Today I read the tale of Alice Lake. I came upon the tragic story of Alice while researching my own family tragedy in the death of Rebecca Cornell and the subsequent hanging of her son Thomas Cornell II for her murder. Rebecca and Alice both suffered horrible deaths. Rebecca was possibly murdered and her body burned past recognition while her family ate dinner in the next room. Alice was hanged for witchcraft after being plagued by haunting visions of her lost child. Rebecca and Alice also shared one other detail in common; their daughter in law was Sarah Earle.
The Hanging of Alice Lake
Alice is thought to have been born about 1614 in England. Details from her life are nearly nonexistent. What is known is that about June 5, 1652 in Suffolk County, Massachusetts Alice was hung for witchcraft.
Alice was no witch. Alice was a young puritan mother, her husband was a man named Henry Lake, and they were raising a young family near modern day Boston. Shortly before her death in 1652 Alice gave birth to a child that died. Likely in response to the grief of losing her child Alice began to report that she was having visions of her deceased baby. Her highly superstitious neighbors feared she was being plagued by demons. As a result she was tried and convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to hang.
Before Alice Lake was executed she was given a final chance to recant her claims of seeing her dead baby, a possible chance to save her own life. Alice responded to her opportunity at mercy by confessing that she was being punished by god because she had engaged in sexual relations prior to being married. As a result of her actions she had become pregnant and attempted to perform an abortion on the pregnancy. Alice felt that she was paying for her previous sins and deserved her sentence.
Alice left behind several young children when she was executed. Her husband, Henry Lake, quickly left town abandoning their children to be orphans. David Lake was around the age of 3 when his mother was hung and his father abandoned him. Twenty-five years later in the year 1677 he would marry Sarah Cornell, widow of Thomas Cornell II who was hung for matricide four years previous.
Another Look at the Cornell Case
I must admit that like many who have read the case of Rebecca Cornell’s murder so much about the case just doesn’t sit well. It seems so hard to believe that Rebecca could be killed and set on fire while her family ate dinner in the next room with no one noticing. Thomas did seem to have motive to possibly kill his mother because the two were frequently at odds and impressions from the time were that Thomas resented the control his widowed mother maintained over his life. On the same token he also stood to lose the most by setting her on fire in the same home he and his family resided. In the end Thomas went to the gallows maintaining his innocence and requesting to be buried near his mother. His final request was not granted and his estate was seized.
It’s hard not to take a closer look at Thomas Cornell II’s widow, Sarah Earle. Sarah was by some considered to be involved with the death of her mother in law. Despite the accusations Sarah was never tried for any involvement in Rebecca’s death and she later fought to regain her share of her husband’s estate and won. By all accounts it seems as if Sarah emerged from this tragic chapter of her life in relatively good circumstances. Sarah gave birth to her daughter, Innocent, after Thomas died and then not long after that she married the man with whom she would live out the rest of her life, David Lake.
What if Sarah was the one that truly had the motive to see not only Rebecca but also Thomas eliminated from the picture? Could there have been some secret involvement between Sarah and David prior to the death of Rebecca which led to the old woman’s demise? It is certain that as residents of the same town they would have known each other. Did the tragic tale of Alice’s death help motivate star crossed lovers to eliminate the two people preventing their happiness?
Curse of Sarah Earle
Hundreds of years later Sarah Earle keeps surfacing time after time in regards to tragedy. It almost seems as if a curse is associated with the name. Both of her mother in laws suffered horrible deaths, one possibly murdered, and one executed for witchcraft. Her first husband was hung for murder. Sarah was also the 4th Great Grandmother to Andrew Borden who was murdered with his wife in the Lizzie Borden case. It seems almost unbelievable. One can only wonder if the family has been plagued by a murderous streak or a curse of bad luck.