Part 1 out of 4
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With them and all they had, 'twas lightly come and lightly go; and
when we left them my master said to me: "This is thy first lesson,
but to-night we shall be at Hamburgh. Come with me to the 'rotboss'
there, and I'll show thee all our folk and their lays, and
especially 'the loseners,' 'the dutzers,' 'the schleppers.'" ...
"Enow!" cried I, stopping him, "art as gleesome as the evil one
a-counting of his imps. I'll jot down in my tablet all these
caitiffs and their accursed names; for knowledge is knowledge. But
go among them alive or dead, that I will not with my good will."
--THE CLOISTER AND THE HEARTH.
TRUE STORIES OF CRIME
FROM THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
BY ARTHUR TRAIN
FORMERLY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
NEW YORK COUNTY
The narratives composing this book are literally true stories of crime.
In a majority of the cases the author conducted the prosecutions
himself, and therefore may claim to have a personal knowledge of that
whereof he speaks. While no confidence has been abused, no essential
facts have been omitted, distorted, or colored, and the accounts
themselves, being all matters of public record, may be easily verified.
The scenes recorded here are not literature but history, and the
characters who figure in them are not puppets of the imagination, but
men and women who lived and schemed, laughed, sinned and suffered, and
paid the price when the time came, most of them, without flinching. A
few of those who read these pages may profit perhaps by their example;
others may gain somewhat in their knowledge of life and human nature;
but all will agree that there are books in the running brooks, even if
the streams be turbid, and sermons in stones, though these be the hearts
of men. If in some instances the narratives savor in treatment more of
fiction than of fact, the writer must plead guilty to having fallen
under the spell of the romance of his subject, and he proffers the
excuse that, whereas such tales have lost nothing in accuracy, they may
have gained in the truth of their final impression.
CRIMINAL COURTS BUILDING,
NEW YORK CITY,
April 20, 1908.
I. THE WOMAN IN THE CASE
II. FIVE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS
III. THE LOST STRADIVARIUS
IV. THE LAST OF THE WIRE-TAPPERS
V. THE FRANKLIN SYNDICATE
VI. A STUDY IN FINANCE
VII. THE "DUC DE NEVERS"
VIII. A FINDER OF MISSING HEIRS
IX. A MURDER CONSPIRACY
X. A FLIGHT INTO TEXAS
XI. A CASE OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
Envelope on the back of which Parker's forged order was written
Parker's order on Rogers, Peet & Co., in the name of Lang
A letter-head "frill" of Mabel Parker's
Examples of Mabel Parker's penmanship, regular and forged
Practice signatures of the name of Alice Kauser
The check on which the indictment for forgery was brought
Parker's copy of the signature of Alice Kauser
One of the sheets upon which Mabel Parker illustrated her skill
One of Miller's Franklin Syndicate Receipts.
Ammon's deposit slips and a receipt signed by Mrs. Ammon.
A group of H. Huffman Browne's forgeries
Last page of the forged Rice will of 1900
The forged cremation letter
Forged assignment and Rice signatures
First page of the "Black Hand" letter written by Strollo
The Woman in the Case
On a sultry August afternoon in 1903, a dapper, if somewhat anaemic,
young man entered the Broadway store of Rogers, Peet & Company, in New
York City, and asked to be allowed to look at a suit of clothes. Having
selected one to his fancy and arranged for some alterations, he produced
from his wallet a check for $280, drawn to the order of George B. Lang,
and signed E. Bierstadt, and remarked to the attentive salesman:
"I haven't got quite enough cash with me to pay for these, but I have
been intending to cash this check all the afternoon. Of course, you
don't know me or even that my name is Lang, but if you will forward the
check to the bank they will certify it, and to-morrow I will send for
the suit and the balance of the money."
"Certainly, Mr. Lang," replied the salesman. "I will hold the suit and
the money to await your orders."
The customer thanked him and took his departure. The check was sent to
the bank, the bank certified it, then cancelled its certification and
returned the check to Rogers, Peet & Company, and the store detectives,
having communicated with Police Headquarters, anxiously awaited the
arrival of Mr. Lang's messenger.
