In the early Monday morning hours of October 4th, 1875, a 17 year old girl by the name of Josie Langmaid was cutting across the forest between her home and Pembroke Academy, hoping to make it to school without being too late. Her brother had already left for school before her — a situation that, if it had played out differently — potentially could have changed Josie’s fate that morning.
As she approached the carriage road near the school at the edge of the forest, Josie thought that she saw a shadow dart through the forest to her left. Startled, she glanced in that direction, but could see no further movement.
Thinking that it must have been an animal, Josie hurried ahead toward the carriage road, panic slowly rising in her chest. Something felt wrong.
Before she realized what was happening, Josie felt one hand cover her mouth and a large flannel-covered arm wrap around her small waist.
In moments, she was staring up at the trees as the dark stranger, wearing an odd mask over his face, dragged her deeper into the dark forest, at the edge of the Giles family swamp. There, hidden from view by a deep thicket of weeds and trees, young Josie was strangled and mutilated.
Joseph LePage — The Serial Rapist and Killer
Josie’s murder was the worst tragedy to ever strike the small, sleepy colonial village of Pembroke, New Hampshire. However, as tragic as the killing was, it was ultimately the last in a long line of serial rapes and murders that had occurred starting in Canada, extending down into St. Albans, Vermont, and finally the quiet and unsuspecting village of Pembroke/Suncook, New Hampshire.
There are many ways to weave this tale. One could start with the famous murder of Josie Langmaid, the subsequent investigation and arrest, and the trail of evidence that revealed the methods and warped mind of a terrible serial killer. However, it may make more sense to follow the story from the very beginning — a story that culminated with Josie’s murder, but which produced many other tragedies throughout the miles that LePage traveled in his escape from Canada, down into New Hampshire.
Let’s start at the beginning.
One of the best accounts of Joseph’s history comes from the book Cold North Killers: Canadian Serial Murder, by Lee Mellor. In this book, Lee offers an outline of Joseph’s life, which offers researchers plenty of leads to dig further into the trail of terror left behind by Joseph.
Born Joseph LaPagette some time in 1830, Joseph was the son of a farmer and grew up roughly fifty miles west of Montreal. At twenty years old, he married a woman three years older than him. They eventually moved to St. Beatrice, Quebec, roughly forty miles south of Montreal, and over the years had five children with her.
Thanks to the Josie Langmaid murder investigation, this is where LaPage’s story starts to become much more clear.
A newspaper report in a California paper, the Daily Alta, reported that on October 23rd of 1875, a Detective Dearborn and an Officer Hildreth raided the LePage home, and detained LePage’s wife for questioning. It was this interrogation that reveals what marriage was like with a serial rapist and murderer.
His wife told investigators that Joseph was a heavy drinker, and was an extremely violent man. Writer Mellor notes that, “There were rumours circulating that he had even tried to deflower his own daughters.”
They were not rumors at all. The Daily Alta reported that LePage’s wife admitted Joseph had made attempts to rape his own daughters.
“In her story to the officers to-day, his wife stated that he had made attempts to ravish his daughter, fifteen years old, since living in Suncook, but was prevented by her interferences. She states that they have all been afraid of their lives.”
Unfortunately, the monster inside of LePage was started to grow — a beast with a thirst for sex and violence in equal measure — and by 1871 LePage would act out his first attempt at feeding that beast.
The Julienne Rousse Attack
The story of how LePage attacked his sister-in-law, Julienne Rousse, first came from LePage’s wife, in the same interrogation mentioned above. She explained that five years before the Langmaid murder, while they were living in St. Beatrice, Quebec, LePage had attempted to rape and murder Julienne Rousse.
“…and that about five years ago her sister, twenty-two years old, went out one afternoon about 5 o’clock to get the cows. As she was putting up the bars to the pasture, she was siezed by a man who wore a black mask, with eye-holes in it. During the struggle that ensued she pulled the mask off and discovered that it was Joseph LePage. She was knocked down, severely beaten, ravished, and left for dead.”
