Killer of Children
The May 6, 1936 edition of the Boston Globe reported that “James H. Folsom, confessed slayer of 12-year-old Annie K. Knights of Fairfield and 7-year-old Mary Proulx of [Waterville, Maine] led police authorities on a gruesome before-dawn reenactment of both crimes today.” (Investigators used the early morning darkness to avoid a possible lynching of the hated killer.)
On the afternoon of October 7, 1935, Annie K. Knights left her Lawrence Avenue home in Fairfield, Maine to pick apples. A few hours later, a local high school student found Annie’s body in a roadside ditch.
Dr. Julius Gottlieb, who performed the autopsy, said the child died of “asphyxiation by gagging.” A handkerchief had been stuffed into her mouth, obstructing the air flow, and she’d been brutally raped. The Lewiston Daily Sun stated that, “Annie, frail and small for her age, was lying on her back, her arms bound and tied to a stump.”
One witness, Mrs. Olive Lacombe, told investigators she saw the girl walking with a man and holding a paper bag. Lacombe described the man as being thick-set and wearing a gray suit, a light hat, and white shoes.
Within minutes of finding the little girl’s remains, police swept the countryside, arresting dozens of people. No man who had been out and about that day was safe. One suspect, David Roy, a 44-year-old Fairfield carpenter, was brought in and interrogated hard. He vehemently denied his involvement, so police coerced him into taking a “lie detector” test. Professor Edward J. Colgan, of Colby College, who administered the test, told reporters the lie detector is a “psycho-galvanic reflex apparatus which registers the principal emotional changes in the electrical conductivity of the skin and can tell if a suspect is lying.” After nearly twelve hours, the machine “proved” Roy had been truthful. Over the next few days, throngs of men were hauled into the police department, only to file out later with no charges.
Maine’s hard winter came and went with cops no closer to finding the killer.
Waterville, a town of 15,000 souls, lay three and a half miles from Fairfield. It was there on May 5, 1936, that a second child went missing.
King Features crime writer Jack Martin wrote that “it was about 4 o’clock on a sultry Sunday afternoon when Mrs. Lena Proulx…ran hysterically into the office of Chief of Police Alfred Poirier to report that her 7-year-old daughter, Mary, had disappeared.” The chief was slow to react, believing the child had gotten lost and would soon be located.
When Mary hadn’t been found by Monday, police launched an all-out search. Hundreds of cops and residents scoured the town and nearby countryside. Poirier became so desperate that he emptied the local high school so students could help. Within a couple of hours, Robert Rancourt, a senior, stumbled on the body lying beside the Mesalonskee River, a few hundred yards outside Waterville.
Martin, who had interviewed some of the cops, wrote: “The child had been fiendishly tortured. A handkerchief had been jammed into her mouth as a gag and it was held in place with another handkerchief tied around her head. Her hands were bound across her chest with a piece of stout twine, such as is used in many stores to wrap heavy parcels.” When compared, the twine turned out to be similar to that used in Annie’s murder. As in the previous child murder, death was said to be due to “asphyxiation by gagging.” Mary had also been raped.
It immediately became obvious to cops that the killer of Annie K. Knights had struck again. Chief Poirier, perhaps feeling pressure from the community at not having taken Mary’s mother seriously, threw his entire force on the case.
In the end, a cop from another district solved the case. While in Skowhegan helping to search for the killer, Somerset County Chief Deputy Sheriff William Goulette spied an ex-convict he knew well. He’d arrested James H. Folsom for “taking indecent liberties with children,” and the pedophile had served time in Windham Prison for that series of crimes. Goulette soon learned Folsom was out on parole and wasted no time contacting Chief Poirier. Cops arrested Folsom at the sawmill where he worked.
The suspect quickly confessed and led investigators on that night-time recreation of his crimes. His chilling confession read, in part: “I, James H. Folsom, admit I am guilty of killing [the] girl in Waterville, Me., on Sunday of 3rd of May, also Annie Knight (sic) of Fairfield. Both were the same. They started to cry and I was afraid someone would hear so I tied their hands and gagged them both. I did not know either one [and I] was not of this world until afterwards…” He admitted “taking indecent liberty’s (sic) with both and attacked both. I seemed not to know or care what I was doing.”
Folsom told detectives he lured each girl away by offering them “pennies.”
A search of Folsom’s belongings revealed conclusive evidence. Investigators learned that Folsom had rented a room at the YMCA one hour after Mary had been taken. He’d left a box there containing several items, including handkerchiefs exactly like the ones used to gag the girls. Detectives also located a ball of twine that matched the bindings on Mary and Annie’s hands.
One month later, Folsom pleaded guilty to the murder of Mary Proulx and received a sentence of life in prison without parole. He died in Maine State Prison 51 years later, at 87.