Florence Small Lost Her Head

The defense made a valiant effort on Frederick Small’s behalf.
Proclaiming that he was in Boston at the time,
and had witnesses to the fact.
There was undeniable proof that he wasn’t near the cottage, 
when it burned into the ground.
And he had absolutely nothing to do with the body that they found.  
He could not, would not, did not murder his wife.
Yet in jail he sat, on trial for his life.


The normal nighttime twinkle of lights from the little cottage that sat on the shore of Lake Ossipee, in the village of Mountain View, New Hampshire, had been replaced with the roaring flames of an incendiary fire. One set to erase all evidence of the murder that had been committed there and reduce the body of Mrs. Florence Small to little more than bone and ash.

Foiling the plot of what was expected to be a perfect crime; the floor beneath Mrs. Small’s body gave way during the fire and she fell into the basement below, fortuitously landing in a little pool of water that had collected there.

A cord bound tightly about her neck, a skull fractured by numerous blows, and a bullet wound to the forehead told the ghastly tale of the fate that had been bestowed upon Florence Small. She had not met her death by succumbing to the smoke and flame, but rather to a cold blooded killing.

In an effort to eradicate all signs of his crime her killer had applied a resin of thermite to his victim’s body and sprinkled it about the scene. The compound, typically used in welding to generate an extremely high heat, was intended to fuel a fire so hot that it would incinerate the body, the house, and any evidence that remained.

An onlooker who had stood by to watch as the bungalow burned stated that they had peered through a window upon arriving at the fiery cottage and believed they bore witness to Florence Small’s body partially suspended from the bed by a rope.

After the embers cooled, an alarm clock, some wire, spark plugs and a .32 caliber revolver were found amid the debris in the burned-out rubble of the Small’s summer home. The same caliber bullet was retrieved from Florence’s head.

The assailant stood above her as Florence lie prone on her back, and it was from that angle that he had shot her, the medical examiner said. And while the head shot would have eventually proven to be fatal, the thrashing she took to her skull most likely would not. However, the medical examiner presented, it wasn’t the fire, the gunshot or the blows to the head that had killed her. She had died from strangulation, instead. In his professional opinion, after suffering through a beating and being shot in the head, he estimated that Florence succumbed to the ligature around her neck, finally asphyxiated, and five minutes later was dead.

A Boston broker, Frederick Small was Florence’s husband. Out of town when the fire broke at 10pm that night, he had left for Boston at 3pm earlier in the day, just after lunch. But despite being away from the scene at the time, Florence’s loving husband became the primary suspect in her case.

Frederick had been married twice before. His previous love, second wife Laura Patterson Small, had granted his request for a divorce. Frederick came briefly into the public eye when he sued her paramour for the alienation of lovely Laura’s affections. The man in her life, Frederick Small alleged, was none other than millionaire baseball executive, Arthur H. Soden, president of the National League. Frederick Small wanted A. H. Soden to pay for his crime of the heart. He wanted $500,000 in damages for the loss of his lady love. He also alleged that Soden had drugged both he and his Laura, leaving them unconscious within their own home. Awarded a pittance compared to that which he coveted, a mere $10,000 was all that Frederick was deemed to receive.

On the night of the fire, following the dispatch of news regarding the death of his wife, a physician inquired of Frederick as to what should be done with her remains. “Why?” Frederick asked the good doctor, “is there enough left of the body to require a casket?”

The state believed Frederick concocted some kind of infernal machine. One that employed the spark plugs and wires and ignited gasoline, the fuse had been set with a timed device that he had formed with the alarm clock that they had found. They believed that he had killed his wife after lunch, some time near mid-afternoon, and then rigged the device to ignite the fuse after he had already left town.

Upon his return from Boston, Small proffered a theory that his wife had been murdered by a tramp or a thief, and then offered up a $1,000 reward for the capture of the person who had ended her life.

The police didn’t buy it; they believed that Frederick Small was their man and they surmised that a $20,000 life insurance policy was the reason he hatched his plan. The grieving widower was arrested in his hotel room and carted off to jail. From there he made the arrangements to bury his beloved.

