FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Wrentham, Mass.. Oct. 13.— The case of Jane Toppan, the Massachusetts nurse who recently confessed to over 30 murders, by administering poison, may find a parallel here when the investigations into the trail of mysterious deaths that have, followed another woman, are complete.
A central figure of this latest case is Mrs. Jennie Guild, who is serving prison term for forging the name of her dead husband to a note payable to Sydney Withington, a hired man in the Guild home. Mr. Guild was 72 years old when he married his last wife, then Mrs. Jennie Wilbur, aged 30. Forty-four days after the wedding he died, after an illness of several days. The doctor's certificate gave inflammation of the intestines as the cause of death. Guild's children by former wives succeeded in having H. E. Ruggles appointed administrator.
A note for $275, in favor of Withington, appeared, but under suspicious circumstances. Withington and Mrs. Guild finally confessed it a forgery. In February, 1900, the woman first appeared here from Connecticut with Richard Lloyd. They passed as husband and wife, and purchased a farm. The couple quarreled.
Lloyd disappeared and has not been seen since. She dropped the name of Lloyd and took the name of Wilbur. Wilbur died in Windsor, Conn., in 1895. His death was sudden and accompanied by vomiting.
The couple's two children died soon afterward, it is said, of diphtheria. Guild's body will probably be exhumed.
[“May Be ‘Jane Toppan’ No. 2 – A Bunch of Mysterious Deaths of Wrentham.” The Indianapolis Sun (In.), Oct. 13, 1902, p. 10]
FULL TEXT: Sheldonville Mass, Oct. 24. – The digging up in the light of the full moon of the body of Mr. Benjamin H. Guild, from its grave in the Sheldonville Cemetery, where it was buried three months ago, and carting away the remains at 1 o’clock at night, on October 15, in an open wagon, disguised as a load of vegetables, with pumpkins, cabbages and potatoes thrown over the coffin, was the first step toward unraveling the mystery surrounding the death of a prominent citizen of this town.
This seemingly ghoulish proceeding was all the more remarkable from the fact that it was done by the orders of a court and coroner.
But the secrecy in which it was hoped to conduct the whole affair was of no avail.
By daylight the next morning all the surrounding towns were agog with what had been done.
Old Mr. Guild’s body had been dug up, and the liver, intestines and other viscera put in a jar and sent to the Harvard Medical College doctors to test for indications of poisoning.
That was enough to confirm the suspicions that had been current in the town ever since “Old Ben Guild” died, July 18.
Whispered gossip broke out into the open accusation that his comely widow gave her aged husband poison to get rid of him, secure his property and marry her young lover, Sydney Withington.
It was the most startling thing that had ever occurred in the quiet, sleepy little hamlet of Sheldonville, nestling among the hills, on the outskirts of the historic old town of Wrentham.
Wise heads were nodded and shoulders shrugged.
“No more than I expected, when old Ben Guild went courtin’ that gay young widow down in Franklin,” said a neighbor.
The woman against whom these dark suspicions are directed, Mrs. Jennie A. Guild, once a nurse, is now in the Massachusetts prison for women in Sherborn, 25 miles away from here, and the man who many believe was in league with her is in the reformatory at Concord.
Mrs. Guild is serving a 15-month’s sentence for forging a note on her dead husband’s estate, and Wilmington is under an indeterminate sentence for complicity in the same affair.
It was this forged note, in fact, which aroused the suspicion of Associate Judge Henry E. Ruggles, of the Western District of Norfolk county, and led him to take steps against the dashing young widow Guild and Sydney Withington.
Securing their conviction on this charge was the first move in getting the suspected persons in the clutches of the law, so that they might not escape – and thus gain time for the State to prepare its evidence on the poisoning charge.
A matter of this sort is always slow. The chemical experts usually require from two to six weeks to make their analysis of the body to find out whether poison actually has been administered, and if so, what kind.
Then a search has to be made to find out if poison of this sort has been sold to any of the suspected persons and their accomplices.
While the mills of justice are thus at work to determine the fate of Jennie O. Guild, the blue-eyed, flaxen-haired widow, almost girlish-looking, is prostrated in her cell at Sheraton, and her 65-year-old father, Elisha D. Lewis, the venerable and respected sexton of the Congressional church at Hebron, Conn., bowed with grief.
It was not so many years ago that Jennie Lewis was an attendant at the Sunday-school, later a member of the Hebron Congregational Church, and a leading worker in the King’s Daughters’ religious society.
