In Honor of Florence Arlene Small

In Honor of Florence Arlene Small. Layered paper collage. 12" x 16".

In Honor of Florence Arlene Small. Layered paper collage. 12" x 16".

Note: Although I do not consider myself a portrait artist, I was moved to make this collage honoring Florence Arlene Small after reading about her death at the hands of her husband in September, 1916. What I couldn't get out of my mind was the fact that Florence, in life, long suffered from verbal abuse and physical attacks in relative isolation. Her neighbors witnessed some of the vitriol, even moderated her husband's behavior somewhat by their presence at times, but, in the end were unable to prevent her death. Organizations dedicated to assisting women, children, and men experiencing domestic violence would not come into existence for another 50 to 60 years. If you or someone you know is experiencing verbal or physical abuse, please contact someone you trust in your area for support. Here are a few organizations that may be able to help:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Spruce Run (in Maine) 

Florence Arlene Small

What little I could discover about Florence Arlene Small (nee Curry) is that she was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 27, 1879. She married in December, 1911 (possibly on the 3rd) and moved, with her husband to a lake side house in Ossipee, New Hampshire in May, 1914. She fished on the lake, played cards with neighbors, cooked delicious, homemade meals, and, when her husband was away on business, spent much of her time alone in what one news reporter called "heartache bondage."

Florence's life came to an end on September 28, 1916 at the hands of her husband, whose name I know but am purposely omitting here. Her mother and sister attended the murder trial.

The man Florence married was smart, conniving and a brute. According to witness testimony, he'd made her life with him a living hell. Witnesses, neighbors in the small village and summer residents, told of times the man kicked his wife, called her names, and threatened to hit her--or even kill her--over incidental events: the way she steered their motor boat, the way she cooked or which cards she played in a card game. He had no qualms about insulting her in front of guests to their home or in public. On one occasion, the man beat Florence with a boot jack and then attacked the doctor with a billet of wood when he called at the house to tend to her wounds. The doctor prevailed in gaining control over the situation by hitting the man with a chair. The husband, still angry, admitted to the doctor he'd beaten his wife with the boot jack and said he should have killed her.

On the day Florence was murdered, her husband arranged to go to Boston with a neighbor. He packed a bag that included the deed to the house, a list of the contents of the house, a checkbook, several letters, diaries from 1906 to 1915, two small address books and his Masonic apron described as one of his "most valuable possessions." When the sleigh arrived to take him to the train station, he shouted good-bye to his wife, then closed and locked the door to the house. The sleigh driver did not see Florence or hear a reply.

Upon arriving in Boston, the men checked into a hotel. Florence's husband sent a postcard addressed to her with a short, unromantic note. He made a point to mark the time and date on the card. The two men had dinner and went to a show. The two returned to their hotel around midnight.

Shortly after, the man received the news by phone that his house was burning and could not be saved. His wife, the caller told him, was feared missing.

On the train home, according to witness testimony, the man cried because his "pet" (his wife) was gone (though nobody had said for sure that she was dead), asked soberly about their $20,000 life insurance policy--if it was all right--and inquired how close to 10 o'clock the fire had started. Instead of going directly to his house upon reaching Ossipee, the man went to the local hotel where he waited over two hours before setting out for the ruins of his home. He had time for a meal before he went.

The man's behavior at the scene was equally puzzling to witnesses. There was a mass, later positively identified as Florence's body, still burning in the rubble. The man ignored it and, instead, looked around and said there was $600 worth of diamonds in the bottom of the cellar and that anyone could have them, presumably implying there had been a robbery. Others on the scene poured water on the body to extinguish the flames.

Once Florence's body could be more closely examined, investigators pieced together what happened.

Before leaving for Boston, the man and his wife had lunch. The coroner's report confirmed that Florence died within a half hour after eating. The man, then, hit his wife with a poker, strangled and shot her. She was on a burning mattress when investigators found her, presumably the bed. Her clothes were smeared with resin. The canister of kerosene the man had ordered delivered on the morning of the murder was empty. His gun, which matched the bullet still lodged in her jaw bone, was found in the rubble, as was a fuse and an alarm clock. Investigators determined that not only did the man brutally murder his wife, he devised a timed mechanism, then set it to go off and burn the house down while he was in Boston. It appeared he had hoped the fire was hot enough, strong enough, and long-lasting enough to destroy the body and any remaining evidence.

Throughout the trial, the man maintained his innocence.

The jury found the man guilty of first degree murder with capital punishment. The state law at the time required at least a year and a day between the passing of a death sentence and its execution. He petitioned for a new trial in January, 1918, which was denied. He was hanged on January 15, 1918.

The news reports I found did not say where Florence was buried. I hope, for her family's sake, that her body was returned to those who truly loved her.

 

References

Accept four jurors in trial of Small. Duluth News Tribune. Duluth, Minnesota. 12-27-1916. page 1.

Four jurors drawn selected to try Frederick Small Charged with Murder of Wife. Patriot. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 12-27-1916. page 1.

Small sobs as he views ruins. Boston Journal. Boston, Massachusetts. 12-28-1916. page 1 and 5.

Small treated wife cruelly, is testimony. August Chronicle. Augusta, Georgia. 12-29-1916. page 6.

Asserts Small threatened to kill his wife. Boston Herald. Boston, Massachusetts. 12-29-1916. pages 1 and 3.

Hume, William A. Small seems to feel state has not scored against him so far. Boston Herald.  Boston, Massachusetts. 12-29-1916. page 3.

Saw Small kick and curse wife. Boston Journal. Boston, Massachusetts. 12-29-1916. pages 1 and 4.

Emotional scenes at the Small trial. Augusta Chronicle. Augusta, Georgia. 12-31-1916. page 2.

Tattered scalp in evidence. Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Fort Worth, Texas. 12-31-1916. page 1.

Small may know his fate today. Trenton Evening Times. Trenton, New Jersey. 01-18-1917. page 1.

Small convicted, sentenced to hang. Trenton Evening Times. Trenton, New Jersey. 01-09-1917. page 3.

Small Execution January 15. Boston Herald. Boston, Massachusetts. 01-06-1918. page 22.

Will hear Small’s petition today. Boston Herald. Boston, Massachusetts. 01-11-1918. page 3.

Frederick L. Small refused new trial. The Evening Times. Pawtucket, Rhode Island. 01-12-1918 page 5.

Former Boston Broker is hanged for wife murder. Augusta Chronicle. Augusta, Georgia. 01-15-1918. page 1.