In a bucolic central-western Connecticut valley in 1941, a destitute woman aged 81 years, whom the local children called “The Cat Woman of Old Stone Road,” was discovered dead in her squalid, ramshackle bungalow.
A few neighbors knew old Mrs. Chandler’s secret but kindly kept mum for decades until she died: in 1889 Liverpool, a Mobile, Alabama belle, this unkempt and penniless woman, Florence Elizabeth Chandler Maybrick, was the central figure in a world-famous trial.
Florence was unjustly accused, wrongfully convicted, and, in a mockery of a court proceeding that daily made front-page news in two nations, sentenced to death for poisoning her British husband, James Maybrick, a wealthy cotton merchant who was a roué, philanderer, and an arsenic addict.
She was framed for the crime by her despicable brothers-in-law — one of whom, Michael Maybrick, Is now believed to be Jack the Ripper — who themselves poisoned their brother and then confiscated James and Florence’s estate and two children.
The public uproar at the injustice on both sides of the Atlantic became a cause célèbre and forced Queen Victoria to commute Florie’s sentence to life imprisonment. She served 15 years of hard labor before her release in 1904.
She returned to the U.S., wrote a bestselling book, and lectured on prison reform, always declaring her innocence. Poor health prevented her from keeping up with the lecture circuit.
After her resources and public interest in her case dwindled, she arrived in New Milford, Connecticut around 1917 for a possible job as a housekeeper, identifying herself only by her maiden name, Mrs. Florence Chandler.
Though Florence was clearly unsuited for this employment, she found safety in the anonymity accorded her by these Yankee neighbors, who mostly kept to themselves but were glad to help her in times of need.
She managed to have built a 20 x 10 cottage with a 6-foot porch on Old Stone Road, just south of the New Milford / Kent town line, where she lived quietly for nearly 24 years. She befriended the nurse, staff, and students at South Kent School and regularly visited its campus 3/4ths mile due north.
As her health declined she became dependent on neighbors and various other benefactors for financial support. The boys at South Kent School often brought her food, firewood, milk, and cat food for her many “children of the mountain.”
In 1941 Florie was found dead, lying in her bed, surrounded by her many cats. The next day, news of her death made front-page in The New York Times. Florence was buried beside friends at the small graveyard adjoining the South Kent School chapel. A wooden cross stood at her grave for a time was eventually replaced by a small stone marker, inscribed simply: F E C M / 1917 – 1941.
Published by Ron Suresha
Ron Jackson Suresha is an editor, anthologist, and writer. He is considered an authority on emergent queer masculinities, in particular the subcultures of gay and bi male Bears and of male bisexuality.
For Ron's service to the bear community, he was named "Bear of the Year" 2008.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Suresha attended the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, 1976-8), where he studied creative writing, and Vista College (Berkeley, Cal., 1989-92), where he studied American Sign Language. For more than two decades, he has worked as a freelance proofreader for trade book publishers such as Shambhala Publications. He was married in October 2004 to Rocco Russo. He is also a licensed Justice of the Peace in Connecticut, an ordained minister, ULC, and a member of the New London Green Party.
Nonfiction works include Bears on Bears: Interviews & Discussions; Bi Men: Coming Out (coeditor, with Pete Chvany); Bisexual Perspectives on the Life and Work of Alfred C. Kinsey (editor).
His latest book is The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin: Stories, jests, and donkey tales of the beloved Persian folk hero, published by Lethe Press.
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