The tale of the gruesome trunk murder of Paddy Hill

Trunk murder of Paddy Hill
Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 5:52 AM EDT
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HOUNSFIELD, New York (WWNY) - In 1908, the small town of Hounsfield became home to one of the most gruesome murders of the time. And it all starts with identity theft.

The story starts when Mary Farmer went into Watertown to a lawyer’s office and claimed she was Sarah Brennan, who was her landlady at the time,” Jefferson County historian Toni Engleman said. “She said she wanted to deed the property to Mary Farmer, which was her.”

Back in the day, there wasn’t much stopping a person from claiming to be someone else. The deed transfer went through.

“At some point, Sarah Brennan came to visit Mary Farmer,” Engleman said, “and she was never seen again after that.”

Whether Sarah was onto Mary, we don’t know. But it didn’t take long for Sarah’s husband to notice she was gone -- and Mary and her husband James were acting suspicious.

Sarah’s husband reported her missing and sheriff Ezra Bellinger came poking around the property.

“So, the police came and they saw two trunks.” Engleman said. “The one on top she claimed was hers and the one on the bottom she claimed was her husband’s. At the time, he exclaimed, ‘that’s a damn lie!’ The police went in the trunks and Mary claimed there was nothing in the bottom trunk except clothing. When they opened the trunk there was a horrible smell and there was clothing, but it was still on Sarah Brennan.

Mary had axed Sarah in the back of the head while she was visiting the home. She was stuffed into the truck, her ear missing, her jaw broken, her head bashed in.

“Mary and her husband were placed in Jefferson County jail in Watertown,” Engleman said. “She kept saying her husband was part of it and they were in cahoots, but in the end, they found he was innocent and she was guilty.”

The consequence? A life for a life. Mary became the second woman in the state to die by execution. The murder made newspapers across the northeast. To this day the story is retold on some true crime shows.