I was in a folklore class and was required to look in old town or church records for an argument from historical records. This is what I found, and is very accurate (in fact, a recreation of the court trial was held recently, with the same verdict!) This is the account of an actual paranormal event in the town records of Fairfield, Vermont:
Wouldn’t you know that I’d develop bronchitis this week, which prevented me from going out and searching records and such. Thus, I fell back on my history of Fairfield book (Fairfield Vermont Reminiscences). Going through there, looking for an argument or clash of some kind wasn’t easy. I think the authoress preferred to report only the good things. However, I found something! This book was written in 1977, by the way, but the incident was in 1840. Thus, what I found out (which was quite a surprise) was concerning a crime committed and the subsequent trial. The second most amazing thing was the evidence, which condemned the man. The first? Keep reading.
When I first moved to Vermont, I was 13. Within two years, my family had made friends with some local farmers, one of them being Randy Jettie. I was always into ghost stories, and Randy told me a doozy one night. It was one I enjoyed and even read about in several other books on ghostly tales. During my research, however, I found that it wasn’t a ghost story at all! The events are documented in history, and have endured due to a combination of fact and such intrigue that rather than being passed down as truth, it is handed person to person as legend. (For those who are unaware, Fairfield Pond is actually a lake in the heart of Fairfield, Vermont.)
It is the story of Dream Lake.
In the early 1840’s a British Army deserter named Eugene Clifford settled in the area of Fairfield Pond, Vermont. He wasn’t very well liked by the populace. One woman, however, apparently admired him enough to marry him and produce a child. She had been a widow with an inheritance of 50 acres from her first marriage. As time went on, Eugene Clifford developed an interest for another woman, a widow with acreage of land on the other side of the lake. On Sunday, October 16, 1842 he came home from work and told his wife he’d like to take her and their child out for a boat ride. She instantly wrapped the baby in a scarf and put on herself a prize Irish scarf she had, and followed her husband to the boat. Several hours after leaving, the boat returned with only Eugene left. He was sagged and weeping bitterly.
When the neighbors questioned him, he said that his wife had moved to wrap her own shawl around the baby but the boat rocked violently with her movements and threw both woman and child into the freezing lake. They drown. There was still daylight, so the neighbors searched for the bodies until dark. The next day they took up the search once more and found what they sought. The two bodies were not far from shore and were several feet apart: dead.
The double funeral was being planned when a neighbor recalled the prized shawls. However, upon questioning as to the whereabouts, Eugene Clifford replied, “How should I know?” A search was started, but as nothing turned up, suspicion began to fall on the part of the husband. The neighbors started to suspect murder. Then a group of men recalled that a few weeks previously, Eugene had been sitting with them in the store and asked, “If my wife and child should die, would I inherit that 50-acre farm of hers free and clear?” As soon as that was recovered, Eugene was arrested and held for murder. However, as the evidence was circumstantial, he was only being held not cited.
A new piece of evidence showed up the night of the arrest, from the unlikeliest source.
Mrs. Abigail Marvin was the closest friend of Mrs. Clifford, the deceased woman. She had a dream. In the dream she followed roads and crossed fences and meadows, and found a particular place near Fairfield Pond where a hollowed out tree stood. In the tree was a flat rock, and under the rock were the prize shawls. Mrs. Marvin woke up and told her husband, who laughed and said she was overwrought.
Abigail, certain it was no ordinary dream, got a neighbor to accompany her. They followed the dream path until they found the hollow tree. Inside was a flat stone. Underneath? The prized shawls! Her dream had been correct. She brought the evidence to court, and Clifford was convicted of double homicide.
Now, Fairfield Pond is also called Dream Lake.
--- Okay, so that’s the historical story. The account I had from Randy Jettie, of course, had taken on a couple of new twists, such as the child being a boy, the shawls having blood on them, and the spirit of the woman walking the shores at night. However, think of my surprise when I found a real account of this murder and weird conviction in the historical books of the area.
Why do I say the conviction was weird? Think about it a bit. In today’s court, they would use forensics to make certain that this man had really killed the two victims. They would use DNA, ‘reenact’ the deaths, and get a confession. However, according to the records, the evidence of motive was the only thing they had until one woman had a dream. Then, due to a dream, which lead to the shawls, the man was condemned as a murderer. In today’s court, the suspicion would suddenly jump to include the friend, since she’d found the scarves based on a ‘dream’. What court today would immediately find a man guilty of murder with only the three following pieces of evidence?
1) He said he didn’t know where the shawls were.
2) He had been heard asking about inheritance a few weeks earlier.
3) The deceased’s best friend dreamed about the location of the missing shawls and found them.
Wouldn’t the modern courts try to figure out FIRST if the woman had helped murder the pair and planted the evidence to condemn her partner? If someone else had found the shawls and perhaps put them in the tree as a sort of burial? If the man had been so grief stricken that he had ‘buried’ the only thing he’d found of the pair before going back to the proper shore? After all, he had been out several hours and the bodies were found close to shore. He’d been ‘grief-stricken’ and grief can cause memory blackouts. He may have only been able to recover the shawls from the water and ‘buried’ them, but forgotten that he’d done so.
Naturally, my ‘questions’ are not all that can be asked, and may not lead to any alternate decision by the courts on his conviction, but they would be asked today. Back then? Apparently, one could be convicted of murder on the evidence of a dream.