“Perfection To A Fault: A Small Murder in Ossipee, New Hampshire, 1916”
An Exciting Publication: About a year ago, a woman named Janice Petrie came to the museum and told me that she was writing a book about the murder of Florence Small, which occurred in Ossipee, in 1916. It is a fascinating case and Janice, who is from Massachusetts, had an unusual connection to the story. I was fortunately able to provide Janice with some information concerning the case, although I wondered if the book would ever come to fruition. How excited I was, then, to receive the other day, a copy of her published book Perfection To A Fault: A Small Murder in Ossipee, New Hampshire, 1916. Having now read it, I can honestly say that Janice has done a wonderful job (and historically accurate) in portraying the persons and events involved in the murder and subsequent trial. The story is riveting and suspenseful, and I won’t give away any of the details-you’ll have to read the book yourself. I congratulate Janice for a job well done.
–Barry Hill, President of the Ossipee Historical Society, summer, 2000 Ossipee Historical Society Newsletter
Because I am one of the lucky ones who have read this book, I can recommend it as both suspenseful and historically interesting.
–Cathryn Keefe O’Hare, Editor, Tri-Town Transcript, Boxford MA
A PAGE TURNER! This book caught my attention because my husband & I had been traveling around New Hampshire. When we came to the town of Ossipee, NH, we declared this is a most beautiful place, especially the covered bridge in the Fall! Found this book in a little store – was NOT disappointed. It is based on an actual murder.
—Pam, Goodreads, September, 2011
I have recently finished reading “Perfection to a Fault, A Small Murder in Ossipee, NH 1916,” written by Janice S.C. Petrie. Overall it was a decent true crime read. I have an interest in New England crime, and crime that took place during this time period. I was curious to read this.
Perfection to a Fault tells the tale of the murder of Florence Small in Ossipee, NH. It goes through the investigation and trial of her husband. It outlines the details of the crime, and what life was like in Ossipee in 1916.
It was written well, followed a time line, and kept my interest. The characters were described decently. The only thing I would have liked to see is images. However during this time period, I understand they are hard to come by. The book was published locally, in Topsfield, Massachusetts. It has the feel of a New England crime story! I have recommended this to others..
–Jim Smith, Beverly MA, August 22, 2011
This was very interesting reading if you are from the Ossipee area. After hearing many different versions it was nice to have the whole story laid out so nicely.
–Anonymous, Amazon.com Customer Review
A captivating mystery about a true story from the White Mountain region of New Hampshire. This is a well-written ghost story with a true-life explanation as to why the cottage may have been haunted. It is amazing to read about how differently trials were conducted back in 1916.
—Anonymous,Amazon.com Customer Review
This book has it all…a chilling ghost story, a suspenseful murder mystery, and a courtroom drama that is historically interesting.
–Anonymous, Amazon.com Customer Review
Perfection to a Fault:
A Small Murder in Ossipee, New Hampshire, 1916
Janice S.C. Petrie. Seatales, $7.99 e-book (154p) ISBN 978-0-9705510-0-9
Children’s book author Petrie’s crisp, quick-moving true crime account details the gruesome 1916 murder of Florence Arlene Small at the house she shared with her abusive husband, Frederick Small, in Carroll County, N.H. The victim’s body was found shot, bludgeoned, and strangled in shallow base- ment water after a fire burned down the pri- mary structure of the Smalls’ Ossipee Lake cottage. Petrie starts the book in 1955 with her own link to the case (as a child she spent a night in the restored cottage where the murder took place), then goes back to Florence’s last day of life. She also examines the court record to provide a diligent account of the trial to convict Frederick for premeditated murder. Evidence against Frederick mounted: his manipulative past; the inventory of what he took with him to Boston after the murder, including a traveling satchel with the house deed; pieces of a timed incendiary device; proof of a recent purchase of kero- sene; and a new life insurance policy on Florence. Petrie (Something’s Tugging on My Claw!) expertly puts details into historical context and annotates each chapter with newspaper and court documentation. Written in 2000 but even more intriguing as the 100th anniversary of the crime approaches, this thorough account will appeal to fans of true crime, especially those familiar with New England.
