Saturday, October 1, 2022

Cape Cod History: The Tragic Obsession Murders of Lizzie Coleman and Sadie Hassard


    The term murder-suicide is sadly something that is heard far too often in the 21st century. The idea of a person murdering one, or more, people before ending their own lives is both selfish and cowardly. Killing oneself rather than facing the consequences leaves the families unable to properly achieve closure after such a heinous act.

    Unfortunately in many of these cases, there are warning signs, some quite blatant, that go unnoticed, or worse, unreported. In the end, it leaves the victims’ families with the same question: could the tragedy have been prevented?

    Murder-suicides and unreported threats are sadly not only a present-day issue. Nearly 130 years ago the quiet peninsula of Cape Cod saw two unbelievably tragic cases within a span of fewer than twelve months. Both crimes shook the Cape to its core and only after the fact did it become clear that lives could have been saved if the warning signs had been heeded.

    The stories of Osterville’s Lizzie Coleman and Brewster’s Sadie Hassard are similar but different. Both have the sad murder-suicide label. Both came down to jealousy. As stated above, unfortunately, there were warning signs that could have prevented both crimes.

Lizzie Coleman(3rd from left), and her family outside of their Osterville home. About 1890, she would have been roughly 9 years old.

    It began in Osterville at the end of 1894 when an infatuation was born. German laborer Henry Ledtke, who had been working for a few years on S.S. Leonard’s farm, spotted William and Lucy Coleman’s daughter Lizzie for the first time. Ledtke was a man over forty with a wife and three children back in Germany, Lizzie was thirteen and not yet in high school.

    Ledtke’s obsession with Lizzie grew slowly. He began spending more and more time at the Coleman house, on the corner of Main Street and West Barnstable Road, trying desperately to woo the affection of the girl nearly thirty years his junior. The courtship also included numerous gifts given to Lizzie. During this time Lizzie was seen in the company of Eben Harding, the literal boy next door, quite often. The powder keg was soon lit.

    As time passed and Ledtke noticed Lizzie and Eben’s budding relationship he grew wild with jealous rage. It was in May 1895 that Ledtke was told by Mr. Coleman to not come near his house or his daughter anymore. When his request that all of the gifts he had given Lizzie be returned was denied that was the last straw.

    Ledtke made threats against the entire Coleman family, brazenly admitting to Lizzie that he planned on killing her. Sadly she did not tell her father of the danger. Initially, Ledtke’s plan was to kill both    Lizzie and Eben after church on Sunday June 9th. He even suggested a shortcut home to the young couple which would have led them deep into the Osterville woods where he would have ambushed them. When they refused Ledtke devised a blunter scheme that unfolded early the following day.

    At 8:30am on Monday June 10th Lizzie walked to school with her two brothers when Ledtke struck. In broad daylight on a public street, he approached Lizzie brandishing a revolver. The first shot grazed her face while two shots missed her brothers. The three turned and ran but Ledtke pursued. He fired a shot that struck Lizzie in the back of the head, killing her instantly. Ledtke then turned the gun on himself. Both murderer and victim lay next to each other in the middle of the street. Incredibly Mr. Coleman had been contemplating alerting the police about Ledtke’s threats on Monday. He never got the chance.

Lizzie Coleman's grave at Hillside Cemetery in Osterville.

    The outbreak of grief and unimaginable sadness was immediate. Lizzie’s funeral was held the day after at the Osterville Baptist Church on Main Street. Her friends from school sang hymns while surrounding her casket. The situation was made all the worse by the fact that Lizzie Coleman’s murder likely could have been stopped if someone had contacted the authorities earlier. She was laid to rest at Hillside Cemetery on Old Mill Road in Osterville.

    342 days later, twenty miles away, with the tragic murder of Lizzie Coleman still fresh in the minds of Cape Codders, a similar story unfolded.

    The story of Sarah 'Sadie' Hassard is like the other side of the same coin. The main difference between her story and Lizzie’s is the belief reported at the time that Sadie and her killer were at some point romantically linked.

