By Jim Ignasher
The woman’s body was found headless and nude, described as being that of a young red haired woman, “of ordinary size and rather full breast”.
The date was June 26, 1912, and she’d been found along the Blackstone River in Woonsocket at place known as Lonesome Dame’s Grove, bound hand and foot, and weighted down. Nobody knew who she was, and Investigators had little to work with. Thus began one of the city’s most sensational murder cases which left some wondering if the wrong man had been convicted
The victim’s fingerprints weren’t on file with the police, and autopsy results indicated she’d been dead for six to eight weeks.
Nearby automobile tire prints suggested the body had been transported in a car. A woman living nearby told police that one night about two months earlier she’d heard a woman screaming for help as a car passed her home, but could offer no description.
Several theories were put forth, but none that were supported with facts. Investigators compared missing person cases from throughout New England, but to no avail. With nothing else to go on, suspicion fell to the man who initially discovered the body. Police searched his home, but found nothing incriminating.
Authorities then made arrangements to have the water level lowered so a search of the riverbed could be made. This led to the discovery of a weighted bundle of woman’s clothing, but it was no help with identification.
A break in the case came when Rhode Island’s Governor, and Woonsocket resident, Ariam Pothier, offered a reward of one-thousand dollars for information leading to the arrest of the killer(s). (A substantial sum in 1912.)
Shortly afterwards, police were given the name of Angele Parmentier-Delmar who’d lived in an apartment near the crime scene with Henri Deslover, who it was said, had recently complained that Angele had returned to France with $48 dollars of his money. He had since inexplicably moved to another apartment a short distance away.
Two friends of Angele told police they’d last seen her on June 4, and both identified the recovered clothing as belonging to their missing friend. However, they couldn’t identify the body at the morgue.
When police initially questioned Deslover, he told them Angele had been his housekeeper, and identified the recovered clothing as belonging to her, but he too couldn’t identify the body. He was then arrested and brought to police headquarters where he was questioned for six hours.
During interrogation he admitted to a romantic relationship with Angele, and like all couples, they occasionally quarreled, but he denied killing her. He was familiar with Lonesome Dame’s Grove because he’d fished there on occasion. As to Angele’s disappearance, he’d assumed she’d gone back to France because she’d threatened to do so in the past. When she didn’t come home he sold some of the furniture and moved to another apartment.
When detectives searched the couple’s previous apartment they discovered a trap door leading to a crawlspace beneath the house which had a window large enough to pull a body through. They speculated Deslover had killed Angele in the apartment and removed her body through the trap door to avoid being seen. To prove their theory they removed a piece of stained flooring which they believed contained dried blood to have it tested – the results of which were never made public.
Further investigation revealed that Deslover had served three years in a French prison for shooting a policeman!
The case against Deslover was circumstantial at best, but the public was clamoring for justice. He was charged with murder, pled innocent, and held for trial. The complaint against him read in part that he’d assaulted Angele Parmentier, “…in some way and manner, and by some means, instruments and weapons unknown, did then and there feloniously, willfully and of malice aforethought deprive of life so that she the said Angele Parmentier, then and there died.”
Although circumstantial evidence can be enough to convict, the case had some discrepancies, one being the time of death, which the coroner had set as being six to eight weeks before the body was discovered. Yet Angele was last seen alive on June 4, twenty-two days earlier. And Angele was a brunette, not a red-head, and was known to have a deformed finger and several scars, all of which the victim was lacking. In fact, the body was never positively identified, and the murder weapon never found.
The theory that the murder took place in the couple’s former apartment didn’t account for the lack of blood evidence, or the fact that there were no scrapes or cuts on the body indicating that it had been dragged through the trap door, the crawl space, through the window, and down to the river.
Furthermore, neighbors who knew the couple described Deslover as “peace-loving and not quarrelsome”, but added that Angele had a temper, and sometimes inflicted bruises and scratches on Deslover.
Despite these contradictions brought out at trial, Deslover was convicted in the spring of 1913. Some felt it was a miscarriage of justice, while others felt he hadn’t acted alone.
The conviction was appealed, and a new trial granted in 1917, but the verdict was the same. Yet that’s not the end of this story.
In September of 1918 Deslover escaped from prison with another inmate named Wilfred Carpenter. Carpenter was later shot and killed by Philadelphia police during a robbery, but Deslover was never heard from again.
In July of 1919, two boys swimming in Woonsocket’s Social Pond found a human skull which revived memories of the murder. The coroner who’d worked on the Deslover case declared the skull an old one that exhibited no signs of foul play, most likely used by a physician or a fraternal organization, and definitely not connected to the murder case.
Yet apparently someone wanted a second opinion, and had the skull examined by several other physicians, all of whom drew a different conclusion. Each pointed to a crack on the right side which indicated a blow to the head from a blunt object. They discounted its use for display purposes, for those skulls typically have a detached top reconnected with wire, and this skull did not.
Did the skull belong to Angele Parmentier – Delmar? With the limited forensic technology of 1919, nobody could be sure.
Whatever became of the skull is unknown. As for the headless corpse of Lonesome Dame’s Grove, she was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave at city expense, and the case eventually faded into history to become yet another forgotten tale of Rhode Island.