Science Leads the Way

A Murder in Pittsfield, Massachusetts














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"Murder! Police! Help!"

 

May L. Fosburgh was the victim of one of Pittsfield, Massachusetts' most notorious unsolved murders.  In the early morning hours of August 20, 1900, shots rang out at the Fosburgh family home at the corner of Tyler Street and Woodlawn Avenue.  Shortly thereafter, twenty-four year old May Fosburgh was found dead with bullet wound to the heart. 

The family had arrived in Pittsfield just a few months prior to the murder.  The R. L. Fosburgh & Son Construction Company was in charge of constructing new buildings in Pittsfield for the rapidly expanding Stanley Electric Company, which later became part of the General Electric Company. The Fosburghs' claim that three masked men had broken into the house and shot May led to the largest manhunt in city history.  Despite all exits to the city being well covered, the three mysterious burglars were never found.  The family's story regarding the incident had several troubling inconsistencies which alerted prosecutors.

A few weeks after May's death, her brother Robert S. Fosburgh, Jr. was indicted for manslaughter.  The trial received national attention and a circus-like atmosphere prevailed.  Locally, the feeling was that the Fosburghs were covering up the true details to avoid a scandal.  The prosecution painted the picture of a fierce fight between father and son.  As May Fosburgh attempted to intervene, she was fatally shot.

The Fosburgh trial featured the early use of forensic science.  Ballistic and powder burn testing was conducted and presented into evidence.  Testing was conducted by Dr. Franklin Kittredge Paddock, Medical Examiner of Berkshire County, Dr. Frank W. Draper, Medical Examiner of Suffolk County, and Gen. Jephanus A. Whitney of the Massachusetts State Police.  Also testifying was Col. Charles A. R. Dimon, the mayor of Lowell, Massachusetts and manager of the United States Cartridge Company.  The witnesses testified that May Fosburgh was shot from just inches away, and not several feet away as maintained by the family.

After several days of riveting testimony, Judge William B. Stevens ended the trial, instructing the jury to acquit Robert L. Fosburgh, Jr.  It appears in this case that wealth and social prominence outweighed true justice.  So ended the most sensational murder trial in Berkshire County history. Soon after, the family left Pittsfield, never to return.

May Fosburgh is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York alongside the graves of her father, Robert Lloyd Fosburgh, and her mother, Esther Mair Stuart Fosburgh.


May Fosburgh's Murder Site Today
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Corner of Tyler Street and Woodlawn Avenue, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

In 1950, the Fosburgh's "house of mystery" was demolished to make way for a Sun Oil gas station.  At the time, the Pittsfield City Council's vote to demolish the dilapidated structure was unanimous in order to allow the city to "get rid of that awful place".  Today, an automotive glass company is located at the site.
















Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York GPS Coordinates: N 40.88830, W 73.87280
 
Murder Site, Pittsfield, Massachusetts GPS Coordinates: N 42.27239, W 73.14031

READ MORE:

A Brand New Book Released June 20, 2016!

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Also available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and from many fine independent book stores.

The Plains of Peace was said to be the final song sung by May Fosburgh on the evening of her murder:

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The Plains of Peace
 
Is the way so dark, O wanderer,
Is the hillcrest wild and steep,
Far, so far, the vale beyond thee,
Where the homelights vigil keep?
Still the goal lies far before thee,
Soon will fall on thee the night;
Breast the path that takes thee onward,
Fight the storm with all thy might.
Tho' thy heart be faint and weary,
Tho' thy footsteps fain would cease,
Journey onward—past the hillcrest
Lie for thee the Plains of Peace!
 
Is thy path so rough, O pilgrim,
Passing on thy way through life;
Deep the sorrows that beset thee,
Great the burden, wild the strife?
Tho' the hill of life be weary,
Tho' the goal of rest be far,
Set thy whole heart to endeavor,
Turn thy soul to yon bright star.
From the toiling, from the striving
There at last shall come release;
One shall bring thee past the hillcrest,
Home unto his Plains of Peace;
One shall bring thee past the hillcrest,
Home, Home, Home unto His Plains of Peace!
Clifton Bingham

 
Frank J. Leskovitz
1995-2017

fleskovitz@aol.com