Tag Archives: Billerica

The Billerica Car Shop Murder of 1918

As news of World War I and Spanish flu filled the local papers, the first headlines related to Billerica’s car shop murder almost could have gone unnoticed.  In fact, the murder itself went unnoticed for several days.  The last anyone had seen of Fred Soulia, an employee at Billerica’s Boston & Maine car shops (today’s Iron Horse Park), was when he began walking home from work on a Thursday evening in early November.  Somewhere during the two-mile walk to his home on Oak Street, Soulia disappeared.

Front Page Headlines – Lowell Sun – November 5, 1918

His coworkers noticed his absence on Friday morning, grew concerned, and went to his home that afternoon.  No one answered the door.  Then, Fred Soulia didn’t come to work on Monday either.  His two friends walked to his home again and knocked.  Again, no one answered.  Soulia lived alone and had no family in Billerica; maybe he had gone home.  One of the men noticed blood on his walkway.  The men followed the blood stains out to Oak Street.  A half-mile away, the trail ended in a mound of loosened earth.  The men called the authorities.

Officers O’Brien and Livingston responded and investigated the loosened earth.  They soon found Soulia’s lunch pail.  Then, they found his spectacles and hat.  When they discovered the blood stains on his hat, they scoured the area.  They found another patch of loosened earth, further from the path.  The officers didn’t have to dig far before they found Fred Soulia’s body, still clad in his work clothes, so bloodied that they couldn’t determine just what had killed him.  The killing marked the town’s first in almost 25 years.

The officers summoned Lowell’s medical examiner Dr. Smith, who soon found another spot, a quarter-mile away, where the ground had been trampled.  He found more blood there – and a path of blood, showing where Soulia’s body had been dragged past his house, and to its shallow grave.  Dr. Smith surmised that the body had been buried first, the hat, pail, and spectacles later, when they were found – to hide any evidence of the crime.  An autopsy later revealed that Soulia had been shot three times and stabbed fifteen.

Finding a motive for the murder stumped Lowell and Billerica authorities.  Soulia, 50, lived alone, in a quiet little house he had built himself on Oak Street, in what was then a sparsely populated area of Billerica.  Of French descent, he had lived in Billerica only a few years – working a while for the Tewksbury constable, and then the most recent two or three years at the car shops in its scrap reclamation department.  Everyone liked him, though no one knew if he had any relatives in the area.  He was a faithful attendant of St. Andrew’s Church.

Theories soon emerged around potential motives for the killing.  Soulia was found with one of his pockets turned out, and without money.  Perhaps he was killed for his cash.  Or, some news was emerging from the car shops that a large theft of brass had occurred from his scrap reclamation department.  Maybe he knew something about that.

Days before he died, Soulia had been walking to work, on a forest path between Oak Street and the car shops, when he came across a culvert and some men who were contractors at the car shops.  Soulia struggled to see past them into the culvert.  The men tried to obstruct his view, but he saw enough to spot some of the brass that had gone missing at work.  He left, but later brought the foreman of his department to retrieve the stolen brass – over a ton of stolen brass, in fact.  The car shops retrieved the brass and didn’t involve the police – until Solia turned up dead a week later.

Lowell Sun – November 6, 1918; Page 1

Investigators soon found three sets of footprints leading away from the murder scene, to a road nearby.  Billerica Police began looking at the men Soulia had turned in for the brass theft, contractors from a Reading construction company.  Billerica police visited the home of Joseph Cordio, who lived on Oak Street near Soulia.  A search recovered a long knife and a revolver.  When police found his shovel coated with the same type of sand found in Soulia’s shallow grave, Cordio grew nervous and his story fell apart.  Investigators next identified the other two men, Lawrence brothers Francisco and Luigi Feci.  At Francisco Feci’s home, they found a shoe matching the footprints found at the murder scene.  A gun found in his coat had recently fired three shots.  And a Zira cigarette box found in the woods near the body matched the many cigarette boxes found in Feci’s home.  Police arrested Francisco Feci;  his brother Luigi fled before he could be captured.

