This Place in History: Orville Gibson

Vermont History

BARRE, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Barre with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins, checking out a new exhibit.

“So, we have ‘Myths and Legends of the Connecticut River Valley’. This is an exhibit that came to us from the Connecticut River Museum. It’s really a folklore exhibit. There are a lot of stories that relate to Vermont, so I thought it would be fun to explore this exhibit and look at one of these stories in-depth,” began Perkins.

“In the exhibit they call it the ‘Spilled Milk Murder’. We in Vermont call it the ‘Orville Gibson Case’. It’s an unsolved murder case from 1957. Amanda Gustin, from our staff who’s been doing some research on this and puts our exhibits together for us, is going to lead us through that story.”

“Orville Gibson was a farmer from Newbury, Vermont, a dairy farmer, like many people from that time. And, I have to be honest, we don’t know a whole lot about exactly what happened in this case, which I think is one of the reasons the mystery of it endures to this day and why people are still fascinated by it to this day,” began Gustin.

“December 31st, 1957, Orville Gibson wakes up at his usual time about 3:30 in the morning. He went out to the barn to start milking the cows and start his day’s chores. Later that morning, his wife called the police to say he’s not on the farm, he hasn’t come back. And, they pretty much immediately started treating it as an actual missing person police case.”

“When they went back to the barn, they found some signs of what may have been a struggle. You know, Steve talked about it being called the ‘Spilled Milk Murder’. The reason for that is one of the milk pans had been kicked over and possibly damaged or crushed. [There were] scuffs on the ground. But, you’re doing your chores, could it have been that or could it have come from a fight? They don’t know,” continued Gustin.

“The next thing we know for sure is that three months later they found his body in the Connecticut River and it had been tied up. So it’s pretty clear there was something out of the ordinary going on.”

“They were thinking something had gone wrong because of what happened in the days leading up to his disappearance. So on Christmas Day, 1957, Orville Gibson got into some sort of altercation with his hired man on the farm. And we know that pretty quickly it hit the rumor mill in town. It was this sort of atmosphere that the town is talking about it, people are casting blame all around. It was under this atmosphere that he disappeared.”

“There are two competing theories of what happened to him. What are those theories?” asked Perkins.

“Kind of two-and-a-half. So, theory number one, it was a murder. He was murdered by a couple or perhaps even an entire group and it was specifically and explicitly in retaliation or following on this rumor mill about the altercation with his hired man,” answered Gustin.

“Theory number two was that there was a mob and they just meant to scare him. The third theory is that he actually took his own life. The way that theory plays out is because the police had gotten involved in the altercation with his hired hand and because the rumor mill had started to grind within the community, he was feeling pressure and ashamed, frustrated at the way he had been treated and talked about in the community. But under that theory, he did tie his own hands and feet. Is this possible? Is it impossible? People can argue it both ways,” said Gustin.

“So, it’s got all of the elements to quickly become a Vermont story. There were editorials, news items, photographs across the country. And really some articles you read will cite newspapers as far away as Scotland and Europe. Actually talking about this case, it caught onto the imagination.”

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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