Conroy & Coakley

December 1, 2010 § 5 Comments

I do not recall when I first discovered that there might be another Conroy sister, this time named Catherine after her mother, but it wasn’t until I found her listed in an online family tree that I began to look into the details of her life more closely. Thanks to, I would not only learn more about her in a single day but I would even meet a third cousin, and in the process learn about a story of untimely death and mystery.

Catherine was born in March of 1881 very close in age to her brother James and her sister Sarah, in Coen, Co. Laois. She immigrated in 1901 and lived in Newton, Massachusetts where her two sisters, Ellen and Sarah, and her brother James would also reside for a time. Then in 1907, Catherine married a man named Thomas Mulvey Coakley of Irish ancestry but born in Germany. The marriage occurred in Newton and was most likely held at the same church in which both Ellen and Sarah would be married, as the priest listed in their marriage record is the same who conducted at least one of the other marriages.

The Coakley family then moved to Lynn, Massachusetts where Thomas worked as an electrician at a local General Electric (GE) plant. Catherine continued as a homemaker, and soon then had a son, Henry added to their family. What happens next in their history is both startling and sad, and the story of it would come to me from my research on

Through an online family tree I have met a descendent of the Coakley family who has been very gracious with providing me not only details of the Coakley story, but also records. Thomas Coakley was working at the GE plant, just like he did any day, when he was killed in a freak accident that made the front page news of the local Lynn paper. The headline read, “Employee Electrocuted by 15,000 Volts at G.E. Plant,” and gave an account of what had happened. Thomas had apparently wandered into a building called a “resistance house” that was labeled with warnings threatening of high levels of electricity. He was discovered later, a half eaten apple near his body, by workers who had noticed him missing who thought that perhaps he had wandered off to sneak a smoke. The body was “burned almost beyond recognition, and his clothes reduced to shreds.” The accident was certainly very sad, but the family believed there was more to it than what was being portrayed.

Thomas apparently had a sum of money in his coat pocket, almost $4,000 that had been neatly cut from his coat at some point after his death. The family has claimed he was murdered, but perhaps the money was simply discovered by the same men who found his body, and when the money was discovered a crime of opportunity transpired. However, the story does carry an element of mystery to it. First of all, what GE worker would basically hide in such a dangerous place just to eat an apple? And who, in 1919, snuck around to smoke? No one, that’s who. So it is, indeed, a bizarre tale.

Catherine then moves with the children to Saugus, MA., just a short distance from Lynn, where they live for the next few decades. It is interesting to note that in the 1920 and 1930 census returns neither Catherine nor her children seem to have any occupation, which makes me wonder how, as a widow, she was able to support her children. Sadly, Catherine would pass away just a few months after the 1930 census was taken.

It has been quite interesting learning so much information in such a short time about someone whom I had previously known so little. Very special thanks to Kathy for sharing so much of the story with me.

Thomas Coakley on left next to Catherine Conroy-Coakley and some of their children, 1914.




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