Was it a “mercy killing”? Was it an accident? Was it murder? Read about the death and subsequent arrest, trial, and conviction that divided a 1940s small town.
With no witnesses and destroyed evidence, questions still surround the mysterious death of baby Lawrence Noxon. This the account of the 1940s murder case, arrest, trial, and conviction of John Noxon as well as a story of changing city and state. It’s not every day that a prominent citizen, a highly successful lawyer, no less, is arrested for murder. The case itself drew in newspaper readers from coast to coast, and Lawrence’s death was often characterized as a “mercy killing,” at a time when euthanasia societies were publicly advocating for the selection out of mental defectives from American society.
Noxon consistently maintained the electrocution was accidental, although admittedly due to his own negligence but the prosecution was pushing for the death penalty. Based on scientific, or forensic evidence, they recreated some of the lost evidence and called upon university medical faculty, chemists, and electrical engineers to show the death could not have been an accident. The defense, of course, had its own cadre of witnesses from those disciplines to testify just the opposite.
Despite the complicated technicalities of the evidence, the jury deliberated only about five hours before finding Noxon guilty of first-degree murder, which, at the time carried an automatic death penalty.
James E. Overmyer was the public safety and criminal courts reporter from 1974-1979 for the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He regularly reported on felony cases in the Superior Court, included several murder trials. From 1979 through 1983, he was an administrator in the Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office in charge of case preparation for both felony and misdemeanor cases. Until retiring from public service in 2010, he worked in both the Massachusetts and New York state governments in a series of positions usually associated with state court systems. He currently lives in Tucson, AZ.
Chapter 1: A Little Tragedy in Pittsfield
Chapter 2: Noxon Under Arrest
Chapter 3: The Trial Begins
Chapter 4: The Case against Noxon
Chapter 5: Try Again
Chapter 6: Noxon’s Defense
Chapter 7: In the Jury’s Hands
Chapter 8: On to the Statehouse
Chapter 9: A Free Man
About the Author
Jim Overmyer has successfully applied his outstanding reporting skills to the daunting task of writing the definitive history of a crime that horrified the small city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1943 and made headlines nationwide for years afterward. The case of a father accused of murdering his disabled infant son helped fuel a public debate that continues to the present day. In Overmyer’s telling, the haunting story of the death of Baby Lawrence never could be described as 'old news'.
Based on extensive research, James E. Overmyer has meticulously pieced together a fascinating account of a possible mercy killing and the subsequent arrest and trials of the father, a prominent lawyer, accused of murdering his infant son. Central to this riveting story are the archaic attitudes about developmental disabilities prevalent in the 1940s and complex moral questions the case raised that resonates to the present day.
An overlooked and sensational true-crime story from small town America in the 1940s. It is meticulously researched and masterfully told. A compelling and complex tale of a trial that combined crime, family, society and politics.