (1877)

An interesting fact of the case was that 2 threatening letters were received. One to Albersia Watson and one to the Judge. Both were in very broken English and they suspected a French Canadian to be the author. One was purposely dropped in front of Albersia while in Suncook village in the street and one was mailed with a New York postage to the judge.

Another thing they made mention, was the Joseph was emotionless during the trial.

Joseph Lepage was apparently granted a retrial and was once again found guilty. He was executed on Friday March 15, 1878. He was hung by neck and took approximately 18 minutes to die. The Thursday evening before his execution he confessed to the murder of Marietta Ball, the school teacher from St. Albans, Vermont and to that of Josie Langmaid. He drew a diagram for the murder of Marietta Ball and accredited the clairvoyant for being too accurate as to the reason he left St. Albans. Her purportedly also advised where to find garments belonging to Marietta Ball and the items he took when he murdered Josie Langmaid.

Just as he wore a mask for the brutal rape and attempted murder of his sister-in-law Julienne, he also wore a mask, complete with Frenchman’s knots in the assault and murder of Marietta Ball.

2 months after Lepage’s execution, Marietta Ball’s undergarments were discovered in the residence where Joseph Lepage had been renting around St. Albans.

Following his execution, after looking at the facts and circumstances of the murders of Marietta Ball and Josie Langmaid, and the assault and attempted Murder of Julienne Rousse, it is believed that he is also responsible for 2 other murders in Canada, a mother and her 16-year-old daughter. The 16-year-old was raped, mutilated and murdered and the similarities would lean to it being committed by the same individual.

Joseph Lepage is one of the first known serial killers in Canada. It is believed that he raped and murdered 4 women/teens. He was abusive to his wife and especially to his oldest daughter. Joseph came from a hardworking respectable family and we not know what drove him to be violent. After his execution he was buried in Suncook, New Hampshire.



Book: The Trial of Joseph Lepage, Courthouse Edition (link)

            History of Pembroke, N.H: 1730 – 1895, Volume 1

Newspapers (available on Newspapers.com):

The Daily Press and Times, Oct 7, 1875

The Fitchburg Sentinel, Oct 5, 1875

The Boston Post, Oct 5, 1875

The Boston Post, Oct 6, 1875

The Boston Daily Globe, Wednesday, Oct 6, 1875

The Boston Daily Globe, Thursday, Oct 7, 1875

The Buffalo Commercial, Thursday, Oct 7, 1875

The St. Johnsbury Caledonian, Friday, Oct 8, 1875

Burlington Weekly Free Press, Friday, Oct 8, 1875

The St. Johnsbury Caledonian, Friday, March 22, 1876

St. Albans Semi-Weekly Advertisers, Friday, March 15, 1878

The Boston Daily Globe, Friday, March 9, 1877

The Boston Globe, April 9, 1878

News & Citizens, Vermont, Nov 4, 1875

St. Albans Daily Messenger, March 16, 1878

Ottawa Daily Citizen, Oct 23, 1875


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