Monadnock Moments No. 46: The Tragic Tale of Charles S. Jennings

In the Spring of 1886 a tragic tale unfolded in the columns of Cheshire County’s newspapers. The tale concerned Charles S. Jennings, a thirty-year-old farmer from Walpole, New Hampshire. It seems that Jennings’ wife was in the process of seeking a divorce.  On March 16 Cheshire County deputy Sheriff John Walker was at the Jennings home in Walpole helping Mrs. Jennings remove some of her belongings.  Mr. Jennings attacked deputy Walker with an axe, striking him once on the head and once on the arm.  Jennings escaped, but was later taken into custody.  The newspapers reported that he had been drinking heavily prior to the attack.
Deputy Walker was seriously injured and soon contracted typhoid fever as well.  He died near the end of April and Jennings was held in Keene on a charge of murder.  A few days later, on April 30, Jennings slit his throat in his jail cell and nearly bled to death before he was discovered. He recovered from the wound and was indicted in October on a charge of 2nd degree murder. His case did not come to trial, however, until April of 1887.  Less than one month prior to the trial, Emma, the former Mrs. Jennings, passed away in Fall River, Massachusetts, and was returned to Walpole for burial.
On the day of the trial Jennings changed his plea from not guilty to guilty of manslaughter.  His attorney argued that Jennings had no previous record, had turned all of his property over to deputy Walker’s widow, and that it was doubtful whether Walker died because of Jennings’ attack or because of mistakes on the part of the attending physicians.  Jennings was sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in the state prison.  He passed away in Burlington, Vermont twenty years later.