March 22, 1875 marks the date of one of the most brutal and gruesome murders in Massachusetts history. George Pemberton ruthlessly murdered Margaret E. Bingham in her own home on Webster Street in East Boston. Pemberton was eventually executed by hanging on October 8 of the same year. The murder and the method by which it was committed was shocking and reprehensible, and justice was quickly doled out for the perpetrator in this case. Pemberton's motive was robbery.
Margaret Bingham and her sister were together in their home at around 2:30 in the afternoon. At about 6:00 pm, their mother returned to the house and went into the cellar to retrieve firewood. That is where she found her daughter Margaret, already dead. The scene of the crime, upon examination by investigators, showed that there was a terrible struggle, and Margaret had bravely fought for her life. The October 8, 1875 Boston Globe describes the horrific scene:
"The body was drenched in blood and so covered with coal dust and gravel as to be hardly recognizable, the face being terribly scratched and the nose badly damaged by a blow from some iron instrument. Her entire body was bruised from head to foot, and around her neck the prints of fingers were plainly visible. The mouth of the murdered woman was found filled with gravel and one pebble the size of a walnut had been forced down as far as the epiglottis."
By the angle of some furniture, it is apparent that at one point, the victim ran towards the door, and was caught by the assailant and pinned down on her back by putting his weight on his knee against her abdomen. It was at this time that the gravel was probably stuffed into her mouth. The gravel was dug from the rotten floor nearby.
One interesting fact was that 3 rings that the victim had always wore or kept on her person were missing. Eventually these 3 rings would prove to be the key in the identification and arrest of the assailant. The police department broadcasted the descriptions of these rings to other stations and cities. The rings would be traced a few days later to a bar in Salem, where a man reportedly used 3 rings to pay for his purchase of liquor.
George Pemberton was arrested on March 25, three days after the murder took place. While in custody, Pemberton attempted to end his own life but failed. Other than this, he had shown good conduct and no resentment towards the people who had been assigned to guard him. He claimed that he had no memory of everything that happened, being heavily intoxicated with alcohol at the time. His spouse and other witnesses testified that he was a heavy drinker, and his defense attorney claimed that his state of mind should absolve him of responsibility for his acts.
On the morning of October 8, 1875, George Pemberton ate his final breakfast. He was first accompanied by a priest and a reverend while the sheriff and his staff made the final preparations for the execution. A huge crowd gathered to witness the event, of which only 350 who held tickets were admitted. At 9:30 am, a religious service started with the reading of scriptures serving Pemberton's soul to God. Pemberton took these with his eyes closed, seated in an arm chair. His march towards the gallows was slow, but intentional. The crowd watched for his facial expression on what what would be, for him, a grim day, but they saw none—only the same calm and stoic indifference which he had worn ever since his arrest. The October 9, 1875 Boston Globe describes Pemberton's final moments:
"After the reading of the warrant, Pemberton stood up, the chair was placed back and he awaited his doom without one shudder or visible movement. Dr. Lorimer offered then a brief, fervent prayer, commending the soul of the guilty man to his Maker. Sheriff Clark, almost as pale as the condemned, advanced to the front of the platform and said 'In pursuance of the foregoing warrant, I now proceed to execute the law,' and, with the utterance of the last word, pressed his foot upon the spring and the body of the luckless wretch shot through the trap door and hung dangling in the air. The spring was touched at precisely three minutes past ten, and less than a second later life was extinct, the neck being broken instantly by the fall. The rope, on becoming taut, caused the body to rebound and quiver for a second or two, but beyond this there was no motion and none that indicated pain. The body swung for some little time and then hung perfectly motionless."
Margaret Bingham had suffered a worse fate than Pemberton, which should be remembered. A great tragedy.