Back in the Day

The tragic tale of the brothers Thornton

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Frederick Thornton testified in Kent County Superior Court that he thought his brother Archie was envious of his success. That was the only reason he could think of to explain why his wife, Fannie, had recently been fatally assaulted by his younger brother.

Frederick, 49, and Archie, 44, were the sons of Lafayette and Martha (Hoxsie) Thornton of Warwick. Frederick managed prestigious country clubs in New Britain, Connecticut, and in New York, while maintaining a home in Warwick.

Archie was a former Warwick police officer; his career has been halted by an accident that resulted in his having to be fitted with an artificial leg. Because of his inability to work, he had been living with Frederick and Fannie, with Frederick supporting them all.

On the night of Nov. 10, 1924, Frederick left on a trip to New York, leaving Archie with Fannie and their 19-year-old maid Anna Kowaltzky. They had all noticed that Archie had been acting depressed for the past few days and exhibiting strange behavior such as talking obsessively about watermelons.

The night previous to Frederick’s departure, Archie had been pacing the floor, jabbering on and on about the subject of watermelons. Anna had gone into her room, but Archie suddenly entered the room and turned on the light. He asked Anna if she wanted some watermelon. Anna did not as there were none on the premises. He later approached Frederick and asked him if he could have some money. Frederick said no. Archie then began to complain that everyone was better off than he was.

The day after Fredrick left, Archie began the verbal rampage again, asking the others repeatedly if he could have some watermelon. Finally, he left the house and, after a while, returned carrying a watermelon. He asked Fannie and Anna if they would like a slice. Both answered that they would.

Archie got out a bread knife and began slicing up the watermelon, but he only cut two pieces. He then turned and looked at Fannie. Without a word, he raised the knife and lunged at her, grabbing her by the throat and plunging the knife into her body. Although Fannie outweighed him, at 245 pounds, he stood over 6 feet tall.

“For God’s sake, what are you doing?” Anna cried.

Archie then turned to Anna and raised the knife as he moved toward her. Anna ran from the house, screaming for help.

Neighbors summoned the police, and when they arrived, the two officers found Archie standing over the bloody body of his sister-in-law, holding a kettle of boiling water in his hand.

“Did you call a doctor?” one of the officers asked, seeing the condition of Fannie.

“What do you want a doctor for?” Archie asked.

As the officers attempted to grab hold of Archie, he wrestled with them for an extended amount of time before they were able to subdue him. All the way to Providence Jail, he put up resistance. Once inside the cell, he became so violent that it was decided to transport him to the State Hospital. Relocating him proved an impossible task, and authorities finally had to resort to strapping him to a stretcher so that he could not move.

Fannie, who had suffered seven stab wounds, was unable to speak and died half an hour later.

Indicted for murder, it took the jury a little over 15 hours to announce they couldn’t agree on a verdict. They were split down the middle, with half calling for a conviction and the other half in support of a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict.

In the end, the former police officer was spared a cell but given a bed at the State Hospital for Mental Diseases in Cranston.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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