[Illustration: FIG. 1.--Envelope on the back of which Parker's forged
order was written.]
Their efforts were rewarded a couple of days later by the appearance at
the store of a lad who presented a written order (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2)
inscribed upon the back of an envelope bearing a cancelled stamp and
addressed to Geo. B. Lang, No. 13 West Twenty-sixth Street, New York
City, which read as follows:
ROGERS, PEET & Co.
Please give to bearer the clothes I purchased on
Tuesday--suit--pants--S. coat, and also kindly put change in
envelope in inside coat pocket. Trusting the alterations are
satisfactory, and thanking you in advance for the favor and for past
courtesies, I am,
GEO. B. LANG.
[Illustration: FIG. 2.--Parker's order on Rogers, Peet & Company, in the
name of Lang.]
The boy was immediately placed under arrest, and after proclaiming his
own innocence and vociferating that he was only doing an errand for a
"gent," who was waiting close by, was directed to return with his bundle
as if nothing had occurred. This he did, and Mr. George B. Lang was
soon in the clutches of the law.
Interrogated by his captors, the supposed Lang admitted that his real
name was James Parker, that he lived at 110 West Thirty-eighth Street,
and only requested that his wife be immediately notified of what had
happened. At Headquarters the prisoner was identified as a gentleman who
had been very actively engaged during the preceding months in passing
bad checks throughout the city, his more recent operations having
consisted in cashing a check on the Lincoln National Bank for $160 on
July 20th, one for $290 on the same bank on July 30th, still another for
$510.50 on August 4th, and one for $440.50 on the National Shoe and
Leather Bank, "to bearer," on August 8th. This last, in some
inexplicable way, had been cashed at the very bank itself.
Believing that the forger had at last been caught, the precinct
detectives later on, during the evening of Parker's arrest, visited no
West Thirty-eighth Street, and on inquiring for "Mrs. Parker," were
introduced to a young girl of attractive appearance to whom they
delivered their unwelcome message. Mrs. Parker seemed overwhelmed at the
news and strongly asserted her confidence in her husband's innocence of
any wrong-doing. Having performed their errand the officers departed.
A certain ineradicable jealousy has always existed between the
plain-clothes men of the various precincts and the sleuths attached to
the Central Office, and in this instance the precinct men, having gained
the credit for the arrest, it did not occur to them as necessary to
communicate the knowledge of their acquaintance with Mrs. Parker to
Detective Sergeants Peabody and Clark, originally assigned at
Headquarters to investigate the case.
It seemed, however, to Peabody very unlikely that Parker had conducted
his operations alone, and he therefore at once inquired at the Tombs
what character of visitors came to see the prisoner. The gateman replied
that as yet none had arrived. At that very instant a young girl stepped
to the wicket and asked if she could be allowed to see Mr. James Parker.
It took the detective but a moment to run across to the Criminal Courts
Building and to telephone the warden to detain her temporarily and then
to refuse her request. Five minutes later the girl emerged
disconsolately from the Tombs and boarded a car going uptown. Peabody
followed her to 110 West Thirty-eighth Street, not for an instant
supposing that the girl herself could be the forger, but believing that
possibly through her he might learn of other members of the gang and
secure additional evidence against Parker himself.
Of course, no intelligent person to-day supposes that, outside of Sir
Conan Doyle's interesting novels, detectives seek the baffling criminal
by means of analyzing cigar butts, magnifying thumb marks or
specializing in the various perfumes in favor among the fair sex, or by
any of those complicated, brain fatiguing processes of ratiocination
indulged in by our old friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. There are still,
however, genuine detectives, and some of them are to be found upon the
New York police force. The magnifying glass is not one of the ordinary
tools of the professional sleuth, and if he carries a pistol at all it
is because the police rules require it, while those cases may be
numbered upon the fingers of two hands where his own hair and whiskers
are not entirely sufficient for his purposes in the course of his
The next morning Peabody donned the most disreputable suit in his
wardrobe, neglected his ordinary visit to the barber, and called at 110
West Thirty-eighth Street, being, of course, at this time entirely
unaware of the fact that the girl was Parker's wife. He found her
sitting in a rocking chair in a comfortable, well-furnished room, and
reading a magazine. Assuming an expression of sheepish inanity he
informed her that he was an old pal of "Jim's" who had been so
unfortunate as to be locked up in the same cell with him at
Headquarters, and that the latter was in desperate need of morphine.
