Whodunnit? McCabe talks murder at the Athenaeum

The Athenaeum’s Lang Auditorium was filled to capacity for Captain McCabe’s discussion on the Allyn murder. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- Lewis B. Allyn was a professor of chemistry at what is now Westfield State University in the early years of the 20th century. He primarily worked within the food industry and had a focus on ‘purely’ made foods in the same vain as Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’.

On May 7, 1940, at 69 Western Ave. in the late evening, Allyn was shot five times in the chest and head with a high standard .22 caliber automatic pistol in his own home. His killer was able to flee the scene before Allyn’s wife came downstairs to investigate the commotion. Allyn was still alive, but succumbed to his wounds before police arrived and he could give the name of his killer.

Allyn’s murder was committed under the perfect set of circumstances to spawn many conspiracy theories surrounding it. To date, 79 years later, Allyn’s murder has not been solved. It remains the only unsolved murder in the city’s history. It was dubbed “The Pure Foods Murder.”

Westfield Police Capt. Michael McCabe became a detective within the department in 1989, early on in his career. He picked up the case in part due to personal interest. McCabe lives just around the corner from where Allyn lived and died.

Westfield Police Capt. Michael McCabe.

On Wednesday evening, McCabe spoke in front of a packed crowd at the Westfield Athenaeum about the murder, and his belief that it can be solved soon due to advances in technology. He went through most of the prevailing theories and debunked the ones that could be debunked.

“I keep telling people over and over again that the reason why I do this is because I really do believe that this can be solved,” said McCabe.

Over the course of his 30 years looking at this case, McCabe found that just about every single major conspiracy theory surrounding the case had at least some evidence lending credence to it. One prominent theory was that the police chief at the time, Allen H. Smith, had him killed. It is almost certain that Smith and Allyn were both having an affair with the same woman.

The theory is that Smith had Allyn killed to keep his own affair from being made public. McCabe’s first dive into the case in 1989 revealed that the entire case file was missing, which would be very convenient for Chief Smith if he was trying to cover something up.

Of course, if one knows Westfield history, one knows that the former police headquarters was located in the basement of city hall. One who knows the city’s history would also know that Westfield was subjected to an infamous flood in 1955. As it turns out, a flood damaged many of the records sitting in the city hall basement. The police at the time tried to keep the Allyn file, but it became too moldy and had to be thrown away.

That would be, of course, if the custodian of the building at the time didn’t reach into the trash and take the file himself as a keepsake. It sat in the custodian’s house for 40 years before it was brought to McCabe.

While the police headquarters was in the basement, the photography lab for the police was located further up in the building, sparing it from flood damage.

When McCabe was going through former Chief John Camerota’s office to find literally anything on the case, he stumbled upon some photos of the scene in the form of negatives. Westfield State University’s Mark St. Jean was able to restore the negatives and McCabe confirmed they were from the Allyn murder.

This debunks the theories that it was a police department sanctioned murder in the eyes of McCabe. He said that, if he were covering up a murder, those pictures would have been the first things to have been destroyed.

Professor Lewis B. Allyn was considered one of the leading experts of Pure Foods in the early 20th century. (Photo from the Westfield Athenaeum)

McCabe was able to show many of those photos during Wednesday’s lecture.

McCabe also discussed the theory of the 14th grocer’s involvement in the murder. Towards the end of his life, Allyn was working with 14 grocery stores in the city to get them to only sell “pure foods.”

Thirteen of those grocers signed on to the pact. The 14th grocer did not and was rather unhappy that such a thing was even asked of them. As one can probably guess, another prevailing theory was that this 14th grocer was responsible for Allyn’s death.

McCabe said that he received an interesting phone call in 2007. The caller said that he had discovered a gun buried on his property and asked if the police would be interested in it. After being pressed by McCabe, the caller revealed that he lived just down the street from Allyn’s home, in the house formerly occupied by the 14th grocer. The gun he found was a .22 pistol. McCabe thought it was case closed.

Of course, it was not closed. The gun was a .22, but the serial number revealed that it was not manufactured until a year after the murder. Of course, this begs the question of why the 14th grocer had a gun buried in his yard after a murder took place nearby, but that’s for another day.

McCabe also briefly went into the theory that the Russians or the Nazis had Allyn killed. Allyn was developing an alternative to saccharin, a sugar substitute that was found to be harmful to one’s health following the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1907.

The belief is that he successfully made the formula, and that both the Russian Red Army and the Nazis approached him about using the formula as a vitamin supplement for their troops. In 1940, the U.S. had not yet entered the war, but it was close. The belief is that either party killed Allyn either for his refusal to give up the formula or because he was going to give it to the other party.

McCabe said in the lecture that he does not believe this one because he figures the Russians and Nazis knew that killing him also killed their own chances at getting the formula.

In 2005, McCabe was again the recipient of sudden new evidence in the case. A state trooper approached him with a box containing the full outfit of Lewis B. Allyn when he was shot, as well as eight individual vials of blood.

The clothes, as one can imagine, were covered in stained blood. McCabe’s belief is that the blood may not all be Allyn’s. Photos from the scene revealed kicked up rugs, moved around furniture, and a blood trail. Allyn’s shoes were removed and in odd places on the floor. McCabe thinks there was a struggle before the assailant was able to get the five shots off.

“When we say this was an all-out fight, this is clearly an all-out fight.” Said McCabe.

McCabe believes that advances in DNA testing and preservation may lead to the blood on the clothes and in the vials being usable for testing.

He closed out the lecture with a request of the audience.

“Now with a couple of these extra pieces of evidence that we have, and with the advent of ancestry.com and 23andme.com, I believe that if we can get District Attorney Anthony Gulluni of Hampden County to do DNA profiles on the clothing, not only do I think we can identify Allyn’s profile through his own family who still  live in Westfield, but I’m pretty sure we can come up with a suspect profile too,” said McCabe.

He then asked members of the audience to reach out to Gulluni and tell him that they would love for his office to use their resources to solve the case.

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