Tramps, marauders and a jealous wife of a neighbor were all suspects when 17-year-old Mattie Hackett was found dying, a cord embedded tightly round her swollen throat not far from her Readfield home on the evening of Aug. 17, 1905.

Her father recalled hearing a scuffling sound and a shout not long before, but attributed it to some children.

The sheriff and others searched hours for suspects, questioning and eliminating them one after the other.

Finally the jealous wife, Elsie Hobbs Raymond, went on trial in April 1912 on a charge of murdering Hackett. Raymond testified she spent hours that evening alone, sitting outside on the ground at the rear of her home following an argument with her husband. Elsie Raymond denied going near the Hackett home. Her husband, Bert Raymond, had worked with Hackett at the Elmwood Hotel prior to his marriage.

A jury believed Elsie Raymond, deliberating less than two hours before acquitting her, thereby leaving the mystery of the murder of Hackett intact.

The sad story of the young girl’s unsolved murder provided a catalyst to a modern songwriter-musician Ellen Bowman of Readfield.

Bowman recently completed “Ode to Mattie Hackett: A Maine Murder Ballad.”

The chorus asks, “Oh, sweet Mattie. Did-ja have to go so soon?”

Bowman sings it in a strong voice, combining on stage with the banjo-playing of her son Aaron Bowman Neily and fiddler Charlie Moen of Madison. They call themselves “The Thundercastle Trio” and play original and old-time music.

Bowman wanted “Ode” to sound like something that would have been heard on the front porches of the town around the turn of the 20th century, when Hackett was alive.

“It’s part of the history of Maine and a tribute to her,” Bowman said. “This was a joy to do.”

They debuted “Ode to Mattie Hackett” at the home of Readfield Historical Society on May 28, the day it opened for the summer. Evelyn Potter, the society’s historian, said her grandmother was working the switchboard the night that the girl’s death was reported.

The trio reprised the tune a couple of weeks later at a local restaurant, and now Bowman is looking to make a recording of it.

Bowman first heard of the Hackett slaying when she asked a fellow Readfield resident what was the worst thing that had happened in the town of Readfield, a rural community with a lot of lake frontage west of Augusta.

“That answer made me deeply curious,” Bowman said. She did some research and began to identify more closely with the murdered girl.

“She was bright. She had a future, goals and promises,” she said.

Hackett attended Kents Hill School, and so did Bowman. Hackett lived and died less than three miles from Bowman’s house, and the grave is even closer.

“When I got writer’s block, I would go sit quietly by her grave,” Bowman said.

The late Tom Lane told Bowman his parents recalled looking out their window to see the lanterns of searchers bobbing in the fields for hours as they sought the girl’s killer.

The Daily Kennebec Journal carried stories day after day of the killing. The headlines on Aug. 18, 1905, tell almost the entire story: “HORRIBLE MURDER BELOW KENT’S HILL — Mattie Hackett, Aged About 18 Years, Killed by Unknown Man, Last Evening. ASSAULT ATTEMPTED. Tramp Asked for Food — Mattie Was Preparing It — Father from Barn Heard Noise and Found Girl Dying — Gash on Head — Rope Around Neck, Strangling Her — Never Recovered Consciousness — Tramp Held for Complicity.”

The mystery deepened — there was no gash and the tramp was cleared quickly — and interest grew as an inquest and funeral took place, all of it reported faithfully in the newspaper.

But then only 10 days later, the girl’s murder was eclipsed by the news of a fire that killed four people, injured others, and forced people to leap from their windows at the Hotel Maranacook in Readfield.

Emeric Spooner published a book, “In Search of Mattie Hackett: A True Maine Unsolved Murder Mystery,” in 2010.

Bowman mused on the unsolved murder and took two years to write the song.

“The lyrics, the text came easily, and the melody took a long time,” Bowman said.

After asking why Mattie had to go so soon, the chorus continues: “On August 17, 1905, your family’s left to croon. Mattie, only 17. The search went on so long. Oldest unsolved mystery. So I wrote it down in song.”

Bowman is a psychotherapist who works with children frequently using therapeutic arts, including music. “Spoken conversation doesn’t always do it,” she said. “But they can sing what they’re going through.”

While she can play a variety of instruments, she decided against using her accordion in the song to allow the words to shine.

“I just wanted the melody to be so clear,” she said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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