—Publisher’s Weekly, March 7, 2016
Petrie (Did You Make the Hole in the Shell in the Sea?, 2013, etc.) vividly re-creates the circumstances and aftermath of an early 20th-century murder in this true-crime book.
A cottage on the shore of New Hampshire’s Lake Ossipee seems an unlikely location for a grisly murder, but Petrie notes that there might have been “an unrest on that piece of property that wouldn’t disappear with the passage of time.” She cleverly opens not with the crime itself but with new owners arriving in 1955. Sensing an unearthly chill as they entered the cottage, they never returned to the place after their first visit and quickly sold it. Everyone in the gossipy community knew that Florence Small had died in a suspicious house fire on September 28, 1916… As Petrie chronicles that momentous day as well as Small’s trial… , she enlivens her story with excellent dialogue and scene-setting. She discusses the case in great detail, often drawing on newspaper stories, but the facts never become too overwhelming for readers. On the day in question, Petrie writes, Small and a friend traveled to Boston to broker insurance sales; that evening, he received a message that his home had burned down with Florence inside. Small acted suitably distraught, but the next day, the circumstances looked too perfect. His satchel contained important documents one wouldn’t want to lose in a fire; he’d taken out a large joint life insurance policy; and he had a history of domestic violence. By gradually revealing these salient pieces of background information, Petrie’s pacey prose puts readers in the same position as the investigators. It’s intriguing to learn how advanced forensic science was at the time: from Florence’s stomach contents, for example, experts could pinpoint the hour of her death…
Exhaustive detail and flawless re-creations make for real suspense in this nonfiction tale.
New Hampshire Magazine
The Very Best of New Hampshire Issue
Speaking of murder, Janice Petrie chronicles a real-life murder 85 years after the fact in “Perfection To A Fault: A Small Murder in Ossipee, New Hampshire, 1916.” Speaking of the ‘50’s, it was 1956 when the seed for the book was planted. Petrie, then a baby, spent a wild night with her family in a cottage built on the foundation of the house where the gruesome murder of Florence Small took place. Though Petrie was too young to remember the ghostly presences that terrified her brother and her parents (and sent them fleeing first thing the next morning) she heard the story many times growing up and decided to research the source of the haunting. The result is an engaging ghost story, murder mystery, and courtroom drama.
–Rebecca Rule, Book Reviewer, New Hampshire Magazine, July 2001
Maine Sunday Telegram
A Murder Case that Still Haunts Lake Ossipee
A century ago, much like today, tales of domestic violence rarely made the papers unless someone died. In 1916, Florence Small was beaten, strangled and shot to death before her home was set ablaze. The sheriff immediately arrested her domineering and abusive husband, Frederick Small. The only problem was that Small insisted on his innocence, had an airtight alibi and was nowhere near the house when the fire broke out.
Janice Petrie’s account of the sensational trial and its legacy are well told in this slim volume of local history. Petrie’s interest in the case stemmed from her family’s unwitting stay in a lakeside cottage built over the remains of the original crime scene. She describes cold drafts, an ominous presence and a terrified little boy in a chapter that will make readers’ hair stand on end. Nobody writes about a haunting with more chilling effect than someone who does not believe in ghosts.
The trial of Frederick Small captivated most of New England at the time. There was little or no direct evidence against the accused and murder was a capital offense. The defendant hired the best lawyers money could buy, the state was represented by the attorney general himself and the judge was considered scrupulously fair. The outcome was anything but certain.
Poor Florence must not have been totally satisfied with the verdict; apparently she still haunts the shores of Lake Ossipee.
–John Robinson, Book Reviewer, Maine Sunday Telegram, May 6, 2001
Framingham State College Magazine
Janice S. C. Petrie Publishes a Riveting Murder Mystery
Perfection To A Fault: A Small Murder in Ossipee, New Hampshire, 1916 is praised by the Tri-Town Transcript as a “riveting drama that any mystery lover will appreciate” (December 7, 2000). The book, which recounts the true story of a 1916 murder, was written by Janice S. C. Petrie. She undertook extensive research of the murder, the property where it occurred, and the town of Ossipee. The result is an enthralling novel that is not only a murder mystery, but also a ghost story and a courtroom drama.
