By Connie Farrington.
Once upon a time. . .
Long ago (1915) but not far away (Tylerville), there lived a forlorn Bohemian family named Ball: Joseph, Grace, and sons Jacob and Michael. Their shack had been purchased for them by the town to provide a roof over their heads. About 1911, their two sons had been placed in the county orphanage at Haddam and schooled at Haddam central school. During that time, it has been reported that younger son Michael was tutored by a fellow student “to overcome his New York accent.”
Where he got a “New York accent” we know not, since Michael later claims to have been born in Moodus, East Haddam. And his financially destitute parents were immigrants, not native New Yorkers.
Subsequently the boys were returned to their still impoverished family who lived two miles from the orphanage. One fateful night, at the hands of local Haddam businessman and neighbor, Emil Schutte, the parents, the older son, and their one-room house were reduced to ashes. Or maybe not completely ashes. Their remains were placed in a casket in a Potter’s Field. One account of the 1921 trial states that, having been exhumed from a Haddam cemetery, “the skulls of Joseph, Grace, and Jacob Ball grinned at the defendant from a display table.”
The heartless Mr. Schutte, whose frail wife and seven sons were terrified of him, had been unsuccessful in getting the small, pitiful, and penniless Ball family to move away so that Schutte could more easily sell his adjoining acres. He doused the hut with kerosene and when the victims ran from the fire, Emil shot each one. He and his son then threw the bodies into the fire. According to his son’s testimony, as he walked away, Emil said “The fire is burning fine. It looks pretty.”
The murderer’s undoing was the presence of bullets found among the bones of the family buried six years earlier, supposedly as a result of “asphyxiation” in a house fire. Also there was Emil’s son’s eye witness account. In 1922 the perpetually ornery Mr. Schutte, local grocer and one-time constable of Haddam, was hanged by his neck, courtesy of the state of Connecticut.
And what, pray tell, became of the unaccounted-for son named Michael Ball, born about 1903 and not named as a victim of the infamous Mr. Schutte? In the 1910 census of Haddam he was the 6 year old in his parents’ household. Where was he in the 1920, 1930, and 1940 census?
Could he be the Michael Joseph Ball whose 1942 WWII draft registration in New Britain lists the person who will always know his address as Mrs. Frank Legas? Based on the 1940 census of New Britain, her husband is Frank Legas, 28. He is probably the Frank Legas, 18, listed ten years earlier in the 1930 census as being incarcerated in the reformatory at Cheshire. The draft card that Michael Joseph Ball signed very legibly states that he was born August 25, 1902 in Moodus, CT, the very town from which this Ball family moved to Haddam before the 1910 census. In 1942 he was 5’7 ½ ” and weighed 133 lbs. He had a scar on the right side of his face, blue eyes, brown hair.
In the 1938 city directory of New Britain and for many years thereafter, a Michael J. Ball is listed as living at various addresses in New Britain, yet his name is not found in the 1940 census. The Connecticut Death Index reports that his birthdate was Aug. 25, 1903. Michael’s death record for June 20, 1985 states that his residence was New Britain, he was a packer at the American Hardware Co., he died in Newington, was 81, and was “never married.” No military service has been found. No record of a gravestone. No ashes.
Thus endeth the sad story of the Joseph Ball family of Haddam, CT.
Photo of Schutte from Middletown Press article, courtesy of Haddam Historical Society.
Photo of orphanage from collection of Susan DeCarli.
Photo of draft registration card from ancestry.com.