Immediately after this attack, a local policeman managed to capture LePage. However, LePage fought the officer, and while the officer attempted to tie his legs, LePage managed to wrestle free. He escaped into the forest, and as the newspaper account goes, he would sneak into his barn at night to sleep.
To escape from the pursuit of the law, LePage forced his family to move south — leaving Canada and settling outside the reach of Canadian law enforcement. The town LePage chose to settle into was St. Albans, Vermont. This would mark the next dot on LePage’s evil trail of serial rape, an escalation in violence, and his first murder victim.
The Murder of Marietta Ball
Before LePage would commit the ultimate crime, he spent two years developing his lust for blood and violence. While the family lived in St Albans, Vermont, LePage would frequently travel back to St. Beatrice simply to continue terrorizing the town. According to author Lee Mellor, in 1872, LePage:
- Burned down buildings, seemingly in revenge for his arrest.
- “Ambushed and bludgeoned a pretty young bachelorette, causing lasting injury.”
- Attempted to lure young, teenage girls into the woods. Numerous girls reported seeing him.
Unfortunately, during the summer of 1874, a young schoolteacher — 20 year old Marietta Ball — had the terrible misfortune of catching the eye of this serial rapist from Canada. With a new target in his sights, LePage stopped visiting his old town. The beast inside LePage began plotting its next feast — and it would be LePage’s first actual murder.
Marietta had rented a room with the Abel family, and every day she would walk South from the schoolhouse to their home. However, every Friday, she would instead walk to the very end of that desolate road to stay with the Page family, where road intersected with Route 36.
According to newspaper accounts, one girl later told investigators that LePage had asked her about Marietta’s Friday route. According to the Daily Alta:
“A short time before the murder he inquired of a girl what road Miss Ball took in returning from school on Friday night.”
After the Page family hadn’t heard from Marietta, they gathered a small search party to go out and look for her. At 1:00 a.m., they finally found her mutilated corpse. The evidence that they uncovered there would not make much sense until years later, at the Langmaid trial. At the scene of the crime they discovered:
- A makeshift mask made out of a piece of carpeting, fastened together with birch “withes” (a strand of birch used to bind things together).
- Marietta’s head had been wrapped in her overshirt, as though the attacker did not want to see the face of his victim during the attack.
- A large stone that had been used to knock Marietta unconscious.
- Her body had been severely beaten.
- Her limbs were re-positioned after the crime to cover-up the nature of the attack.
- The footprints in the mud near the body revealed that the killer had been wearing moccasins.
However, the murder of Marietta did little to quiet the monster that had been growing inside of Joseph LePage. Instead, it only seemed to become more enraged and bloodthirsty. LePage was no longer only a serial rapist. He had also become a murderer.
Joseph LePage Seeks Work in Suncook
Just after the murder of Marietta, newspaper accounts say that LePage traveled 50 miles to attack another woman. Only this time, not only would the attack fail, but he would also foolishly provide yet another in a long line of clues that investigators would eventually use to put together the puzzle of LePage’s bloody trail of crime.
“La Page went 50 miles away to the house of a female cousin, and that he outraged her and fled with a horse. It is known that the murderer of the Ball girl wore moccasins at the time of the crime, and it is also known that La Page wore them that day.”
Following his pattern of escaping the area of his crimes in order to avoid capture, LePage left the St. Albans area and settled in the village of Suncook (the town of Pembroke included the village of Suncook). His route back and forth to where he was working with a wood-cutting crew would take him along Academy road.
Unfortunately, this route took him directly into the path of an unsuspecting Pembroke Academy student named Josie Langmaid.
In the face of such a vile and evil monster, poor 17 year old Josie didn’t stand a chance. Once he spotted his prey, LePage slipped into the forest, donned his makeshift mask that he carried with him just for this occasion, and went about putting his plans into action. The young student was taken by surprise, dragged back into the woods about several hundred feet from the road, bludgeoned, decapitated, and sexually assaulted. It was, by far, the most gruesome and violent attack LePage had ever committed in his life. It would also be his last.