After being acquainted for only ten days, Florence and Frederick had now been married for five years. Her husband spared no expense when it came to burying his beautiful wife. Ninety-eight dollars he spent, covering half of a plot, a paltry casket and a few flowers. He requested no formalities that required any additional attention – such as a headstone, grave marker or service. For her burial only one gift of flowers was received. A wreath, arranged in white and sent by her husband with an inscription that read, “To My Love.”

When Frederick returned to New Hampshire and was questioned by police waiting there he stated that he bade Florence farewell and that she was still in the house when he left. The driver who took him to the station for his trip concurred with Mr. Small; he saw for himself Frederick turn toward the door and heard him say “Good-bye” to Mrs. Small. The driver, however, admitted that he didn’t personally lay eyes on Florence at the time nor had he heard her voice at all.

One of Florence’s previous physician’s came in from Massachusetts. He stepped forward and offered up evidence of some possible prior abuse. The physician recounted an exchange from Frederick as Florence was being treated for injuries. Her husband boastfully quipped, said the doctor, “I hit her in the head with a bootjack. I ought to have killed her and I will yet.”

The mother of the victim had very little to say, but opined Frederick to be a “fear-inspiring hypnotist.” He is, she said, a man “without a drop of the milk of human kindness in his heart,” her Florence had feared him for years.

As the trial proceeded forward the jury took a field trip to the scene of the crime. And with an opportunity advantages to a public display of remorse, Fredrick Small broke with the composure that was the trademark throughout his ordeal and collapsed into a fit of tears. He howled and wailed at the site of his burned house. “Oh my dear wife,” he cried. Unable to hold himself up, he had to be propped up by the sherriff at his side. For the most part, the jurors ignored Frederick Small and his histrionic outbursts, but occasionally one would cast a gaze in the direction of his pitiful tear filled sobs and proclamations of grief.

But the most dreadfully alarming piece of evidence, by far, came in dramatic fashion at the trial’s climax; when the prosecution presented, for the visceral response of the jury, a hideous and frightful display. Florence Small’s severed head. What Frederick didn’t know, as they buried his wife, was that the prosecution had obtained an order to remove his bride’s head and have it placed in their possession for safe keeping. A few other portions and parts had also been plucked for possible use at his trial and they were being kept cozy and well preserved in alcohol filled jars nearby.

The judge suggested that women leave the courtroom, as Florence’s head was produced. Eight fair lasses remained seated, and craned their necks with the rest of the court’s observers as the prosecution’s gruesome exhibit was displayed. A gasp went through the courtroom and Frederick Small covered his face. He sobbed into his hands as a witness described in detail the current state of his wife’s face. Her features had been distorted by fire and frozen in time by death; the neck was still attached and encircled by the knotted cord that took her life. There was clearly a gunshot wound to her forehead and her skull had been cracked and damaged by at least seven forceful blows to her head.

The accused never took the stand to speak in his defense and let his counsel do their job. His attorney argued that the state had not offered proof that his client could cause a fire seven hours after he left his home. And they countered that the thermite was not possessed by Frederick Small, he had no knowledge of any such compound at all. The wires found in the basement, they said, near the spark plugs and clock, were merely telephone wires and nothing nefarious.

The prosecution unleashed upon the defendant a closing argument of vitriol and venom. Charging that the crime was as heinous an act as had ever been committed in the state, it was likened to the same unspeakable cruelty that had befallen women and children who had burned at the stake in the days of early New Hampshire. “Frederick Small,” declared the Attorney General, while shaking his clenched fist, was an “Imp form Hell.” A soulless cad teeming with “the spirit of the Devil”

The jury recessed for dinner and then they went to work. After a fourteen day trial it took only three hours for the verdict to be reached. It was a unanimous finding for guilty; murder in the first degree.

The defendant entered the courtroom looking pale, drawn and haggard. His attorney, brother and nephew were at his side. And as the verdict was read he staggered and swayed just a bit, but then quickly regained his composure.

“Have you anything to say as to why sentence should not be pronounced?” the judge asked of the defendant.

