Bloodshed among the berries - 1873 Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Last Christmas I was gifted an informative and well written true crime book, signed with a personal message for me from the author, Steve Vernon. Thanks Steve! The book is called Maritime Murder, Deadly Crimes from the Buried Past, and I would highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys history, true crime, the Maritime Provinces, good storytelling or all of these things!


The very first chapter deals with the murder of Mary Ann Mailman (nee Frausel) at the hands of her husband, Peter Mailman. For ancestors of Peter and Mary Ann Mailman, this post will provide much research for your family tree.


At the time of the murder, Mary Ann and Peter lived in Baker's Settlement, Nova Scotia on Pleasant River Road, located just off of Monk Road, with their 3 children, Angelina, Theresa and Peter Junior. Below is the Mailman family as found on the 1871 Census of Canada.




It was said that Peter Mailman had quite a temper and was abusive to his wife, Mary Ann. So much so that two years before the murder Mary Ann had visited a lawyer about leaving Peter and the lawyer told Peter that if he continued his ways, Mary Ann had a legal right to leave him.


Peter accused Mary Ann of being unfaithful and also had a dislike for his oldest daughter, Angelina, perhaps because she was witness to his abusive behaviour. During the trial Angelina described seeing horrific abuse of her mother at the hands of her father.


"My father and mother often argued. I have seen him beat her with an ox whip. He often threatened to kill her. Not more than two weeks earlier, I heard my mother cry out in the night. I came upon her and my father in a mortal argument. He had his hand on her throat and his knee upon her chest. I believe my father was trying to strangle my mother. I believe he would have murdered her right there if I hadn't caught him at it."


THE DAY OF THE MURDER - MONDAY, AUGUST 11, 1873


Peter Mailman courtesy of Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic Archives

Peter Mailman decided he was going to head off to prune some apple trees in the woods near their property on Pleasant River Road in Baker Settlement, Nova Scotia. He invited his wife, Mary Ann, to come along to pick some wild pears and blueberries. She grabbed her favourite basket which was painted white with three red stripes and headed off into the woods. 17-year-old, Angelina was left in charge of her younger siblings, Theresa and Peter Junior.


Later that afternoon Peter Mailman returned home - alone, carrying the basket of berries. When Angelina asked where her mother was, her father told her that she had gone to visit Ben Baker. Angelina also discovered the dress, shoes and hat her mother had worn when she left to pick berries that day. When their mother did not return the next morning Peter told his children that Ben Baker had hired their mother to reap his crop of rye and she was staying at his house to avoid travelling back and forth.


Angelina did not believe her father one bit and asked Ben Baker if his mother had been there and not only confirmed that she was not working for him, but that he had not seen her on August 11, 1873. Angelina confronted her father with these facts and told him that she believed he had murdered their mother. Peter Mailman took off into the woods with Theresa (11) and Peter (8) telling Angelina to take care of the house while they were gone. Angelina did no such things. She told the neighbours of her mother's disappearance and her suspicions that her father had been the one who murdered her. Within a few days searchers found her body. She had been shoved headfirst into the hollow, rotting trunk of a tree missing her dress, hat and shoes. They also found Peter Mailman's axe covered with dried blood.


Peter Mailman maintained his innocence until November when he confessed to killing his wife.


"We had no words on the way to berry picking. We walked like two children, hand in hand. Coming back, we sat down by a tree, alongside of a twisting log road. We talked for a quarter of an hour. I put my hand on her lap and I drew up to her, hoping for an embrace. She spurned my advances. What right did a wife have to do such a thing? I accused her of being unfaithful. I swore that if she had been with another man, I would know it. She sprung up, about to run. That was when I knew she was guilty. I took hold of my axe and I hit her. I was angry with her and hit her too hard. I did not expect to hit her as hard as I did. The blow killed her. I sat down and lifted her body to a sitting position. I thought she had only been stunned. I sat there for half an hour, but there was no more breath within her lungs. I only meant to punish her. I only wanted to show her how much she meant to me. God knows how bad I felt. If I could have blown breath back into her, I would have. I lifted the body and laid it under the root of a fallen tree. I took the boots off and her hat and her dress and carried it home. The axe, I left in the woods. I came home and set fire to the woods beside my potato field. I burned the dress and hat and shoes at the same time. I had hoped that the mark of the fire would confuse the trackers."


On December 30, 1873, Peter Mailman was the last man to be hung on Gallows Hill. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the corner of the jail yard.


It is said that the ghost of Peter Mailman still walks that hillside carrying the axe he used to kill his wife.


You can read details from the trial as written by James Wilberforce Longley here. The trial began October 17, 1873, just over two months after the murder of Mary Ann Mailman.


For those who enjoy videos, historian Peter Oickle, covers the murder of Mary Ann Mailman on The Town of Bridgewater Facebook page.


Read here for a list of people sentenced to death in Canada from 1876 - 1976. You will find Peter Mailman listed on page 192.



Mary Ann Mailman death at Pleasant River, Lunenburg County in 1873

Death Registration: Year: 1873 book: 1812 page: 95 number: 148

The first registration of her death lists her as age 53 and her certified cause of death is "supposed to be murdered". I guess this upholds the premise of being innocent until proven guilty.



Mary Ann Mailman death at Pleasant River Road, Lunenburg County in 1873

Death Registration: Year: 1873 book: 1812 page: 98 number: 201

53 lines later in the same book, her death is registered again. She is listed as being 46 years old and her certified cause of death is "murdered by Peter Mailman".

Peter Mailman death at Lunenburg County in 1873

Male Death Registration: Year: 1873 book: 1812 page: 97 number: 186

Cause of death: Executed for wife murder


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