The trial lasted six weeks, ending on May 18, 1920, when Francisco Feci was found guilty.  His brother Luigi, having fled, was not tried.  Due to a lack of evidence, Joseph Cordio was found not guilty.  Francisco Feci was sentenced to death, and, despite a somewhat credible last-minute appeal to Governor Coolidge, died by electrocution on August 16, 1920.  He went to the chair smiling, professing his innocence, and insisting that it was his brother Luigi who had killed Soulia, not him.


The Town Farm – A Victorian-Era Solution to Poverty

Town farms were Victorian society’s equivalent to today’s homeless shelters, nursing homes, and mental hospitals.  Often relegated to a far corner of town, unseen, forgotten, and hopefully self-sufficient, the town farm was created to instill a sense of industriousness and self-sufficiency in paupers who would, in turn, provide what labor they could to help run the farm.  And, throughout most of the nineteenth century, it worked.  The town farm in Billerica, Massachusetts once spanned over 150 acres, including 75 acres of forests.  In 1880, the Billerica town farm housed some twenty employees and paupers, in addition to its horses, cows, pigs, and chickens.

But, what was life like on the town farm?  Appropriate “separations” were encouraged.  Male inmates were to be separated from their female counterparts absolutely and entirely, in the living rooms, halls, stairways, and even yards of the town farm.  It was also considered important to separate persons of “good character” (who might have been forced to seek refuge at the Farm due to infirmities) from the “vicious and degraded”.  Indeed, of the Billerica town farm’s 13 paupers in residence in 1880, three had been recently released from the Worcester State Hospital.  All three were required to be kept “under lock and key” at night and two had been classified as “homicidal”.

Also, as it might be imagined, hygiene was considered paramount.  Prevailing thought reasoned that appropriate personal hygiene led to healthful, pure air and encouraged caretakers to search for “defects in the cleanliness and purity of air . . . at every visit.”  Weekly baths were required; the water for the bath was included in the six gallons of water set aside for each inmate’s weekly allotment.  Also, clothing was to be washed weekly and the wearing of day garments when abed was strongly discouraged.  Inmate compliance with these suggestions and rules was not always a foregone conclusion; over half of the paupers listed as living at the Billerica town farm in 1880 were mentally or physically debilitated.

Comforts such as heat and individual beds were considered important – shared beds were discouraged.  Sheets and blankets were to be aired daily.  The straw of each bed was to be made over regularly.  Food was delivered to the inmates at regular meals and was eaten with knives, forks, and cups.  At least four days a week, inmates could count on seeing beef or mutton at their meals, complemented by potatoes and bread.  On the others days, they were served vegetable soup.  Tea and rye coffee were the beverages available.

In their nineteenth century heyday, the town farm provided a much-needed support system for society’s poor, infirm, and undesirable,  Records from even earlier than 1880 show larger groups of paupers, some seemingly from the same families and a number of healthy, yet poor people, among them widows and children as young as four months old.  Despite their challenges, town farms managed to produce hay, milk, livestock, beans, potatoes, and wood products year after year before ceasing operations in the first years after Social Security was implemented.  The increasing standard of living during the early twentieth century coupled with the implementation of social welfare programs enabled families to become increasingly able to care for their sick, elderly, and troubled members.  The town farms quietly seeped into the forgotten history of their towns, sometimes only remembered in the street names of the roads they once occupied.

Sources:

  • Olmstead, Frederick.  Hand-book for visitors to the poorhouse.  4th ed. New York:  G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1888.
  • Ancestry.com. U.S. Federal Census – 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
  • Ancestry.com. U.S. Federal Census – 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

The Boston Road Waiting Room, 1902

The Victorian era (and the years immediately following) is well-known today for controversies that seem antiquated, even quaint, from a 21st century perspective.  So, how does one set off said controversy in a small town of approximately 2,800 people in the first years of the twentieth century?  The answer is this:  propose the construction of an electric car waiting room in a bucolic town center and within a stone’s throw of the town common.  As electric car (perhaps today better known as ‘trolley) travel became increasingly popular in the years approaching the dawn of the twentieth century, the need for a electric car stop (and waiting room for passengers) in the town center of Billerica, Massachusetts became apparent.  A map of the town center area of Billerica, Massachusetts, is shown below.  Town Common appears as a triangle, bottom center.

