by Robert A. Waters
When Theodore Furman walked into his mother’s home on April 5, 1912, he had no idea that the whole town of Middletown, New York thought he'd been murdered. On seeing her son, Ellen Thurmond fainted. Her four other sons jumped up and down, shouting with joy.
Ellen soon revived and told Theodore a bizarre and terrifying tale. On the next day, she said, the Middletown Police Department planned to hold a grand jury hearing in an attempt to indict two of Theodore’s brothers for his murder.
The nineteen-year-old had been missing for five months. During that time, Ellen said, police detectives had “coerced” confessions from Eugene and Joseph.
Two months after Joseph left town, railroad employees found parts of a human corpse in one of the cinder cars. The Sheboygan Press reported that “a human skull, attached to the right shoulder and arm, was found in a car of hot cinders on the Ontario & Western railroad near Middletown on January 8. Theodore Furman, a railroad fireman, had been missing since November 11. A piece of cloth on the charred bones matched a pair of trousers which Theodore Furman had worn. Eugene Furman, seventeen, was arrested and told the police that his brother, Joseph, had killed his brother Theodore in a quarrel and had cut the body up and buried it in the cinder car. Joseph Furman was arrested and said that Eugene had killed Theodore.”
In addition, Ellen had been convicted of forgery for cashing the final check Theodore had drawn on the railroad.
After his arrest, Eugene made numerous contradictory statements, first implicating himself as the killer and then blaming Joseph. The Middletown Daily Times Press reported that “Eugene told several other stories of the crime to the officers, and one thing at least has been settled to the satisfaction of the authorities, and that is that Eugene is gifted with a most fertile imagination.”
In one of his confessions, Eugene stated that he alone had murdered Theodore and cut his body in half. He said he loaded each section of the body onto different cinder cars hoping the intense heat of the burning cinders would incinerate the remains.
Joseph told detectives that he thought Theodore had left town. But after being interrogated for 48 hours without sleep, he said Eugene may have killed his brother.
In a way, Theodore had created this strange series of events. Tiring of his job, he decided to leave his hometown and look for a new profession. Unfortunately, he failed to notify anyone--not even his family.
After returning home, Theodore told reporters that after traveling through New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, he ended up in Philadelphia. While there, he decided to enlist in the army. Since he was only nineteen, the recruiter informed him that he needed his mother’s signature. The recruiter and Theodore wrote to Ellen Thurman asking her to sign the form. Two days later, the recruiter told Theodore he'd received a letter from home with news that he was “missing.”
The wandering boy then hurriedly returned to Middletown and the joyous welcome described above.
Theodore told news reporters that his mother should not have been convicted of forgery. “I did not intend to come back and withdraw what money I had coming from the O & W,” he said. “It was understood at home that they could try and get the money.”
He also said that he thought Eugene was not “exactly right,” which is why his brother continued to change his stories.
An embarrassed police department dropped all plans to charge Eugene and Joseph with Theodore's murder. Ellen Thurman's conviction was also vacated.
The mysterious remains of the corpse in the cinder car were never identified.