A 1955 call for help to the local doctor became a murder charge

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When I was in the sixth grade at Kelly Lane, I had Mrs. Cowper for English. However, months later, her husband accepted a job transfer to Baltimore and they moved away. A wonderful teacher, Mrs. Kennedy, replaced her and would teach at Granby for 30 years. In high school, I anticipated having Tom Morton for freshman English; however he died of cancer just before the start of school.

In 1955, fourth grade students at Granby Memorial School had a similar experience. They started the school year with Mrs. Ireton but, halfway through the year, Mrs. Carlson became their new teacher. However, it was not because of a move or illness; Mrs. Ireton never returned to Granby schools because she was murdered.

Nine days before Christmas, on Dec. 16, 1955, Dr. Owen Murphy received a call from Michael Ireton at six o’clock in the morning, stating that his wife had fallen down the stairs and was injured. Murphy rushed to the Ireton’s home on East Granby Road, only to discover that Mrs. Marjorie Ireton was dead.

Murphy, also the town medical examiner, noticed something strange as he examined the body. For starters, the injuries were not consistent with falling down ten steps of stairs. More concerningly, as he inspected the scene, he noticed Ireton was wiping off blood stains from the wall and stair banister. When he questioned Ireton about the accident, he was told that the Ireton’s three-year-old daughter had woken Ireton, prompting him to get up and discover his wife at the bottom of the stairs. Ireton claimed that his wife was breathing at that time, so he moved her to another room and called Murphy. Murphy, after hearing Ireton’s account of events and inspecting the scene, called the state police to investigate.

The state police investigation started with an autopsy, which immediately proved Ireton’s story to be false. Dr. Ronald Becket, a pathologist at Hartford Hospital, performed the autopsy and told the police that the dead woman could not have died as result of such a fall. There was not a part of her body which was not bruised or cut and she had three broken ribs. He also told police, “…such injuries must have come from a terrific beating.”

State police then questioned four teachers: Mrs. Helen Spring, Mrs. Vanya Whiton, Mrs. Ruth Mirick, and Mrs. Ethel Coon. They had been at Mrs. Ireton’s house from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. that night discussing school faculty salaries and wages. Mr. Ireton had been out for the duration of the meeting but returned later as the teachers were leaving. According to Mrs. Coon, she was supposed to stay the night at the Ireton’s. However, she stayed elsewhere when she started to hear the Ireton’s arguing about how much he had been drinking. The next day, the teachers were shocked to learn that their friend was no longer alive.

After the investigation, which proved Ireton’s earlier lies as well as his likely involvement, Ireton was charged with murder. On Feb. 2, 1956, Ireton was indicted for first degree murder, for which “the mandatory penalty if found guilty is death by the electric chair unless the trial jury recommends life imprisonment instead.” Trial was set to begin on Feb. 24. However, Ireton instead pleaded guilty to second degree murder three days before it was due to start. Ireton would never be heard from again.

Want to learn more about this tragedy or other historical events in Granby? Please join the Salmon Brook Historical Society by calling 860-653-9713 or visit salmonbrookhistoricalsociety.com