Billerica Center, 1888

The Waiting Room, when it was proposed for the lawn of the Hillhurst Hotel in 1902, resulted in heated protests, and even threats, from Billerica, Massachusetts residents, especially those living in the Town Center area.  The Hillhurst, shown in the above map as The Stearns House, its predecessor, had hitherto served as a vacation home for traveling theological students, clerks, and teachers.  It was even the site of the town’s first (and at this point, still the only) pay telephone station.  With the construction of this ‘roadhouse’, residents reasoned, the ‘lower elements’ of society would be attracted like ‘moths to a flame’. And they were able to accumulate some evidence that they saw as supporting their assertion.  Residents of the town common area, especially abutting, or directly opposite the new Waiting Room, crafted plans to discourage those awaiting the electric cars from lying in their lawns, and leaving their empty whiskey bottles behind.  Several prominent residents went so far as to replace their lawns with potato patches, which, when well-watered, resulted in a muddy mess that succeeded in warding off loiterers.

They saw the Waiting Room, constructed in 1902, as an eyesore, a blot on their townscape.  The Room was intended to serve as a shelter for those awaiting electric cars with destinations around and outside of town.  In retrospect, the bungalow-style building, with a large elm tree poking through its roof, was not devoid of architectural interest.

From the Lowell Sun, April 19, 1902

The odd tree arrangement of the much-maligned building did not escape the notice of the town gossips.  They jested that the tree served as an escape route for the builder to flee the contemptuous public or, rather, as an anchor that would prevent that same public from throwing the House, perhaps preferably with its builder inside, into the nearby Concord River.  Town residents were so taken aback by the plan to construct the Waiting Room that they, at one time, offered its builder an amount equal to a laborer’s annual wages, to halt construction.  This effort failed.

Veiled threats against the Waiting Room even emerged, with some residents recalling an earlier story in which a rather controversial bridge spanning the Concord River was constructed, and then burned by the insensed public.  This act, which resulted in a fine against the town, prompted the gossips to suggest that the town should start a fund to cover the eventual damages, should the Waiting Room face a similar fate.

The Waiting Room remained in the town center for some years, but today is no longer extant.  During its years of operation, it served to connect the town with the larger Greater Lowell (and even Greater Boston) community, shuttling its residents to cities such as Lowell or Boston to see the larger entertainments offered in the theaters of the day.


Yankee Doodle and its tie to Billerica, Massachusetts

Every September, Billerica, Massachusetts celebrates “Yankee Doodle” weekend.  But, what is Billerica’s tie to the popular patriotic tune?  And how does Billerica claim to be the birthplace of Yankee Doodle?  The origin of the Yankee Doodle’s tune is said to stretch back as far as 15th century Holland, where it may have been a harvesting song that incorporated the words “Yanker dudel doodle down”.  In England, around that same time, the tune was set to the words of the Lucy Locket nursery rhyme.  The English thought the tune so engaging that men critical of Oliver Cromwell, the mid-17th century Lord Protector of England, replaced its words to mock him.  The tradition appears to have continued, and later in that same century, in 1689, British soldiers again exploited the tune to ridicule the troops from New England who joined their forces against France in the French and Indian War.  The tradition (and association with American soldiers) continued right up through the early months of 1775 when the city of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay colony found itself in the midst of Revolution and on the cusp of the Revolution War.

On March 8, 1775, Thomas Ditson, Jr., a Billerica farmer in his early thirties, had come to Boston to sell his wares, and to buy a new gun.  Perhaps unbeknownst to Ditson, the British soldiers in charge of the city had been starting to worry about colonists’ possession of arms, so much so that, only a few weeks later, a troop of 700 soldiers marched to Concord, Massachusetts in an effort to capture and destroy militia arms stored there.  That march ended badly for the British and sparked the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which represented the first armed conflict between the American colonies and the Kingdom of Great Britain.

