Friday, March 28, 2008

Mysterious Disappearances--Charolette Ashmore


On a warm, humid mosquito-ridden evening of July 21, 1878, a young girl named Charlotte Ashmore, six years young, skipped out of the front door of her family’s farm house near Quincy, Massachusetts. She intended to do a quick chore of getting some eggs out of the hen house for her widowed mother Amanda. Her family farm house, located on a small and humble parcel of land, was a mere half-mile from the birth place homesteads of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Coincidentally, on her mother’s side, Charlotte was a distant relation to these American presidents. For this errand Charlotte carried a wicker basket, woven by her paternal grandmother Dora before the grandmother suffered an incapacitating injury falling off a pier. Despite that the henhouse was located more than a hop, skip and a jump away, Charlotte had told her mother before leaving that this was exactly how she planed to travel the distance. Her mother had smiled at her plucky daughter’s ambitious plan. The mother stroked the rounded, pink cheek of her child’s bright shining face. Later, the mother reported this innocent maternal touch sparked a chill and a sense of dread. Speculate as you will on the connection: It would be the last time she would see or touch her beloved and only child.

The full story of missing Charlotte is told by Boston author Winston Giggins in his privately printed pamphlet entitled Missing Charlotte, dated September 14, 1881, and subject to two other private re-printings in 1882. Collaborating the story are two a short news items in the Quincy Journal and Times, dated September 1, 1878, and September 16, 1878 under the respective titles "Missing Child" and "Public Assistance Requested". The news article lacks much of the details cited by Giggins and thus the pamphlet is the source of most of the following details.

Let us now turn back to the tale of missing Charlotte.

When after fifteen minutes little Charlotte had not returned, her mother became concerned. Before going after her only daughter, the mother was delayed by the need to turn over her ailing bed ridden mother-in-law Dora. As stated, Dora had been severely injured falling off a pier. She had been in Boston visiting friends in the fishing trade. While taking a late afternoon constitutional, she had been blinded by piercing sunlight which caused an encompassing whitish glare off her mildly cataract eyes. She strolled right off the warped wooden planks of Hancock Wharf into the choppy waves of Boston harbor, striking two exposed pier poles on her plummet to the dirty waters. While most of her injury was paralysis, part of the injury was to her brain parts controlling speech and hunger. She was rendered mute. More serious, she developed a constant ravenous appetite. By the time of this tale, Dora had been eating nearly non-stop for three years. Due to Dora’s partial paralysis and gigantic size–she had come to weigh over three hundred fifty pounds– Dora had to be turned in her bed every twenty minutes. Failure to precisely follow this procedure would lead to bed sores, infection and untimely death.

This evening Charlotte’s mother had particular difficulty turning the mother in law. Perhaps due to her need to rush the task, the mother lacked the steady concentration necessary to generate sufficient brute force to turn her mother in law. Finally, after a few more attempts than normal, Charlotte’s mother was finally able to heave her mother-in-law onto her right side. Unfortunately, precious time was further lost in the need to redress Dora with a nightcap and blanket. Both had slipped off the dozing Dora during the struggle. Finished in her task, the mother hastily tossed on a heavy cloak. She grabbed the family dog in case of trouble. But in her haste, she forgot to take a lantern and had to go back, wasting further time. By the time she went outdoors again at least a half hour had gone by since she had last seen Charlotte.

There had been heavy rains after a long drought and so the ground was thick with mud. In the lantern light Charlotte’s’ footprints were plainly visible as tiny, swallow puddles across the otherwise flat, wet mud. Holding onto the collar of the dog who jerked and strained to run ahead, the mother followed this trail for a short distance. Strangely, at about ten yards out, there appeared around the footprints of the girl deep bucket sized holes. At about twenty five yards out, the tiny footprints ended on a flat plain of solid mud. The final foot prints showed the little girl’s feet had been side by side, as if she came to stand at attention. Ringed around these last small mud imprints, in close formation, were more of these indentations, though this time much closer to her daughter’s footprints. The mother had never seen such indentations before. She saw nothing to explain them. However, her attention to these indentations was brief; she more concerned now with the tiny footprints of her daughter. Calling out the girl’s name, she released her hand from the dog’s collar. Gently she shooed him forwards. Unexpectedly, the large dog failed to gallop into the darkness in search of Charlotte.

The dog’s behavior was uncharacteristic. The dog and Charlotte had been close. The dog acted as her jealous and constant guardian. Indeed, the dog, named Empty Bottles, had been obtained by Charlotte’s father as a gift for the occasion of Charlotte’s christening. Once the father had died of alcohol poisoning two years later at a wedding party in nearby Brockton, Charlotte had come to see the dog as a living testament to her late father’s abiding love. And so the child loved the dog with a fervent, possessive love often seen between fatherless children and their pets. The dog returned the affection.

Given this closeness between Empty Bottles and Charlotte, the mother was stunned when the dog, instead of running forward into the darkness to look for Charlotte, cowered at her feet, whimpering and shaking. Its fright was such that the dog expelled a large volume of excrement. It then sat and then laid in the mixture of sewerage and inky muck, and refused to move. With her heart beating rapidly beneath her ribs and her breath becoming swallow, the mother walked on; the dog hesitated and raised itself up from the muck, then, the dog sat back down into the odorous ooze, defeated by its fears. The dog put its head between its front paws, and whined. Empty Bottles was staying put.

