Act of violence shook community

Back in the Day

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Edward Makin Swallow was a guard at the Rhode Island State Prison in Cranston when he committed an unspeakable act that shook the community.

Born in Providence on July 24, 1876, to Edward Swallow Sr. and Mary Ann (Dobson), he had first married Lillian Hutchinson in Taunton, Massachusetts, on Aug. 8, 1898, while employed as a driver. Lillian died on July 18, 1904, and he married his second wif, Lillian Della Porter, on Oct. 1, 1906, in Beverly, Massachusetts.

At that time, he resided in Attleborough, Massachusetts. He and his wife boarded with the Manor family while he worked as a machinist in a screw factory.

On July 12, 1916, he married for the third time, to Pearl Crotsley. He was now back in Rhode Island, employed as a prison guard and living on Pike Street in Providence.

His final marriage was to Sara Helen Finn, in 1927. The couple resided on Pontiac Avenue in Cranston, and Edward was an officer at the State Hospital for Mental Diseases. By the mid-1930s, he had gone back to the prison to work, living in an apartment building that adjoined the prison, which boarded employees.

In 1938, Edward took a long leave of absence to undergo treatment for an undisclosed mental affliction. He had been troubled by some sort of psychiatric condition for years and had attacked and attempted to murder Sara on a previous occasion.

He returned to his duties at the prison in October of that year, apparently believing his difficulties had been overcome. On Halloween morning, prison guard Leo Lemoi, who resided in the same building, in the apartment below Edward’s, heard loud crying. Upon investigation, he found the sound was coming from the Swallow apartment. Finding the door locked, he broke it down. There stood 62-year-old Edward, a razor in his hand, lunging at his 57-year-old wife. As she struggled to break free of his hold, Lemoi could see that both their necks had already been slashed and blood was everywhere.

Lemoi pulled Sara from Edward’s grip just before Edward fell to the floor and quickly succumbed to his self-inflicted injuries. Lemoi rushed Sara to the State Infirmary, where she lingered between life and death, her neck having been sliced open from ear to ear.

Only one half of Edward’s murder-suicide plan was successful. Sara survived the attack. Shortly after, she moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, and remained in that state for the rest of her life. She died on March 13, 1957, and is buried in Lynn with her parents.

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

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