But, in March, none of this had happened yet, and what Ditson sought to do was perfectly legal.  Upon arrival on Fore Street of Boston, Ditson asked around, trying to find a gun to purchase.  Finally, a man, who appeared to be a British soldier, stepped forward.  Ditson likely knew that many British soldiers supplemented their income by selling the King’s property.  The man, who introduced himself as McClenchy, told Ditson he wished to sell a “very fine gun”.  Ditson followed McClenchy to a house where another British soldier, the Sergeant, told him that he also had a gun to sell – a cheaper one – that he described as a “rusty piece”.  Ditson, wary of the soldiers, asked several times if the men had the right to sell the guns, and as many times, they replied that they did.  McClenchy went so far as to reassure Ditson that he had stood sentry often and recently, and that he had personally let American colonists pass by with the same such guns.

Ditson began to relax and negotiated his price.  He would pay $5.50, $4 for McClenchy’s fine piece, and $1.50 for the rusty piece offered by the Sergeant.  The men made ready to get the guns as McClenchy’s wife entered the room.  She shot a look at her husband and said, “What are you trying to do . . . to bring the man into a scrape?”  Ditson lost his nerve for the transaction at that, and asked for his money back.  The British men refused.  McClenchy damned Ditson for a fool and said his wife’s “oration was nothing”.  Ditson wasn’t convinced and insisted on a refund.  He was refused and finally gave in, anxious to end the transaction.

“Take care of yourself.” McClenchy told Ditson ominously as more British soldiers burst into the room.  Ditson was seized and brought to the Guard House on Foster’s Wharf.  There, a soldier read an unfamiliar law.  He understood very quickly that they were charging him with buying a gun from a soldier, which meant, in their eyes, he was “enticing a solider in the King’s army to desert and take up arms against his country.”  He had been set up.

He spent a restless night in the Guard House, devising plans to procure the proceeds to pay the five pound fine he expected.  At 7 o’clock the next morning, the Sergeant came through the door.  It became clear quite quickly that Ditson was in for more than just a fine.  He was ordered to strip to his breeches.  The soldiers stepped forward and painted him head-to-toe, breeches included, with black tar.  And, to this, they applied a thick coat of feathers.  They then marched him out of the Guard House, forced him into a chair that had been perched atop a donkey cart.  A sign was placed around his neck, first facing forward so that he could read it, and then it was spun around so that it hung on his back.  It read:

“American liberty, or Democracy exemplified in a villain who attempted to entice one of the soliders of His Majesty’s 47th Regiment to desert, and take up Arms with Rebels against his King and Country.”    

By Ditson’s estimate, 40 to 50 soliders of the 47th regiment, McClenchy included, marched him through the streets of Boston, in what today is the Financial District.  Along King Street (now State Street) and past the old state house (which still stands near Government Center), they marched the tarred-and-feathered Ditson.  The soldiers did their best to ridicule him, first playing the Rogues’ March, on their fifes, and then singing their own version of Yankee Doodle, which had the words:

“Yankee Doodle came to town

For to buy a firelock,

We will tar and feather him

And so we will John Hancock.”  

Ditson was marched past Boston's Liberty Tree by the 47th Regiment

The citizens of Boston grew increasingly irate at this treatment of one of their own, and began to press into the troops.  The order went up to halt on Frog Lane (now Boylston Street).  Then, the order to load their firelocks followed.  Lt. Col. Nesbit, perhaps remembering the Boston Massacre, which had occurred nearby five years before, stopped the march and released Ditson into the crowd.

Ditson returned to Billerica soon after.  Selectmen there were predictably outraged at the injustice suffered by Ditson and penned a scathing letter to General Thomas Gage, then the provincial governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony.  He promised to investigate the incident, but nothing resulted from it.  Ditson, for his part, went on to fight with the Minute Men of Billerica one month later at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

And the Yankee Doodle song?  The Ditson incident marked a turning point in its use in the American colonies.  What had been an tune used to mock the colonists was adopted by them and turned back against the British soldiers.  Later that year, Edward Bangs, a student at Harvard wrote a fifteen-verse version that was entirely American in its perspective and humor.  And when the British surrended at Saratoga in 1777, much to their dismay, the Americans played Yankee Doodle there, to mock them.  And it all started with a farmer from Billerica, Massachusetts who just wanted to buy some guns.

