CRANSTON – During the late summer of 1895, police were searching for teenaged Mary Carr. She had been away from home for a month and her mother, Mary (Collins) Carr, had no idea where she was. …
CRANSTON – During the late summer of 1895, police were searching for teenaged Mary Carr. She had been away from home for a month and her mother, Mary (Collins) Carr, had no idea where she was. Police finally located her with 25-year-old Charles Austin, a clerk at a popular wholesale notions store. It was then that Mary told her mother she was pregnant with Charles’s child.
An agent for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children sat down to interview Mary and Charles. Mary reported that she and Charles had an intimate encounter in Cranston during the month of July and when she discovered she was pregnant and informed Charles of that fact, he became extremely angry and abusive. She claimed he had sent her to River Point for a month after attempting to have her killed.
Mary told the agent that once Charles calmed down after learning that she was with child, he began acting very nicely toward her. The two had often gone for long walks together and he arrived at her house near Elmwood one day to ask her to go for a walk. She said he wanted to walk along the railroad track near Norwood. When she realized he was leading her onto the railroad bridge, she became nervous as there was no way off the track if a train came along. Yet she followed his lead.
Charles knew an express train was scheduled to pass over those tracks at any moment. He led Mary to the center of the bridge and, sighting the train, he raced back to land, leaving Mary in the train’s path. Terrified, she lowered herself to the track and crawled to safety. After that, she went on, he secreted her for the time being.
Charles didn’t contradict Mary’s story. He admitted to it all. However he was being charged with assaulting a girl under the age of 16 and his argument concerned her age.
On the morning of March 11, 1896, Charles waived examination and bail was set at $7,000. Three months later, at his indictment, he pleaded not guilty and was held on a $2,500 bond. In the midst of the legal chaos, he exchanged marriage vows with 18-year-old Minnie Isabel Dorr on Oct. 20, 1896.
During the jury trial, Mary’s mother testified that Mary had been born on Nov. 20, 1880, which would have made her 15 years old at the time of her interlude with Charles. She told the court that the birth record had been written into her late husband’s family Bible and that she remembered a death in her husband’s family occurring around that same time so there was no mistaking the year.
Charles’s lawyer produced a birth record filed with the town of Warwick. It was for a female infant named “Mary Florence Carr” who was born on Nov. 20, 1879 to a James and Mary Carr. He insisted that was Mary’s birth record.
Mrs. Carr admitted that her daughter was born in Warwick and that her late husband’s name was James Danius Carr. But she swore that Mary had never been named or called “Florence”, her legal name being Mary Atwood Carr.
The defense then called Ezra Martin to the stand. She testified that she had been the nurse for Mrs. Carr when she gave birth to Mary and that the girl had been born on Nov. 20, 1879, which would have made her 16 at the time she engaged in the interlude with Charles.
After weighing the evidence, the jury came forth with a guilty verdict. Minnie Austin succumbed to hysterics in the courtroom. On the morning of June 5, 1897, Charles stood to receive his sentence. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children expected the sentence to be a lengthy one as the judge held the authority to put him behind bars for up to 15 years. After listening to the pleadings of Charles’s attorney regarding his previous good character and the fact that he was a new husband, the judge sentenced him to serve only three years of hard labor at the RI State Prison. He was also ordered to pay all costs of prosecution. The judge denied the defense attorney’s petition for a new trial, explaining that the evidence had been sufficient to justify the jury’s verdict.
There is no evidence of Mary having given birth to a child during the 1890s. She returned to her mother’s home where she resided with her three siblings. Her father, a yachtsman and fisherman who had once mastered the Provi-dence sloop “Haswell” had died on Feb. 26, 1890.
Mary married William James Allwood on Jan. 7, 1913 and they adopted a son in 1920. In 1928, she began suffering from heart disease. During the autumn of 1940, she had a stroke. Her health never recovered after that and on Aug. 21, 1943, she died of heart disease at her home on Park Avenue in Cranston.
It might appear as if the mystery surrounding her year of birth continued on after the trial. In 1900, she told the census taker that she was born in Nov. 1880. Her death certificate gives the same birthdate. However, in 1935, she told the census taker that her birthdate was in fact Nov. 20, 1881, a difference of two years from that which her mother had testified to, sending Charles Austin to prison.
However, there is one telling clue that cannot be argued. In June of 1880, when the census taker arrived at the Carr home, Mary was already several months old. She was already a child in the Carr house and November of 1880 hadn’t yet arrived. Charles Austin hadn’t engaged with a girl under the age of 16 after all.
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