The historically accurate account of events centers around the gruesome murder of Florence Small. Her body was found in the basement of her Ossipee cottage after it had burned down. Town natives immediately suspected her husband, an outsider from Boston named Frederick Small. Frederick, however, had left on a train to Boston seven hours before the fire. The ensuing court case and conviction, based on circumstantial evidence, is gripping. Even more suspenseful, however, is the subsequent history of the house and its new owners. John Robinson, in the Portland Herald Press/Maine Sunday Telegram, declares that “nobody writes about a haunting with more chilling effect…”
Perfection To A Fault: A Small Murder in Ossipee, New Hampshire, 1916 has been featured on the WCVB TV program Chronicle, and was included in the “Best of New Hampshire” July 2001 issue of New Hampshire Magazine.
–Jasmine Crafts, Book Reviewer, The Framingham State College Magazine, Spring 2002
The Wakefield Daily Item
“A Small Murder in Ossipee.”Wakefield native pens a chilling tale.
Imagine a book that revolves around the gruesome discovery of a bludgeoned, strangled, shot and partially incinerated corpse in the water-filled basement of a small lakeside cottage.
A work of fiction by Maine native Stephen King?
Not at all.
In fact it is a true account of a murder in a book penned by Wakefield native Janice Petrie, titled Perfection To A Fault: A Small Murder in Ossipee, New Hampshire, 1916.
Origins of the book took root in the tales of the haunted cottage once owned by Petrie’s family and a place where she spent a brief time as an infant.
Fantastic tales of the cottage’s horrific past intrigued Petrie, so much that she decided to undertake a research project which blossomed into her first book.
Five years of intensive research produced a tale of murder, a story which Petrie tried to keep just right, “I didn’t want to do anyone a disservice.” The feedback from New Hampshire has been positive, even getting a glowing review from the Ossipee Historical Society.
She culled through court records and newspaper accounts of the murder and subsequent trial of Frederick Small, accused murderer of his third wife, Florence. Petrie delves into details and gossip about the murder which swirled through the rumor mill and cliques of the lakeside New Hampshire community.
As Frederick’s Small makes a jaunt to Boston, his home burns in a hellacious conflagration. Searchers pick through the home’s rubble, finding Florence’s corpse in the basement; while strewn about the cobblestone basement are tantalizing clues to the possible cause of the fire.
Delving into the circumstances surrounding the murder, prosecution and defense provided Petrie an insight into the thought process and opinion of New Englanders 85 years ago.
The story from her childhood still lingers. The story of the murder changed through time, but, “the telling of the haunting never did,” commented Petrie. She also said the current owner has experienced strange goings-on.
Asked for her opinion about the guilt or innocence of Frederick Small, Petrie was slyly hesitant in divulging her opinion.
To find that out, you’ll have to read her book.
–Kevin Cooney, Reporter, The Wakefield Daily Item, March 14, 2001
The Salem Evening News
Connection Leads Author to Pen Book
Writing a book is no easy task, especially if the book is non-fiction. Topsfield resident Janice Petrie found that out, spending five years searching through 80-year-old documents to finish her first book, Perfection To A Fault: A Small Murder in Ossipee, New Hampshire 1916.
The hard work seems to have paid off. Since the book was published last July, it has received numerous positive reviews that are especially rewarding to Petrie, who said she studied the strange murder case because of a personal connection, and didn’t originally set out to write a book.
The first seeds of what would later lead to the book were planted in 1956, when Petrie was just 15 months old. Her parents had planned to spend a week’s vacation at the cottage on Lake Ossipee owned by her grandfather, but the visit lasted only until 4 a.m. of the first night.
After some unsettling experiences, Petrie’s parents decided to leave the cottage, and spend their vacation elsewhere. Only later would they hear that the property where they were staying was the sight of a brutal murder some 40 years before.
For years after this incident, Petrie’s father would tell the story of the haunting, and elaborate tales of the murder at family gatherings. After years of listening to these stories, Petrie decided she wanted to learn the real truth about the case.