Sources:

  • The Lowell Sun – Page 5 – September 17, 1925.
  • The Beginnings of the American Revolution, Vol.2 ., Ellen Chase, 270-273, 1910

Listen to your wiseacres

Sparse.  That’s a good word to describe the population density of Eastern Massachusetts in the late 19th century.  In 1895, Eastern Massachusetts was empty, from an early 21st century perspective.  Compared to its 2010 population just north of 33,800, Chelmsford, Massachusetts had 3,162 people living within its borders in 1895.  Its neighbor to the south, Billerica, had 2,577 inhabitants, compared to its 2010 population, which surpassed 40,000.  In comparison, Boston (proper) counted approximately 497,000 residents compared to today’s count of about 620,000.

So, where do you go to find the residents of a 19th century town?  One place would be the town common, or more specifically, the town water pump – often located nearby.  This is where newspapermen loitered in hopes of capturing the best stories for that elusive next edition.  Their best sources, they found, were the people who congregated around the pump, or, as they called them, the “village wiseacres.” Indeed, in Billerica, the wiseacres told newspapermen about church scandals, wranglings of high society in town, and even burglaries that had townspeople talking.  And not only newspapermen sought out the town pump.  Town constables would sometimes go there if they needed some ready deputies to help them capture their latest criminal.

Indeed, the effects of that case reverberated across Billerica for years after the men responsible were apprehended and jailed.  Two-and-a-half years later, in February 1897, newspapermen learned from the “village wiseacres” that John Bull, a storeowner near town center, had suffered several recent break-ins and had since spent several nights awake in his store, double-barreled shotgun at full-cock, ready for the next time the burglars attempted entry.  The story appeared in the Lowell Sun on February 4 of that year, and no further burglaries at his store were reported.

That same rash of burglaries hit the harness shop of Herbert A. King, who might have lost more than a few harnesses if a milkman, making his early-morning rounds, hadn’t frightened them away as they were making ready to escape.  The wiseacres at the town pump saw him looking for his harnesses along Main Street the next morning and reported it to the newspaperman, who submitted it the the paper for publication.

The newspapermen even learned news of Constable Livingston at the town pump, who in the link above, had the most noteworthy encounter with burglars.  The wiseacres reported that Livingston had been seen on the outskirts of Billerica, taking shots at trees.  He apparently wanted to make sure that his revolver didn’t jam again, as it had on the night that left Deroy Foster dead, and which allowed the highwaymen to escape.  A story even emerged that Livingston had shot a pumpkin off the head of a local farmer, to prove the truth of his aim, which had been questioned in the days following the murder.

In the days before television (and even radio), news travelled by word of mouth and the town pump was a popular place to congregate, to receive and  spread the latest news of the town.  The wiseacres found a ready audience for their gossip and the newspapermen found a ready source of material for their impending deadlines.


Midnight Murder in Billerica – September 1894

Under a full moon near midnight on September 11, 1894, Henry Cox, Charles Nichols, and Deroy Foster, all of Burlington, Massachusetts, roused Constable Everett Whitton Livingston at his home on Billerica‘s Pond Street.  Deroy Foster, a retired milkman, had been robbed of his week’s pay ($7.50) by three men in a covered wagon on today’s Winn Street in Burlington at the intersection of Peach Orchard Lane.  Foster, Cox, and Nichols had followed the covered wagon’s tracks into the Pinehurst section of Billerica before passing it on Main Street (today’s Boston Road/Route 3A) near Brook (now Webb Brook) Road.  They continued on until they reached Billerica Center where they asked at the Stearns House for a constable.

With Constable Livingston, a law man well-known locally, the men left Billerica Center, traveling south toward Burlington, on Main Street.  Despite the late hour, Livingston awoke quickly – he had been seeking a band of highwaymen responsible for a rash of barn thefts in Pinehurst and Burlington.  In the road’s loose dirt, they soon found the covered wagon’s tracks, odd due to its mismatched wheels and its horse’s strangely narrow horseshoes, oddities noticed by Henry Cox’s keen blacksmith eyes.  The men passed Brook Road and soon came to Lexington Road.

The covered wagon emerged as they passed a clump of birches at the top of Lexington Road, opposite Mrs. Leonard’s place.  “There they are!”  Foster called.  The men proceeded cautiously.  “Don’t use your revolvers unless it is a case of life or death”, Constable Livingston warned.