Then came her marriage in 1881 under the same church roof, when she was only 18 years old, to Nathan G. Wilbur, a respected young farmer. They went to live in the nearby Connecticut town of Windsor.
It was on November 4, 1892, that a series of tragic events began to be woven about Jennie Lewis Wilbur’s life. They have been sick about 10 days with a stomach complaint. They were pretty boys, 3 and 9 years old, Leroy and Tracy. They were buried quickly the day after their death, both in the same grave.
No breath of suspicion was attached at the time to the circumstances of their death. The mother’s grief excited the sympathy of the whole community and she wrote three touching verses about her lost children that appeared in the village paper.
Three years later, on August 27, 1895, her young husband suddenly passed away. He had been sick only a few days with violent vomiting. Dr. Bell, who attended the patient, in the death certificate which is issued stated cancer of the stomach as the cause of death. Mrs. Wilbur again wrote some poetry.
A member of the Wilbur household at that time was Richard A. Lloyd. He had done some carpenter work for the Wilburs, building a small addition to their cottage. After Mr. Wilbur’s death he helped the young widow to settle up the estate. It was small, to be sure, a village home amounting to about $2,500, but enough for the young widow to but a farm and be independent.
Then the first cloud came over her fair name. she and Richard Lloyd left the town together.
It was on February 20, 1900, that a man and woman calling themselves Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd went to the law office of Judge Henry E. Ruggles, in Franklin, Mass., and asked him to make out a deed to a farm which they intended to purchase in the adjoining town of West Wrentham, in the Sheldonville district.
From questioning the two people Judge Ruggles made up his mind that they were not man and wife, but had nothing to prove it and so made out the deed in the name of Jennie A. Lloyd. She said she had previously lived in Bridgeport, Conn. The farm was soon after conveyed to her from the Benjamin Follet estate.
Jennie and Richard went to live on their farm that spring, and brought their vegetables during the summer to Franklin to sell.
People on the streets admired the farmer’s wife, who sat so demurely by his side on the wagon. She was not a beauty, to be sure, for her features were irregular, but her complexion was fresh and clear, her hair a light, natural blonde, and her eyes were blue.
Then it began to be called about that the blue-eyed, little country woman wasn’t leading a happy life with her husband – that he drank and treated her badly.
That fall she was observed going into Judge Ruggles’ law office again, and it became known that she was trying to get a separation from Richard Lloyd and to gain dole possession of the farm which her money had brought. This she succeeded in doing.
Last October she went into Franklin and got a position as nurse and housekeeper in the handsome home of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Young through a serious illness. While there she was known as Miss Wilbur.
In March she gave up her position and took a room in the Fletcher Building, on Main street. She put up a sign as dressmaker. Business was slow in coming to her, but she was not discouraged. She had many friends.
One of her most frequent callers was Benjamin H. Guild, of Sheldonville, “Uncle Ben,” as he was called, was known to everybody in town, as he had been born there 72 years ago. He was once a wealthy hat manufacturer. He lost most of his money at one time, but recovered from it and went into the wood business on his Sheldonville farm.
Ben Guild had been married twice. His last wife died seven years ago. After this things began to look dilapidated around the Guild farm. The buildings needed painting and a careless old housekeeper had allowed confusion and dirt to prevail inside the house.
But after old Mr. Guild began to pay attention to the blue-eyed “Miss” Wilbur last spring things took on a new air at the old farm. The house got a coat of white paint, and a lot of new furniture was moved in.
The upshot of it was that old Mrs. Guild household. The aged husband declined to sign the papers. He was suspicious of his wife and Sydney Withington, his hired man. Jealously had changed his fondly anticipated honeymoon into a season of bitterness.
The friendly relations of the young wife and Sydney Withington were the gossip of the neighbors. They were seen out riding together behind a pair of handsome black horses that Withington was anxious to buy from a nearby farmer, George A. Allen, who asked $275 for the team.
On July Benjamin Guild was taken sick with vomiting. After the first day this symptom ceased, but the old man gradually sank.
Dr. Solon Abbott, of Franklin, was summoned. He was puzzled by the case. He had never attended Mr. Guild before. In fact, it was a great many years since Mr. Guild had had any doctor. He was generally in the best of health, and when he did feel ailing he doctored himself with old-fashioned remedies of rum and quinine.
One day, as Mr. Guild lay sick, his young wife dashed off to Franklin in her buggy. She went to the law office of Judge Henry E. Ruggles and consulted him about her rights in the Guild property.
