A Crime That Changed Cape Cod Forever

Courtesy of the Dennis Historical Society

September brings the end of summer. On Cape Cod it ushers in a quiet time of reflection and recovery from the hot days and long nights of the previous months. It marks the change of the seasons and today marks the exodus of vacationers and influx of kids back to school.

In 1899 the Cape was a far different place. A mere 27,826 people called it home, the average annual salary was $438 per year, electricity and telephones were rare luxuries, and the automobile would not become more readily available for nearly a decade with the introduction of Henry Ford’s Model T in 1908.

It was this serene, rural setting that became the backdrop for a crime that changed Cape Cod forever. On a September evening in 1899 a young boy was murdered by his friend in South Yarmouth. The boy was James Whittemore. His friend and killer was Edwin Ray Snow.

The man who would become known as Edwin Ray Snow was abandoned as a baby on a doorstep in Boston in 1882. He was taken in by Captain James Huckins of Barnstable and his wife. Upon Huckins’ death in 1887 the young boy was taken in by his daughter Ida Snow and her husband Albert. He would be given their surname upon adoption.

James Whittemore grew up on Cape Cod, living in South Dennis with his widowed mother Idella. He would work as a bakery cart driver for Gage and Rogers Bakery of West Dennis for two years taking a route from West Dennis through Barnstable. Whittemore would become friends with Eddie Snow a little over a year prior to the incident as he often delivered baked goods to Snow’s adoptive parents.

In May 1898 Snow would be sent to a reformatory after breaking into Isabelle Lewis’ Yarmouth store. He stayed for eleven months, being released in April 1899 and returning to Yarmouth to live with his parents again. Things were relatively quiet until a fateful day late in the summer.

On Wednesday September 12, 1899 20-year old James Whittemore began his bakery cart route from West Dennis. He stopped and picked up his friend 17-year old Eddie Snow from his home in South Yarmouth. The two would remain together all day passing back through Yarmouth around 5:30pm. Around 9pm the bakery cart would be spotted in Yarmouth Port being pulled by the horse. Neither Whittemore nor Snow was on board. Ebeneezer Hamblin would stable the horse overnight.

Idella Whittemore, worried after her son did not return home, searched for James early the next morning. She was eventually directed to Hamblin’s home. Upon further inspection Hamblin and Whittemore found the front seat of the cart covered in blood. As Idella headed back toward her home she spotted a crowd along a heavily wooded area just south of the Bass River Railroad Depot on present day Station Avenue in South Yarmouth. The crowd recognized her and broke the news. James had been found about fifty yards off of the road, shot in the back of the head by a 32-calibre revolver.

The hunt was on for Snow. He purchased train fare early on September 13th headed for Middleboro. Detective ‘Sim’ Lettney and Sherriff Judah Chase of Harwich Port were hot on Snow’s trail. He was apprehended in a yard near the Boston and New York Dispatch Office in Middleboro. On his person was found $12 in money changed from silver, plus the $1.25 train fare meant that apparently Snow had killed his friend from the sum of $13.25. Less than twenty-four hours after the death of James Whittemore, Eddie Snow was in custody and heading back to Cape Cod.

On October 18, 1899 Snow plead not guilty to the charge of murder. The killing of Whittemore would be the second murder on Cape Cod in a month. In August Joseph Hill of Hyannis had murdered his wife Mary. Boston newspapers at the time said that the rash of Cape Cod murders spoke to the degeneration of the locals to which the Yarmouth Register responded that neither of the murderers were in fact native Cape Codders.

Courtesy of the Dennis Historical Society

Snow would change his plea to guilty on New Year’s Day 1900. He was sentenced to death in the electric chair a week later. He was to be the first man to die of electrocution in the state of Massachusetts. It was not to be though as on January 15, 1900 Massachusetts Governor Murray Crane would switch Snow’s sentence from death to life in prison. Snow was seen as too young to have his life ended so soon.

Upon his conviction while being led away to prison Snow confessed to a reporter:

“I killed Jimmy Whittemore, a dear and good friend to me, on the impulse of the moment. I had no intention of committing such and act when I went to ride with him that fateful day in September.” He would be transferred from Barnstable to Charlestown prison to serve his sentence. In 1901 convicted murderer Luigi Storti would become the first man to die in the electric chair in Massachusetts.

Snow became a model prisoner, learning as much as he could, reading the Bible, and being genuinely repentant. The Governor’s Council even considered him for pardon in 1918 but it was not granted. This news led to Snow escaping from prison on November 26, 1919. He was on the run for several hours before being caught in the woods between Taunton and Middleboro and returned to his cell.

Snow’s pardon would again not be granted in 1930. However around this time he made a powerful ally in Reverand Father Spence Burton. Seeing his genuine remorse and good work he had done in the prison system Burton successfully lobbied for Snow’s pardon in 1932. At Age 50, and after thirty-two years in prison, Edwin Ray Snow was a free man. Despite his pardon Cape Codders who remembered the murder were unhappy with his release. Remaining on the Cape, or even in Massachusetts, was impossible.

With the help of Burton Snow would move to California to start a new life. He would end up in San Francisco working with the fathers of St. John the Evangelist church. In 1943 Snow would marry Virginia DeLong. He lived out his remaining years in relative normalcy before succumbing to prostate cancer in 1949.

Many facts of this case were taken from local online newspaper archives. A book detailing the murder entitled The Cape Cod Murder of 1899: Edwin Ray Snow’s Punishment & Redemption was also written by Theresa Mitchell Barbo in 2007.

By Christopher Setterlund


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