On Ben's Farm

Hewitt the Hero
A student and future dean proves his worth during the capture of an armed fugitive

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Courtesy Photo/Dartmouth College

On July 18 1891, Charles Pettee was on vacation, relaxing with his family at Hampton Beach, N.H., when he received a telegram: "Christie Murdered. Come."

Pettee, dean of the faculty at the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, which was located in Hanover at the time, arrived home just ahead of the reporters and curiosity seekers who poured into town when news of the brutal murder hit the wires. The victim, 28-year-old Christie Warden, served as secretary and lecturer for the Grafton Star Grange, where Pettee was master.

The previous summer, a drifter who called himself Frank C. Almy had arrived in Hanover looking for work. Andrew Warden, Christie's father, offered him a job for $1.25 a day plus board at their large farm. Almy was soon infatuated with Christie, but Fanny, Christie's 20-year-old sister, mistrusted him. Her intuition was right: Almy's real name was George Abbott. He was a conman and thief who was on the lam after having escaped from prison in Winsdor, Vt., three years earlier.

When it became clear Almy's infatuation was an obsession, Christie firmly rejected his advances. He began stalking her, hoping to catch her alone, but Fanny was always with her. In December, Pettee offered Christie a job as a bookkeeper for the college and provided her with a room in his house.

In April, Andrew Warden dismissed Almy, citing a lack of work. Almy left for Boston, and everyone breathed easier. But on the evening of July 17, Christie, Fanny, their mother, Louisa, and a neighbor were walking along a road when Almy stepped from the shadows, waving a gun and demanding to talk to Christie alone. Fanny courageously held onto her sister, but Almy tore Christie from her sister's arms and dragged her into the woods while firing his gun at Fanny. When the shooting stopped, Fanny found her sister, dead. She had been shot twice. Almy was gone.

Courtesy Photo/Dartmouth College
AT THE SCENE: A huge crowd gathers, above, at the murderer's hiding place. Top, newspaper coverage of the capture.

Neither search parties nor rewards resulted in Almy's capture, and for five weeks he remained at large. No one imagined that rather than fleeing, Almy had returned to the Warden farm and was hiding in the barn. From there he watched Christie's funeral preparations and ventured out at night to steal food. He often visited her grave, leaving flowers, picked, in a cruel twist, from the Wardens' gardens.

Finally, on Aug. 18, while searching for a stray chicken, Louisa Warden discovered empty tins and bottles under a loose board in the barn. She immediately alerted the sheriff 's office. Word spread quickly that Almy had been found. A large group gathered to search, along with thousands of onlookers. Pettee took charge of seven men, including Charles E. Hewitt [18]'95, an engineering student. Armed with pitchforks, they climbed a ladder into the haymow.

In an interview later with the Boston Globe, Pettee described the capture. "I selected [Hewitt] on account of his courage and grit. I had previously notified [him] to get out his revolver and be ready to shoot ... Almy soon appeared with revolvers in each hand. Hewitt was the only one who was armed and the rest of us concluded that it was no place for us, and we got out. Hewitt pluckily stood his ground, returning fire until his revolver chamber was empty."

Three of Hewitt's shots hit their mark: two shattered Almy's left leg and one grazed his head. After a standoff of four hours, Almy surrendered on the assurance that he would not be lynched. In due time, he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

In 1908, Hewitt returned to N.H.C., which by then had moved to Durham, to teach electrical engineering. He served as dean of the College of Technology from 1909-19. In 1942, Hewitt Hall was named in his honor. Among his many accomplishments, few knew that he had once been hailed a hero. ~

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