We refer to “lynch mobs”–
but what if one man carries out vigilante justice on his own?
And what if he truly believes he’ll be rewarded in Heaven, even though he only had reason for vengeance–to his twisted way of thinking–on one of the men he killed?
This story comes from Joseph A. Citro’s Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls and Unsolved Mysteries (1994); his source was James Reynolds’ Ghosts in American Houses (1955).
And to tell you the truth, this story makes me profoundly uneasy. I understand that one man, for certain, had earned his dreadful fate, and that it was just a matter of time until the others were killed by one of their marks or taken into custody, but I’m not too happy with the idea that one man appoints himself judge, jury and executioner, and says God will reward him.
Was it God or the Devil himself who would reward him?
The threads of Fate sometimes are a long time weaving and drawing us to people and places. In the cases of four criminals named Terrance Blunt, Andrew Marr, “Fat Frank” Ballard, and Calvin Longstreet, it took fifteen years.
Terrance Blunt left Baton Rouge under a cloud in 1820, having stolen ten thousand dollars from his rich father. He never returned to Baton Rouge, and soon blew the money, but he learned to take more where he could find it–sometimes by con games, sometimes with a marked deck, sometimes with a gun.
Andrew Marr called himself a gambler, but he was actually more of an embezzler and grifter. Around the time Blunt was leaving Louisiana, Marr felt the victims of his cons breathing down the back of his neck and, finding his ill-gotten gains too heavy to carry with him, buried them in a pit not far from Rochester, New York, and set out to make more such–hopefully, more portable ones.
“Fat Frank” Ballard was a bully and thief who made Des Moines too hot to hold him after he beat an innkeeper nearly to death during the course of a robbery. Not liking the way the wind blew, carrying mutters about neck-stretching, in Des Moines, he hit the open road.
The worst of a bad lot, though, was Calvin Longstreet. Calvin resented his upbringing, it would seem, for when he began violating and murdering women in early California, his first victim was his own mother, an actress. Nowadays, we’d call him a serial killer, and the FBI and the media would be tracking his every suspected movement. In his time, he was just a shadow who flitted out of towns across the country with the blood of his latest victim on his hands.
And so, for fifteen years, these four men, criminals all, worked their way cross-country.
And lo and behold, they all fetched up in a single place–the annual St. Johnsbury fair, held each year near Waterford, Vermont.
Andrew Marr and Fat Frank Ballard actually met at the fair a year before Blunt and Longstreet drifted into the area. Liking the pickings, the two, pretending they were government surveyors, settled in and, along with the locals, decried the rising local crime rate–a rate to which they were assiduously contributing.
Somewhere, in the weeks leading up to the 1835 fair, Blunt and Longstreet met up. Blunt was looking for greener pastures; the wariness of his would-be marks in the towns he had passed through lately had been genuinely hurtful.
Longstreet, meanwhile, was, as serial killers near the ends of their careers are prone to do–so the psychologists assure us–beginning to get careless. He had been seen with his last three victims, each of whom was found, violated, bloodied and throttled, with a scarf around her neck. Primitive wanted–dead or alive posters, with amazingly accurate descriptions of the suspected killer and truly eye-popping rewards for his arrest and capture were to be seen in nearly every town in Vermont–
which begs the question: why didn’t the down-and-out Blunt turn him in?
Either there truly is some sort of honor among criminals, or Blunt was in his misery totally oblivious. In any case, they appeared at the fair, and the strings of Fate brought them together with Marr and Ballard.
Longstreet slipped away from his companions long enough to kill a lovely, kindhearted local girl called Tessie Bowden.
He was seen–by a self-appointed avenger.
The evil quartet found the pickings quite good at that year’s fair, but they supplemented their incomes with a few judicious robberies in the surrounding countryside.
They hit one such place on a night of thunder, lightning and rain: a homestead consisting of a ramshackle house, a collapsing barn, and a few hardscrabble fields, the home of a widowed religious fanatic called Uriah Washburn and his clubfooted son, Dabby, who had gained some renown in the area as an herbalist.
At first, the four played the parts of travelers needing shelter for the night. Uriah, a member of a contemporary apocalyptic sect called the Millerites, thought of himself in terms of a vengeful emissary of God, but he evidently didn’t recognize the travelers for the evildoers they were; he merely sent them to the house to dry out and went to the barn to see to their horses.
Dabby, his herbalist son, was another matter entirely.
Dabby had seen Calvin Longstreet murder Tessie Bowden.
Well, gentlemen, he said genially, we have no strong drink on the premises, for, as the Bible says, strong drink is raging. But may I offer you a glass of my homemade root beer? It’s quite fine.
They accepted. At various times in their careers, they’d all been reduced to drinking root beer; they’d have preferred something stronger, but needs must.
Terrance Blunt, perhaps, drank faster or deeper than the others. He was the first to notice that this didn’t taste like any root beer he’d had before.
What kind of. . .
He never got the words out. He fell to his knees, vomiting and dying in a convulsion.
Fat Frank’s heart gave out from the stress. He fell dead beside Blunt.
Andrew Marr died trying to catch a breath to scream.
Only Calvin Longstreet managed, between bouts of vomiting, to ask Dabby Washburn why? Why?
Dabby just laughed. I saw you kill Tessie, he said simply. Tessie was always good to me–never made fun of me for being crippled and all–
He got right down in Longstreet’s dying face. None of you lot any good. Anyway, God will reward me for the work I’ve done this night.
Uriah Washburn had, after he saw to the horses, wandered off into the tempest, perhaps praying that this was the storm that signaled the end of the world. When he came back home at daylight, he found that a beaming Dabby had managed, cripple or no, to drag the four bodies out to the barn and hang them from the rafters.
They left them hanging there, and went off to town to collect the bounty on Calvin Longstreet’s head.
The Washburn house and barn are long gone, but the air and the land and the darkness have never forgotten Dabby’s revenge. They say that, for long years after the barn collapsed, that on some nights you could still see four bodies, dangling on the ends of four ropes, swaying in the night wind.
I must say–if heaven and hell there are–there’s more the stench of hell than the sweet breezes of heaven in this story–Just sayin’—