RHODY LIFE

The dark history of Waterman's Woods

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One had to be brave to travel the road through Waterman’s Woods. Described as creeping up a long hill through acres of woodlands, it was supposedly located near the line dividing Scituate from Johnston and was an access route to Providence.

Most people today have never heard of the once-notorious location, which cannot now even be accurately pinpointed. However, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, everyone knew of it – and knew they were taking their lives in their hands each time they passed through.

Eight murders occurred upon that lonely road through the forest. Bandits hid in the shadows, the despondent hanged themselves from trees. There were numerous tragedies, accidents and occurrences that almost make it appear as if the woods were cursed.

Waterman’s Woods, with its hushed darkness, was the perfect place to carry out crimes and behave badly.

In September 1887, a man known as Mr. Guncheon beat another man after a trivial argument while a large crowd gathered amongst the trees to enjoy the bloody show.

In October 1894, an unidentified man, about 65 years of age, was discovered hanging in the woods, a victim of apparent suicide. It was estimated he had been hanging there for about four days.

In August 1902, Henry Ferry, James Grant and 67-year-old Providence liquor dealer Peter Early were driving through the woods when the axle on their auto suddenly broke and shot up through the floor. The men sustained injuries.

In February 1905, Frank Randall was hauling a load of wood through the area when he was suddenly thrown from the wagon. A wheel passed over his leg and he sustained injuries as well.

The following month, 37-year-old Scituate farmer Caleb Atwood was returning home one night after going into town to sell his eggs. He passed by two men in the darkness and paid no attention until a bullet struck him under the left shoulder blade. Scared, his horse bolted. Caleb grabbed onto the seat and held on for life as the horse raced away. After the animal stopped in front of a Scituate house, Caleb was transported to Rhode Island Hospital.

Six months after that, John Cooney was arrested for reveling in Providence. The handcuffed man was waiting to be put on the train when he ran off and disappeared into Waterman’s Woods.

In June 1907, 37-year-old carpenter Alfred Thornton and 40-year-old Edgar Hicks discovered Gottlob Domke dead within the woods. The 59-year-old German had come to America in 1891 and was employed as a Providence operative.

The next month, Harry Joslin was driving through when the steering gear of his touring car malfunctioned and catapulted itself into the trees. The car was damaged and Joslin sustained injuries.

In January 1910, an old soldier named Gilbert Mann received a fatal revolver shot while passing through the woods. Tried for the murder was German baker Ernest Lorenz, a diabolical lunatic who was suspected of numerous robberies and murders.

In February 1912, the horse of William Hopkins slipped on the icy hill, broke his hip and had to be shot.

Seven months later, a party was passing through in their auto when a man dressed in a brown suit and derby hat stepped from the woods and robbed them of all their money and valuables at gunpoint.

In November 1913, 37-year-old Mary Everett and 33-year-old Jennie Bender were driving through the area when their horse suddenly bolted, causing injuries to Mrs. Bender.

Forty-nine-year-old public school teacher Herbert Baxter was driving through the woods in August 1915 when his auto collided with that of another man. Both men were injured and both machines damaged. Baxter had to leave without his auto and when he returned to it the following day, it had been stripped of its tires and cushions.

Though lost to history, Waterman’s Woods was once a place where one had to be prepared for a traumatic experience, one that would be recalled for a lifetime … if it was survive

d. Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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