That Parker was an habitual user of the drug could be easily seen from
the most casual inspection, but that it would prove an open sesame to
the girl's confidence was, as the detective afterward testified, "a
"Poor Jim!" exclaimed the girl. "Couldn't you smuggle some into the
Tombs for him?"
Peabody took the hint. Of course he could. It would be a hard job--those
turnkeys were so suspicious. But _he_ could do it for her if anybody
could. He rambled on, telling his experiences with Parker in the past,
how he had been in Elmira Reformatory and elsewhere with him, and
gaining each moment valuable information from the girl's exclamations,
questions, and expression. He soon learned that she was Parker's wife,
that they were living in comparative comfort, and that she was an
exceedingly clever and well-educated woman, but she said nothing during
the conversation which would indicate that she knew anything of her
husband's offenses or of any persons connected with them.
After a few moments the girl slipped on her coat and hat and the two
started down to the Tombs, where, by prearrangement with the officials,
the detective succeeded in convincing her that he had been able to send
in to her husband a small hypodermic syringe (commonly called "the
needles") which she had purchased at a neighboring drug store.
The apparent success of this undertaking put Mrs. Parker in excellent
humor and she invited the supposed crook to breakfast with her at the
Broadway Central Hotel. So far, it will be observed, Peabody had
accomplished practically nothing. At breakfast the girl inquired of her
companion what his particular "graft" was, to which he replied that he
was an expert "second story man," and then proceeded to indulge his
imagination in accounts of bold robberies in the brown stone districts
and clever "tricks" in other cities, which left Mrs. Parker in no doubt
but that her companion was an expert "gun" of long experience.
Then he took, as he expressed it, "another chance."
"Jim wanted me to tell you to put the gang 'wise,'" said he.
The girl looked at him sharply and contracted her brows.
"Gang?" she exclaimed. "What gang? Oh, perhaps he meant 'Dutch' and
Peabody bit his lip. He had had a close call.
"Don't know," he replied, "he didn't say who they were--just to put them
A second time the detective had made a lucky hit, for Mrs. Parker
suddenly laid aside all pretense and asked:
"Do you want to make a lot of money?"
Peabody allowed that he did.
"Do you know what they have got Jim for?" asked the girl.
"'Phoney' paper, wasn't it?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Parker, "but Jim didn't write those checks. I wrote
them myself. If you want to go in with me, we can earn enough money to
get Jim out and you can do a good turn for yourself besides."
The detective's blood leaped in his veins but he held himself under
control as well as he could and answered indifferently.
"I guess not. I never met a woman that was very good at that sort of
"Oh, you don't know _me_," she persisted. "Why, I can copy anything in a
few moments--really I can."
"Too dangerous," remarked Peabody. "I might get settled for ten years."
"No, you wouldn't," she continued. "It's the easiest thing in the world.
All you have to do is to pick the mail out of some box on a corner. I
can show you how with a copper wire and a little piece of wax--and you
are sure to find among the letters somebody's check in payment of a
bill. There at once you have the bank, and the signature. Then all you
have to do is to write a letter to the bank asking for a new check book,
saying yours is used up, and sign the name that appears on the check. If
you can fool the cashier into giving your messenger a check book you can
gamble pretty safely on his paying a check signed with the same name. In
that way, you see, you can get all the blank checks you need and test
the cashier's watchfulness at the same time. It's too easy. The only
thing you have to look out for is not to overdraw the account. Still,
you find so many checks in the mail that you can usually choose
somebody's account that will stand the strain. Do you know, I have made
_hundreds_ of checks and the banks have certified every single one!"
Peabody laughed good naturedly. Things were looking up a bit.
