Mary Pickering Tuplin, 1887 murder victim, properly laid to rest

The family of Mary Pickering Tuplin, a 17-year-old girl murdered in 1887, is "very grateful" to have re-united her skull with the rest of her remains, and to have given her a proper graveside service.

'After all this time I think we finally got it right'

Mary Pickering Tuplin's grave, where her remains have now been re-united. (Submitted by Bobby Williams)

The family of Mary Pickering Tuplin, a 17-year-old girl murdered in 1887, is "very grateful" to have re-united her skull with the rest of her remains, and to have given her a proper graveside service.

Bobby Williams is Tuplin's first cousin three times removed — she was his great-grandfather's first cousin.

When he found out that her body was buried without her skull, he set about trying to make things right.

"From what we know she was just put in the ground more or less just with a blanket," he said. "Something right had to be done."

Story passed down through generations

Williams happened upon Tuplin's story while searching for his own family history. His mother's family name is Tuplin.

"Of course I expected our family history and stuff to come up and here the Margate murder came up, it sparked my interest," said Williams.  

Bobby Williams came across Tuplin's story while doing research about his family history. (Submitted by Bobby Williams)

He asked his mother, Frances Williams, whose maiden name is Tuplin, about the crime and she told him the details that had been passed down through the generations. 

Tuplin was shot twice in the head and her body was found weighted down in the Southwest River. Doctors also discovered she was six months pregnant.

20-year-old William Millman was hanged for the crime, even though he professed his innocence.

Tuplin's murder and Millman's hanging have been documented in stories and songs. Williams has also read the transcripts from the original trial. 

No ceremony, no box, no family

His voice cracks when he talks about how they treated Tuplin's body.

Williams said her head was detached from her body during a post-mortem exam on the shore of the Southwest River.

Williams' family made wooden box for Tuplin's skull. (Submitted by Bobby Williams)

"Her head was taken to Charlottetown for evidence … her body was sent in a different direction, it was sent to the Margate cemetery, and they buried her that night, they say probably around one in the morning, and she had without ceremony, without a box, and without her family of course," he said.

Williams is also concerned about how Millman was treated.

"The aftermath of what happened and what they did to those kids after … I don't think those kids would be treated that way today," he said.

Skull in storage for more than a century

To right the wrong, Williams had to track down Tuplin's skull.

It had been in storage at a pharmacy in Charlottetown, which also once acted as a Coroner's office.

The skull was held at a pharmacy, which also acted as a Coroner's office. The pharmacy no longer exists. (H. B. Sterling/Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island)

The pharmacy is no longer in operation, but Williams tracked down the family connected to the pharmacy. They still had the skull in storage with other historical items.

"They were so kind and so gracious, they told me they were waiting for somebody like me to come around there for years and lay claim," said Williams.

Small and intimate service

After tracking down the skull, Williams organised a service for it to be buried with her remains.  

He wanted to keep it small and intimate, and invited some remaining relatives to the Margate cemetery last month. His brother, George Williams, made a small wooden box for the skull.

A minister from the Southwest River United Church conducted the service and Williams spoke as well. 

A small group gathered to give Tuplin a proper graveside service on Aug. 21. (Submitted by Bobby Williams)

"After all this time, I think we finally got it right," Williams said. 

"We did have a ceremony, she did have a box and she did have her family there … We're finally grateful, very grateful."

Williams now lives in Alberta but plans to visit Tuplin's grave whenever he is home in P.E.I.

"It's a tender spot for me," he said.