Bias derails detectives in city killing

Part 2: A Rockland Murder Mystery
By Daniel Dunkle | Feb 14, 2019
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle The grave of Carolyn Welt Brown, who was murdered in 1918, at Achorn Cemetery in Rockland.

Carolyn Welt Brown, age 47, of Rockland, was laid to rest at Achorn Cemetery Sunday morning, Jan. 5, 1919.

Brown, who was described as exceedingly popular and prominent in local society, had been murdered Dec. 30, 1918, beaten to death as she walked home late that night on Limerock Street, after visiting friends at the Hotel Rockland.

About 50 people attended funeral services, which were kept private for family and friends. Surely a large crowd would have attended otherwise, as news of the murder had enthralled not only the entire city, but newspaper readers all over New England.

Members of the Silent Sisters' Club, to which Brown had belonged, attended and provided a large cluster of roses. The group organized events in the community, but I have not been able to learn much about them.

Brown was buried next to her husband, Harry E. Brown, who had died in 1915. The Rev. Pliny A. Allen of The Church Immanuel Universalist officiated. Her 24-year-old daughter, Madelyn Brown Rhodes, and her husband, William, were also likely in attendance. Brown had lived with them on Broadway. We can guess that they were anxious to see the killer brought to justice.

In that, they were not alone. The state of Maine and the city of Rockland were offering $1,000 each as reward for information leading to the prosecution of her murderer and local groups added $2,000 to that, making a total reward offering of $4,000. That's the equivalent of $60,000 today, and you could buy a house with $4,000 in 1919.

In addition to the forces of the city police under City Marshal A. P. Richardson and County Sheriff J. Crosby Hobbs, the Attorney General's Office had assigned Special Agent Fred A. Tarbox to the case. Criminologist Dr. George B. Magrath, who had worked on some of the most famous criminal cases in New England, arrived in the city to help, as did Division Superintendent Green of the Pinkerton Detectives.

Brown had been beaten to death between 10 and 11 p.m. near the corner of Limerock and Broad streets. Left at the scene were the murder weapon, a two-and-a-half-foot-long birch sled stake taken from a theater van in Post Office Square, and a bloody card used to advertise Park Theatre the week of Dec. 30. Since Brown had not attended the theater event, it was believed this item had belonged to the murderer. There were also footprints, size 9 or 10, in the snow.

Investigators reported that they did not believe the club could be fingerprinted.

The exact time of the murder never seemed to be established firmly. Witnesses who said they saw Brown walking home that night differed on the timing, some saying she left Hotel Rockland around 10:20, others seeing her on Limerock Street around 9:50 and still another saying he heard the blows delivered around 11 p.m.

The detectives quickly set their sights on one prime suspect, a man described in numerous news stories as a "Finn," because he was from Finland and didn't even speak English. The articles spelled his name numerous ways, but seemed to eventually settle on Ollie Tourlainen. He was described as 5-feet-10 or -11. He had broad shoulders, a dark complexion, dark moustache, and the thumb on his left hand was missing or mutilated.

The strongest evidence was a letter sent to a detective by Aleck Johnson of Thomaston Street, who said Ollie had twice broken into his house, at one point entering the room of his daughter and frightening her so that she ran from the room screaming "murder." The newspaper reported that this suspect was a "bad actor where women are concerned," and often boasted of his conquests.

Based on this, the suspect was arrested in Jay and brought back to Rockland for questioning, but he had a solid alibi. He had left Rockland the morning before the murder and arrived in Riley, where he was seen working on a mail crew. The morning after the crime, he worked at the International Pulp and Paper Company, and was nowhere near Rockland. He was exonerated, but they went ahead and deported him anyway.

The investigation had been derailed. Other clues also led nowhere. For a while the police were interested in the source of a piece of bloody clothing found in a wheel rut in the street near the scene of the incident, only to have Miss Catherine Lynn, a local tailoress, testify that she had seen the garment there the day before the murder took place.

There was growing reason to believe women in the city were in danger. Prior to the Brown murder, on July 11, Mrs. Raymond E. Small had been beaten with a stone on South Main Street and was found lying in a pool of water. She was taken to Knox Hospital. She eventually identified Frank S. Mansfield as the man who assaulted her, and he was arrested out of town as well, but Army records confirmed he was not in Rockland on either July 11 or Dec. 30.

Several women reported having been chased in various parts of the city by a man with a flashlight.

On Jan. 14, it was reported that a man exposed himself to Miss Mertie Young, a pianist from the Empire Theatre, who was walking home. He carried a club and banged on a telephone pole with it.

A young woman found with a bruise on the back of her head and unconscious in the street in Belfast at first reported having been assaulted by a man, but when the city marshal told her she would have to appear in court and prove her charge, she changed her story to say that she had fainted.

The articles gradually became more critical and expressed frustration. "Men of shrewd judgment and long years of experience are working on this case, but among them is no Sherlock Holmes..."

It is sad to think that Carolyn Welt Brown and her family never received justice. Her daughter and son-in-law are now buried with her up at Achorn. Madelyn Rhodes died in June 1982 at the age of 87 in Newington, Conn.

Missed last week's column? Click here: https://knox.villagesoup.com/p/unsolved/1799317

Editor Daniel Dunkle of The Courier-Gazette lives in Rockland. He is author of the novel, "The Scrimshaw Worm." Send in your stories, photos and memories via email at: ddunkle@villagesoup.com; or snail mail to: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841. Vintage Ink columns rely on back issues of The Courier-Gazette for source material. Other sources will be cited specifically.

-30-

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.