"What do you think I am, anyhow?" he asked. "I must look like a
"I'm giving it to you straight," she said simply. "After you have made
out a good fat check, then you go to a store, buy something, tell them
to forward the check to the bank for certification, and that you'll send
for the goods and the change the next day. The bank always certifies the
check, and you get the money."
"Not always," said Peabody with a grin.
"No, not always," acquiesced Mrs. Parker. "But Jim and I have been
averaging over a hundred dollars a day for months."
"Good graft, all right," assented the detective. "But how does the one
who lays down the check identify himself? For instance, suppose I go
into Tiffany's and pick out a diamond, and say I'm Mr. John Smith, of
100 West One Hundredth Street, and the floorwalker says, 'Sorry, Mr.
Smith, but we don't know you,' what then?"
"Just flash a few letters on him," said the girl. "Letters and
"Where do you get 'em?" asked Peabody.
"Just write them, silly, and send them to yourself through the mail."
"That's all right," retorted the "second story man." "But how can I mail
myself a letter to 100 West One Hundredth Street _when I don't live
Mrs. Parker smiled in a superior manner.
"I'm glad I can put you wise to a new game, I invented it myself. You
want letters of identification? In different names and addresses on
different days? Very good. Buy a bundle of stamped envelopes and write
your own name and address on them _in pencil_. When they arrive rub off
the pencil address. Then if you want to be John Smith of 100 West One
Hundredth Street, or anybody else, just address the cancelled envelope
"Mabel," said Peabody with admiration, "you've got the 'gray matter' all
right. You can have _me_, if you can deliver the rest of the goods."
[Illustration: FIG.3.--A letter-head frill of Mabel Parker's.]
"There's still another little frill," she continued, pleased at his
compliment, "if you want to do the thing in style. Maybe you will find a
letter or bill head in the mail at the same time that you get your
sample check. If you do, you can have it copied and write your request
for the check book and your order for the goods on paper printed
exactly like it. That gives a sort of final touch, you know. I remember
we did that with a dentist named Budd, at 137 West Twenty-second
Street." (Fig. 3.)
"You've got all the rest whipped to a standstill," cried Peabody.
"Well, just come over to the room and I'll show you something worth
while," exclaimed the girl, getting up and paying their bill.
"Now," said she, when they were safely at no West Thirty-eighth Street,
and she had closed the door of the room and drawn Peabody to a desk in
the bay window. "Here's my regular handwriting."
She pulled towards her a pad which lay open upon the desk and wrote in a
fair, round hand:
"Mrs. James D. Singley." (Fig. 4.)
"This," she continued, changing her slant and dashing off a queer
feminine scrawl, "is the signature we fooled the Lincoln National Bank
with--Miss Kauser's, you know. And this," she added a moment later,
adopting a stiff, shaky, hump-backed orthography, "is the signature that
got poor Jim into all this trouble," and she inscribed twice upon the
paper the name "E. Bierstadt." "Poor Jim!" she added to herself.
"By George, Mabel," remarked the detective, "you're a wonder! See if
you can copy _my_ name." And Peabody wrote the assumed name of William
Hickey, first with a stub and then with a fine point, both of which
signatures she copied like a flash, in each case, however, being guilty
of the lapse of spelling the word Willia_m_ "Willia_n_."
The pad now contained more than enough evidence to convict twenty women,
and Peabody, with the remark, "You don't want to leave this kind of
thing lying around, Mabel," pretended to tear the page up, but
substituted a blank sheet in its place and smuggled the precious bit of
paper into his pocket.
"Yes, I'll go into business with you,--sure I will!" said Peabody.
"And we'll get enough money to set Jim free!" exclaimed the girl.
They were now fast friends, and it was agreed that "Hickey" should go
and make himself presentable, after which they would dine at some
restaurant and then sample a convenient mail box. Meantime Peabody
telephoned to Headquarters, and when the two set out for dinner at six
o'clock the supposed "Hickey" was stopped on Broadway by Detective
"What are you doing here in New York?" demanded Clark. "Didn't I give
you six hours to fly the coop? And who's this woman?"
