By David Cochran
You may find this blog disturbing. Read with caution.
No village is perfect. All have tales they’d rather not tell, and Blawenburg is no exception. In this blog, we share some of those tales that appeared in the local newspapers or from the recollections of others that reveal the dark side of an otherwise tranquil village.
The Young Thief
New Brunswick Daily Times
May 9, 1902
A 13-year-old boy, William Henson, stole a rig (early motor vehicle) belonging to Adrian Appelget of Cranbury. The next day was spent searching for the young thief, and he was traced to Blawenburg. He was found in Hopewell with the rig. There is no indication of how this precursor to carjacking was handled by the courts.
Daily Home News – New Brunswick
December 17, 1927
Brothers George and Walter Ball, who lived near Blawenburg, were fined $10 in Somerville Court on charges of disorderly conduct. It seems that they were in an argument with Jasper Oliver and threatened him bodily harm. That seemingly light fine would be $177 today.
Fatal Gunshot Accident
New Brunswick Home News
December 1, 1920
Tragic accidents that could have been prevented also occurred in the village. Walter Graczyk, age thirteen, his brother, John, and his parents were visiting their friends, the Mellicks, in Blawenburg. They lived just a half mile away. Seven-year-old Michael Mellick and his brother were playing with Walter while their parents ironically talked about guns and hunting in the kitchen.
Walter spotted a shotgun standing in the corner of the living room and brought it to the kitchen to show his parents. He didn’t realize both barrels were loaded. As Walter came though the doorway to the kitchen, the hammers on the gun fell, and it discharged. He was about eight feet away from the Mellick brothers when the gun fired, hitting Michael in the head and killing him. John sustained burn marks from the accident. The Somerset County Physician and Chief of Detectives ruled the tragedy an accident. This avoidable accident likely haunted both families for the rest of their lives.
The Hay Baling Accident
Also Hopewell Valley News, June 1951
In 1951, Frederick Warren Purdum, known by his family and friends as Freddy, was thirteen-years-old. His family lived in Blawenburg and his father, Rufus, was in charge of the large dairy operation at Woodacres Farm. During hay harvesting season in June, area farms could use all the help they could get to cut, bale, and move hay into barns. Like many young men of his age and older, working the hay harvest was a good way to pick up some extra cash. At the time, the age restrictions on farm work were not as strict as they are today.
Don Terhune and Bill Van Zandt were also teenage farm workers that summer. Don worked at Upper Strode Farm, owned by George Gallup, and Bill worked on the Van Zandt family farm known as Broadview Farm. Despite not being involved in the accident, both men and the rest of the community always remembered what happened on that fateful day.
On June 14, 1951, Freddy was working in the Woodacres field just south of Blawenburg along Great Road where Hobler Park is today. Despite his age, he was a responsible young man who knew how to work on the team that operated the baler.
A tractor was pulling a baler that scooped up the previously cut hay, compressed it, cut it into bales, and tied it. A wagon was in tow behind the baler, and it was Freddy’s job to use a baling hook to grab the tied bales as they came out of the baler and pull them into the wagon. He would move and arrange the bales on the wagon to get as many bales as possible on it.
According to those familiar with the accident, some hay got stuck in the intake chute, causing the baler to stop working. Freddy jumped off the wagon to unclog the baler. He had to climb onto the baler to do this. When the baler began working again, he either slipped or was pulled into the chute. One theory is that his clothes may have been have been caught in the plunger, and he was pulled in. However it happened, Freddy died instantly.
His body was removed to Forsythe Funeral Home in Hopewell. After local services, Freddy was laid to rest at the Wesley Chapel Cemetery in Hilliard, Ohio in the family plot. The accident was horrible and had a tremendous effect on everyone in the local farm community. The tractor driver was said to be greatly upset for the rest of his life. No one wanted to deal with the baler after that incident, and it sat in that field, unused, for several years. Seven years after the accident, the Purdum family sued the Woodacres Farm for negligence. The outcome of that suit isn’t known.
Who Murdered Gordon Dorey?
Daily Home News – New Brunswick
The death of Gordon Dorey over a century ago is perhaps Blawenburg’s oldest cold case. Gordon, age twenty-nine, lived at home in Blawenburg with his mother, Anna Dorey. His father, John Dorey, was deceased, so Gordon was the sole support for his mother. On Friday night, May 6, 1921 around 7:30pm, Gordon walked to the village store at the crossroad in the center of the village. His mother became concerned when he didn’t return home because this was unusual behavior for Gordon.
On Saturday morning with still no sign of Gordon, Anna headed toward her son Stanley’s house in the eastern part of Blawenburg to get help finding Gordon. Along the way, she encountered two men who said they saw a body on the side of Blawenburg-Rocky Hill Road, aka Route 518. Anna became alarmed, thinking it might be Gordon. They took her to the spot where she found her murdered son in a field along the road. While newspaper accounts didn’t indicate the cause of death, it is believed that he was shot.
By all accounts, he was well liked in the village. Gordon had been employed by the Nash Motor Company of Trenton. A newspaper account of the murder said Gordon “… was esteemed by all who knew him for his kindness and high ideals.” He was said “… not to have an enemy in the world.”
Gordon’s funeral (wake) was held at Anna’s home with services following at Blawenburg Reformed Church on Wednesday, May 11, 1921.
At the time of the murder, there was no police force in Montgomery Township, so investigations would have been carried out by the Somerset County detectives or the NJ State Police. This crime remains a mystery today.
The Deadly Graveyard Shift
September 19, 1992
Two maintenance workers at North Princeton Development Center just south of Blawenburg got into a fight over their cleaning assignments on the overnight shift on September 17, 1992. The fight escalated, and Wilson Lopez stabbed Leroy Cribb Jr. in the groin with a 1 ½ inch knife. The stabbing severed his artery, and Cribb bled to death.
Montgomery Township Police Officer Guy Fillebrown went to the scene and took the suspect into custody without incident. NPDC was a state facility, and the crime was under the jurisdiction of and investigated by the New Jersey State Police, the Human Services Police, and the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office. Lopez was charged with murder.
Crimes and accidents happen, and Blawenburg isn’t immune to them. Those mentioned here aren't the only accidents and crimes that have occurred in the village. Fortunately, they happen to a much lesser degree in Blawenburg than in some areas of the country. A low crime rate has helped establish Montgomery Township as a good, safe place to live.
1. It’s challenging to find local news from 100 years ago or more. Some newspapers have their old issues accessible on the internet, while others require visits to a library where the old issues are on microfilm. For this issue, Ken Chrusz used internet sources to find these stories.
2. Unfortunately farm accidents are more common that most of us realize. Modern equipment takes much of the hand labor away from baling hay, but farming is still a dangerous occupation with many accidents.
3. In the old days, many rural towns did not have their own police force. Instead, they relied on the State Police or county detectives to investigate accidents and crimes. These investigations were often done with minimal technologies to help find perpetrators. Crimes without good witnesses often went unsolved.
4. North Princeton Development Center, which housed as many as 600 patients, is now Skillman Park. It is just north of Blawenburg.
1. Newspapers – listed with each vignette. Thanks to Ken Chrusz, retired Montgomery Township Police officer, for his diligent research on these stories.
2. Purdum accident – Thanks to Don Terhune and Bill Van Zandt for their recollections of this tragedy.
1. Rig - https://www.flickr.com/photos/carlylehold/7344729160
2. Tombstones – Findagrave.com
3. Newspaper headline – Trentonian, September, 1992
Editor—Barb Reid Copyright © 2023 by David Cochran. All rights reserved.
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