I started with a desire to teach history and ended up a cop. I’m retired now and I satisfy both those passions by writing about the history of crime. My mother introduced me to one of my favorite “crime stories” which touches a little bit of what interests me.
My mother is 92 and has lived in West Newton all her life. She has a vivid recollection of being in grade school one morning and hearing a loud explosion that violently shook her classroom. She still whispers to me about the rumors she heard back then about “an explosion on River Street and people dying”. This was not typical of the stories she often tells me about West Newton, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t provide me with any more details.
The site of the school she attended on River St. is now a playground. About ½ mile from the playground, at the intersection of River and Lexington St, there stood untouched for many years a stone foundation. I have passed it hundreds of times, and I wondered if that foundation might have something to do with my mother’s story. Only recently a brick office building was built on the site. When the construction of the office building began I couldn’t resist stopping and asking one of the workers if this was the site of that explosion, many years ago, where some people died. He just nodded but didn’t say a word.
His response convinced me that I had to know more about this story. The first thing I learned was that during Prohibition the Newton Police Deparment, like many other police departments, was busy raiding local stills. In fact, one of the biggest stills raided by the local police was in Belmont,Massachusetts.
All the information I was looking for surfaced very quickly in newspaper archives and I found the story that I was looking for. In January and February of 1928 there were several headlines about a “mysterious explosion” in West Newton where several people died, and one individual was badly burned. I have included some of the headlines and one small paragraph which completes the story my mother only hinted at.