“I’m shot!” Edgar Bailey cried out. “I’m sorry; get a doctor, quick!” replied Edgar’s brother, Charles, as he ran from the scene. This is the commotion that played out in a house on Boylston Street in Westerly on October 23, 1920. The events that took place over the next several months would result in an interstate manhunt and the first murder trial in Westerly in several decades.
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Charles E. Bailey was born on May 18, 1862, to William W. and Julia (Jones) Bailey in the small town of Durham, Maine, just 25 miles outside of Portland. Four years later, a second son, Edgar A. Bailey, was born. When the boys were young, Julia and William were divorced. Interestingly, in 1870 and 1880, Julia, Charles, and Edgar were living with William Bailey’s parents in Parkman, Maine. It is unclear precisely where Charles lived for many years after 1880, but one later account described Charles as “addicted to strong drink and of a roving disposition,” suggesting he likely lived a somewhat transient lifestyle.
Between 1915 and 1918, Bailey found work in fertilizer mills in Bowdoinham, Maine. It was also said that Charles E. Bailey lived in Portland, Maine for much of his early life, however, the next time that he was known to be recorded was in 1919 when he was living with his mother and brother on Boylston Street in Westerly while he worked as a laborer. All that is known about Bailey’s life in Maine is that he was “a well-known horse trader” and was also known throughout the state as a lumberman and iceman. In 1920, he was still living with Julia and Edgar, however, this time, he was described more specifically as a farm laborer. In descriptions of Charles from 1920, he was depicted as “spare build, active and wiry and wears a heavy gray-tinged moustache.”
The night of October 23, 1920, was the night that changed the Bailey family forever and resulted in a wild chain of events that rocked Westerly. Accounts of the evening vary slightly depending on the source, however, it is known for certain that on the evening of October 23, Charles E. Bailey returned home (possibly intoxicated, as reported by at least one source,) and spent time with his brother and mother. At about 9:30 p.m., Charles left the room where his Edgar and Julia sat and went upstairs to retrieve a revolver from his bedroom. Charles then re-entered the room and shot Edgar in the abdomen. It was at that time that Edgar announced that he had been shot and Charles replied: “I’m sorry; get a doctor, quick!”
Edmund A. Bailey was rushed by the Westerly Sanitary Corps to Lawrence Hospital in New London. At 12:20 a.m. Edgar was admitted to the hospital where doctors discovered that the bullet passed through his intestines. It was originally hoped that he would survive the ordeal. According to the medical examiner’s report of Edgar’s death, shortly after being admitted to the hospital, he was operated on by Drs. Lee and Douglas and it was found that he had multiple injuries to the intestinal tract and omentum and to make matters worse, Edgar was hemorrhaging. Still, he hung on for more than two days. According to Medical Examiner Harold H. Heyer, at 4:05 p.m. on October 26, 1920, Edgar A. Bailey “came to death due to violence.”
Shockingly, despite the shooting happening at 9:30 p.m., Westerly Police were not informed of the incident until after midnight, when Edgar’s doctor placed a call to them, by which time Charles was able to make an escape. As a result, the police were not able to track the suspect down immediately. When questioned about the incident, the boys’ mother claimed the shooting was accidental. While Edgar fought for his life in a hospital bed, Charles E. Bailey escaped to the woods in Westerly to evade police detection. The following day, October 25, Charles came out of the woods on Post Road in Westerly and was able to get a ride to Providence on a truck. Once in Providence, Charles took a train to Boston and then from Boston to Brunswick, Maine. Once in Brunswick, Charles walked to Bowdoinham, just nine miles away.
On October 28, the funeral of Edgar Bailey was held in Westerly and he was interred in River Bend Cemetery. Over the next several days, Westerly Police officers followed all leads and searched diligently for Charles E. Bailey. On November 1, 1920, a private session of the Westerly Town Council was held so that Police Chief Thomas E. Brown could brief the council on the status of the case. At that time, Brown indicated that he believed Bailey was in the vicinity of Portland, Maine, where he had spent much of his life. Upon hearing this, the council authorized a reward of $100 for Bailey’s capture and recommended that Brown travel to Maine to locate Bailey. A rumor in town initially led many to believe Charles Bailey had committed suicide due to the fact that a man matching his description was seen running into the woods just before a gunshot was heard, however, this was disproven relatively quickly.