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Group looks for leads in 100-year old murder case in Jaffrey

Union Leader Correspondent

February 21. 2018 10:15PM
A century after the murder of Dr. William K. Dean divided residents, the Jaffrey Historical Society is asking for leads as it prepares to mark the centennial of the unsolved murder. (Jaffrey Historical Society)

JAFFREY — A century after the murder Dr. William K. Dean divided residents, the Jaffrey Historical Society is asking for leads as it prepares to mark the centennial of the unsolved murder.

The Dean murder occurred on the night of Aug. 13, 1918, and has become somewhat of a local legend over the years, said writer Ken Sheldon.

Sheldon, a former Jaffrey resident now living in Peterborough, has been commissioned by the society to write a play that will be presented in Jaffrey on the Aug. 13 anniversary in Jaffrey.

To mark the century of mystery, the Jaffrey Historical Society has created the “Dean Murder Project,” which includes the commissioned dramatic production to be written by Sheldon as well as a video documentary, a website, digitized records of articles, books and images, a book, an exhibition, a conference and a lecture.

The Bean Family Foundation is funding the “Dean Murder Project” with $20,000 in grants.

Sheldon said Tuesday he is already plowing through historical documents about the murder to write the play.

“It’s fascinating,” Sheldon said, adding the challenge is to create something “dramatically satisfying” while still accurate about the history.

“It’s based, pretty much, entirely on actual transcripts of grand jury testimonies and FBI affidavits related to the murder,” Sheldon said.

The unsolved murder has long captured the imagination of Jaffrey residents, Sheldon said.

“People in Jaffrey have very strong feelings about this. Even though it was 100 years ago people still remembers things,” he said.

He added the murder divided the town along economic and religious lines and fed into wartime fears.

The murder occurred at the tail end of World War I and was thought by many at the time to be connected to suspicious lights seen blinking at the top of Mount Monadnock. The theory was that German spies were using New Hampshire mountaintops to convey messages from U-boats at the seacoast to Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Sheldon said.

Federal agents had been in Jaffrey that summer and had spoken to Dean about the lights. The day before Dean went missing, he told a woman traveling to Boston that day that he needed to talk to someone with the Department of Defense about an important matter.

The next day Dean was found brutally murder, bludgeoned to death, gagged and bound and stuffed in his own cistern, Sheldon said.

“Suspicion immediately fell on three people,” Sheldon said, Dean’s senile wife, a man renting a house on Dean’s farm property and a banker in town.

The banker, Charles Rich, didn’t have an apparent motive, but had a suspicious black eye the day after the murder that witnesses said he gave conflicting stories about, Sheldon said.

The man renting the house, Lawrence M. Colfelt, was a wealthy New Yorker who many in town thought was a German spy.

“It’s not unreasonable to think that he might have been a spy,” Sheldon said. “It sort of resonates with us today with our fears of outsiders.”

A year later a grand jury failed to finger a suspect and the case went cold.

Sheldon said it is not so farfetched to think new clues could be uncovered today. Many people at the time of the murder didn’t speak out for fear of repercussions.

The Jaffrey Historical Society is looking for people who may have photos or documents of the time, or have been told personal accounts by older family members.

The society has already heard from some residents who said decades after the murder a relative who was alive at that time spoke about it or said they knew who did it.

Anyone with information on the Dean murder can contact

Sheldon said as the anniversary comes closer more details will be released about what is planned for the Aug. 13 observance. Information about the murder and upcoming events is available on the historical society’s website at

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