“I have your honor,” Frederick Small replied. “I know no more about this crime than you do. I am an innocent person.”

And then after the formalities of adjournment had been observed, and Frederick Small had been sentenced for his act, he turned to the courtroom, and addressing the reporters still present within he repeated himself for the record, “Gentlemen, I am innocent of this crime. I know no more about it than you do. I am awaiting the next move.”

As journalists crowded around the man who had been damned to hang by his neck a reporter remarked, “The coolest man in the courtroom by far is the man who has just been condemned to death.”

The defense did their level best in lobbying on behalf of their client. Requesting an acquittal on grounds of evidence insufficient for presentation to a jury, appealing the sentence and filing multiple exceptions, but they failed in their endeavor. Affirmation came, supporting the verdict and the sentence. Frederick Small would be executed.

On the day of his death Frederick Small went to the gallows calmly. He would neither admit nor deny that he had ended the life of his wife. “I am resigned. God’s will be done,” were the last words he chose to utter.

The lights were turned out, and amid the blackness that shrouded the hangman’s gallows the strap that operated the trap door beneath Frederick Small’s feet was pulled and the condemned man dropped to his death in darkness.


The first case to be heard within the Ossipee, New Hampshire courtroom walls was that of Frederick Small for the murder of his wife Florence. Easily a victim of domestic battery, Florence Arlene Curry Small died on September 28, 1916. She was 37-years old. She had been beaten, strangled, shot, and burned. Her head later removed for the benefit of prosecutorial theatrics and paraded about a courtroom for the shock and awe of spectators and jurors.

Her husband, Frederick Small, was executed for her murder on January 15, 1918. He dropped to his death at 12:18 am and was pronounced dead nine minutes later. His remains were cremated and put into the care of his brother who returned with him to Portland, ME.

At the end of the trial Florence Arlene Small was forgotten. Left abandoned in an unmarked grave at Grant Hill cemetery for 91-years, it was a mystery as to where in the graveyard Florence actually lay buried, or if she was even there at all. There was little to speak to the fact that Florence had ever existed in Ossipee. The court transcripts had been lost and there was no recording of her death in the 1916 record of vital statistics for the town.

Then one day Natalie Peterson, a woman helping to restore the old courthouse, stumbled upon Florence’s grave and the story of how she came to rest there. She set forth to see that the town’s forgotten victim was forgotten no more. Ninety-one years after her passing Florence Small finally received a proper headstone and long awaited remembrance.

I can’t help but wonder, though… if anyone ever remembered to give Florence back her head?

Chloe Davis Murder Case: Part 4

Chloe’s neighbors and classmates had gathered on the lawn of the Davis residence to await her arrival. Faces of onlookers fell pale as the police motorcade pulled to the front of the little house and Chloe smiled and gave a casual wave from the car window.

Today, under the company of the famed police psychiatrist, Dr. J. Paul De River, Chloe would lead her law enforcement entourage through rooms that had once held the sounds of laughing children and the hopes and dreams of a family, but now only retained the sickening sour scent of blood and death.

Happily, Chloe led a captive audience room by room though her domicile of horror, completely unaffected by the grotesque scene before her. With a delightful little bounce in her step and a cheerful smile, Chloe padded about the grisly crime scene, with its blood drenched carpets and gore spattered walls - her audience in tow. With a callous coolness of demeanor, she nonchalantly told the story of the frenzied butchery that had taken place, while reenacting the crime scene as though she were playing a bit part in her 6th grade class play.

When asked if she had been frightened during the ordeal she replied, in a very matter of fact manner, “Well, I didn’t cry. If that’s what you mean?

As they entered the bedroom that she had once shared with her siblings a cameraperson, who had accompanied the group to the crime scene, had Chloe pose seated on the edge of her bed, a doll cradled in her arms. Looking distant and wholly uninterested in the notion of being photographed playing with dolls, Chloe paused for a moment and pointed to a bookshelf located in the corner of the room. With a bright smile, she exclaimed, “I’m a real bookworm. I read all the time!

