New York Daily News

FRENCH WITCH MURDER

- BY MARA BOVSUN SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

ACHICKEN went berserk. That was all it took to finally drive the old woman to murder.

So it was that around lunchtime on March 6, 1930, toothless, fat Nancy Bowen, 66, a member of the Seneca tribe living on the Cattaraugu­s reservatio­n outside Buffalo, knocked on the door of Henri Marchand.

He was a world famous artist who had studied in Paris and had made a name for himself with his sculptures and paintings of American Indians.

Marchand wasn’t home, but that didn’t matter to Bowen. She was seeking Clothilde, the artist’s petite, cultured wife. Clothilde answered the door, invited the stranger in, and offered her lunch. When Bowen said she was afraid of Marchand’s dog, a big German shepherd, the Frenchwoma­n graciously tied the animal up outside.

A few hours later, Clothilde’s 12-year-old son Henri Jr. came into the house and tripped over a bundle at the foot of the stairs. It was his mother, dead, her head smashed, a wad of chloroform-soaked cotton jammed down her throat.

Bruises on her body and around her neck suggested that there had been a terrific struggle. Marks on her neck appeared to have been made by the tapered fingers of a woman.

Within a few hours, police were combing the reservatio­n, looking for Bowen. They also were hunting for another woman — Lila Jimerson, known as the Red Lilac.

When police picked them up, Bowen talked freely about what happened in the Marchand house that afternoon. It seemed, however, Jimerson’s role was much bigger. She was alleged to have played on the feeble-minded Bowen’s superstiti­ons to persuade her to murder a stranger. She wanted Marchand back.

She started looking for a way to get rid of the only thing she saw standing in her way: Marchand’s wife.

It was the death of “Sassafras Charlie” Bowen, an 80-year-old alcoholic and Nancy’s husband, that gave Jimerson the opportunit­y.

The previous summer, Charlie had become convinced that ghosts had infested the Bowen cabin. One night in September, armed with a bag of cherry wood scrapings and a few incantatio­ns, Charlie sallied forth into the woods to do battle with the spirits. He was never seen alive again.

Soon after Charlie’s death, his widow received a letter, telling her that a “witch in the city of Buffalo” had done away with him because his trade in herbs was cutting into her business. The letter was signed “Mrs. Dooley.”

Three more missives followed. In one, the writer described the method of Charlie’s demise. “She said she made an old rag doll of Charlie, she put it in a glass dish, pour the green oil on doll and filled up dish with beef blood. Soon as rot, he die. . . . She kill many, many, many that way, Indians and whites,” Bowen said later.

Other letters held dire warnings of what would happen if the witch were allowed to live, and gave detailed instructio­ns of how to find and kill the evil sorceress.

Bowen did nothing, so Jimerson started spending time with the widow. The younger woman said she was getting messages from poor, departed Charlie, and she brought out a ouija board.

Through the magic board, operated by Jimerson, Charlie told his wife to kill the witch.

Bowen continued to hesitate — that is, until one of her chickens went berserk, dashing around the reservatio­n and squawking wildly, until it dropped dead.

Jimerson convinced Bowen that this was a sign that a spell was at work.

Medicine men told her that the spell might be broken if she cooked a “mess of mashed potatoes, blood sausage, and a chocolate cake” but Bowen was certain it would not work against a French witch. “French witches,” she told police, “are the most powerful of all.”

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 ??  ?? Clockwise from top: Clothilde Marchand and shepherd; the foyer where her body was found, and the shack where her husband trysted with Lila Jimerson.
Clockwise from top: Clothilde Marchand and shepherd; the foyer where her body was found, and the shack where her husband trysted with Lila Jimerson.

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