    Sadie and Frederick Alexander both lived in Brewster. She was a pretty and well-liked woman of twenty-five. He was said to be a relatively average young man working odd jobs around town at spots like local cranberry bogs. The pair became a couple with the thought being that they intended to get married at some point. It seemed like a perfect story of young love.

    Sometime early in 1896, there was a dissolution of the relationship. Reports at the time said that although Sadie didn’t have eyes for another she had grown tired of Frederick. The young man grew angry and jealous despite Sadie not starting another relationship.

    The impact was immediate as Frederick began making threats against her and her family which consisted of parents and four sisters. The nature of the threats was not revealed at the time. However, in a sad parallel to Lizzie Coleman’s case, the family refused to report the threats to the authorities for fear of unwanted notoriety. It was a costly mistake.

    On the morning of Sunday, May 17, 1896, Sadie and one of her younger sisters were at home on Lower Road in Brewster. She had been living with elderly Reverend Thomas Dawes for the previous two years, she was likely his caretaker as he was seventy-eight years old at the time. The morning church services were just beginning at the Unitarian Church a few hundred yards away on Main Street(Rt. 6A). As Reverend Dawes gave his opening prayer tragedy was unfolding.

    Frederick Alexander went to Sadie’s residence with malice on his mind and a revolver in his hand. He found the doors locked and attempted to enter through a window. Although he was not able to enter the house he managed to grab Sadie and drag her out through the window. She ran out of the yard through the front gate, narrowly missing being shot by Frederick.

    The sound of the shot startled the churchgoers at the Unitarian Church. Sadie attempted to flee to her parents' house further down Lower Road. Three more shots followed as Frederick gave chase. Sadie fell after being hit and before she could even move Frederick caught up to her, pressed the gun to her head, and fired the final shot. He immediately fled south as the church members approached finding young Sadie Hassard dead.

    After the initial shock of finding Sadie's body, the search was on. Chairman of Selectmen of Brewster, John Clark, and Deputy Sheriff Alfred Crocker, put together the search as it seemed to be apparent to those in the know that Frederick Alexander was the culprit.

Sadie Hassard's gravestone.

    The search party headed south, eventually crossing into what is present-day Sweetwater Forest campground. Along the shore of Snow’s Pond, Frederick’s hat was found. Inside it was the murder weapon and twenty-five unused bullets. There was no sign of the killer along the water’s edge but a boat was sent for and the pond was searched. Several passes found nothing. The search persisted and eventually, the body of Frederick Alexander was found about one hundred feet from shore in five feet of water. He had taken his own life.

    Once pulled to shore his person was searched. A bottle of strychnine was found. Also in his pocket was a note evidently written earlier in the day. In the note, Frederick said he planned on killing Sadie and would not be taken alive. He ended with an ominous threat that if he was cornered he would take others with him. This meant that if the concerned churchgoers had arrived a few moments earlier there could have been more losses of life.

    The outpouring of grief was immense in the quiet town of Brewster. Sadie Hassard’s funeral was held at the Baptist Church on Main Street on Wednesday, May 20, 1896. The church was overflowing with people from all over Cape Cod. Reverend Dawes, beside himself with sadness, gave a heartfelt prayer for Sadie’s soul, and the wounded hearts of her family and the town.

The Hassard house foundation at the head of the Eddy Bay Trail in Brewster.

    Sadie Hassard was laid to rest at the Brewster Cemetery on Lower Road. A few hundred yards east of the cemetery, where the Hassard family home stood, is now the Eddy Bay Trail conservation area. The stone remains of the home’s foundation still stand as a solemn link back to a sad and tragic event in Brewster’s history that possibly could have been prevented if only the threats had been reported.

    Lizzie Coleman and Sadie Hassard both had long lives ahead of them. Both of these young ladies had their flame cruelly snuffed out by jealous men. It is important to remember that there were warning signs in both cases. If you or someone you know is in a similar situation to Lizzie and Sadie before their untimely murders please reach out to the proper authorities.


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