By Brad Dison
January 31, 1945 was a freezing cold day in Frederick, Maryland. The temperature dipped down to just 15° Fahrenheit. Wind gusts up to twenty-seven miles per hour made the cold temperature feel even colder. Most people remained indoors by their fireplaces to keep warm.
Over forty-five years earlier, three elderly ladies who had never married moved into a two story, drafty house in Frederick. Its only source of heat was a couple of small fireplaces. The three spinsters had decided to pool their money together and share all of their expenses. Through the years, the three spinsters relied on each other for everything.
January 31, 1945, was no different. The three spinsters were in their twilight years and were totally devoted to each other. Lillie, the youngest of the three at seventy-five years old, was bedridden and depended on the other two for her very survival. Fannie was seventy-eight years old and Ellen was eighty-eight. The two able-bodied spinsters cooked, cleaned, tended to the fire, and did the other various chores required of the household. However, a series of unfortunate events befell the spinsters.
On the evening of January 31, grocery store clerk Grayson Haller was making his normal grocery delivery to the spinsters’ home. The roads and sidewalks were covered in ice and snow. Grayson struggled to keep his footing. As he carefully walked on the sidewalk, he saw a large bundle lying near the icy path to the spinsters’ home. He curiously but cautiously entered the spinsters’ yard. He starred at the bundle as he drew closer. Suddenly, he recognized the shape. He dropped the groceries and knelt down beside the bundle. It was 88-year-old Ellen, the oldest of the three spinsters. He tried to help Ellen, but he was too late. Her body was frozen. Grayson ran as fast as he could on the slippery ice for help.
Within a few minutes, Grayson and a police investigator returned to the spinsters’ home. The investigator knelt down beside Ellen and tried to determine what had happened to her. Grayson knocked on the door, took a deep breath, and prepared himself to deliver the bad news to Fannie and Lillie. No one answered. The investigator found that Ellen had a serious injury on her head. Grayson knocked again. Still no answer. He and the investigator feared that something bad had also happened to Fannie and Lillie.
Grayson and the investigator cautiously entered the house. It was as cold inside the house as outside. The investigator noted as he looked through the first-floor rooms that there were no signs of a struggle. No chairs or other furniture was overturned. Nothing appeared to be broken. The house was neat and tidy. The fire in the fireplace had burned out. In the kitchen they made a ghastly discovery. The cold, lifeless body of 78-year-old Fannie lay on the kitchen floor. Sadly, there was nothing Grayson or the investigator could do for her. They continued to search the house.
Grayson and the investigator walked up the stairs to the second floor. In one of the bedrooms, they made another shocking discovery. Lillie, the bedridden spinster who relied on Ellen and Fannie for everything, was not in her bed. Her cold, lifeless body, dressed only in her undergarments, lay on the bedroom floor. Grayson was overcome with grief.
Other investigators converged on the home of the three spinsters. They found no evidence that anyone had broken into the home. There was no damage to any of the doors or windows. There was no evidence of a struggle. Nothing seemed to be missing or out of place. Upon looking at the bodies of the three spinsters, Ellen was the only one with an apparent injury.
Following a short but precise investigation, the police concluded that the three spinsters, Ellen, Fannie, and Lillie, died on the same day, but not as a result of foul play. They surmised that Fannie was in the kitchen and had either a brain aneurism or a heart attack. When she fell to the floor, Ellen ran to her aid. Unable to revive her, Ellen ran from the house to get help. Ellen slipped on the icy path and hit her head, an injury which incapacitated her. They concluded that she had frozen to death where she had fallen. Lillie lay in bed until the fire was in danger of going out. Apparently, Lillie dragged herself from her bed towards the fireplace with the intent of adding more wood and stoking the fire. Lillie’s strength gave out before she reached the fireplace. The fire burned quickly out. Clad only in her undergarments, she also froze to death. The three spinsters died from what can only be described as a series of unfortunate events. The three spinsters all shared the last name of Flinn. Ellen, Fannie, and Lillie were sisters.
1. The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), January 31, 1945, p.32.
2. The Centralia Enterprise and Tribune (Centralia, Wisconsin), February 1, 1945, p.13. [erroneously listed as July 11, 1891]
3. The Daily Times (Salisbury, Maryland), February 1, 1945, p.3.
4. The Morning Herald (Hagerstown, Maryland), February 1, 1945, p.12.
5. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Weather History for Frederick.” Accessed November 15, 2020.
6. Find A Grave. “Ellen J. Flinn.” Accessed November 15, 2020. findagrave.com/memorial/25163497/ellen-j.-flinn.
7. Find A Grave. “Fannie M. Flinn.” Accessed November 15, 2020. findagrave.com/memorial/25163489/fannie-m.-flinn.
8. Find A Grave. “Lillie L. Flinn.” Accessed November 15, 2020. findagrave.com/memorial/25163479/lillie-l.-flinn.