PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY RICHARD FRIEND
The Wellford Murder
The Bizarre Murder-Suicide That Rocked Laurel in 1930
Laurel Noir is a series focused on historic crimes and the darker underside of our hometown.
By Richard Friend | This article originally appeared in Voices of Laurel Fall 2021
January 26, 1930 was a cold day in Laurel both literally and figuratively. With the country only beginning to feel the weight of the Great Depression, what should have been an optimistic start of a whole new decade offered little hope for any quick relief. But the chill felt on this particular Sunday went straight to the heart of Old Town Laurel.
Shortly after noon, 14-year-old Eunice Watkins and a friend were cutting across a lightly snow-covered thicket at the northwest corner of Fifth and Montgomery Streets when they noticed what appeared to be “a bundle.” Beneath a dusting of snow and lying on an overcoat were the bodies of two young men. One appeared to be in his mid-twenties; the other was barely a teenager. In the frozen hand of the older male—who appeared to be propped up on his elbow, his head resting on the boy’s hip—was a .38 caliber Iver Johnson revolver.
Laurel Police Chief Milton Haynes was notified, and he summoned officer Frank Hurd and Justice of the Peace William Scott to meet him at the site. A coroner’s jury held an inqest at Lloyd Kaiser’s funeral home, and details soon began to emerge. But where some questions were answered, other questions arose.
The scene was ruled a murder-suicide. The victim was identified as 14-year-old Laurel resident Alfred Gordon Wellford, who had been missing since the previous Monday night. Gordon, as he was known, had been shot twice: once in the chest, and once behind the left ear. Lynn Montgomery, 24 years old, had a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the right temple.
Little was known of Montgomery’s background, but he was a recognizable figure around Laurel and had worked as an exerciser of thoroughbred horses—most recently at the Laurel stables of Breckinridge Long, a U.S. diplomat who would later become infamous among Holocaust historians for making it difficult for European Jews to enter the United States during the World War II years.
Through interviews with the Wellford family, it was quickly determined that this was not a random killing. The two had been friends; and the Wellfords had once even given Montgomery a place to stay in their home on Prince George Street while he was out of work. It was a strange relationship, all the more disturbing through the benefit of hindsight.
An Unusual Friendship
Gordon’s father, Joshua Wellford, said that the youngster was fond of horses and had met Montgomery at Laurel Race Track in 1928. According to The Evening Star, “the man seemed to take a fancy to the boy.” Later, when Montgomery found himself temporarily out of work, Mr. Wellford gave him a room at his home for several weeks. Mrs. Wellford reported that during that time, Montgomery had tried to get her permission to allow Gordon to sign a contract to become a jockey, which she did not allow. She also revealed that when Montgomery found work with the horses at Pimlico and in other parts of the country, he would mail small amounts of money to her—to give to her son. A similar recollection was shared by Mr. Wellford, who stated that Montgomery “took a great liking to Gordon,” and “frequently bought him presents of different kinds, took him to the movies, and treated him well in other ways.”
Of the time he spent with Lynn Montgomery, Mr. Wellford remarked, “I found him a perfect gentleman in every respect.” But then he added, somewhat cryptically, “Although, he never told us anything about himself.”
A Noticeable Change
Montgomery had left the Wellford home when an opportunity arose to work at Pimlico. When he returned to Laurel that final winter, something had changed. According to Mr. Wellford, the friendship between Montgomery and his son had ended abruptly.“Gordon would not have anything to do with him, and said he did not like him.” Mr. Wellford continued, “He did not, however, give me any reason for this, so I did not pay any atention to it.”
Mr. Wellford was quoted in the Baltimore Sun, revealing more details that would undoubtedly alarm any parent, especially in today’s world:
“I understood, however, that Montgomery kept after Gordon, but the boy would not pay any attention to him. I was told that on Saturday night before Gordon disappeared, Montgomery was seen walking up and down in front of my house as though waiting for him to come in. Although I always found him to be a pretty decent sort during the time he was staying with us, lately he tried to shun me and acted like he did not want to speak to me.”
Fourteen-year-old Gordon Wellford’s photo, as it appeared in the January 28, 1930 edition of The Evening Star.