Chloe Davis was, indeed, a brilliant and well read child, despite that she displayed a vernacular overrun with the slang terminology of the 1940’s. Dr. De River would conclude that Chloe was the “coolest-blooded individual” that he had ever met and possessed the intellect of a sixteen year old adolescent with “a mind as clear as a bell.” One that was “distinctly capable of planning and committing the murders.”

Yet despite being as well read as she clearly was, and demonstrating an academic brilliance that was equally impressive, when asked why she locked the door as she left the house after the murders of her family Chloe calmly replied that she believed that those demons her mother spoke of would be able to get in. She had locked the door to make sure to keep them out.

Captain Edwards was unable to accept a version of events which he thought to be wholly “fantastic and unbelievable,” and did not let up on his questioning of the young girl. He was convinced that she and she alone had murdered her family and that the story she had been telling of her mother and demons was nothing more than the makings of an imaginative young murderess who was seeking to get away with the merciless bludgeoning of her family.

Left practically incoherent from shock and near the verge of collapse, Frank Barton Davis was a complete wreck, “Oh God, why can’t I die, too? I’ve nothing to live for,” he exclaimed while at police headquarters.

Brought in to assist in the questioning of his daughter; he listened to the bloody tale spilling from her lips and began to sob. “Oh my poor baby,” he wailed. “You can’t blame her. She’s just as innocent as the other children. She only did what she was told to do.” Chloe cast a sympathetic glance in his direction, “Buck up dad,” she said, “Don’t let it get you down.”

He could give no explanation as to why his wife would suddenly loose her mind, murder three of their youngest children and then implore their oldest to pound her completely senseless. “I didn’t know there was anything wrong with my wife,” he sobbed hysterically, “She was a perfect mother and loved her children.

And by all accounts Lolita Davis had behaved as any other perfectly normal woman would. At least up until the morning of the murders. Although she had been under a doctor’s care for anemia she most certainly had not shown any prior signs of being deranged. She was not a disturbed woman and she had never before spoken of demons. Of that, F. Barton Davis was absolutely sure, “She was as normal as any woman could be,” he stated. And Chloe concurred.

There was also something else that he was sure of. His only surviving daughter would never and could never tell a lie, most assuredly not one to the police.

But as the police captain continued to insist that Barton Davis’ lovely young daughter was the sole slayer of her family the reality of the situation began to sear into his brain, and he began to hysterically defend his child. Then as quickly and as ardently as he avowed that his wife was as sane as any woman could be, he retreated from his declarations and began to paint the scene with an entirely different brush.

He asserted that his wife had an astounding power over her children, Chloe in particular. There was no doubt in his mind that Chloe would follow her mother’s instructions, regardless of what they were. Barton Davis, in defense of his only remaining offspring, declared, “She’s telling the truth, she never lies. Don’t you think she could have done it. How can you be such fools? I tell you, you are wrong. Chloe could not, would not, have done such a thing. She was helpless in her mother’s hands.”

Lolita Davis, alleged her husband, had been perfectly happy until she had come into the possession of a particular book, “Blind Devotion, I think it was called,” he said. The book was about a woman in Michigan who had four children and at some point, he said, his wife had come into the notion that the book had been written about her.

Her mind was tortured,” he conceded, “She was acting peculiar for weeks.” At first, he said, that he thought the strange ideas were occurring because of her anemia.

It was two weeks ago that he woke to find his wife sitting upright in bed having a cigarette. When questioned, “She said that she had a terrible confession. She knew the spirits were going to kill me and turn the children over to white slavers. An evil spirit was creeping up on us and she was waiting for it.“

Realizing that there was something imminently wrong with his wife he immediately took her to a psychiatrist. The doctor and Mrs. Davis visited for a considerable length of time and when both Davises left Lolita remarked that she had felt “as though a terrific burden had been lifted.” However soon after the consultation she, again, began discussing the book and stating that she had seen visions of demons torturing the children. Refusing to seek council with another psychiatrist, Lolita Davis instead agreed to be seen by physicians. It was then that she was diagnosed as being anemic and had been receiving shots for the condition. “I took her to two doctors and to a psychiatrist,” stated her husband, “The psychiatrist told me that there was nothing wrong with her that couldn’t be cured.”

