Thomas W. Piper was indicted
for the murder of Mabel H. Young in June 1875, tried for the offence in
December 1875, but when this trial resulted in the disagreement of the
jury, was again tried on 31st January 1876. Five-year-old Mabel had
attended the church Sabbath-school with her aunt on May 23rd, 1874, but
after the class she disappeared. The little girl was later found, badly
beaten and the church sexton, Piper, was arrested and charged with the
crime. She died from her injuries a day later.
December 5, 1873: The Boston Belfry
Murderer kills his first victim
Bridget Landregan is found beaten and strangled
to death in the Boston suburb of Dorchester. According to witnesses,
a man in black clothes and a flowing cape attempted to sexually
assault the dead girl before running away. In 1874, a man fitting
the same description clubbed another young girl, Mary Sullivan, to
death. His third victim, Mary Tynan, was bludgeoned in her bed in
1875. Although she survived for a year after the severe attack, she
was never able to identify her attacker.
Residents of Boston were shocked to learn that the
killer had been among them all along. Thomas Piper, the sexton at the
Warren Avenue Baptist Church, was known for his flowing black cape, but
because he was friendly with the parishioners, nobody suspected his
involvement. But when five-year-old Mabel Young, who was last seen with
the sexton, was found dead in the church's belfry in the summer of 1876,
Piper became the prime suspect. Young's skull had been crushed with a
Piper, who was dubbed "The Boston Belfry Murderer,"
confessed to the four killings after his arrest. He was convicted and
sentenced to die, and he was hanged in 1876.
Thomas Piper - The Boston Belfry
Before the Boston Strangler terrorized his hometown in the early 1960's,
Thomas Piper, a young church sexton of a local Baptist church, was the
scourge of the aristocratic town when he committed a series of vicious
sex slayings. Sporting a long black opera cloak, his crimes actually
caused high-society men all over town to cease wearing the garment
during the period of the infamous rape-murders.
On the night of December 5, 1873, Piper attacked a girl named Bridget
Landregan as she passed some bushes along a road laced in snow. Piper
leaped from the bushes and bludgeoned the young woman to death, but was
unable to perform any acts of sex on the body when he was scared off by
a passing couple. The couple reported the description of the culprit to
the police, having labeled Piper as a "dark, bat-like figure."
That same night, Piper struck again as he attacked another girl. This
time he did rape her and beat her senseless. She survived and was able
to give a description her assailant even though the police came no
closer to capturing the lunatic.
Piper would claim three more young women before being brought to justice.
His modus operandi remained the same in every instance. He would
surprise a lone, youthly woman and rape her before beating her to death
with a blunt object. After he had committed three murders, the police
officially began the hunt for the caped perpetrator. The city itself
became a haven of panic and hysteria. The chief of police ordered that
all men seen wearing opera cloaks were to be stopped and questioned for
suspicion of being the so-called "Boston-Belfry Murderer." It
wasn't long before most men ceased wearing opera cloaks altogether.
The fourth and final murder was that of a five-year-old girl named Mabel
Hood Young in 1875. The injuries to the body were the same as the other
girls; rape or sexual assault followed by a severe beating with a blunt
instrument. This time however, the killer was caught. Piper had been
identified as the murderer when he was seen by several witnesses taking
the little girl to the tower in the Warren Avenue Baptist Church, where
the body was found.
Piper, 26, was arrested and confessed to her murder
as well as to three others and a number of rapes. His trial was short
and he was convicted of the murder of Mabel Hood Young and sentenced to
hang. Since, his conviction and sentencing, Piper retracted his
confession and maintained that he was innocent. However, once the day of
the hanging arrived he once again admitted his guilt, perhaps as a way
of finding forgiveness for his appalling crimes.
Museum Catalog Number 8209:
Portion of fractured skull from
victim of the "Boston Belfry Murderer."
Mabel Hood Young, a
five year old child killed in 1876, was the last victim of the Boston
serial killer known as the 'Bat' and the 'Boston Belfry Murderer.'
Mabel's broken and battered body was discovered in the belfry of the
Warren Avenue Baptist Church where she had been beaten and her skull
crushed by blows from a wooden bat. Donated sometime after 1876 by Dr.
B. E. Cotting, the specimen above is from Mabel's cranium showing the
depressed comminuted fracture of the cranial vault, and the linear
fracture through her parietal bone on both sides.
Thomas Piper, a well-respected
sexton at the same church was arrested and tried for Mabel's murder. He
was also the main suspect in the gruesome murders of three other women.
During the trial, Piper's defense attorney claimed that Mabel had not
been struck by a bat, but had been killed when the trap door leading to
the church belfry fell on her head. The prosecuting attorney brought
Mabel's skull and a replica of the trap door into the courtroom to
demonstrate that the fractures present on the skull could not be
replicated with a single blow from a trap door. Based on this early use
of forensic science, Piper was convicted and sentenced to death. He
subsequently confessed to all four murders and was hanged in 1876.
The case is published
in full in several issues of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (April
1876 and June 1876).