WATERVILLE — It was a grisly murder, one that haunted the city for decades.

It was Sept. 29, 1847, and Edward E. Mathews was throwing an elaborate party in a downtown hotel.

A wealthy man, Mathews had earned his fortune by buying and selling cattle, and after a particularly fruitful sale, he liked to celebrate. He and his friends drank, ate and reveled into the night at the Williams House hotel, which was near where GHM Insurance Agency is today on Main Street.

Around 8 p.m., Mathews announced he had an appointment and must leave. He told his guests to continue having fun and he would return later.

Mathews, however, never came back. The next day, his body was found in the cellar of a nearby vacant house, his head bashed in and his money and watch stolen.

It was the first recorded murder in Waterville, and it sent shock waves through the city.

At first, Mathews’ death appeared to be the result of a random robbery, but as time wore on, it became clear something more sinister had occurred.

Valorous Coolidge, a doctor who had helped perform the autopsy on Mathews, had poisoned him with acid, investigators said, according to Morning Sentinel accounts. Coolidge, who was heavily in debt and needed cash, killed Mathews and bashed his head with a hatchet, according to investigators. Mathews’ prized possession, a watch, was found in Coolidge’s sleigh.

He was later convicted of murder, sent to prison and hanged. But many city residents were not convinced Coolidge did the deed. The doctor had a stellar reputation, was an excellent surgeon and was well-liked throughout the city. He could not possibly be a killer, they said. But others disagreed.

Now, 166 years later, questions linger about what really happened that fateful night in 1847. City officials, too, see the renewed interest in the case and Pine Grove Cemetery where Edwards is buried as important links to Waterville’s history and future.

In modern times, investigators trying to solve murders typically gather evidence, interview witnesses and pursue a motive.

But when a murder is 166 years old, that method isn’t practical.

Unless, that is, you are Chris Clarke, of Paranormal Research and Extermination.

Clark, of Fairfield, and several members of his group have been researching the Mathews murder for the past several weeks and spending time in the cemetery. They spent a recent night there, filming with a night vision digital recorder, voice recorders and an electromagnetic field detector. They plan to return several more times in November. They hope to communicate with Mathew’s spirit, but haven’t yet, they said.

“Spirits generate an electromagnetic field and when they cross in front of the sensor, it beeps, so we know it’s there,” Clarke, 26, said Monday. “We pan the camera around and try to entice them out.”

To some people, what Clarke and his group does sounds crazy. But they are serious about their work, which they hope will shed light on what happened to Mathews the night he was killed.

“We’re not in it for the money,” said member Kris Robinson, 36, of Waterville, a former ordained minister who now deals in antiques and collectibles. “We’re doing this for our town – that we’re very proud of being in.”

Clarke’s girlfriend, Allie Turner, 28, of Fairfield, has spent many hours in the Waterville Public Library, poring over information about the case.

“I like knowing the truth,” said Turner, a customer service and sales representative for T-Mobile. “It’s our history; we should know. We’re following the bread crumbs and try to put the pieces together.”

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

acalder@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @AmyCalder17