The French Monster
Josie was the daughter of James and Mary Ann Langmaid. After they discovered that Josie had never showed up to school, her parents mounted a search party, and at 9:00 p.m. that evening, they discovered Josie’s mutilated body just under 100 feet from the carriage road, not far from the Academy. Her head was missing. Today, there is a monument marking the location near the road where, if you walk about 100 feet in a line perpendicular to the road, you will find a granite market identifying the spot where her body was found.
During our local investigation of the site where the murder happened, we captured the picture of the monument, shown on the left. It was set back a small distance from the road. The base of the monument is covered with moss, but the stone monument itself remains in excellent condition.
On one side of the monument are the words:
“Death lies on her,
like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower
of all the field.”
On the reverse side of the monument reads:
“Body found 90 Ft North
At stone hub
Head found 82 Rods
North at stone hub.”
It is a morbid testament to the tragedy — an event that rocked the entire community to its core. People for miles around heard the news of Josie’s death, and many were calling for instant justice. The local law enforcement was under tremendous pressure to identify and prosecute the monster who had committed such a horrible crime.
In the morning, the search party resumed their search to try and locate the rest of Josie’s body. Only half a mile from where her body was found, they found Josie’s head, wrapped inside of her blue cape. It was clear from the deep indentation in her cheek that the murder had been particularly brutal — the killer had dug his boot heel into her cheek as he cut off her head.
Overwhelmed with the magnitude of the crime, local police called in a detective from Boston to work on the case. Immediately after the discovery, a number of individuals were suspected (and a couple were actually arrested) for the crime — but no evidence confirmed any of those men were guilty of the crime.
St. Albans Comes Back to Haunt LePage
Upon hearing about the nature of the crime, and elements which closely matched the murder of Marietta Ball, officials from St. Albans reached out to the detective to inform him that a man named Joseph LePage was currently their prime suspect for that crime. However at the time they didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him.
The authorities discovered that Joseph LePage had been living with his wife and five children in Suncook village for some time, and worked as a woodcutter in the local area. When investigators arrived at Joseph’s house to make the arrest, they discovered more than enough evidence to tie LePage to the crime, including a bloodstained coat, and the fact that the size of the heel of his boots perfectly matched the indentation they had discovered on Josie’s face.
At LePage’s trial, all of his past crimes finally came back to haunt him. Numerous witnesses claimed to have seen LePage on Academy Road near the time of the murder. But the most damning testimony came from LePage’s sister-in-law Julianne Rousse, who told the court in great detail how LePage had attacked her with a club and raped her in a cow pasture.
Thankfully, Rousse was one of LePage’s few surviving victims who could clearly identify him as an extremely violent criminal. However, because Rousse’s attack was not relevant to the crime at hand, LePage won a new trial — but his final attempt to escape the law failed. He was convicted by jury a second time, and found guilty of first degree murder. He was sentenced to death by hanging.
“The French Monster”
In all of our investigations here at Top Secret Writers, we always try to pursue an avenue of investigation never-before explored by past investigators. In this particular case, there were questions surrounding whether LePage was actually singled out for Josie’s murder not only because of the circumstantial nature of his own past history of attacks against women, but moreso because of his French heritage.
Exploring this aspect of the case was very easy. There are piles of statements from the local community, as well as newspaper writing from the era, revealing a very deep-seated dislike and animosity toward the French community. In fact many of the books at the time that were written about the murder and the trial were drenched with negative racial undertones.
If LePage had been falsely accused and convicted, pouring through the evidence and a bungled investigation would have been fairly simple. And up until now, no one had explored that avenue, because in the eyes of the community and all historians who had explored this case, LaPage was in fact a monster and guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.
In fact, doubt might have lingered throughout the centuries if it weren’t for the fact that LaPage, merely hours before his execution, finally confessed to both murders — that of Josie Langmaid and Marietta Ball. Writer Lee Mellor detailed the circumstances of this confession in great detail in his book. Mellor writes:
“Then at nine o’clock, LaPage was returned to his cell where he was joined by two spiritual advisers: the Reverends J.E. Barry of Concord and J.B. Millette of Nashua. The men prayed for LaPage’s soul, each probably suspecting it was damned to the inferno. After finishing his supper, he called for the warden. When the man arrived, LaPage became hysterical, throwing himself pitifully at his feet. Amidst a torrent of garbled tears and broken English, he confessed to the murders of Josie Langmaid and Marietta Ball, even drawing maps of the crime scenes.”
