Arson, suicide and intelligent canines
Published 6:20 pm, Wednesday, November 30, 2011
New Canaan is not really known for murders and horror stories. But that doesn't mean they do not exist.
On Nov. 15, 1898, there was a terrible fire at a house on Cheese Spring Road. All the town's people arrived to help but the house and anyone in it was beyond saving. The house belonged to Susan Anderson.
Anderson's name was relatively well known around town for a variety of reasons. According to volume five of the New Canaan Historical Society Annual, Anderson sued the town in 1897 to reopen certain parts of Cheese Spring Road.
"(She) took a lawsuit to the Connecticut Superior Court of Errors to force the selectmen to reopen the lower road section, by then impassable, to Valley Road so she could ride to New Canaan to shop rather than going up the road to Wilton," the annual said.
Anderson won the lawsuit and New Canaan was forced to reopen 1 and 8/10 miles of the road, allowing her to shop in New Canaan. Unfortunately, her enjoyment was short lived as she was murdered on that fateful November day in 1898. After the fire burned the house down, New Canaanites were terrified to find a man hanging from an apple tree on the property, according to a 2008 article in New Canaan, Darien and Rowayton Magazine by Beth Longware Duff. The man turned out to be an employee of Anderson's named Fred Hahman, a German farm laborer according to the New York Times. When searching his pockets, the towns people found a suicide note.
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"She is 17 days dead, seek and you will find," the note said in German.
Hahman's motivations were illuminated by Anderson's reputation and personality, which was not the most flattering. According to reports and various articles since then, Anderson was a widow with a dogged personality who did not treat everyone, let alone her hired help, very well.
She was born in Wilton, the daughter of an infamous moonshiner, but managed to make her property and farm prosper in New Canaan.
"But she also had a reputation for being a powerful woman, who drove a hard bargain, displayed a quick temper and treated her hired help poorly," Duff said in her article. "The latter was apparently her downfall."
Indeed it was, and it seemed as if her German worker Hahman just could not take it anymore. Officials found several complaints in his suicide note about being treated unfairly. The note specifically mentioned how he was not given any food or wages during his entire year working on the farm. The New York Times published an article highlighting Anderson's personality issues which many believed eventually caused Hahman to brutally murder her.
"Mrs. Anderson was about 50 years of age and had more than a local reputation for her eccentric ways and quarrelsome disposition," the article stated. "If she was murdered, it is believed the crime was the outcome of a quarrel over money matters. Hahman was married and had four children in Germany."
Investigators ultimately found her remains in the most unlikely manner -- with the help of Anderson's dog according, to a book titled "Our Devoted Friend: The Dog," by Sarah Knowles Bolton.
"When the woman's pet hound, Dandy, was released, he wandered about as though he had lost his best friend. Then he went to a pile of dirt back of the tool-house and began to dig," Bolton wrote. "Men went to the dog's assistance with spades, and soon found the body of the murdered women."
Arson, suicide and intelligent canines. Just a regular day in New Canaan back in 1898.