When they pulled up opposite the covered wagon, the constable, Nichols, and Cox hopped from their own wagon, leaving Foster to hold the horse.  One highwayman stood outside the covered wagon, holding the horse. Constable Livingston approached the man, pointed his revolver at his chest, and announced “I arrest you!”.  There was no reading of Miranda rights in those days.

Livingston grabbed the man’s collar and handed his handcuffs to Nichols, while Cox approached to help.  A struggle ensued when the man protested his innocence.  Constable Livingston first noticed the shots.  The man they struggled to subdue escaped as Cox, Livingston, and Nichols saw the other two highwaymen emerge from beyond a stone wall.

More bullets soon followed.  One grazed Livingston’s cheek, another the low branches above the mens’ heads.  Livingston, Cox, and Nichols retreated as the gunfire continued, readied their weapons, and fired.  Livingston’s revolver jammed.  Just then, they heard a cry, behind them.  Nichols turned to see that their horse had retreated, pulling their wagon several yards further down Lexington Road.   Their horse pranced uneasily and one particularly strong jolt pushed Foster from his seat, to the ground below. Nichols ran to his aid, but found him dead.

From The Lowell Sun, September 12, 1894

From The Boston Daily Globe, September 13, 1894.

Constable Livingston approached the body and, finding Foster quite dead, announced “This is murder!”.  Amidst the commotion, Cox’s horse, and their carriage, disappeared down Lexington Road and out of sight – not to be seen again until the next night, when it was found in Lexington Center.  The highwaymen saw their chance and lashed their horse and covered wagon north off Lexington Road and toward town center.  Constable Livingston, stranded without a horse, left Nichols and Cox to watch Foster’s body while he broke into a run behind the highwaymen.  Their horse quickly outpaced him, but in the quiet of the country night, Livingston followed the creaks and rattles of their fleeing wagon.  At the bend on Main Street, he finally lost sight of their wagon, but noted the odd tracks it was still leaving in the dirt of the road.  He also noted the horse collars, harnesses, and carriage robes, all stolen from the recent barn raids he had been investigating, that had been dropped from the wagon and strewn into the dirt of the road.

He came to the town water pump one mile later, then at the crossing of Andover Road and Main Street.  Despite the late hour (it was now after midnight), Livingston found town residents George Smith and James Coulter there, told them of the night’s events, and quickly got their agreement to help pursue the highwaymen.  Constable Livingston needed a new horse and carriage, which Coulter procured at the Stearns Boarding House.  He also needed to send a doctor to tend to Deroy Foster’s body, growing colder on Lexington Road.  Smith fetched Dr. Tyler, who left to meet Cox and Nichols.  Full moon overhead, one o’clock in the morning, the men regrouped in Billerica Center, freshly armed with two revolvers and a double-barreled shotgun.  The men got in their carriage and rode into the quiet of the night.  They soon found and followed the covered wagon’s odd tracks in the dirt of the road.  Not long later, they again heard and followed the creaks and rattles of the covered wagon retreating eastward.

The men followed the tracks, and the rattles and creaks of the highwaymen’s covered wagon eastward into Tewksbury, Wilmington, and North Woburn.  There, they lost the tracks amidst the many wagon tracks near a horse car stable there.  Constable Livingston was loathe to give up the chase.  Still hearing the wagon far ahead, he persevered, even rousing the horse car stable’s hostler.  He directed them to Woburn Center, where they lost the trail entirely.  Constable Livingston turned the wagon back toward Billerica, but warned the authorities of each town they passed on their return.

Meanwhile, at Lexington Road . . .

Dr. Tyler arrived to help Cox and Nichols move Foster’s body to Benjamin Heald’s barn, which stood at the present-day site of Stromboli’s Express on Boston Road.   As dawn came to Billerica, the spreading news brought neighbors to the barn while the autopsy was conducted inside.  The neighbors speculated that the men who murdered Foster were the same who had robbed them of their horse collars, harnesses, and cracked corn the night before.  One neighbor, Selectman Haskell, told the crowd of the  two-and-a-half foot shaft he had recovered recently from nearby Skunk Hill, which had broken off from the highwaymen’s wagon.

