Too late for justice

Final thoughts on A Rockland Murder Mystery
By Daniel Dunkle | Feb 21, 2019

I'll share a few final thoughts on the Dec. 30, 1918, murder of Carolyn Welt Brown.

As I read through all of the old articles in The Courier-Gazette from 1918 and 1919 on this, I was struck by a few things.

First, what would have happened if Ollie Tourlainen had not had an alibi? They had the flimsy evidence of the letter from the guy on Thomaston Street saying Ollie had terrorized his daughter, but that guy could have had an ax to grind. It seems clear that most of what made him a suspect was that he was foreign.

Seeing that bias in the investigation, not only against immigrants, but against outsiders in general, I can't help wondering how many innocent men suffered and died over at the prison in Thomaston in those days. It seems local people could not believe this crime could have been committed by a friend or neighbor in a city where everyone knows everyone, but it's possible that the killer lived his whole life in plain sight in Rockland. It should be noted that going to prison in Thomaston in those days was hard time. Prisoners worked in the quarry and some of the original cells were holes in the rock that prisoners were lowered into. That makes my claustrophobia act up.

Personally, I think the detectives should have looked more closely at the theater connection. The murder weapon was a stave from a theater van. A card from Park Theatre was left at the scene. And the man who followed Miss Mertie Young, the pianist from Empire Theatre, and banged a club on a telephone pole Jan. 14 seems relevant. Her father was following after her and may have scared him off.

They did question a theater employee at one point, but didn't pursue it further.

I suppose it is folly to try to solve the case based on old newspaper clippings, it being far too late for justice anyway.

Another striking feature was the level of detail given to the press early in the investigation. It's clear in reading the articles from 1918 and 1919 that the press had a very good relationship with the police and government, or at least that the government officials felt it was important to give information to the press.

At some point, this changed. For one thing, police often do not provide as much detail in cases today, because they can use that to trip up people they are interrogating. "How did you know it happened there or at this time? We never said that,"

I would argue that in those days you did not see as many lawsuits flying around, so police and public officials were not so worried about everything they said.

The reporters also were not afraid to go into gory detail in murder stories. They shared far more in those old articles than I did in this column. If the public had a problem with this, I didn't see any evidence of it.

The Courier-Gazette reporters and editors seemed to resent the intrusion of reporters from Boston and other big cities onto their turf. Our hometown paper openly lampooned Boston reporters for getting people's titles wrong and for not knowing local geography. One writer said the Boston reporters had moved entire buildings off their foundations.

This was somewhat hypocritical. The Courier-Gazette spelled the murder victim's name as Carolyn and Caroline alternately. Even her daughter's obituary in 1982 has the Caroline spelling. I ended up going with the spelling on her grave marker at Achorn Cemetery. The man from Finland, who was a suspect and later exonerated, had his name spelled numerous ways. Other locals had their middle initials changed from one story to the next.

To be fair, changing a typo today is much easier than it was in those days.

The Courier also scolded papers from Portland and Bath for preaching morals and police efficiency to the smaller Rockland, and argued they had plenty of unsolved cases themselves.

At the same time, the Courier did eventually write some mildly critical comments about the failure of the investigation to bring about results.

In addition to all of the police who worked on the case, a private detective named Cassidy came to the city from Hallowell, apparently on his own initiative (probably hoping to gain the $4,000 reward), and looked into it, but there's no indication he did any better than the other investigators.

One other interesting detail was the mention of a paranormal attempt at gathering evidence. In an article on Jan. 14, 1919, it was written:

"Clairvoyance was given its first trial in the case Sunday when Marshal Richardson, Patrolman Niles and detectives Green and Tarbox went to the house at the corner of Limerock and Claremont streets, where, according to a seeress, evidences of the crime would be discovered."

It didn't really yield much, but I would love to know more about who this "seeress" was. That would be worth a column if they had provided more detail.

Next week I promise to move on to a new topic, unless some reader sends in something worth including on this one.

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.

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Missed part one and two? Here are links:

https://knox.villagesoup.com/p/bias-derails-detectives-in-city-killing/1799347

https://knox.villagesoup.com/p/unsolved/1799317

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