That statue you often pass? There’s quite a story behind it 

  • A memorial marks the 1875 death of Josie Langmaid, a Pembroke Academy student killed while walking to school. Ray Duckler—Monitor staff

  • A memorial marks the 1875 death of Josie Langmaid, a Pembroke Academy student killed while walking to school. Ray Duckler photos / Monitor staff

  • A memorial marks the 1875 death of Josie Langmaid, a Pembroke Academy student killed while walking to school. Ray Duckler—Monitor staff

  • A memorial marks the 1875 death of Josie Langmaid, a Pembroke Academy student killed while walking to school. Ray Duckler—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/14/2019 7:17:30 PM

Not even Mala Tyler, who counts herself as an historian, knew anything about the tall granite pillar, a symbol of the town’s history in Pembroke, on the side of Academy Road.

She’d seen it, as many of you have. It sits directly across the street from the entrance to Three Rivers School. It’s been there for nearly 150 years, and it’ll likely be there for 150 more.

And thanks to its construction, Josie Langmaid, murdered at age 17 while walking to Pembroke Academy, will outlive us all. Or at least a giant reminder of what happened to her will.

Yet for reasons unknown – placement of the tribute, in a wooded area, perhaps? – Tyler, who sits on the Pembroke Historical Society board, only heard the details from her daughter, a fourth grader at Three Rivers at the time.

That’s a common story in Pembroke and surrounding towns. Parents see the obelisk, maybe in passing. But who stops to investigate?

“I had noticed it, but at that point, I hadn’t seen it like on a daily basis,” Tyler told me by phone. “My daughter told me that this is where the girl got her head cut off.”

Strangely, an inscription on one side of the obelisk tells you that fact with no filter. Just gruesome reality.

“Body found 90 feet north at stone hub ... Head found 82 rods north at stone hub.”

Two small granite posts – markers – show where Josie’s head and body were found, behind the memorial that stands close to the road.

Heather Tiddes, the assistant director at the Pembroke Town Library, is another example of an individual long established in town, with a career directly linked to reading and history, who needed some help before fully appreciating what this strange, eerie structure with the strange, eerie story behind meant.

“My kids were at Three Rivers School,” Tiddes said. “My son went there and I happened to be talking to another parent and we started talking about that, and a few days later I found myself going back and finding the pegs where they found the head and the body.”

Tiddes continued: “I kind of have this morbid sense of enjoying puzzles, true crime, that sort of thing, so I was fascinated by it and I started doing some digging.”

Tiddes, Tyler and Ayn Whytemare, the chairwoman of the Pembroke Historical Society, all sought to fill in the gaps connected to a story that was equal parts history lesson and Halloween horror.

They learned that Langmaid’s father, James Langmaid, was a prominent figure in town, a well-known member of several local committees.

They learned that James’s daughter, Josie, usually walked to Pembroke Academy with her younger brother. Or sometimes her friend would walk with her.

But on Oct. 4, 1875, Josie’s brother left earlier than usual for school, and her friend took a carriage ride there.

Josie walked alone. She never made it to school that day.

A Canadian native named Joseph LePage was on the loose. He had already attacked his sister-in-law near Montreal, beating her and leaving her for dead, and then he had killed a school teacher in Vermont 15 months before he murdered Josie.

Running from the law, he moved to the Pembroke region. He hid in the woods and jumped Josie. He dragged her into the woods near where her memorial would be placed. He beat her to death.

A search party – formed once Josie’s brother had returned alone from school – found her body that night, her head the next morning.

“They found her books on the side of the road,” Tyler said. “(LePage) had brought a club made from red oak. That was used, they think, for the final blow. He hit her so hard that the club broke in three places. The newspapers said it was clear she put up a fight.”

Added Whytemare: “It was so bizarre that someone would do it. It was such a deviant thing that someone would chop someone up for sport and scatter body parts around. That is why it was so sensational and it went national. No one had heard of such a thing.”

Police found a bloody heel print on Josie’s cheek and made a plaster-mix cast of it. Clues from LePage’s attack on his sister-in-law in Canada and the murder of the Vermont school teacher led police to LePage’s home in Suncook.

The heel print matched his boot. Bloody clothing was found. LePage was arrested nine days after Killing Josie. His first guilty verdict – after a 10-day trial – was overturned when the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled on appeal that testimony by LePage’s sister-in-law about her attack was inadmissible.

His next trial took nine days. LePage was convicted of first degree murder on March 9, 1877. He was hanged in Concord, at the State Prison, not at Margaritas, which was the city jail at the time and where LePage had been held.

The monument went up the year Josie was killed. Since then, it’s evolved into a fascinating story, but only for those who’ve taken the time to brake, pull over, read, ask questions.

Whytemare sees it as a tourist attraction, shown to family visiting from out of town. Right before ordering black raspberry ice cream at Lang’s.

“We have a family reunion every year,” Whytemare said. “Out-of-town relatives come visit and it is a mandatory stop on our driving tour of Pembroke. It’s so wonderfully gruesome out there that you have to go.”

Tyler said the kids learn the story in the classroom. Then they get hit with the dark truth once outside.

It’s a story worth paying attention to.

“It’s one of those things where people drive by all the time and don’t realize what the story is behind it,” Tyler said. “It serves as a warning. Kids see it every day and it’s a reminder that the world can be a scary place.

“It certainly was for Josie.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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