ON TUESDAY, NOV. 20, 1951, the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office was contacted by Merton Emmons of Trenton, N.J. who had learned of the death of an unidentified young woman in a fire at the New Boston Bombing Range.
He believed that the victim, who was found in the burned-out farmhouse on Sunday, Nov, 18, could be his niece, Gertrude C. White, also of Trenton. She had not been seen since Nov. 16.
He explained that Gertrude had been born in New Boston and had lived there until her parents had divorced in 1938. Her father, 58-year-old Calvin White, was still living in New Boston. He had been a farmer, but it was unclear what his occupation was at that time.
The authorities contacted Calvin, who shared a house in town with the Klardie family. On Wednesday, Nov. 21, 16-year-old Geraldine Klardie told a reporter that Calvin had gone to the Ecklund Funeral Home in Milford at 3 a.m. This establishment was being used as a temporary morgue for the purpose of the investigation, which was being supervised by Hillsborough County Solicitor Conrad Danais.
Calvin viewed the body and tentatively identified the dead woman as his 27-year-old daughter Gertrude. He recognized a scar above one of the eyebrows, but as he had not seen Gertrude in 13 years he couldn’t say with certainty that the body was hers.
That same day Gertrude’s mother, Mrs. Warren (Gardie Emmons White) Finch, left her home in Painesville, Ohio with her two adult sons, George W. White and Merton C. White. They met up with Gardie’s brother Merton Emmons in Trenton, and then traveled to New Hampshire together.
That evening Gardie identified the body as being that of her daughter Gertrude. This determination was confirmed by a set of Gertrude’s fingerprints which Gardie had turned over to the authorities. The prints had been taken during World War II when Gertrude had worked either in a war production factory or with the local Civil Defense Committee. Investigators confirmed that the prints matched those of the dead woman.
Gertrude had lived in her own apartment at 141 Passaic Street in Trenton and had worked as a teller in Trenton. She had not been married, and it had come as a shock to her family when the autopsy revealed that she had been six months pregnant when she died. She visited her mother just two weeks before her death for a short vacation and mentioned nothing about her situation.
According to a retrospective article about the Gertrude White case published in the Daily News in New York in December 1952, the family’s reaction was: “They said that her reputation was excellent, that her morals had been above reproach and that they couldn’t name the man responsible.”
After the Whites had divorced in 1938, Gardie left the state with the children. Gardie, Gertrude, George and Merton were living in Painesville, Ohio, by 1940, where Gertrude later attended Harvey High School. In 1950 Gardie married local resident Warren C. Finch.
The farmhouse at the foot of Joe English Hill in New Boston where Gertrude died, known as the Wigwam, would have been familiar to her. The White family home where she grew was located just a short distance eastward down what was then South Manchester Road.
Some sources have indicated that she had played in the Wigwam as a child. In 1942 the properties in this neighborhood were acquired by the U.S. government to establish the New Boston Bombing Range.
The victim had been identified, and information about her was beginning to emerge, but the big question on the minds of Hillsborough County Solicitor Danais, the law enforcement investigators working with him, and the public still remained: “Did Gertrude C. White commit suicide, or was she murdered?”
As reported in the Daily Times newspaper of New Philadelphia, Ohio, on November 21, 1951, when questioned about Gertrude’s frame of mind during this time period, her uncle Merton responded that she had seemed “very despondent and depressed,” while her stepfather Warren Finch said that during her recent visit with her mother that she had seemed “very jolly.”
Next week: Tracing Gertrude C. White’s steps before her death.