Friday, April 18, 2014
WATERVILLE — It was a grisly murder, one that haunted the city for decades.
SPIRITED: Members of Paranormal Research and Extermination assemble at the Edward E. Mathew gravesite at Pine Grove Cemetery in Waterville recently. The group is trying to record the spirit of Mathews, who was the first murder victim in Waterville in 1847. From left are Naomi and Kris Robinson, Jim Easler, Chris Clarke and Allie Turner.
Staff photo by David Leaming
RIP: The grave marker of Edward E. Mathews in Pine Grove Cemetery in Waterville. Mathews is the first recorded murder victim in Waterville in 1847.
Staff photo by David Leaming
It was Sept. 29, 1847, and Edward E. Mathews was throwing an elaborate party in a downtown hotel.
A wealthy man, Mathews had earned his fortune by buying and selling cattle and after a particularly fruitful sale, liked to celebrate.
He and his friends drank, ate and reveled into the night at the Williams House hotel, which was near where GHM Insurance Agency is today on Main Street.
Around 8 p.m., Mathews announced he had an appointment and must leave. He told his guests to continue having fun and he would return later.
Mathews, however, never came back. The next day, his body was found in the cellar of a nearby vacant house, his head bashed in and his money and watch stolen.
It was the first recorded murder in Waterville and it sent shock waves through the city.
At first, Mathews’ death appeared to be the result of a random robbery, but as time wore on, it became clear something more sinister had occurred.
Valorous Coolidge, a doctor who had helped perform the autopsy on Mathews, had poisoned him with acid, investigators said, according to Morning Sentinel accounts. Coolidge, who was heavily in debt and needed cash, killed Mathews and bashed his head with a hatchet, according to investigators.
Mathews’ prized possession, a watch, was found in Coolidge’s sleigh.
He was later convicted of murder and sent to prison. But many city residents were not convinced Coolidge did the deed. The doctor had a stellar reputation, was an excellent surgeon and was well liked throughout the city. He could not possibly be a killer, they said. But others disagreed.
Now, 166 years later, questions linger about what really happened that fateful night in 1847. City officials, too, see the renewed interest in the case and Pine Grove Cemetery where Edwards is buried as important links to Waterville’s history and future.
In modern times, investigators trying to solve murders typically gather evidence, interview witnesses and pursue a motive.
But when a murder is 166 years old, that method isn’t practical.
Unless, that is, if you are Chris Clarke, of Paranormal Research and Extermination.
Clark, of Fairfield, and several members of his group have been researching the Mathews murder for the last several weeks and spending time in cemetery.
They spent a recent night there, filming with a night vision digital recorder, voice recorders and an electromagnetic field detector. They plan to return several more times in November. They hope to communicate with Mathew’s spirit, but haven’t yet, they said.
“Spirits generate an electromagnetic field and when they cross in front of the sensor, it beeps, so we know it’s there,” said Clarke, 26, Monday. “We pan the camera around and try to entice them out. We’re not there to hurt them or take over their home.”
To some people, what Clarke and his group does sounds crazy. But they are serious about their work, which they hope will shed light on what happened to Mathews the night he was killed.
“We’re not in it for the money,” said member Kris Robinson, 36, of Waterville, a former ordained minister who now deals in antiques and collectibles. “We’re doing this for our town — that we’re very proud of being in.”
Robinson’s wife, Naomi, 30, said the ultimate goal is to shed light on unsolved mysteries in the city.
“The Mathews/Coolidge case is a perfect example,” she said.
Clarke’s girlfriend, Allie Turner, 28, of Fairfield, has spent many hours in the Waterville Public Library, poring over information about the case.
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