Placing her feet into the footprints left behind by he daughter, the mother looked upwards. It was quiet but for the whimpering of the emotionally whipped dog and the buzzing of a persistent mosquito flickering hungrily about her ears. The stars were out; what few clouds there were obscured the white faced moon and dulled the watery cream of moonlight. Quietly the distraught mother called out Charlotte’s name. With no reply, she absent mindedly turned to using just her nickname, one given to her by her late father months before he died: "Sweet" .

"Sweet," she called out.

"Sweet, Sweet"

Again and again.


A cloud of mosquitos swarmed her red face as it began dripping sweat. She furiously waved her hands in front of her face to disperse the biting insects. She called out again:"Sweet, Sweet!" Her voice began to crack.

There was no response.

Quickly her calls escalated into shouts and then near incoherent screams. She frantically stalked about the last footprints, her lantern raised to cast greater scope of light. Based on the ground beneath her, there were nothing to indicate Charlotte had gone onto anywhere further from her last foot prints. The only possibility was this: Charlotte must had gone up. As this strange possibility dawned in the mother’s mind, she cast an eye upward, her head tilting to one side. The partly clouded but still starry sky was above her. Suddenly she heard what she described as a heavy mechanical sound such as the grinding of gears. Along with this sound she detected a sound described thus: bump-bum, bump-bum, bump-bum. In quick succession, she felt the quivering of the earth and then saw before her still up-turned eyes the sparkling snap and pop of electricity. Then, as often is the case in these occurrences, all went black.

At around eight a.m. the next morning, Brendan Dougherty, an eighty-six year old pensioner who lived a half mile from the house came for his regular morning visit. He was a courter of Dora, his "Honey-dew" It had been his morning habit to bring Dora some flowers (in the spring and summer), or a piece of fruit (in the fall and winter, when available). He had been doing this daily for the past five years. Upon arrival at the home, Dougherty noticed the door was ajar. He opened it further, and poked his head in, making polite inquiries as to whether anyone was home. When there was no response he whistled a military tune which had become his signature tune whistled upon arrival. The warbling military air brought no response. He nudged the door open a few more inches by discretely tapping it with his foot. A gush of rude wind finished the job, blowing the door open. Putting aside his concerns for the family’s privacy, and acting on his greater concerns for their safety, he finally stepped in. The moans of Dora drew his immediate attention. He went to her room. Given Dora’s condition, it looked as if she had not been turned for hours. Knowing the routine of the household in this regard, this caused him grave concern, both for Dora’s now evident discomfort, and the whereabouts of the mother and child.

Dougherty was thin, frail, and failing in health. In an interview he had gave to author Giggins for his pamphlet, he stated that his first thought was to go for help. But Dora seemed in desperate need of immediate aid. Dougherty, a tough wiry man of some 130 pounds, was not one to shirk from duty. He bit his thin lower lip and proceeded to do the work God had set before him. Putting a bony shoulder into Dora’s doughy amorphous chest, he pushed to get initial leverage and then rounded his body so now his upper back was pressed against Dora’s partially lifted mass. He leaned further back into her body, pressing with his bony legs, creeping his feet inch by inch closer to the bed, thereby gaining greater leverage. Ultimately, with one last hard shove and with a anticipatory victorious yelp, he got her to roll over. Dora’s body rocked back and forth as her body finally settled into the rumpled sheets. Dougherty confided to author Giggins that at this juncture Dougherty felt entitled, given his labors, to take the liberty to kiss Dora high on the forehead. And so he did so. Then, as quickly as his infirmities and limited wind from his labors allowed him, he searched the house.

Ultimately his search lead him outside.

He found the mother as bare as Eve in paradise. He dressed her quickly by undressing his own shirt and wrapping her exposed humanity with the coarse cloth. He could not but help notice strange scratch marks over her. In addition there were two small puncture wounds over both eyes and in each wrist. Small amounts of watery blood oozed from the wounds. Otherwise, there seemed to be no physical manifestation of injury. Mentally, she was lost in delusions, one being that she was in the midst of a kidnap and her rescuer was her tormentor. Bed rest for over a month brought her mind back to steadiness. Despite the use of hypnosis and careful questioning by expert police detectives, she had no recollection of anything occurring after she had heard the strange noises, saw the electrical sparks and then everything went black.

As for the dog, poor timid Empty Bottles, the dog was discovered two weeks later, or at least parts of him. A headless and legless torso of a dog matching his description was dragged out of Minuteman River by boys out playing hooky for a day of fishing. Two weeks later, a nun at nearby St. Christopher’s Informatory found stashed in the facility’s trash the head of a dog. Dougherty confirmed it was Empty Bottles.

The investigation continued for a year and a half, only kept open this long due to the insistence of the Quincy mayor, a friend of Dougherty’s son. Finally, however, with no leads, the file was closed, and the case faded away from the public consciousness. Author Giggins attempted heroically to revive interest in the case by his pamphlet. While the pamphlet circulated widely despite its private printing, the authorities refused to re-open the investigation. Ultimately even Giggins moved onto other things. His claim to minor, passing fame is based on his authorship of a once authoritative treatise on military logistics. It was heavily relied upon by the German military during the First World War. As for the mother and Dora, they both faded quickly from history. The mother is believed to have remarried but was childless. The date and circumstances of her death are not known. There is a tomb stone for a Dora Ashmore in Quincy’s St. Doris Cemetery. If this is her tombstone, Dora was able to live a long life despite her incapacitating injury, dying in 1899.