Back in the Day

Former Johnston resident's journey led to electric chair

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It could have been a scene out of Truman Capote’s novel In Cold Blood.

So horrifying were the acts of Alfred Lindsey that, just a few years ago, a movie production company petitioned a New York court for records from the trial.

Alfred Joseph Lindsey was born on Aug. 19, 1906, in Massachusetts. The oldest of the seven children of saloon bartender Alfred Lindsey Sr. and his wife, Annie Loretta (Savage), he moved with his family to John Street in Johnston prior to 1920, where his father found work as an express wagon driver.

When he was just 17 years old, his father died. Shortly after that, his brother Lester ended up in prison and his 8-year-old sister died. Lester then died as well, at the age of 24, in 1931.

By that time, Alfred had already done his own first stint in prison. Arrested for burglary in October 1927, he served several years behind bars at Great Meadows Prison in New York. While there, his mother died at the age of 48.

His cellmate in prison was 46-year-old Harold Farnsworth of Vermont, convicted for carrying a concealed weapon. During his trial, Harold had fallen in love with the court secretary, Bernice Kenyon, who was 19 years older than him. He and Bernice carried on their love affair through letters until Harold was released in August 1934.

Alfred gained his freedom the same day. He and Harold kept in touch through letters, and he soon learned that Harold and Bernice had gotten married and set up farming on McGraw Road in Cold Spring, New York. Unable to find employment, Alfred showed up at Harold and Bernice’s farmhouse a few days before Christmas.

Harold agreed to give Alfred a job as a farmhand and a place to live. But the arrangement didn’t go smoothly. Harold wasn’t happy with the lack of work on Alfred’s part, and Alfred wasn’t happy with what he perceived to be a lack of pay. On March 4, 1935, Alfred left the farm.

A neighbor, Mrs. Moynihan, let him spend the night in a vacant house she owned. The next morning, he walked to a nearby garage and sat in a chair behind the woodstove with his head hung. Suddenly, Harold’s auto pulled up outside. He left Bernice in the passenger seat while he went inside to do business. Noticing Alfred, Harold asked him if he planned on returning to the farm. When he said no, Harold told him to go back and retrieve his clothing and boots. Alfred informed him he didn’t want them.

Harold asked Alfred if he any tobacco. Learning his friend had run out, he walked across the street to the store, purchased two packages, came back and handed them to Alfred. He then offered him a ride if he needed to go somewhere, but the offer was turned down.

Alfred remained seated until Harold and Bernice had driven away. Then he got up and started on foot toward the farm.

Three days later, a man named William Whitmore stopped by the farm to return a borrowed wood rack. He discovered Harold lying dead at the foot of the living room staircase with one bullet hole in the back of his head, one through the forehead and another above the left ear.

William ran upstairs to look for Bernice and found the upper story ransacked. He finally discovered her lying on the basement floor, her face having been smashed with a blunt weapon that fractured her skull and her head almost severed by a blow to the neck. A bloody axe lay beside her. The couple’s car was missing from the property.

Interviews with neighbors led police to Manhattan, where they found Alfred at a restaurant on March 11. He was identified by tattoos on the fingers of his left hand spelling out “True Love.”

Harold’s car was discovered there in New York, after Alfred had driven it to his sister’s house, changed his clothes and found a spot to abandoned it. He admitted to the killings but claimed it was in self-defense as he and Harold argued over $10 he claimed he was still owed.

Alfred’s trial began on April 1. On April 5, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to execution. While awaiting the date of his death at Sing Sing Prison, he appealed the decision and was denied.

On July 29, 1935, Alfred made no formal statement as he was strapped into the electric chair. The switch was flipped at 11 p.m., and eight minutes later, he was pronounced dead at the age of 29.

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

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