[Illustration: Fig. 4--The upper signature is an example of Mabel
Parker's regular penmanship; the next two are forgeries from memory; and
the last is a dashing imitation of her companion's handwriting.]
"I was going, Clark, honest I was," whined "Hickey," "and this lady's
all right--she hasn't done a thing."
"Well, I guess I'll have to lock you up at Headquarters for the night,"
said Clark roughly. "The girl can go."
"Oh, Mr. Clark, do come and have dinner with us first!" exclaimed Mrs.
Parker. "Mr. Hickey has been very good to me, and he hasn't had anything
to eat for ever so long."
"Don't care if I do," said Clark. "I guess I can put up with the company
if the board is good."
The three entered the Raleigh Hotel and ordered a substantial meal. With
the arrival of dessert, however, the girl became uneasy, and apparently
fearing arrest herself, slipped a roll of bills under the table to
"Hickey" and whispered to him to keep it for her. The detective,
thinking that the farce had gone far enough, threw the money on the
table and asked Clark to count it, at the same tune telling Mrs. Parker
that she was in custody. The girl turned white, uttered a little scream,
and then, regaining her self-possession, remarked as nonchalently as you
"Well, clever as you think you are, you have destroyed the only evidence
against me--my handwriting."
"Not much," remarked Peabody, producing the sheet of paper.
The girl saw that the game was up and made a mock bow to the two
"I take off my hat to the New York police," said she.
At this time, apparently, no thought of denying her guilt had entered
her mind, and at the station house she talked freely to the sergeant,
the matron and the various newspaper men who were present, even drawing
pictures of herself upon loose sheets of paper and signing her name,
apparently rather enjoying the notoriety which her arrest had
occasioned. A thorough search of her apartment was now made with the
result that several sheets of paper were found there bearing what were
evidently practice signatures of the name of Alice Kauser. (Fig. 5.)
Evidence was also obtained showing that, on the day following her
husband's arrest, she had destroyed large quantities of blank check
books and blank checks.
Upon the trial of Mrs. Parker the hand-writing experts testified that
the Bierstadt and Kauser signatures were so perfect that it would be
difficult to state that they were not originals. The Parker woman was
what is sometimes known as a "free hand" forger; she never traced
anything, and as her forgeries were written by a muscular imitation of
the pen movement of the writer of the genuine signature they were almost
impossible of detection. When Albert T. Patrick forged the signature of
old Mr. Rice to the spurious will of 1900 and to the checks for $25,000,
$65,000 and $135,000 upon Swenson's bank and the Fifth Avenue Trust Co.,
the forgeries were easily detected from the fact that as Patrick had
_traced_ them they were _all almost exactly alike and practically could
be superimposed one upon another, line for line, dot for dot_.
[Footnote 1: See _Infra_, p. 304.]
[Illustration: FIG. 5.--Practice signatures of the name of Alice
Mabel Parker's early history is shrouded in a certain amount of
obscurity, but there is reason to believe that she was the offspring of
respectable laboring people who turned her over, while she was still an
infant, to a Mr. and Mrs. Prentice, instructors in physical culture in
the public schools, first of St. Louis and later of St. Paul, Minnesota.
As a child, and afterwards as a young girl, she exhibited great
precocity and a considerable amount of real ability in drawing and in
English composition, but her very cleverness and versatility were the
means of her becoming much more sophisticated than most young women of
her age, with the result that while still in her teens she gave her
adopted parents ground for considerable uneasiness. Accordingly they
decided to place her for the next few years in a convent near New York.
By this time she had attained a high degree of proficiency in writing
short stories and miscellaneous articles, which she illustrated herself,
for the papers and inferior magazines. Convent life proved very dull for
this young lady, and accordingly one dark evening, she made her exit
from the cloister by means of a conveniently located window.
