Helen Tiernan – Murdered by her mother

It was a lovely spring day. The weather was fair and in the upper fifties on Sunday, May 16, 1937 as sixteen year-old May Savage of Brookhaven Hamlet was walking through the woods near her home about 100 feet east of Yaphank Avenue [this section now generally known as Old Stump Road]. But her pleasant afternoon was shattered when about 2:50 pm she discovered the body of a young girl whose throat had been cut and whose body burned.

Thus began an episode that brought to Brookhaven Hamlet notoriety that was front page headlines in newspapers across the country.

While the news stories appeared in many national newspapers and were carried by the wire services, the accounts here are mostly transcribed from local community newspapers. They were selected to “tell the story” from a more local community perspective.

This modern map shows the approximate location of the murder scene—the location marked “Nathaniel Hawkins Cemetery.” This cemetery is a small family burying ground, now abandoned. Helen Tiernan’s body was found approximately fifty feet north of the actual cemetery. James Tiernan was found a little to the east of the cemetery. May Savage lived on Yaphank Ave. (now also known as Old Stump Road), just a little south of Montauk Highway. In 1937 there was a largely disused farm road that ran south from Montauk Highway, east of the shown stream (Little Neck Run), past the cemetery area to some duck farm buildings. This entire area is now within the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge.

The Brookhaven Railroad station no long exists. At the time it was a little to the west of where Yaphank Avenue (Old Stump Road) crosses the Long Island Rail Road tracks (along Bridge Pl. or Railroad Ave.).