Human Monsters: Joseph LaPage, The Horror Of Pembroke New Hampshire

 

Body found 90 feet north at stone hub. Head found 82 rods north at stone hub.

Langmaid Monument, situated near where Josie’s body had been found. Just across from Three Rivers School

These are the directions found on a stone placard near the Langmaind Monument in Pembroke New Hampshire. They are there to guide the curious to where officials found the body and head of Josie Langmaid on October 5th, 1875. She had been seventeen when Joseph LaPage attacked her on her way to school. When the monster was finally found, a long and sordid history of violence and abuse was uncovered, as well as another victim.

Before Joseph LaPage earned the title “The French Monster”, he was born Joseph Paget in Montreal, Canada in 1837. Little is known of his early life but his dark nature started to show after his marriage to an older woman. He would beat her viciously and hang out with known criminals and thieves. While in his home town he began to gain his own criminal reputation, with petty theft and other small crimes.

Five children and a move to Saint Beatrice, a small town outside Quebec, later Joseph committed his first documented rape. His wife’s thirteen-year-old sister Julienne worked for a farmer in the town. Her job every morning was to milk the cows, a task that took her to a part of the pasture which was hidden from view of the main house. Once she was out of sight a man walked onto the path dressed in flannel. He wore a gruesome mask fashioned from animal skins and carried a cudgel, a kind of club with a brutal blunt end.

The man rushed her and as they struggled Julienne ripped off the mask to reveal a face she knew well, her brother in law Joseph LaPage. He pinned her down and shoved dirt in her mouth and eyes, he then violated her. Sometime during the attack, she passed out. Hours later Julienne regained consciousness and ran to the farm owner but it was too late. LaPage and his brood were already on their way out of the country and the reach of Canadian lawmen.

“A Fiend Incarnate”

Three years go by and the mutilated body of Marietta Ball is found in the woods around her hometown of St. Albans, Vermont. Marietta was a twenty-year-old school teacher, much loved around the small town and in her one-room schoolhouse. She had been brutalized and stripped, her skull bashed in with a rock. The local doctor couldn’t determine if her sexual abuse had occurred pre or postmortem.

The crime shook the town and it wasn’t long before a person of interest was found. One of Marietta’s students told investigators that a man had been asking about his teacher. When she showed up to open the school, which way she walked when she went home for the day. On top of that, the same man was sighted with deep scratches on his face the day after the murder. Armed with a strong suspicion, they paid a visit to St. Albans french quarter. To the home of Joseph LaPage.

An artist rendering of LaPage before his trial for the murder of Josie Langmaid

LaPage had not made a good impression when he arrived from Quebec. He quickly became known around St. Albans as a violent man with a short temper, especially towards women. However, he had managed to make a few friends among the small group of French-speaking immigrants. Enough friends that when the police arrested him for the murder of Marietta ball, they were able to give false testimony that he had been out with them picking berries at the time of the murder. As for the gouges on his face? He explained those away as nothing worse than scratches from thorn bushes.

They let him go.

“A Demon From The Bottomless Pit”

Shortly after police released him, LaPage packed up and left town with his family. They drifted around for a little while before settling in Pembroke New Hampshire. Not long after that, the people of Pembroke began to have odd encounters on the road leading to the local high school.

A local boy, John Colby, watched a hunched figure jump into the bushes beside the road as he started down it. He figured it was a schoolmate of his, one known for practical jokes but when he rushed the bushes, they were empty. Another time a mother and daughter saw a man come out of the woods behind them. He looked fierce and held a long stick. He chased the pair until another man that they knew came down the path. Then their pursuer ran off into the undergrowth.

Josie Langmaid

For many that traveled down that path, their encounters with “The French Monster” only ended in fear. When Josie Langmaid made her way to school, it would end in death. She’d not meant to go alone that day, her brother Waldo was supposed to walk with her but she’d wanted to wait for a friend. The friend didn’t show and Waldo had already left, so Josie went alone down the dim path in the early morning. Running behind she waved at Bernard Gile as he hurried past on his own errands. He would be the last person to see her smile, to see her alive and whole.

Eight o’clock that night a farmer stumbled across Josie’s headless and butchered body in the woods off the main road. She’d been stripped and her arms bent at odd angles, the killer had cut away her vulva and chopped off her head. The head was found the next day not far from the body. The killer had used an ax but also kicked at it so hard a nearly perfect boot print was visible on her left cheek.

At first, LaPage was not on the shortlist of suspects the police had. Top of that list was actually a local stonemason who had been making lewd remarks to Josie weeks before the murder. However, once details on the case were released they made their way to Vermont and into the office of Dr. Farnsworth, the local coroner in St. Albans. He noticed the similarities between the death of Josie and Marietta. Once he spoke with investigators in Pembroke, it wasn’t long before LaPage was brought in.

He didn’t do much to help his case this time around. Joseph LaPage’s bedroom was searched and a blood-soaked pair of pants was found. He had also had dinner with a local family before it had been announced that Josie had been killed and when asked about the missing girl stated that it was such a shame she was dead. The police also found a match between the boot print on Josie’s cheek and LaPage’s boots.

Even his long-suffering wife told detectives that it wouldn’t surprise her if he had killed and brutalized the girl, though she also claimed to know nothing about it or any of his other crimes. While the evidence was damning enough, it was Julienne who sealed his fate in LaPage’s first trial. She came down from Canada and, with the help of a translator, detailed his assault on her. It took the jury less than two hours to find him guilty.

On appeal, he did manage to get that conviction overturned on account of Julienne being allowed to testify. His lawyers were able to successfully argue that what happened to her did not have any connection to the murder of Josie. This was only a small set back for the prosecution, LaPage was retried and found guilty once again.

While in prison Joseph LaPage had tried to escape using a bit of metal from his bedframe but after that second conviction, he seemed to embrace his fate. He said a curt goodbye to his family and spent almost an entire day with his two religious leaders. Then, on the night before his hanging, he called for the warden and tearfully confessed to not only the murder of Josie but also that of Marietta.

The next morning on March 15, 1878, LaPage was lead to the gallows. Of all the people who had gathered to watch his execution, one figure was strangely subdued in the crowd. James Langmaid, Josie’s father. He watched the monster who had taken his daughter swing from the rope for twenty minutes before they declared Joseph dead. James had suffered a second loss after Josie’s death, his son Waldo also died of consumption not long after.

LaPage’s story doesn’t end at a graveyard as it would seem. No, his rest is not a peaceful one. Two weeks after he was hung, a group of teenagers dug up his body and hung him once again from a pipe on April Fools Day.

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(If you enjoyed reading about Joseph LaPage feel free to check out other killers in my Human Monsters category.)

Sources:

Obscure Vermont

Atlas Obscura

Murderpedia

Psycho USA, by Harold Schechter

 

 

 

 

 

 

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