She visited the Ossipee Historical Society, and soon learned some of the specifics of the case, including the names of the victim and the accused killer. Further research at the state library and from old newspaper clippings helped Petrie piece together a rough picture of what happened at the cottage in 1916.
“When I learned more, the story turned out to be so much more horrific than the stories my father used to tell,” Petrie said. “I told a few people what I had found out, and eventually I thought ”this would be a great idea for a book.
As Petrie began to study the newspapers and trial transcripts, she began to realize what a huge event the murder and subsequent trial were in the small town.
The accused killer, Frederick Small, had moved from Boston to semi-retirement in the quiet community, and was suddenly accused of murdering his wife.
Petrie learned that the story, far from being a local issue, was carried by not just local papers, but by the media in Boston and as far north as Portland, Maine.
Shortly, before finishing her book, Barry Hill, president of the Ossipee Historical Society sent her the memoirs of James Welch, one of the jurors and later Carroll County sheriff. This new insight to the workings of the jury allowed Petrie to add another viewpoint, and helped her finish the book.
“I tried to write from as many different perspectives as possible, while remaining completely accurate,” Petrie said.
Petrie’s book can be found at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, the Ossipee Historical Society, and your favorite local bookstore.
–Anthony Hebert, Reporter, The Salem Evening News, Salem MA, January 18, 2001
Author Recounts Chilling 1916 Slaying
Author Janice Petrie grew up hearing the same unsettling story for years. In August 1956, when she was only a baby, her parents took the family to a picturesque lakeside cottage in Ossipee, New Hampshire. Once inside, however, a strange sense of danger tormented them. They repeatedly felt pockets of cold air suddenly wash over them, even though the outside air was warm. They were startled by a scream from their three-year-old son in the next room and found him cowering under the covers. Though they had planned to stay the week, her mother urgently wanted to leave. The black night prevented them from getting their boat out of the water and going home. So, the family huddled in one room sleeping with their clothes on until they could finally escape at dawn’s first light.
Years later, they learned that a brutal murder had occurred there in 1916. Janice Petrie felt compelled to learn more and share the story in a book, Perfection To A Fault: A Small Murder in Ossipee, New Hampshire, 1916.
Petrie’s grandfather owned the cottage at the time. He had bought it at a bargain price and didn’t tell his family about the cottage’s bloody history.
Though Janice Petrie set out simply to discover the facts behind this family legend, she was driven to document the disturbing events surrounding the murder.
“People I talked to were mesmerized by the story. I felt I just couldn’t keep it to myself.”
The book begins with her parents encounter with the cottage’s haunting presence in 1956. But she stresses this is not a ghost story.
“People who have read my first chapter say that the hair was standing up on the back of their neck, it was so disturbing to them. But it’s not an ”Amityville Horror” type of thing. Everything was very subtle.”
The rest of the book takes the reader back to 1916 and the historical circumstances of the murder and trial that gripped the small town of Ossipee for several years. With degrees in American history and education, Petrie was well prepared for the challenge of researching a historical non-fiction. She read all the trial transcripts, scoured newspaper archives, and consulted the Ossipee Historical Society. She discovered the memoirs of one of the jurors, which shed light on the secret deliberations. Petrie even interviewed the grandson of the mason who laid the cottage’s original foundation.
“There are questions remaining,” she says. “It’s debatable whether justice was really served.” Petrie describes the murder trial from the viewpoints of all involved, Frederick Small, the prosecution, the jurors, and the residents of Ossipee. “I tried to bring so many different perspectives into it that when people finish the book they can weigh the evidence and come to their own conclusion.”
Petrie painstakingly researched the facts of the case. This is not a dry historical report but a riveting drama that any mystery lover will appreciate.
“There’s a lot of history in it, but I didn’t write it like a textbook. I wrote the book as a story.” The fact that this is a true story, she says, makes it even more intriguing.
Reliving her parents’ supernatural encounter and uncovering the details of a brutal murder have not left Janice Petrie spooked. In fact, she feels that this project has given her closure.
“I’ve heard the story for years and years growing up. It’s something that’s been a part of me my entire life. Finding out what really happened, I finally feel that this chapter in my life is closed.”
–Carol Cujec, Reporter, Tri-Town Transcript, December 7, 2000