Saturday, May 31, 2014

52 Ancestors: #22, A Double Tragedy in Etna, Maine

I was tracing the descendants of one of my collateral Sukeforth lines, when I ran across a gravestone photo on Find A Grave1 that looked like it had a sad story to tell. I was right... but it wasn't the story I expected.

George W. Grotton, my second cousin twice removed, is buried with his wife Lilly in Sand Hill Cemetery in Somerville, Maine. Sharing the plot and the gravestone are Frank W. Grotton – George and Lilly's son – and Frank's wife Clara (Dyer). The two-generation burials are not at all unusual, but Frank and Clara both died in 1915, and they were only 22 and 19. I went looking for their death records, fully expecting to find that they had both died in an epidemic of some sort – influenza, perhaps, or diphtheria.

George Grotton family marker, Sand Hill Cemetery, Somerville, Maine
I couldn't have been more wrong.

I found Frank's death record first. He had died on December 16, 1915, apparently only the second death recorded in the town of Etna that year. Far from an epidemic, the cause of death was "Suicide by shooting."2

With a sense of dread I pulled up Clara's death record. Hers was the third death recorded in Etna, also on December 16. And her cause of death: "Killed by gunshot wound. Shot by husband – jealousy."3

Death records of Frank Grotton and Clara (Dyer) Grotton
Well, that certainly sounded like something that would have made the newspapers, so I went digging for more details. The first item I found4 revealed there was even more to this story: Frank had shot not only his wife, but also two brothers, Arthur and Leslie Simonds, one of whom had died the following day. (The article also noted that Frank "Grotto" was using the alias "George Gove.")

"Arthur Symonds Dead," Lewiston Daily Sun, 18 Dec 1915
Since this was clearly the newspaper's followup to an earlier report, I hunted down that earlier article,5 from the very day of the shootings, where Frank was referred to only by the alias of George Gove. It seems that the Simonds brothers had engaged in some flirting with the "attractive" Clara, or maybe Frank had simply perceived them as doing so. Either way, in a jealous rage, he had shot first poor Clara and then the two brothers, and then, in the sensational and wholly insensitive prose of the newspaper headlines, he "blew out his own brains."

"Killed Wife, Shot Simonds Boys," Lewiston Evening Journal, 16 Dec 1915
The luckless Arthur Simonds, who died December 17 from "Hemorrhage caused by gunshot wound by Frank Grotton," was death #1 recorded in Etna that year.6 And his brother Leslie, though he recovered from his own gunshot wound, was not much more fortunate; four months to the day after the shootings, he died of pneumonia.7

I still have some unanswered questions, such as why Frank was using an alias. Also, the Simonds boys' mother's maiden name was Kenney – was there a connection to the Joseph Kenney who is also buried in the Grotton plot, and who was a boarder in George Grotton's home in 1910? These questions will have to wait for a later time.

(Note: This post is in response to Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge at No Story Too Small.)

  1. Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 3 Apr 2013), memorial #70038262 for George W. Grotton, with photo of family marker, memorial and digital photo by “West207” (18 May 2011); citing Sand Hill Cemetery (Somerville, Lincoln County, Maine).
  2. "Maine, Death Records, 1617-1922," database and digital images, ( : accessed 4 Apr 2013), Frank Grotton entry, 1915; citing Maine Death Records, 1617-1922, Augusta, Maine: Maine State Archives.
  3. "Maine, Death Records, 1617-1922," ( : accessed 4 Apr 2013), Clara Grotton entry, 1915. 
  4. “Arthur Symonds Dead,” Lewiston (Maine) Daily Sun, 18 Dec 1915, p. 14, col. 3; digital images, Google News Archive ( : accessed 8 Apr 2013).
  5. “Killed Wife, Shot Simonds Boys,” Lewiston (Maine) Evening Journal, 16 Dec 1915, p. 7, col. 4-5; digital images, Google News Archive ( : accessed 8 Apr 2013).
  6. "Maine, Death Records, 1617-1922," ( : accessed 8 Apr 2013), Arthur M. Simonds entry, 1915.
  7. "Maine, Death Records, 1617-1922," ( : accessed 8 Apr 2013), Leslie N. Simonds entry, 1916.

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