Have you heard the story about the Pembroke family killed in 1906? Few have

  • The 1906 killing of seven family members in Pembroke by Charles Ayer (above) was big news in central New Hampshire, and even made its way across the country. Courtesy

  • The 1906 killing of seven family members in Pembroke by Charles Ayer was big news in central New Hampshire and made its way across the country. Above is a photo that accompanied an article in the ‘Boston Globe.’ Courtesy

  • The 1906 killing of seven family members in Pembroke by Charles Ayer was big news in central New Hampshire and made its way across the country. Above is a front-page article published in the ‘Lowell Sun.’ Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/20/2019 6:49:47 PM

Maybe Lisa Wheeler’s three kids were right after all.

Maybe their home in Pembroke, site of a mass murder more than 100 years ago that, somehow, slipped through the town’s historical cracks, is, indeed, haunted. Maybe the murderer, Charles Ayer, remains restless after he stabbed and shot and burned seven members of his own family in January 1906, then put a bullet in his head, committing suicide.

Maybe those noises Wheeler has heard while in her basement, those footsteps when, supposedly, she’s alone in the house, were, well, footsteps.

Ayer’s footsteps.

“I keep telling the kids it’s nothing,” Wheeler said last week by phone.

It’s a story that apparently remained underground, hidden for decades, stirring little or no conversation at the local breakfast joint or the town hall. Not even Wheeler and her family knew about the Ayer murders until last month, and her home sits on or near the land in which the Ayer farm was built.

We’ve got Pembroke’s Mala Tyler, a board member of the town’s historical society, to thank for this. She stumbled on the story through her curious nature last month, and now word is spreading via Facebook.

“This made newspapers across the country,” Tyler told me during our podcast. “It had been said that it was the most appalling crime in state history, and to think at this point, I don’t know anyone who knows about it. We put it on our Facebook page and people were shocked.”

Old online newspaper accounts are hard to read, but this remains Google material. Tyler, meanwhile, is our central voice, an individual with Sherlock Holmes-type curiosity and doggedness.

She says Charles Ayer, a harness maker, lived with his wife, Addie Ayer, Addie’s mother, Laura Lakeman, and the couple’s five children: an unnamed infant daughter, plus sons Andrew, 4, and Alfred, 10, and daughters Bernice, 6, and Flossie, 12.

Tyler described the patriarch as a man with a less-than-stellar reputation, someone who had trouble holding a job and was lazy. He believed that everyone was against him, that he was entitled to certain advantages in life. Money and family problems began to irritate Charles.

“One of Laura Lakeman’s sons had bought it and he had made an agreement that would allow Charles Ayer and his family to remain on the property rent free,” Tyler said, “as long as they took care of his mother-in-law and the taxes and the upkeep of the farm. However, Charles Ayer thought that was not a good enough deal for him, because he thought his wife was entitled to a portion of the sale of the property. The son said no.”

Tyler continued: “Things had apparently gotten very sour and the mother-in-law had threatened to move out. Reports had said that he said she was never going to leave that property, and she didn’t.”

In fact, she was the first to die, shot by Charles as she lay in bed asleep. Addie entered the room sometime during this murder, trying to help her mother. She, too, was killed, followed by each of the five children.

It’s unclear who was shot. It’s also possible that victims were stabbed to death and killed by an ax. Those facts were hard to uncover because Charles set the farmhouse on fire, then hitched up his team of horses and went to Chichester, home of his sister, Mrs. George Bailey.

But this was no wonderful life.

As soon as someone entered the Chichester home to alert Charles about the fire a few miles away, he pulled out a pistol and shot himself.

He never regained consciousness, “so police never got to ask him why,” Tyler said.

Fast forward, through the 20th century and on into this one. Somehow, someway, these murders faded from view and history, unlike the case of Josie Langmaid, whom I wrote about recently, and whom at least some residents in the Pembroke area had heard about.

That’s why I called Tyler and two other sources, Heather Tiddes, the assistant director at the Pembroke Town Library, and Ayn Whytemare, the chairwoman of the Pembroke Historical Society, whose ancestor was the town’s first minister, back in the 18th century.

Whytemare knew something about Langmaid. But by the time I reached her, she had already spoken to Tyler about the Ayer case. She said I was moving down the wrong path.

“I implore you to look at the (Pembroke) historical society Facebook page,” Whytemare told me. “If you want to cover murders, you want to cover the Ayer murders. No one knows about it.”

Once the fire Charles had set cooled, authorities went inside and found the unimaginable: seven dead, the victims charred beyond recognition.

They’re all buried at Blossom Hill Cemetery.

“The children had burned to ashes,” Tyler said, “so when they were buried in Concord, they only used two caskets for all of them. It was a big fire.”

The Wheeler house was built in the 1950s, Lisa Wheeler said. She’s been living in Pembroke for 20 years. Tyler too, yet this was news to them and so many others in the community.

Meanwhile, Wheeler said her three children, all teens now, had been telling her for years that their home was haunted. They heard things. Wheeler did as well, those footsteps coming from above, from the basement ceiling.

“I tell the kids it’s nothing,” Wheeler said.

Now she knows the background. She told only her oldest child, her 19-year-old daughter because “she is the only one that would not freak out and say, ‘See, I told you it was haunted,’ ” Wheeler said.

Think what you want. The fact remains that people living in this Pembroke home were spooked before learning the awful truth.

Maybe Wheeler’s son, 7 or 8 years old at the time, was justified for refusing to sleep in his bedroom, choosing the couch in the living room instead.

He’s 15 now.

“He’s fine living in his own room,” Wheeler said. “All by himself.”

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