Fascinating and Unusual Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
Item 56 is A Report of the Trial of the Rev. Ephraim K. Avery...for the Murder of Sarah Maria Cornell. This was a sensational trial in Rhode Island in 1833. Ms. Cornell, who had known the Reverend since his days in Massachusetts, was found hanging from the frame of a haystack. It might have been unquestioningly attributed to suicide but for a note she left, "If I should be found missing, enquire of the Rev. Mr. Avery of Bristol, - he will know where I am." It did not help that Ms. Cornell was five months pregnant, and there were letters implicating the Reverend. Avery gave alibis of several people who would have seen him at a place and time making his participation in her death impossible, but none of these "witnesses" recalled seeing him. However, several testified to seeing a tall man, as was Rev. Avery, in the vicinity of Ms Cornell's home, though none could positively identify him. The townsfolk were ready to hang him too, but after a trial in which Avery was defended by one of the best lawyers in New England, the jury acquitted. Avery would go on a speaking tour to try to recoup lost legal funds, but he was not well received. After moving around New England a few times, but never escaping hostility, he moved on to Ohio, where he lived out his life in relative peace and obscurity, with a family that stood beside him. Avery died in 1869, with no one but he and the late Ms. Cornell knowing for sure whether he killed her, or she took her own life, implicating the Reverend as an act of revenge. $250.
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