2018-08-02 / Editorial

See ‘Buried in Time’ at library

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By Leslie Rounds

As you may have heard, History Press recently published our new book, “Laurel Hill Cemetery of Saco, Maine.” Although part of the book is a history of the cemetery itself, a larger portion is stories about the people buried there. I love interesting stories about people who lived right here, long ago. Some of the stories we discovered astounded me.

Asa Wentworth died at the age of 62 in 1877. He’s buried in a large family plot, alongside his first and second wives, four children who died very young, two of his adult children and a couple grandchildren. There’s little to distinguish that plot from numerous others in the cemetery but Asa had a remarkable experience in his life.

Asa came to Saco in the mid-1840s. He’d been born in Lowell, Massachusetts, but up until he moved to Saco, he’d mostly operated small, fairly unsuccessful inns and taverns. He’d served a short stint in jail for selling liquor without a license. In early 1845, a tax collector from Manchester, New Hampshire was murdered there one frigid night. The hapless fellow had been carrying, it was said, a very large amount of cash in two packets. One of those was found to be missing when his body, throat deeply slashed, was discovered the morning after he’d been heard by several people, shrieking, “Murder!” the previous night. The murderer left behind his weapon, an odd shoemaker’s knife that had been sharpened to a fine point.

Suspicion quickly fell on Asa and his younger brother, Henry Wentworth. Some people claimed to have seen Henry in the vicinity that night, looking pale and acting strange. A year later, with the crime still unsolved, Asa’s wife, Eliza, was heard by many to say that if he provoked her further, she would reveal all that she knew of the crime. By this time, Asa was operating the large, very busy Saco House hotel. Some suspicious neighbors thought it was a recent influx of cash – from the theft and murder – that had enabled him to take up business there. In fact, deeds indicate that he didn’t own the hotel but was only renting it. In February 1849, Asa and Henry were arrested for the murder, but then released when it was found that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge them. The following spring, in 1850, just after two of Asa’s toddlers had died, he, Henry and Eliza were all arrested again.

Charges against Eliza were eventually dropped, but Henry and Asa were bound over for the grand jury. It was only many months later that they were finally released. However, at the end of Asa’s life, as he lay dying, many anticipated a deathbed confession – which never came. Later, the Wentworth’s defense attorney, Benjamin Butler (who would become an infamous Civil War general after the hearing) supposedly told the remaining Wentworths that he had known for years that the true murderer was a man from Massachusetts who was later convicted of and executed for the murder of his wife and two daughters – with an odd, sharpened shoemaker’s knife. Quite a story.

To learn more, please visit our summer exhibit at the Saco Museum: “Buried in Time: Hidden Stories from Laurel Hill Cemetery,” Or read the book!

Leslie Rounds is executive director of Dyer Library/Saco Museum.

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