The clincher, proving his guilt beyond all doubt, was this: Newspaper accounts at the time revealed that LaPage even told the Warden exactly where he had hidden Josie Langmaid’s wallet and ring. When investigators later went out to search the location for those items, they found them exactly where LaPage claimed they were.
The Final Confession
A local newspaper we discovered in microfiche at a local Pembroke library, recounts the chilling details LaPage shared with the warden.
He told the Warden:
“The girl had been dead 12 or 15 minutes before I cut off her head with the knife, and I washed the knife in about five minutes, and dried it by sticking it into the ground. I rubbed the blood off my coat, and got it clean, sure sure…”
Since LaPage only knew broken English, it’s clear that the actual transcript of the final confession must have been translated and written by someone else. Still, the confession rings true, given the evidence and the circumstances of both murders. LaPage continued:
“I broke the stick by striking it on the ground after the girl was dead, and did not break it when I struck her. I did not stamp on her head or face, but simply turned her head with my foot when cutting off her head. Tell Mr. Langmaid he will find the wallet, ring, etc, where noted on map indicated by me. The testimony of the detectives from Boston was all true.”
Finally, on March 15th, 1878, at 11:04 a.m., Joseph LaPage was accompanied into the execution chamber by his spiritual counsel — the same men who had convinced him to relieve his tortured soul by providing a full and honest confession. The Warden read out the execution order and LaPage was finally hung.
Josie’s body was laid to rest in the family cemetery in town, where you’ll find her small tombstone even today. You’ll also find the tombstone for her brother, who died from illness only months after Josie was murdered — some say his guilt for not walking with her to school that day contributed to his physical ailments.
The Final Mystery
While our investigation did not uncover any alternative theory in this case — in fact it only solidified the guilt of Joseph LaPage — there was one shocking discovery that may raise some eyebrows.
As we were scouring through the newspaper archives in the microfiche room of the local library in Pembroke, one small snippet from Joseph LaPage’s confession stood out.
Back during the investigation of Marietta Ball’s murder, the investigators — so desperate for a break in the case which was growing cold by the day — resorted to bringing in the assistance of a local female clairvoyant reported only as “Sleeping Lucy”.
Lucy provided authorities with a very specific description of the murderer, including where he lived and details about his family. She even provided information about how he followed Marietta down a particular road before killing her. It was actually Lucy’s description that led investigators to locate and interrogate the man.
In the one article I discovered in Obscure Vermont about the case, the name of this gentleman was never provided. However, as we were scanning the 1875 newspaper article detailing LaPage’s confession, we were stunned to discover that LaPage himself had been shocked by the accuracy of the Clairvoyant’s vision. He told investigators:
“In regard to the Ball girl murder, the clairvoyant from Bennington told it just as it was, exactly; told my road, my house, the number of my children. The house was a big black one, and told about the small houses too. I put her dress under the log. The man who swore to seeing me every hour was a good man, and did not lie; he did not know anything about me.”
Who was “Sleeping Lucy” from Bennington? Whoever she was, she may have ultimately saved New Hampshire from a continued string of serial murders in the years after Josie’s murder. If it weren’t for Lucy’s vision, investigators never would have questioned LePage in the Ball case. Had they never questioned LePage, they never would have thought to contact the Boston Detective investigating Josie’s murder and provide information about LePage and his interrogation in the Ball case.
Had they never contacted the Boston Detective, LePage may very well have gotten away with Josie’s murder. He might have gone on to rape and murder countless other victims throughout the late 1800s.
In other words — it was the vision of a Clairvoyant named “Sleeping Lucy” that finally brought LePage’s escalating violent rampage to an abrupt end. And that is the enduring mystery at the end of this sordid and gruesome tale.
Originally published on TopSecretWriters.com