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NB Chilling Tales: Milberry Mystery

Updated on September 14, 2017
St. George's Church, West Saint John
St. George's Church, West Saint John

The Rumors

The city of Saint John was formed in 1785 by Loyalists from the Boston States and Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. Many of these working class citizens took up residence in Carleton, which is also known as the Lower West Side.

Many of the houses still standing in Carelton today are the original houses that were built during the cities formation. Because of this, the Lower West Side has the highest reports of paranormal hauntings than anywhere else in the city.

Growing up in Carleton, stories would spread around about these houses and hauntings and mostly all of the streets in the lower west has at least one haunted house, but mainly the streets have many.

Like any other town, these stories would get stretched and twisted, to try and explain the experiences around the area. Often these stories would have things added and things left out altogether. Something that happens a lot with rumors they usually has the "Telephone Effect". By the time it gets to your ears, there's not much of the original store left if any at all.

This is often taught to children by playing the "Telephone game", In which one child whispers something in another child's ear, and they whisper into the next, down the line until the last child who says what they heard, and it's not even close to the original story.

The Telephone game
The Telephone game

Rumor #1

After moving to Carleton from an unknown location because of an explosion at their previous address, that killed some of their children, the Millberry family were kind of cursed.

Not long after moving to Carleton, their five-year-old daughter, Shirley went to the local playground with two other children.

It was coming on to dark when the three children decided to leave the park. They stopped at a corner store on their way home, and Shirley waited outside.

When the other two came out of the store they saw Shirley running down the street toward her home screaming.

She never made it home, and after a search, she was found burnt to death in the trunk of a car.

Her mother, Cora was pregnant at the time, and because of the stress of losing her daughter, lost the baby which was also a girl.

Shortly after losing her child, Cora adopted another little girl and did her best to move on. Yet, her oldest child was in with a group of criminals and one night, the adopted daughter had a friend over for the night. Another friend of Cora's was staying in the house as well, and the oldest child, and his criminal friends burnt down the house, killing everyone inside.


My mother, who lived in the area at the time of the fire, and knew of Cora, and the daughter, and also knew the oldest child, told me this story never made sense to her at all.

Because she remembers clearly that on the night of the fire the oldest child desperately tried to get into the house, to attempt to get the children and his mother out. That he even had gotten bad burns trying to attempt this.

There was a reason that this story never made any sense, and it was because this version of the story is false!

Rumor #2

My aunt told me the following:

Someone had it out for the Milberry's from the start. Someone purposely blew up the first house in an attempt to kill them all. When that didn't wipe them all out they snatched Shirley off the street, and the girl was found by a couple of local kids dismembered in a toy chest in their shed.

The fire that killed the second little girl was arson and they never found who did it, but many people suspect the oldest child was involved with bad people from the beginning and he knew who did everything to that family.

Again, my aunt said the same as my mother though. She knew this boy personally, and although he had a lot of problems, she couldn't see him doing something like this. Especially to the children, because he tried to get them out of that house during the fire.

The Research

Thinking that the two little girl's that burnt to death, basically across the street from my previous address, might be responsible for the activity in that house, I started digging into the story.

For a few days, I was coming up with nothing, aside from these stories that I suspected couldn't be full fact.

Because, I had two (possible) names and the time frame it happened, I tried the archives.

I got two hits.

They were listed for the same mother, and the right address. Both were girls and one was indeed named Shirley. However, it said that they were both under a year and died either at birth or shortly after.

But how could that be if Shirley Milberry was kidnapped and murdered?

I mentioned this to my mother who said that didn't make sense, because she knows that Cora's adopted daughter went to school with her youngest siblings and that Cora was protective of her daughter and suspicious of everyone. She said that Cora even asked my grandmother straight out one day how her kids knew her daughter.

This behavior would be explainable for a mother who lost a child in a frightening and violent manner.

Then I noticed a correction comment on the archive file, stating that the father claimed this was actually a birth date and not a death date.

That made more sense, because from the year listed, to the year that Shirley went missing, would have made her about five, the rumored age for her disappearence.

But what about the other parts of the stories? Did they hold any truth at all?

What really happened to Shirley Milberry and did it have any connection to the fire?

Stories Twisted

I was at a loss, finding anything connected to the story. Even if there were newspaper archives available to browse without travel, I'm sure the media didn't focus wildly on the fire, possibly they did the kidnapping and Murder, it was hard to say.

I talked to my mother again, and told her that something just didn't seem to fit with these stories, it seemed to me that there were two events twisted into one.

My mother told me that when she first moved to Carleton was after Shirley Milberry was murdered but before the Milberry fire. She said she heard whispers of another story as well, that happened around the same time Shirley Milberry disappeared, or a few years before.

She told me that the first girl disappeared after leaving a local playground, and that a while after that a couple of kids found her dismembered body in a toy trunk on their property.

This sounded similar to the version my aunt told me, but I was still at a loss.

It did seem as if two events were blended together into one. That didn't help much, I still had no idea what really happened to Shirley Milberry, or what happened the night of the fire.

The Truth

I did more digging and I stumbled upon a forum post, by an old friend of Shirley's with basically the same question I had. Something told me to read the board entirely, and on the second page, I found a post from Shirley Milberry's first cousin!

In 1971, Shirley was in front of her house playing when a man in a car took her out of her own yard. A group of hydro workers found her, dismembered in a ditch out by the University, on the other side of the city. To this day, her killer has never been found.

Her cousin claimed that Shirley's mother Cora was never the same after that, which made sense, because of the way she acted about her daughter that time to my grandmother.

The family lived in the basement apartment of the house, Cora's mother owned the house and lived upstairs.

Shortly after Shirley died, Cora had adopted another daughter, named Donna Marie.

The fire didn't happen until years after Shirley disappeared. Donna Marie had a friend over that night, and her older brother (her aunts only "living son" suggesting the explosion may have occurred) stayed upstairs at his grandmother's house. Cora's boyfriend was laying on the couch watching a hockey game and fell asleep with a lit cigarette, which started the fire.

Upstairs, the grandmother's husband worried only about himself. It was the son that got his grandmother out of the house, and he attempted desperately to get in to save his mother, sister and her friend but was badly burned trying to get inside.

Later, the fire department told him, he couldn't have done anything even if he had gotten into the apartment, aside from getting himself killed because his family would have already been gone.


It's hard to say if the ghosts that haunted my house, are for a fact, the two girls that parished in the fire less than a minute away from the house.

Yet, at least I know that two girls who would have been around my age at the time of their deaths did die in that fire. And another little girl was taken from that area to meet a violent end.

Therefore the activity that I experienced in that house might have some connection to this.


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