It was at this bowling alley within Gray’s Newsstand that Gordon Wellford worked as a pin setter, and was last seen leaving on the night of his disappearance and murder. LAUREL HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTION
Last Seen Leaving Bowling Alley
Gordon had a job at Gray’s Newsstand, a general store that used to sit at 206 Main Street and featured a small bowling alley. Gordon worked there as a pin setter, and was exceptionally popular with bowlers because of his quickness.
Montgomery, who was by that point living at the Osbon Hotel, (directly across the street from Gray’s Newsstand, coincidentally) had been seen at the bowling alley on Saturday, January 18th. Gordon had coolly set up a game for Montgomery that night, and later refused to accept a 35¢ tip from the man, which his coworkers found odd.
William Gray, son of store owner John W. Gray, reported that Gordon had also been working that fateful Monday night, January 20th, until 9 o’clock, when he said that he wanted to go home. He had another boy finish setting up his pins for him, and that was the last they saw of him.
The elder Gray recalled that he had witnessed Montgomery enter the store that night, too. “He walked around as if he were looking for someone,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “He then went out. He looked sober.”
Gray’s comment about Montgomery’s sobriety was indicative of a growing reputation he’d had for being a heavy drinker—a habit that had gotten out of hand since his return from Pimlico. Just a week before the killing, it had cost him his job with Breckinridge Long.
The Evening Star didn’t name the witness, but the paper reported that Gordon had been seen conversing with Montgomery in front of a drug store about half an hour after leaving the bowling alley. Gordon’s father said that he believed Montgomery followed his son to the alley that led to their home, then forced him at gunpoint to accompany him to the woods.
Police believed that the shooting occurred late that Monday night, or in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday. In 1930, there were no houses close by, and no one reported hearing the gunshots.
Based on the tracks in the snow, the pair had walked side by side to the spot alone, which was a few hundred feet off a beaten path through the woods. Montgomery’s overcoat had been “placed on the ground,” according to Chief Haynes, “presumably where they sat to talk.”
There was no sign of a struggle, and the boy’s clothing was neither torn or disarranged. Newspapers of that time were often intentionally vague in their suggestions of motive, but the Washington Post did quote Prince George’s County Policeman Claude Reese and Deputy Sheriff Ralph Brown, who believed that “the boy had been lured into the tract by Montgomery, and when he resisted physical approaches he was shot.” And while they didn’t cite pedophilia outright, it was noted that “(Montgomery) always seemed to prefer the company of young boys between the ages of 12 and 14 as opposed to people closer to his own age.”
John W. Gray stands at the doorway of his newsstand at 206 Main Street.
LAUREL HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTION
The smoldering ruins of the Osbon Hotel at 211 Main Street after the fire that destroyed it in February 1963. Lynn Montgomery was living at the Osbon—directly across the street from Gray’s Newsstand, where Gordon worked—in 1930.
LAUREL VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT COLLECTION
An aerial photo from 1957 was taken nearly three decades after the murder-suicide, but still shows the undeveloped thicket on the northwest corner of Montgomery and Fifth Streets where the bodies were found. HISTORICAERIALS.COM
A Man Without a Past
Little was known of Montgomery prior to his relationship with the Wellford family, other than the fact that horse racing had brought him to Laurel a few years earlier. Despite having been “widely known” around Laurel, according to The Evening Star, Montgomery remained something of a mystery to the townsfolk. Police, having difficulty locating any information on his past, began to suspect that “Lynn Montgomery” may have even been an assumed name.
Mrs. Wellford recalled that while Montgomery was staying at her home, he’d mentioned that his mother had died when he was seven years old. But he never revealed where any other relatives might have lived.
Fred Baker, a trainer for Breckinridge Long who worked alongside Montgomery, said that he believed he had come from somewhere in Idaho. With no one else to claim the body, Baker offered to take charge of it and provide burial. His final resting place, like so much of his life before that final act, is unknown.
Gordon Wellford was by all accounts a fine young man whose life, sadly, played out far too quickly and within a remarkably short stretch of a few blocks within the heart of Laurel. He was due to have graduated from Laurel Elementary School that June. Instead, he was killed within a stone’s throw of its playgrounds. Classmates remembered him as “a leader in athletics” and a pitcher on the school’s baseball team.
In addition to his parents, Gordon was survived by two brothers and two sisters, who remained at their home on Prince George Street, just a block away from the site of the murder. Some 91 years later, the beautiful home remains in the Wellford family today.