Stain & Cromwell

Penobscot County, Maine
Date of Alleged Crime:  February 22, 1878

David L. Stain and Oliver Cromwell were convicted of the alleged 1878 murder of John Wilson Baxter. Baxter was the cashier at the Dexter Savings Bank and was found in the vault of the bank, wounded, gagged, handcuffed, and unconscious. He died a few hours after he was found. Following an initial investigation, the local townspeople were divided on whether Baxter committed suicide or was murdered. There was little evidence of an intruder, but some thought it unlikely that Baxter could have gagged and handcuffed himself.

Nine years later, in 1887, a man named Charles Francis Stain came forward with a story that implicated his father, David Stain, and Oliver Cromwell in the murder. Both men lived in Medfield, Massachusetts.

It appeared, however, that Charles harbored ill will towards his father. When Charles requested $25 from his father to stay out of jail in Maine, the same replied that he would sooner send him a rope to hang with than advance him any money.

At trial in 1888, numerous witnesses identified Stain and Cromwell as having been seen in Dexter on the day of the murder. Some witnesses appeared to have remarkable memories in recalling superficial events and circumstances then ten years in the past. There was no reason to believe that any prosecution witness had more than a fleeting glance of the alleged murderers they saw. Witnesses' descriptions of these men differed so much that it would appear that three different men were identified as Stain.

Defense witnesses from Massachusetts provided an alibi for the defendants, but these witnesses were discounted by the jury as the defendants' friends. In truth, however, some were bitter enemies, and had been prevailed upon to appear for the defendants only after a great deal of urging.

Charles Stain claimed his father confessed the murder to him and later threatened to kill him if he ever revealed the contents of the confession. During Charles' testimony, he said his father, Cromwell, and himself had shipped a team of horses by boat from Boston to Gardiner, Maine. He intimated that the horses had been stolen. The defense attempted to discredit him by introducing a receipt signed by a “B.C. Sanborn.” The receipt was sworn to be the only one known to the steamship company covering horses similar to those described by Charles as shipped on the boat at the time alleged. It was shown that neither Stain nor Cromwell's name appeared on the paper. However the prosecution replied that any name could be signed to the receipt. It also introduced into evidence several letters written by David Stain. When the handwriting on the letters was compared to that on the receipt, the handwriting was pronounced similar.

This incident convinced the jury, according to later admissions by several members, that David Stain was a forger; and from that point it was apparently but a short step to the assumption that he was a murderer as well.

A petition for a new trial was made based on newly discovered evidence. The defense located a B. C. Sanborn of Avon, Maine. Sanborn had been assumed by the jury to be a fictitious person, but the opposite now appeared true. It was proved conclusively that Sanborn had shipped the horses in question and had himself signed the receipt. However, the hearing judge denied the new trial petition, ruling that the new evidence would not have resulted in a different verdict.

Further evidence was uncovered which tended to discredit Charles Stain's whole story. It appeared that he had voluntarily confessed to a bank robbery in Winthrop, Maine prior to his accusation of his father. An investigation at the time showed that he had had nothing to do with the robbery, and that the men who were guilty were in prison. The defense also discovered evidence that Charles was apparently in the habit of confessing whatever manner of crime inspired his imagination and that he had sold one of his "true stories" to a New York newspaper man.

On January 1, 1901, Maine Governor Powers granted David Stain and Oliver Cromwell a full pardon following a unanimous recommendation of the Governor's Council. The two had spent thirteen years in prison. In a newspaper interview on the day of the pardon, Charles Stain announced that he was very much pleased to hear of the Governor's action.  [5/11]


References:  Convicting the InnocentPhotos

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Maine Cases, Homicides that are Possible Suicides