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Researching Town’s History Fascinating

January 14, 2009

James is researching and writing a book about his hometown of Corinth, Maine.  As such he unearths the best historical tidbits, along with truly bizarre tales that had not been unearthed before.  Since our desks and computers are side by side in our old home I get to hear the stories when they are new to James, and so the excited tone of his delivery often is as great as the story itself.  Today’s example however might be the reverse!

Chauncey Cochran had remarried, and moved to Corinth, Maine.  He had several children, and lived to a ripe old age.

But what happened to him before arriving in Corinth?

Pembroke, New Hampshire farmer Chauncey Cochran was a true crime buff. In 1833, this meant he liked to read “broadsides.” On a bright June morning of that year, his wife asked him to accompany her and their young farmhand on a strawberry-picking expedition. Too wrapped up in his murder story to oblige her, he stayed home.

He should have thought twice.

Only six months earlier, the moody, odd 15-year-old who lived with them, Abraham Prescott, attacked them in their sleep with an axe, wounding them slightly. There was no hint of malice in the boy before, so everyone chalked it up to Abraham’s constant sleepwalking.

But on June 23, Abraham came back from berry-picking alone.

When Chauncey Cochran put down his murder story and asked for the whereabouts of his wife, he grew alarmed at Abraham’s response. “I ordered him,” Cochran would later say, “to run and show me where she was. He was loth to go, but finally started and on the way stated that he had a toothache, sat down by a stump, fell asleep, and that was the last I knew, until I found that he had killed Sally.”

While Mr. Cochran was enjoying his broadside, his 28-year-old wife was sexually assaulted and murdered.

Abraham was arrested and confessed at once to the coroner. His (undoubtedly sanitized) account was that he made Sally Cochran a “proposal,” which she rebuffed, calling him a rascal. He grew frightened of the punishment that Chauncey Cochran would inflict. Then he sat down on a stump, thought about his plight, and decided to kill her. He came upon her unawares, he claimed, and beat her to death. Afterward, he dragged her body into some brush.

In Prescott’s 1834 murder trial, the boy’s lawyers put on an insanity defense. There was ample evidence to support the argument; 17 witnesses testified on the question. His grandfather and two granduncles had shown signs of derangement. His father was “crazy at times.” His nephew was “crazy a number of times.” A cousin “is not in his right mind, but not so crazy as his father: the more cider he got, the more crazy he grew.” His parents testified that Abraham was only six weeks old when his skull began to grow very quickly until, at age three, his head was as big as his father’s. They also testified to his constant sleepwalking and the strange sores he suffered in infancy. But the defense was rejected. Prescott was hanged on June 1, 1836, shortly after turning eighteen.

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