The Heald Barn – Boston Rd., Billerica
From The Boston Daily Globe: September 13, 1894
By the day following the murder, Livingston’s efforts began to produce clues which led him and Selectman Haskell to a Somerville stable yard where they found the covered wagon, still sporting twigs and branches clinging from its hurried escape through the country lanes of Billerica.  Selectman Haskell then produced the broken shaft from Skunk Hill, which fit perfectly into a piece missing from the wagon.  They quickly noted the name etched into the side of the wagon, and within an hour, had arrest Patrick Sullivan, 28, of Somerville.  Soon after, they arrested his two accomplices, Patrick Foley, 24, and Cornelius Nagle, 20.

From The Boston Daily Globe: September 15, 1894

The apprehension of the men only fueled the public’s already rabid interest in the murder.  The grand jury for Middlesex County indicted Sullivan, Foley, and Nagle jointly on charges of first-degree murder.  Some 200 Middlesex County residents were considered in the juror selection process, and many were dismissed on grounds of their opposition to capital punishment or due to disabilities. One man even claimed he was deaf, which the court clerk knew to be untrue.  Despite the clerk’s complaints, the judge dismissed the man, explaining ‘if he’s deaf, we don’t want him, and if he’s a liar, we don’t want him”.  So many dismissals eventually exhausted the juror list and the sheriff was ordered to recruit bystanders into the juror pool.  The sheriff creativity was proven when he summoned the eventual foreman of the jury, a Lowell grocer named Horace Ela, while he was making his rounds outside the Lowell courthouse in his delivery wagon.    
The trial was widely followed in the press.  The prosecution’s alleged that the men had come to Billerica on that September night to steal from the country barns, determined to eliminate anyone who opposed them, even if that meant murder.  They charged that their resistance to a lawful arrest led to Foster’s death and for that reason, they were guilty of murder.  The defense argued that the men had never left their families in Somerville on the night of the murder and therefore could not have set foot in Billerica or be responsible for Foster’s death.  In June 1895, the trial came to its end, with the men being found guilty of second-degree murder.  in January 1896, all exceptions had been resolved and the men were sentenced to life prison terms in Massachusetts State Prison. 
In 1904 and 1917, respectively, Nagle and Sullivan were ultimately pardoned.  Second thoughts about their guilt, and the realization that no evidence could be presented to conclusively prove who had fired the fatal shot that killed Foster, led to the pardons.  They came too late for Patrick Foley, however.  He died in prison in 1902 of tuberculosis.   
Sources:
  • Sherman, Edgar Jay.  Some Recollections of a Long Life.  Salem, MA:  Newcomb & Gauss, 1908.  Print.
  • “Midnight Murder in Billerica.”  The Lowell Daily Sun.  [Lowell, Massachusetts] 12 Sept. 1894: 1.
  • “Two Men Held on Suspicion.” The Boston Daily Globe. [Boston, Massachusetts] 13 Sept 1894: 1, 5.
  • “Under Arrest.”  The Lowell Daily Sun.  [Lowell, Massachusetts] 13 Sept. 1894: 1.
  • “Men Identified.”  The Lowell Daily Sun.  [Lowell, Massachusetts] 14 Sept. 1894: 1.
  • “Crowded Court.”  The Lowell Daily Sun.  [Lowell, Massachusetts] 24 Sept. 1894: 1.
  • “Foster Tragedy.”  The Lowell Daily Sun.  [Lowell, Massachusetts] 25 Sept. 1894: 1.
  • “Now the Defence.”  The Lowell Daily Sun.  [Lowell, Massachusetts] 26 Sept. 1894: 4.
  • “The Murder of ’94 Caused Great Excitement Out in Peaceful Billerica.”  The Lowell Sun.  [Lowell, Massachusetts] 3 Aug 1935: 5.
  • “For Nagle.”  The Boston Globe. [Boston, Massachusetts]  18 May 1904: 8.
  • “Freed After 23 Year Term.”   The Lowell Sun.  [Lowell, Massachusetts] 27 September 1917: 5.