“Ada Mills a Recluse Is Victim”

“Ghastly Tragedy Brings Strange End to Lonely Life”

The above headlines in the Bangor Daily News on Monday, July 13, 1936, shocked the state of Maine and the small town of Camden.

Ada Elva Leadbetter was born on Vinalhaven on April 7, 1859 to Debra Young and John Leadbetter, both of Vinalhaven. She moved to Camden around 1876 and married Seth Mills on Dec. 12, 1889, when she was approximately 30 years of age.

Seth Mills had received his deed to the homestead and farm, situated in Camden, containing 53½ acres, conveyed to him by DeFloris Mills on Sept. 5, 1876 (recorded in Book 45, Page 292).  There was also a woodlot of 18 acres and 106 rods conveyed to Seth by David Mills on April 26, 1889.  On the same date, a mountain lot measuring 26 acres was conveyed to him by Hiram and David Mills.

Seth Mills died on Aug. 27, 1915 and poor Ada was left to fend for herself in a rather secluded spot, where Camden’s Oak Hill Cemetery is located today. Two years after his death, she had to pay $700 for the property, as apparently it was only in his name.

The schedule of personal estates is always fun to read today, because it is so different from our values.  For instance, it listed a hay rack for $3, jigger wagon for $10, wheelbarrow for $1.50, three sleighs for $1.50, a clock and dishes 50 cents, four quilts for $2 and a parlor stove for $1.50.

At the age of 70 years, Ada Mills made out her will. But for some unknown reason, seven years later and just before she was killed, she deemed herself unfit by age/ infirmity and appointed Bertha Greenlaw to take care of her affairs.

People liked her and some would take her vegetables from their garden or help her when she needed it. She worked around the lot quite a bit and was friendly. One neighbor said what a fine mind she had, especially in history and geography. Ada loved her farm. She could see from her front door a great sweep of woodland, sloping down toward Hosmer’s Pond, and beyond that Bald Mountain. Her home became more and more dilapidated over time after her husband died and some of the windows were boarded up.

She would walk to Camden (about two miles) to visit friends.Two people who I know today, remember her as wearing a long black cloak and a wide-brimmed black hat.  Children, when they saw her dressed that way, wondered if she were a witch.

One day she appeared at the home of Mr. And Mrs. Clay Clark, who lived about a mile way and said: ”I heard a noise in the cellar, and I am a little afraid. I have some money in the house.” Mr. Clark told her to wait until he finished milking and he would go home with her, but she didn’t want to wait. As far as could be determined that was the last time anyone saw her alive.

When she wasn’t seen for a few days a group of townspeople began to search her property. She was not in the house and only $30 was found in a pocketbook that was hidden in her bed. She had just sold some of her property to the town of Camden, which needed room for another cemetery. She did not want to sell and have a graveyard nearby while she was living there. Eventually she did sell part of it, provided the town would not contaminate her well and would not cut down some of the woodlot. Camden paid her $2,500, but she immediately took it to the bank. The town wanted the land across the road, but she refused to sell any more.

The town manager, Percy Kellar, along with Fire Chief Allen Payson, many firemen and town citizens made a search. They were attracted by a shout from Percy Kellar, who found her badly beaten body under a little bit of brush some rods distant from the house.  A crowbar was nearby, with blood but no fingerprints on it. She had been choked, with marks on her neck, apparently by strong hands, and she took a terrific beating to the head. Also present at the time the body was discovered were Deputy Sheriff Allie Pillsbury and State Patrolman George Shaw, who immediately took charge until Sheriff Earl Ludwick could arrive.

They believed that robbery was the motive, but at the same time two men from Maine State Prison had escaped and had been seen in Rockport. However the footprints did not match theirs. Two hundred men, including men from the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp joined in the search for the convicts.

Many experts were called in on the case, but they had no answers. Within a week Attorney General Clyde R. Chapman, on behalf of the dtate of Maine, offered a $1,000 reward for the detection, arrest and conviction of the person or persons who killed Ada Mills.

Meanwhile, she had a nephew who died, but it was too late for Ada Mills to receive that inheritance.

Many rumors went around the small town of Camden about who perhaps was guilty, but to this day that brutal murder has never been solved.

I do want to thank Lester Dickey, who came to my home one day to see what I knew about the case. He wasn’t born when it happened, but is great at researching and had more information on it than I did. He kindly shared some of it with me for this article.

Next will be about a busy, business family.


Barbara F. Dyer has lived all her life, so far, in Camden and is referred to as the unofficial official town historian.