The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


March 18, 2012

The McAdams mystery


Rebecca passes

Jeanette vanished for a few months, then returned in early February 1851. Rebecca was ill, and Jeanette’s presence and assistance were welcomed. Late in the evening of Feb. 6, 1851, Jeanette climbed the stairs to her mother’s room with a cup of hot tea, a concoction the doctor had ordered — or so Jeanette claimed. Rebecca accepted the panacea in good faith.

Alexander was downstairs by the hearth when he heard the familiar wail of the dying. Once, twice, then three times the wail was heard, moving closer and closer to the house until it seemed to stand beneath the window of his wife’s room. Entering the bedroom, Alexander heard a groan, the last sound his wife would make.

Rebecca, 51, was laid to rest next to her five children. “Rebecca, Rebecca! The curse has taken you,” sobbed Alexander as the coffin was lowered into the February earth. “Who will be next?”

His eyes survived the mourners and locked into the abyss of Jeanette’s dark soul. “I guess, I am the next; the next, and last,” he murmured.

Three months passed. Jeanette returned to her father’s house, and shortly after arriving, wrote a letter, sealed it in an envelope and asked her father to mail it for her the next day. She showed no concern for the gray-haired, grieving man or that six members of the family had died in a matter of three years. She was much more concerned that the letter be mailed promptly.

Finally, Alexander McAdams could no longer tolerate his daughter’s odd behavior. There had been so many bizarre events surrounding her visits to the farm — her mysterious disappearances at night, the suit of men’s clothing kept in the trunk, the mournful sound heard outside every time a family member died, and, of course, the deaths themselves. Neighbors felt it surely must have been a poison that turned the ruddy children white as chalk and robbed McAdams of the wife of his youth. And they could not help but speak of the shabby man who who wandered into town every time Jeanette came to visit.

McAdams pondered these mysteries as he traveled toward the village with Jeanette’s letter. He could no more contain his doubts than he could his grief. McAdams ripped open the envelope and discovered therein Jeanette’s plan to do away with her father.

Alexander returned to the farm house and confronted his daughter, who quickly gathered her few belongings and left.

A year or so later, Jeanette returned to the village, this time as a member of a band of gypsies. They camped along Field Brook, which ran to the east of the McAdams farm. Alexander took a stroll through their camp one evening and spotted Jeanette. Recognizing her father, she turned and ran into the woods, leaving only the darkness behind.

Years passed with no sign of Jeanette in the village. The Civil War came, and it was rumored that the McAdams girl, who had felt so much at home in the guise of a man, had found work as a spy for the South.

Midway through the war, Alexander’s second wife, Eliza, died at the age of 54, and was laid to rest with the other six loved ones Alexander previously committed to the earth.

One night as old McAdams sat by his fire, rain pelting the window like the relentless grief that hammered his soul, there was a knock at the door. It was a tramp; dirty, ill- fitting clothes hanging on his frame, the stench of poverty on his body, yet no whiskers on his face.

“I want food. I am hungry. I have not had food for two days,” the tramp said bluntly.

As McAdams watched the tramp devour the meal, their eyes met and the old man suddenly recognized therein the darkness of the one who had caused him so much grief.

Jeanette left the familiar abode, head bowed, hands thrust deep into the pockets of her trousers, rain soaking her disguise. Soon darkness was swallowed by night, never to be seen again on the McAdams farm.

Alexander McAdams never asked for formal inquiry into the apparent poisoning deaths of his family. Local doctors did investigate cookware and water as possible culprits. It is likely Alexander, who died in 1876, knew the truth and took it to his grave.

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