Haunted by Thoughts of Murder
The United States had gained its independence from Britain for only a few years, when a 19-year-old named Barnett Davenport came to work for a family on their farm. Little did they know they had the devil in their midst, who later claimed he was haunted by thoughts of murder.
Barnett Davenport was a drifter who, after deserting from George Washington's Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, moved from place to place, even fighting as a paid proxy for other men. At one point, he deserted again but was captured and taken back. In late 1779 or early 1780, Davenport took a job with Caleb Mallory. Mallory was a grist mill operator in rural Connecticut who welcomed the unemployed wanderer into his home.
Caleb Mallory and his wife Jane lived with their two daughters and three grandchildren. On February 3, Davenport convinced the two Mallory daughters to go on a trip, leaving the grandparents alone with the three grandchildren. That night, around midnight, Davenport went into the Mallory home and ferociously beat Caleb, Jane, and the oldest grandchild, Charlotte, to death. Charlotte was nine years old.
After he killed the three Mallory family members, Davenport took whatever he could find from the house and took off his bloody clothes, changing into some of his victim's. To cover his tracks, he set the house on fire, a blaze that killed the two remaining grandchildren: John, age four, and Sherman, age six.
A contemporary account from the New England Gazetteer summed up his crimes:
"With a heart hard as adamant, he lighted a candle, went into the lodging room of his benefactors, and beat them to death with a club. A little grand child being with it’s grand parents shared the same fate, and two others were left in a sound sleep to perish in the flames."
After setting the house on fire, Davenport fled, leaving his five victims to burn. He took refuge in Cornwall, Connecticut and was found in a cave six days later. He was arrested and taken to Litchfield and held in Newgate Prison. When he was captured, he claimed that he had not acted alone but there's no indication that he had an accomplice.
Davenport's confession was unnerving in its description of his killings. He detailed entering the house, taking some items, then stalking his prey:
"...into the room where Mr. Mallory, his wife and one grand child lay asleep. First I smote him with my might once or twice on his head; upon this Mrs. Mallory awaking attempted to rise up; I turned and struck her one or two blows. Mr. Mallory then sprung up; I struck immediately at him; but he partly warded off the blow with his arm, and then struck the candle out of my hand; I then pushed him back, and down upon the bed, belabouring him with the club."
After the elder Mallorys were dead, Davenport alleged he put on Caleb Mallory's clothes, went into the room where John and Sherman had been sleeping, and told the startled children to go back to sleep.
The confession that Davenport gave recounted the murders but also included details as to how Davenport felt while he was committing them. A one point during the attack, Davenport struck Caleb Mallory so hard that his club broke in two. He looked around for other tools to use, even grabbing the butt of a gun. The resilient Mallory grandparents, however, were still not dead.
"[He] asked me who I was? what I meant? and said, tell me what you do it for? Then called to his wife to come and help him repeatedly...she cried out bitterly. She called out for me by name. But I continued paying on, feeling no remorse at killing my aged patrons and benefactors."
Davenport went on to say:
"[F]or the children, I seemed to feel some small relentings without remitting in the least my execrable exertions."
Davenport was arraigned and gave a full confession to a local reverend at Litchfield’s Congregational Church. In his 14-page confession, he recounted his life and the night he killed the Mallorys in gripping detail, events that he called "the blackest crimes that evil mortals committed."
He talked about how he had been obsessed with thoughts of killing and death for months. His preoccupation with death went back to his time as an indentured child with John Stilwell, whom he'd also fantasized about killing, and he said that when he first met the Mallorys, he "was haunted and possessed with thoughts of murder."
Long before he committed his gruesome mass murders at age 19, Barnett Davenport was a rural Connecticut kid who, probably due to his rough upbringing, shown criminal intent from an early age. Davenport was born in 1760 and grew up in Litchfield County, Connecticut. He lived with his parents until the age of around nine, after which his father put him into the care of an associate named John Stilwell, probably as a hired farmhand. He had no education. But the farm work didn't keep Barnett out of trouble: he stole his boss's horse and was convicted of robbery by the age of 15. At 16, he joined the Massachusetts militia during the American Revolutionary War.
Once he enlisted in the militia, Davenport fought for the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War, serving under George Washington. He fought at Valley Forge and Fort Ticonderoga, among other battles, before taking a furlough from which he never returned. He deserted and went back to Connecticut. Even in the military, Davenport kept up his thieving ways. He stole "hens, geese...wine...and sugar" as the army marched through the countryside.
When Davenport signed up for military service, he used the name "Bernard." He often used names that were not his own, including his brother's. Davenport's brother, Nicholas, was arrested after the Mallory murders because Barnett had been using his name. Nicholas was kept in custody even after Barnett confessed, however, because he was complicit in his brother's desertion.
Davenport was tried and convicted of the Mallory murders and Judge Roger Sherman sentenced him to 40 lashes and hanging. His brother was also sentenced to 40 lashing and life in prison.
Davenport was hanged on May 8, 1780, less than two weeks after his conviction at the aptly named Gallows Hill. His brother was forced to stand behind the gallows and watch as his brother was hanged and, after Davenport was dead, the body was left hanging to be a reminder to others.
Nicholas escaped from prison, was recaptured, and then was released two years later. He had to agree to stay in New Milford and died there when he was 58 years old.
Barrett Davenport's crime was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Word of the killings spread through the countryside and the murders, which came to be known as the New Milford Murders, became the topic of debate about crime in general. As one writer has put it:
"Until then, crime was most often seen as the result of common sinners losing their way. Today, Davenport's crime might be ascribed to post-traumatic stress disorder."
Davenport's account revealed the complexities of the criminal mind. The murders themselves, however, have since faded into regional lore. In 1959, horrific murders in Kansas that seemed eerily similar to Davenport's historical spree nearly 200 years earlier would provide inspiration for Truman's Capote's infamous novel, In Cold Blood.
Source - Ranker
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer