floriana
The Hellenic Center on County Road is on an estate built by Ana Peabody at the turn of the 20th Century

The land on the west side of the Old Bay Road (County Road) in Ipswich was originally divided into six acre lots reaching from the road to the river, which were allotted to the original settlers. Rev. Nathaniel Rogers, Pastor of the Ipswich Church, owned two of these six acre lots which were inherited by his son. Rev. John Rogers, President of Harvard, and in due time, by his son. Rev. John Rogers, Pastor of the Ipswich Church for more than fifty years. South of this was the lot of Rev. William Hubbard, the famous historian, also Pastor of the Church. Madame Elizabeth, widow of President John Rogers, bought the Hubbard lot, which passed to her son. Rev. John, who purchased the intervening Bumam lot and became the owner of four lots, containing twenty-four acres.

These lots are all included in the estate of the late Mrs. Anna P. Peabody, who purchased the Rogers Lower Pasture in 1903 and 1904 and transformed the bare pastures into the beautiful estate, to which she gave the name, Floriana. (Source: Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society).

This may have also once belonged to Mr. & Mrs. Ben Perley Poore Moseley, known for their beautiful azalea gardens.

Floriana is now the Hellenic Center on County Road in Ipswich
Floriana is now the Hellenic Center at 117 County Road in Ipswich

A Murder Mystery

Sometime before 1960, a married couple, Dr. William W. A. Johnson and his wife Nathalie, bought the property. They lived there with their three sons and William’s business partner, Daniel P. Norman. Dr. Johnson and Mr. Norman used the carriage house and outer building (now the Ipswich Ford dealership) to operate their spectrochemical testing firm.

This firm, New England Spectrochemical Laboratories, famously became involved in the Alger Hiss trials of the late 1940s and early 1950s, performing an analysis of the typeface on a typewriter that had been used to incriminate Alger Hiss, accused of espionage. Dr. Norman furnished evidence that the machine was deliberately fabricated.

In November 1948, pretrial depositions began in Baltimore in the libel suit that Alger Hiss had filed against Whittaker Chambers. Soon after, Chambers was asked to produce any documentary evidence to support his allegations. At first he told Hiss’s lawyers he had none.

Then, on the November 17th, Chambers dropped a bombshell:

He brought in an envelope containing typed copies of secret State Department documents (they came to be known as the “Baltimore Documents”). The pages were typed, he said, by Priscilla Hiss for transmission to the Soviet Union. The Hiss team set out to prove they were a forgery. Their efforts centered on finding the family’s old Woodstock typewriter, An important aspect of Hiss’s motion for a new trial featured a demonstration by one acknowledged expert, Martin Tytell, that a typewriter could be altered to match the typing of another. In a 1984 article for The Nation, former Smith Act defendant Gil Green revealed how a document in his own file confirms that the FBI laboratory was – by 1960, at least – fully capable of typewriter forgery.

2 Partook Of Cyanide, Says Report

IPSWICH. Mass, March 11, 1960 (AP): Officials said today a wealthy bachelor biochemist and his partner’s wife partook of a heavy dose of potassium cyanide before they died in her bedroom Thursday. However. investigators said they were not prepared to rule at to cause of death. Dist. Attorney John P. S. Burke said a toxicologist reported Daniel P. Norman. C. and Mrs. Nathalie Johnson, 43 had ingested so much potassium cyanide that unabsorbed quantities of it were found In their stomachs. Burke also reported two glasses, one virtually empty and the other about one-fourth filled were on the night table in the upstairs bedroom of the 25 room mansion. Both gave off a peculiar metallic odor.

Discovered by Son: The dead man and woman, fully clothed, were discovered by the youngest of three John-son sons, Lorne. 8. Mrs. Johnson’s husband William W. A. Johnson was in Cambridge on business. Johnson and Norman were friends and partners for many years.

During the perjury trial of Alger Hiss, Norman examined the famous typewriter that was at the core of the prosecution’s case and testified that although keys had been changed, Hiss had used a typewriter, intro­duced as evidence. in writing to Whitaker Chambers.

Mystery Deepens: Third Figure in Poisoning Case Found Dead

IPSWICH, Mass, Nov. 5, 1963 (AP) — A prominent physicist, the third principal in a mysterious poisoning case, is dead. Dr. William W. A. Johnson, 48, was found dead yesterday in a first-floor bedroom of his new home on Heartbreak Road. An autopsy was performed to determine the cause of death. It was on March 10, 1960, that Johnson’s wife, Nathalie, and his partner in a private laboratory, Dr. Daniel P. Norman, a biochemist, were found dead by Johnson’s son Lorne, now 11. Authorities said Mrs. Johnson and Norman died after drinking cyanide. Norman, a bachelor, was a Harvard classmate of Johnson’s and lived with the Johnson family on an estate on County Road where the scientists maintained their laboratories. Authorities gave no motive for the deaths and declined to say if they might have been suicides.

Patrolman Frank Geist and Dr. William Wigglesworth, medical examiner, found William Johnson’s body after police received a telephone call. Police refused to identify the caller. There was no sign of violence in the bedroom where Johnson’s pajama-clad body was found. The body of Johnson’s small white dog was found under a chair in the room. Johnson and his son, Lorne, lived in the home.

Johnson publicly expressed the belief that Norman drank cyanide mixed in beer because of ill health and that when Mrs. Johnson discovered the body she committed suicide in a burst of grief. The physicist had denied there was any unusual attachment between his wife and Norman.

Responses to this article:

In June, 1949, a female Polish immigrant was placed in the Johnson house, along with several other immigrants. (The reason for this has not been stated. )She left after a few months and moved to Boston, but maintained a friendly relationship with a Police officer who kept her up to date on the story.  Her daughter told me,

“My mother always felt that Dr. Norman and Mrs. Johnson, Natalie, were having an affair, and Dr. Johnson seemed very suspicious. Natalie Johnson was from a wealthy family, the probably source of the funds to buy the large estate, and she believed that Mrs. Johnson may have at one time been in an asylum. Natalie Johnson’s mother was an extrovert, and occasionally walked around the building undressed. Mr. Johnson’s parents, when they came to visit their grandchildren, were not allowed on the grounds. They would leave gifts with the gatekeeper, and Natalie would change the tags on the presents to make them look like they came from her family instead.

Dr. Norman was not popular with the workers at the estate, who called him ‘the Gorilla’ behind his back. The Johnson’s third child, a boy, bore a strong resemblance to Dr. Norman. On the fateful day, Dr. Norman received a call, and rushed over to his apartment in the upstairs of the carriage house. He was never seen alive again. He was found dead on the floor of the room. His clothing was undisturbed, and he appeared to have been placed their rather than haven fallen. Mrs. Johnson was dead on the bed. The third child was the one who found them. While the police determined it was death by cyanide, the container was never found. Three years later, Dr. Johnson was found dead in his new home, poisoned along with his dog.

Another reader responded about his mother as well:

“In regards to your story about the deaths at the Hellenic Center site, my mother was their secretary. She went to work the day in question and felt something was wrong. The son found the bodies. There was a caretaker (name removed) who told my mother to say she knew nothing. My mother always told us one of the men was very odd and often walked around talking to himself. She always suspected the wife and the other guy were having a relationship. I vividly remember it took her a long time to regroup from this experience. Although my mother liked her job there, she always seemed uneasy about it. She was Catholic in it’s truest sense back in those times. Two big no no’s then were extra marital affairs and suicide. To this day I am convinced she knew what was going on. It is difficult to fathom two adults accidentally ingesting cyanide.”

Further References

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