Waiting for her in the grounds below was James Parker, twenty-seven
years old, already of a large criminal experience, although never yet
convicted of crime. The two made their way to New York, were married,
and the girl entered upon her career. Her husband, whose real name was
James D. Singley, was a professional Tenderloin crook, ready to turn his
hand to any sort of cheap crime to satisfy his appetites and support
life; the money easily secured was easily spent, and Singley, at the
time of his marriage, was addicted to most of the vices common to the
habitues of the under world. His worst enemy was the morphine habit and
from her husband Mrs. Singley speedily learned the use of the drug. At
this time Mabel Prentice-Parker-Singley was about five feet two inches
in height, weighing not more than 105 or 110 pounds, slender to
girlishness and showing no maturity save in her face, which, with its
high color, brilliant blue eyes, and her yellow hair, often led those
who glanced at her casually to think her good looking. Further
inspection, however, revealed a fox-like expression, an irregularity in
the position of the eyes, a hardness in the lines of the mouth and a
flatness of the nose which belied the first impression. This was
particularly true when, after being deprived of morphine in the Tombs,
her ordinary high color gave way at her second trial to a waxy paleness
of complexion. But the story of her career in the Tenderloin would
prove neither profitable nor attractive.
[Illustration: FIG. 6.--The check on which the indictment for forgery
The subsequent history of the Parker case is a startling example of the
credulity of the ordinary jury. The evidence secured was absolutely
conclusive, but unfortunately juries are generally unwilling to take the
uncorroborated word of a policeman against that of a
defendant--particularly if the defendant be a young and pretty woman.
Here at the very outset was a complete confession on the part of Mrs.
Parker, supplemented by illustrations from her own pen of what she could
do. Comparison showed that the signatures she had written without a
model upon the Peabody sheet were identical with those upon the forged
checks (Fig. 6) and with Mr. Bierstadt's and Miss Kauser's handwriting.
When Mrs. Parker's case, therefore, came on for pleading, her counsel,
probably because they could think of nothing else to do, entered a plea
of _insanity_. It was also intimated that the young woman would probably
plead guilty, and the case was therefore placed upon the calendar and
moved for trial without much preparation on the part of the prosecution.
Instead of this young person confessing her guilt, however, she amused
herself by ogling the jury and drawing pictures of the Court, the
District Attorney and the various witnesses.
Probably no more extraordinary scene was ever beheld in a court of law
than that exhibited by Part II of the General Sessions upon Mabel
Parker's first trial for forgery. Attired in a sky blue dress and
picture hat, with new white gloves, she sat jauntily by the side of her
counsel throughout the proceedings toying with her pen and pencil and in
the very presence of the jury copying handwriting which was given her
for that purpose by various members of the yellow press who crowded
close behind the rail. From time to time she would dash off an aphorism
or a paragraph in regard to the trial which she handed to a reporter. If
satisfactory this was elaborated and sometimes even illustrated by her
for the evening edition of his paper.
The Assistant District Attorney complained that this was clearly a
contempt of court, particularly as the defendant had drawn a picture
not only of himself, but of the presiding justice and a witness, which
had appeared in one of the evening papers. The Court, however, did not
see that anything could be done about it and the girl openly continued
her literary and artistic recreation. The Court itself was not a little
amused at the actions of the defendant, and when Detective Peabody was
called to the stand the general hilarity had reached such a pitch that
he was unable to give his testimony without smiling. The natural result,
therefore, at the first trial, was that the detective succeeded in
giving the unqualified impression that he was drawing the long bow in a
most preposterous fashion.
At the conclusion of the People's case the evidence that Mrs. Parker had
forged the checks amounted simply to this: That an officer who was
greatly interested in her conviction had sworn to a most astonishing
series of facts from which the jury must infer that this exceedingly
astute young person had not only been entirely and completely deceived
by a detective, but also that at almost their first meeting she had
confessed to him in detail the history of her crimes. Practically the
only other evidence tending to corroborate his story were a few
admissions of a similar character made by her to newspaper men, matrons
and officers at the police station. Unless the jury were to believe that
Mrs. Parker had actually written the signatures on "the Peabody sheet"
there was no evidence that she was the actual forger; hence upon
Peabody's word alone depended the verdict of the jury. The trouble with
the case was that it was _too_ strong, _too_ good, to be entirely
credible, and had there been no defense it is exceedingly probable that
the trial would have resulted in an acquittal, since the prosecution had
elected to go to the jury upon the question of whether or not the
defendant had actually signed the checks herself.