Dr. V. J. Stack, the family physician came forward and confirmed that Barton Davis himself had contacted the good doctor not more than two weeks prior because he feared that his wife was teetering on the brink of insanity.

According to both Chloe and her father, Lolita Davis held to a belief that with the shear power of her mind she could force those around her to succumb to their deaths. When her cousin, Patsy, died a number of years earlier Lolita claimed that it was she who had caused the child to expire and that demons were therefore going to “get” her as retribution. “She had been nervous for several years,” Davis said, “But had apparently become worse. She told me that she was responsible for Patsy’s death. I told her that she had nothing to do with it. Patsy died naturally.”

But that wasn’t the end of her delusional meanderings, according to her husband. He claimed three weeks prior to the murders of his family his wife had come to him and asked where she could purchase chloroform. When questioned as to why she wanted such an item Lolita Davis stated that, “she believed all of us were menaced by some strange demon. She said some unseen power was going to kill the children and she wanted it to pour over their faces so that the pain would be eased.”

He also confessed that his wife wanted him to help her commit suicide. She had implored him to prove his love to her by helping her to die locked inside the family automobile while inhaling the fumes of carbon monoxide piped in through a hose connected to the exhaust. Just the night before the murders, Davis shared with police, while sitting at the dinner table, his wife had asked him, in front of the children, what was the best way to kill a person? “Where was the most mortal spot,” she asked; “I laughed and said, ‘a shot straight through the heart,’ then changed the conversation.

Soon friends and neighbors began to step forward in young Chloe’s defense. Further substantiating the fantastic tale of a mother beset by a belief in demons and obsessed by the notion that she possessed an innate power to kill those around her.

According to friends and neighbors, Lolita Davis frequently spoke of individuals whose lives had come to a violent conclusion. She was fixated on death. At one point during the investigation an attorney came forward, a friend of the Davises, and revealed that three weeks prior to the murder Lolita Davis had asked him not only how she would go about procuring enough chloroform to kill but where the best place on the head would be to hit someone if you wanted to bring about their death.

Chloe had endured two days of questioning by Dr. De River and the hard-boiled homicide investigators of the Los Angeles Police Department, but she never lost her composure. Never once did she shed a tear. During the police interrogations Chloe’s demeanor was of such an even keel that she would calmly intercede to correct her father on certain points of the case.

A policewoman held that Chloe had, “the face of an angel,” but that when she had remarked that the young girl “must try to forget what happened,” the child replied, “My father is the one who needs to forget. He’s nuts.”

She stood up well for one of a family struck by such a crime. She showed little emotion,” Dr. De River remarked to the press, “We must take into consideration the fact that Chloe might have an Electra Complex. This would lead us to believe her capable of such a deed.”

And although Chloe had recalled during questioning that while she was attempting to bash her mother’s brains in Lolita Davis had demanded that she fetch a razor and then used it to slash her own wrists, severing the arteries of each, “There’s one thing I forgot to tell you gentlemen,” she quipped, “Ma asked me for a razor blade and I saw her slash both writes with it,” and indeed a razor blade had been recovered at the crime scene covered with congealed blood and feathers, retrieved near where her mother had breathed her last breath. Other than that one modest little detail, the razor, Chloe never once changed her story.

Unable to shake Chloe in her account, and now with the steadfast support of her father in the claims concerning the mental stability of her mother, and the further assertions of friends of the Davis family to the same, Captain Edwards needed to make a decision. Either Chloe was telling the truth, or she was a cold blooded killer. He knew that if she was found guilty the maximum sentence for annihilating her family would be confinement to a juvenile facility until age twenty-one and then she would be released. Chloe’s father was putting the pressure on, now, too. He wanted his daughter out of state custody and he had hired an attorney to make sure that happened. It was time for Captain Edwards to either charge his young detainee with murder, or release her to the custody of her father.

The clock was ticking, and unfortunately for the LAPD it was strapped to a little stick of dynamite named Chloe Davis. There was going to be an explosion.

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