She returned that night. She and Withington sat up with Mr. Guild, who was apparently growing worse. Dr. Abbott again called and did what he could for his patient.
At 1 o’clock the next morning Benjamin Guild died. Only his young wife and Withington were with him.
Dr. Abbott issued a certificate stating that death resulted from entero-colitis. This is an inflammatory bowel trouble. An irritant poison like arsenic might produce similar symptoms and effects.
Even then there were ugly rumors that Ben Guild had been poisoned. Richard A. Lloyd, with whom Mrs. Guild had formerly lived, had declared that she had poisoned her first husband, Nathan G. Wilbur.
But this was at first discredited as the story of a jealous man who had a quarrel with her and took a dastardly revenge in this way.
Mrs. Guild summoned Undertaker Farrington, of Franklin, to embalm Mrs. Guild’s body the day he died. Two days later the remains were buried in the Sheldonville Cemetery.
That very afternoon Mrs. Guild applied to the court to be appointed as administrator. This was supposed by the three other heirs. Mrs. Henry Ward, on the streets of Franklin.
The following day Mrs. Guild applied to the court to be appointed by the three other heirs, Mrs. Lyman B. Hancock, of Plainville, Mass., Benjamin Guild’s daughter, and Elmer B. Guild and Frederick A. Guild, of South Farmingham, the old man’s grandsons by a deceased son.
All the heirs finally agreed on the appointment of Judge Henry E. Ruggles as administrator.
The say following Judge Ruggles drove over to the Guild farm to take possession and look over the property.
Mrs. Guild then spoke to the Judge about a note that Sydney Withington held against the estate. The next time Judge Ruggles went to the farm, July 27, Withington himself spoke about a note, showed it and demanded payment.
Judge Ruggles had heard rumors of poisoning and of Mrs. Guild’s flagrant conduct with Withington.
When the note was shown him his suspicions were heightened and he made up his mind it was a forgery. He got the note in his possession for a few hours and submitted it to experts from Boston, who pronounced it a forgery.
State Detective George C. Pratt then set to work to get together all possible facts hearing of the forgery and possible poisoning.
Judge Ruggles and District Attorney Asa P. French placed this evidence before the grand jury on September 2. indictments were issued against Mrs. Jennie A. Guild and Sydney Withington for forging and uttering a note. The arrests were made September 6 by Deputy Sheriff Fitzpatrick.
Six days later both prisoners broke down and confessed. Withington had written the body of the note, they said, and Mrs. Guild had forged the signature of “B. H. Guild,” using an old check of Guild’s as a guide. This was done on the Saturday that Mr. Guild’s body lay in the house.
Sentences were imposed upon Mrs. Guild and Withington.
But instead of this ending the affair, it was only the beginning. Medical Examiner Gallison, District Attorney French, State Detective Pratt and Judge Ruggles then set to work to probe the poisoning mystery.
Among the first steps were the midnight exhuming of Guild’s body, the autopsy and sending the viscera to the Harvard Medical College for Professor Wood to make an analysis.
One of the difficulties in the matter which Medical Examiner Gallison points out is that if arsenic had been administered to Mr. Guild, it would be practically impossible to prove it, because the embalming fluid which was injected into his body has been embalmed with a solution of arsenic.
If, on the other hand, analkaloidal poison like strychnia, morphia or opium were used, its presence can be detected by a chemist even though the body has been embalmed with a solution of arsenic.
It is said be the neighbors around the Guild place that Mrs. Guild was absent from home a few days between June 20 and July 4, and it is believed she was in Connecticut.
Judge Henry E. Ruggles is anxious to know just where she was during that time. He is also tracing as far as able all sales of poison made about that time by druggists in the neighboring districts of Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
After these facts are got together and the Harvard College chemists have made a report on the analysis of Benjamin Guild’s body, it is expected that the State authorities will be able to unravel the mystery that now surrounds the people who have played such a prominent part in this tragic affair.
[“Was She A Wholesale Poisoner? – Story Of A Young Woman Who Is Under Arrest, Suspected Of A Number Of Murders.” The Sun (Baltimore, Md.), Oct. 26, 1902, p. 12]
Benjamin H. Guild, died Jul. 18, 1902 (husband, married, Jun. 4, 1902)
Leroy Wilbur, 3, son, died Nov. 4, 1892
Tracy Wilbur, 9, son, died Nov. 4, 1892
Nathan G. Wilbur, died Aug. 27, 1894 (husband, married 1881)
For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.