A few months ago, I wrote a post about the Crabtree family. John Crabtree was a butcher, born in England, who emigrated to Wellington and lost three members of his immediate family in a matter of weeks. I mentioned in passing his youngest daughter, Hattie, and the fact that she died relatively young. What I did not know is that Hattie had a tragic experience of her own that also made news in the town.
“Reported to be Too Much Married. In our issue of June 5th appeared the marriage notice of Mr. Andrew N. McD. Murdock of Cleveland, to Miss Hattie Crabtree of Wellington,” reported The Wellington Enterprise in 1889. Twelve years had passed since a teenaged Hattie lost her mother, sister and brother in a single, terrible summer. The paper continued, “June 26 reports reach us that the late [i.e. recent] groom has two companions, one residing in St. Louis, Mo., and the other in Cleveland, and turns out to be a gentleman forger” (6-26-1889, pg. 5). Murdock was wanted in at least two cities and charges of bigamy had already been brought against him by “Wife No. 2” in Cleveland. At the time of publication, Hattie and Murdock were reportedly in Pittsburgh, and John Crabtree was en route to Pennsylvania to retrieve his daughter.
A week later, Hattie was allegedly in Canada. The Enterprise reprinted a brief article from a Detroit, Michigan newspaper which noted that Detroit detectives were also now in pursuit of the couple. “Murdock came here [Detroit] a week ago and stopped at the Griswold House with his wife. He left the next day without paying his board, and later the father of the young woman accompanying Murdock arrived and claimed that Murdock was a bigamist” (7-3-1889, pg. 5). Murdock was soon captured by a detective who recognized him on the street. He first denied his identity and claimed to be named McDowell, but a search of his personal effects revealed a marriage license for his May 31st wedding to Hattie. “The Crabtree woman has been sent home and professes to know nothing of Murdock’s shortcomings.”
The final mention that I found of this unfortunate series of events was published the following week. Hattie returned to Wellington on July 4th and “her husband” was in jail in Cleveland for infractions totaling over $600, a considerable sum when a month’s rent in the village was about $10. “Our fair damsels in the Cheese City should not be in haste to marry traveling men,” the paper snarked. “A thorough investigation as to their standing will do no harm and will certainly be of untold benefit to the intended bride and all concerned” (7-10-1889, pg. 5).
When Hattie died in April of the following year, just twenty-nine years old, her obituary made no mention of the most highly publicized moment of her life. She was accorded the dignity of being referred to as “Mrs. Hattie Murdoch” [sic] and “kindly remembered by all who knew her in Wellington.” Murdock’s mother in Newark, New Jersey, “forwarded by express a beautiful floral piece,” so she at least knew of the young woman’s connection to her wayward son. There is no indication in the obituary of Murdock’s whereabouts.
John Crabtree passed away eleven years later. His lengthy obituary noted the difficulties of his life and his struggle to maintain religious faith in the face of great loss. There is very little about Hattie, except for the following passage: “The faithful father’s love for his child came out beautifully about the time of the death of his youngest daughter. There was nothing in him of the hard and unforgiving spirit which sometimes makes parents recreant when the parent’s supreme obligation is upon him” (3-27-1901, pg. 4) I read this as a comment on John’s lack of bitterness about Hattie’s death at such a young age, rather than a reference to her earlier troubles.
What is strikingly missing from this entire narrative is Hattie’s voice. Did she truly know nothing of Murdock’s actions? How did she come to meet such a character, and why did she marry him? When she decided to marry, did she already know that she had consumption, the illness that would end her life so quickly? Was she humiliated to return to Wellington after all the sensational coverage in the press? Or was she the type of person who did not care what other people thought of her actions? There is no way to know.
There is one more way in which Hattie is hidden from us. She is buried in an unmarked grave next to her family’s monument. I was unable to find her through a visual search of the cemetery, so I checked Records of Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio, compiled by Linda Boyles Navarre in 1997. Sure enough, the Crabtree family lies in plots 499 and 500, and “Harriet Murdock” is in adjacent plot 480. There is no additional information provided. Was there a marker on the land at any point? Why would the young woman receive a funeral “largely attended” by “loving friends” but receive no headstone? I have so many unanswerable questions.