Monadnock Moments No. 11: The Murder of Asahel Dunton
On September 22, 1903, Asahel Dunton died at the Elliot Hospital in Keene from the result of murderous blows that he had received while at the home of Malachi Barnes in Sullivan three days earlier. Dunton worked at a mill in Sullivan and boarded at the Barnes home.
On the evening of the assault, Dunton had aided Mrs. Barnes in digging potatoes. Mr. Barnes appeared angry that Dunton had aided Mrs. Barnes in this chore. Mr. Barnes had previously shown signs of severe jealously of Dunton.
As darkness arrived Mrs. Barnes went into the house by the side door. She was immediately attacked by a man who had descended the stairs near her. She was assaulted with a bark peeler, but managed to escape and fled to a neighbor’s house.
Several men returned to the Barnes’ home. Upon their arrival, they found that Dunton, who was lying on a sofa in the house, had been attacked with the bark peeler and was seriously injured. Dunton was taken to the Keene hospital where he died three days later.
Malachi Barnes denied having any connection with the assault, but he was immediately arrested and held without bail in Keene. It was the opinion of many Sullivan residents that Barnes was mentally unstable and that he had probably committed the crime.
Barnes was tried for murder in January of 1904. His lawyers argued that Dunton had been known to keep large sums of money in his room and that the attack may well have been the work of a burglar. Mrs. Barnes was the only witness and her testimony did not make a strong case against her husband. However, the defense failed to make it appear that any strangers had been near the Barnes’ home on the day of the murder. On January 6th the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, and on the 7th Malachi Barnes was sentenced to life imprisonment at the state prison in Concord.