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That sort of thing has (and does) happen here

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, February 12, 1980

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 034)

‘That sort of thing’
does – and has – happened here

The murder of a Billerica hairdresser in the parking lot of Building 19 1/2 last Tuesday evening came as a shock to many Burlington residents, who say, “That sort of thing just does not happen here.” A somewhat similar murder in 1913 deeply shocked a much smaller Burlington. The victim was a prosperous, hard-working and respected member of the community. The murder was never solved.

On the land now owned by Houghton-Mifflin Co., Charles O’Brien had a hotbed where he started and raised pepper plants. He passed this patch one night in 1913 on the way back from Hugh McCafferty’s farm on Mountain Road. Hugh did more than farm. In his home or barn, he operated a little speakeasy for “purely social reasons,” a spot illegal but friendly. Coming home that one evening, Charles found someone in his pepper patch. When O’Brien demanded to know what he was doing there, the prowler turned and shot him.

The body of Charles O’Brien was found the next morning by Fred Richardson, whose farm on Cambridge Street abutted O’Brien’s.The Daily Times for April 29, 1913 has the following item: “Not since 18 years ago, when one of her citizens was shot to death by highwaymen, has the quiet community received such a shock as last Wednesday, when one of her sons, born and bred on the soil, was found murdered on his own land . . .” Burlington had no Catholic church at that time so the funeral services were held at St. Charles Church in Woburn. Rev. Francis E. Russell officiated.

One evening in 1895, Duroy Foster of Bedford Street came home on the 8:10 train to Woburn and, after talking with friends for a while, started to walk home. About the foot of the hill on Center Street he was overtaken by three men in a light covered wagon. One of the men, at the point of a gun, took Foster’s wallet which held about $7.50, after which they drove off, the horse at a trot. Foster managed to follow until he saw them turn towards Billerica. He then went up the hill to the McIntire farm, the old Marion Tavern, where the blacksmith Henry Cox roomed at that time. Cox ran the blacksmith shop across the street and owned a smart little mare.

Cox called upon Charlie Nichols who was visiting McIntire, hitched his horse to a light buggy, and the three men took off in hot pursuit of the three who had taken Duroy’s wallet. They stopped at Marshall Wood’s, the big house on Cambridge Street across from Murray’s Real Estate office, where Wood loaned them a pistol. Within a mile of Billerica Center they overtook the wagon, passed it, and went on into Billerica where they picked up Officer Livingston. Now with four men on board, the buggy was driven back towards Burlington. They met the wagon just outside the center of town. When Livingston attempted to arrest the three, they opened fire. One of the bullets hit Foster in the temple, killing him instantly. He fell to the road as the horse bolted. The others took refuge behind a barn as the wagon took off at a full gallop, bullets whistling in both directions.

The chief of police in Woburn was notified and the alarm spread to all towns in this area. All three were apprehended later and were sentenced to long prison terms. The youngest of the three was pardoned by Governor Bates in 1904, for it was judged he was younger and less guilty than the others.

In more recent years, the local police have been confronted with other murders, although not of Burlington residents. The nude body of a man was found in July 1965 near the Pumping Station on Great Meadow Road. His murderer was apprehended in September. Another nude body also was found that year, this time of a woman, just off the Middlesex Turnpike near the Burlington-Bedford Line. And some people in town may remember the events of 1964, when a body was reported to have been found in the underbrush near the High Voltage plant. Police found an old football training dummy.