In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Strong, a Mussul Unsquit village

A Legacy of Woods and Waters

A Murder In Strong

Text By: Strong School 7th and 8th Graders, 2011-2012

Methodist Church
Methodist Church
Strong Historical Society

On Sunday morning, September 14, 1862, nine year old Lura Vellie Libby, daughter of Isaac and Susan Libby, left on-foot from her family farm northwest of the village, on her way to services at the Methodist Church. It was a mile and a half walk that she made each Sunday, weather permitting. Sabbath day activities started with Sunday school, followed by 10:00 a.m. worship service and an afternoon session from 1:00 until 2:30 or 3:00. For her lunch Lura carried two apples and a piece of gingerbread. Lura would usually walk back home after the afternoon session.

But at 4:00 pm Lura hadn’t returned home. Her parents rode to town looking for her. They checked with the minister at the church, but he hadn’t seen Lura at all that day. They talked to Lura’s friends. Nobody had seen her. They searched late into the night, talking to everyone they met, but no sign of Lura.

Lura V. Libby
Lura V. LibbyThe inscription reads: "LURA V. Dau. of Isaac & Susan Libby, Died by the hand of an assassin, Sept. 14, 1862, Aged 9y 4m 24d. Though we weep, she returns not."

The next day townspeople gathered in the area to help with the search. All the fields, pastures and wooded areas between the Libby farm and the village were searched. Late in the afternoon searchers came upon a spot on Burnt Knoll, not far from the farm, where the vegetation was beginning to wilt. A closer examination revealed a shallow grave containing the body of young Lura Libby.

Suspicion fell upon a Canadian hired-hand named Lawrence Doyle, who lived and worked on the Libby farm. He said that he had spent most of the previous day taking care of his sheep in a pasture far from the Libby house. He claimed that he took an unusual route to the pasture. He followed a creek bed and went under a bridge because if he had been walking on the road, he would be asked why he was traveling on the Sabbath. He was said to be a good employee, but he supposedly acted quite suspicious.

The evidence was very circumstantial. Witnesses told how pale and nervous he looked when the body was being exhumed. There was never any solid evidence that he murdered the girl, but he was considered a solid suspect, and was arrested and held for nearly a year until his trial.

Lawrence Doyle went on trial for the murder of Lura V. Libby, in November of 1863. He still claimed that he was innocent. The trial lasted for twenty-five hours. It finally ended when the jurors couldn’t decide if he was innocent or guilty. There was a rumor around town that seven of the jurors thought that Lawrence was guilty, while five thought he was innocent. Not able to come to an agreement, the jury had to be discharged. Doyle went back to jail, where he was to wait for his second trial.

Maine State Prison
Maine State Prison
Maine Historical Society

The second trial took place in April 1864. It was in this trial that the defense attorneys decided to invoke a new rule of evidence and put Lawrence Doyle on the stand to speak for himself. This made the history books because this was the first time that an accused murderer testified in his own defense, speaking on his own behalf. Up until then an accused murderer was considered unworthy to testify. Today, the defendants may testify in their defense, but they cannot be required to testify against themselves because the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guards against self-incrimination. Not until 1864 however, were they able to testify in their own trials because they were not trusted to say the truth. Did Lawrence Doyle ever tell the truth? We may never know....

Lawrence Doyle was found guilty and sentenced to serve life at the Maine State Prison in Thomaston. He died at the Maine State Prison after only serving six years, proclaiming his innocence to the day he died.

Ever since Lura Vellie Libby’s body was found in that shallow grave on Burnt Knoll, that pasture has been called “Murder Field”, on what is now known as Burbank Hill.