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Some unsafe travels for Dr. Alexander Burdick Briggs of Hopkinton

April 10, 2014

Dr. Alexander Briggs of Hopkinton escaped a would-be murderer in Florida in 1921.

HOPKINTON – Dr. Alexander Burdick Briggs ventured to Florida each year for a rest. Never did he imagine that he and his wife would come close to being murdered there, at the hands of a madman.

The physician was born in Hopkinton on Nov. 12, 1850 to Asa Sheldon Briggs and Mary (Burdick). Asa was the superintendent of a local woolen mill and, during the fall and winter months, boarded area school teachers at his home.

Alexander graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1872 and immediately opened up his own practice in Ashaway. On May 18, 1874, he marred Ella Maria Wells and went on to father two sons and a daughter.

The couple made a practice of retiring to Daytona, Fla., each year when the Rhode Island weather turned cold. In February of 1921, they were returning to their vacation home one evening after enjoying dinner at a Daytona restaurant. They hadn’t ventured too far from the eatery when they saw a man up ahead approaching them. The man had a hat pulled down over his eyes and was obviously suspicious-looking. The 71-year-old doctor was certain it was his 63-year-old brother Leverett attempting to pull a prank on them.

“Hands up!” the man ordered as he neared the couple’s vehicle.

“Hands up nothing,” Alexander replied, refusing to fall for his younger brother’s joke.

Within seconds, there was a revolver pressed Alexander’s chest. Immediately, he realized this was no joke and quickly lifted his hands up in the air. Ella jumped from the vehicle and started running down the road, screaming for help. The gunman pulled his weapon from Alexander’s chest and aimed it in the direction of Ella. “Stop or I’ll drop you!” he yelled.

The 68-year-old woman didn’t listen. She continued on, running down the road until she met up with an African-American man riding a bicycle. She desperately explained to him what had just happened and that her husband was in danger. The man quickly followed her back to the vehicle.

When the gunman saw them coming, he hit Alexander hard against the jaw and took off running. The couple was spared from being robbed of their money, or shot, however they ended their evening shaken up in a way they would never forget.

The following year, their travels found them in peril once again. On the morning of Sept. 14, as they prepared to venture out of Wyoming toward Providence, their vehicle hit an obstruction in the road. Alexander broke several ribs and was taken to the home of Dr. Edwin Knerr to be attended to. Ella was transported to the hospital, via ambulance, being more severely injured.

In 1923, Alexander decided to sell his practice and retire. His Ashaway business and all of his medical supplies were purchased by Dr. John Warden who had recently been discharged from the Army.

Ella passed away in Ashaway on May 23, 1927 after suffering from a long illness. Alexander died at the home of his daughter, Donna Jackson, in Harris, R.I. They were laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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