At a little after 9 p.m. on the night of March 26, 1845, Manchester's tax collector Jonas L. Parker and a stranger were walking east on Manchester Street. By chance Frances Jane Gilman and her brother encountered the men in the street, across from the Baptist Church. Parker spoke with them for a few minutes, as the stranger waited in the darkness a few feet away. His collar was turned up, hiding most of his face. Miss Gilman noticed that he was heavyset with broad shoulders, had whiskers, and was about the same height as Parker, around 5-feet,10-inches tall.
Parker and his companion continued up Manchester Street then took a right onto Union Street and a left on Merrimack Street. They headed toward a path that ran east then north through the woods to the Old Falls Road that connected Manchester Center on Mammoth Road with Amoskeag Falls. Their destination was the small settlement of Janesville where they were to meet a Mrs. Bean. The stranger had told Parker that Mrs. Bean wanted to see him about a pressing business matter. Janesville was a small village located in the present area of Bridge, Malvern, Nashua, Jane and South Streets near Central High School.
A young man on his way home to Hallsville after attending a singing class was walking westward on Merrimack Street when he heard Parker and his companion talking. As they passed him, he recognized Parker and greeted him saying “It is very muddy walking!” Either Parker or the stranger responded, “Yes, very muddy!” The young man continued on for about 200 yards when he was startled by a man screaming somewhere in the woods, “Murder! Murder!” followed by “Don't! Don't! Don't!” Overcome with terror, he ran home as fast as he could. When he arrived, he went right to bed, without mentioning a word about the incident to his housemates. He thought that this must have been a prank perpetrated by Parker, and that if he spoke of it to anyone he would be ridiculed.
A woman living on the Old Falls Road near Hanover Street was spending a quiet evening catching up on her reading, when she heard something outside. She opened the door in time to hear the same screams the young man was hearing of “Don't! Don't! Don't!” followed by a deep moaning sound. She didn't think much of this, as strange noises in the night were not uncommon in the neighborhood. She went back into the house, but was again disturbed, this time by the loud voices of two or more men coming from the same direction. When she looked out the door, she saw a horse and cart traveling down Hanover Street. “Must be the police,” she thought. Her neighbors, who had been similarly disturbed, came to the same conclusion.
Two local men, Mr. Seavy and Mr. Sargent, woke up the next morning with the troubling sense that all was not well. They went into the woods to investigate, and came across the gruesome scene. There was Jonas Parker, lying on his side in a pool of blood. He was clearly dead, as his throat had been slashed, and his head nearly removed. The obvious murder weapons, a butcher knife and a razor, lay on the ground next to him. The snow around the body was trampled and bloodstained. It was evident that a violent attack and a desperate struggle for life had occurred. Parker's lantern was found crushed a few feet away, and apparently had been used by him in his futile defense. He was known to be a strong man, but he had been no match for the man or men bent on his destruction.
Seavy and Sargent rushed into town to report the murder. Parker's friends were already looking for him, as his wife had grown concerned because he had not come home the night before. When they learned of Parker's fate, the townspeople were shocked and frightened. According to an 1853 recounting of the crime in a local newspaper, “On the morning after the deed the news spread like lightning. It was known in every direction and everyone was on the lookout.”
Next week: A motive for the murder?
Aurore Eaton is the executive director of the Manchester Historic Association. Contact her at email@example.com.