On July 13, 1926, a laborer on his way to work stumbled across a grisly find: the dismembered remains of a young woman, tossed along the side of a lonely road between two cemeteries near Boston. Boston police began their investigation, but had little to go on.
Parts of the body were packed into two cardboard boxes, "tied by window cord in sailor knots." More of the body was in a burlap bag. Other parts of the woman's body were wrapped in Boston newspapers dated June 27. "A pair of nile green hose and a white cotton nightdress, with a pink ribbon, the only clothing found, offered no clew to her identity," the New York Times said.
Dr. Leary, the Boston medical examiner, said that the young woman was approximately 25 years of age, 5'6" tall, weighing 120 pounds, with bobbed black hair and dark brown eyes. She had evidently been dismembered shortly after her death, Leary said. The dismemberment was expertly done, Leary said, indicating that the killer might be a skilled surgeon. Leary estimated that the young woman had been dead from 48 to 72 hours at the time of autopsy. Leary also did not at first release a definitive cause of death. He said that "blood poisoning" was likely and indicted that, as the New York Times said, "evidence pointed to illegal surgery."
"The only indication as to the identity of the murderer came from young men who saw a well-dressed, middle-aged man nervously driving an automobile in the vicinity" the previous night.
Nearly twenty families of missing women contacted the morgue in the first hours after the body was found, but the descriptions of their loved ones did not fit the victim. Police provided pictures of the victim to local papers for publication to aid in identification of the woman.
By July 15, the young woman had been positively identified as 20-year-old Edith Green, who had been an attendant at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital. Another employee, Bessie Landry, identified Edith by photographs of the victim and by describing a mole and her dental work.
Edith had been raised as a ward of the state, along with her two siblings. She got a job at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital as a day attendant on April 26, 1926. But the night of June 23, she left, never to return. She was next tracked to lodgings in Roxbury, where she took a room on July 8 and left her belongings there. "That same night," the New York Times said, "a young man called for her and took her away with him. She was never again seen alive."
Police began a search for the young man, who had obtained a marriage license for himself and Edith on July 3.
"Policeman visited the home of William J. Ford in South Boston," the New York Times said, "and took him and his brother and father to the morgue for questioning. Ford's mother collapsed when the police took her son into custody." Later reports indicate that 21-year-old James V. Ford, evidently William J. Ford's brother, was the "sweetheart" responsible for Edith's pregnancy.
Ford admitted to police that he had arranged for an abortion to be performed on Edith by Dr. Thomas E. Walsh. Ford said that Walsh had asked for his help in disposing of Edith's body, but that he had refused. Walsh and his wife were charged with murder in Edith's death.
The search for culprits in Edith's death also netted a thoroughly intoxicated Dr. John Leo Hanson, who admitted to having been in Boston when Edith vanished, but who denied having any part in her death or dismemberment.