Mrs. Parker, however, had withdrawn her plea of insanity and determined
to put in a defense, which proved in its turn to be even more
extraordinary than the case against her. This, in brief, was to the
effect that she had known Peabody to be a police officer all along, but
that it had occurred to her that if she could deceive him into believing
that it was she _herself_ who had committed the forgeries her husband
might get off, and that later she might in turn establish her own
innocence. She had therefore hastily scratched her name on the top of a
sheet already containing her husband's handwriting and had told Peabody
that the signatures had been written by herself. That the sheet had been
written in the officer's presence she declared to be a pure invention
on his part to secure her conviction. She told her extremely illogical
story with a certain winsome naivete which carried an air of
semi-probability with it. From her deportment on the stand one would
have taken her for a boarding school miss who in some inconsequent
fashion had got mixed up in a frolic for which no really logical
explanation could be given.
Then the door in the back of the court room opened and James Parker was
led to the bar, where in the presence of the jury he pleaded guilty to
the forgery of the very signature for which his wife was standing trial.
(Kauser check, Fig. 6.) He was then sworn as a witness, took the stand
and testified that _he_ had written all the forged signatures to the
checks, including the signatures upon "the Peabody sheet."
The District Attorney found himself in an embarrassing position. If
Parker was the forger, why not challenge him to write the forged
signatures upon the witness stand and thus to prove his alleged capacity
for so doing? The obvious objection to this was that Parker, in
anticipation of this test, had probably been practicing the signature in
the Tombs for months. On the other hand if the District Attorney did not
challenge him to write the signatures, the defense would argue that he
was afraid to do so, and that as Parker had sworn himself to be the
forger it was not incumbent upon the defense to prove it further--that
that was a matter for cross examination.
With considerable hesitation the prosecuting attorney asked Parker to
write the Kauser signature, which was the one set forth in the
indictment charging the forgery, and after much backing and filling on
the part of the witness, who ingeniously complained that he was in a bad
nervous condition owing to lack of morphine, in consequence of which his
hand trembled and he was in no condition to write forgeries, the latter
took his pen and managed to make a very fair copy of the Kauser
signature from memory, good enough in fact to warrant a jury in forming
the conclusion that he was in fact the forger. (Fig. 7.) This closed the
The defense claimed that it was clear that James Parker was the forger,
since he had admitted it in open court, pleaded guilty to the indictment
and proved that he had the capacity. The prosecution, upon the other
hand, argued that the evidence was conclusive that the defendant herself
was the writer of the check. The whole thing boiled down to whether or
not the jury was going to believe that Mrs. Parker had written "the
Peabody sheet" in the presence of the detective, when her husband
claimed that, with the exception of Mabel's signature, he had done it
himself and carelessly left the paper in his desk in the room.
[Illustration: FIG. 7.--Parker's copy of the signature of Alice Kauser,
made in court in an attempt to shield his wife.]
The prosecuting attorney was at his wits' end for an argument to meet
the fact that Parker had written a sample forgery of the Kauser
signature before the very eyes of the jury. He found it at last in an
offer on his own part in open court during his "summing up" to write for
the jury from memory a better forgery of the Kauser signature than that
written by Parker himself, and thus to show how simple a matter it was
to learn to do so. He had taken up his pen and was about to give a
sample of his handiwork in this respect when the defendant grasped her
counsel's arm and whispered: "For God's sake, don't let him do it!"
whereupon the lawyer arose and objected, saying that such evidence was
improper, as the case was closed. As might have been expected under the
circumstances, considering the blunders of the prosecution and the
ingenuous appearance of the defendant, the trial ended in a
disagreement, the jury standing eight to four for acquittal.
The District Attorney's office now took up a thorough investigation of
the case, with the result that on a second prosecution Mrs. Parker was
confronted with a mass of evidence which it was impossible for her to
refute. A boy named Wallace Sweeney, sentenced to the Elmira
Reformatory, was found to have been an active accomplice of the Parkers
for several years, and he was accordingly brought down to New York,
where he gave a complete history of his relations with them. His story
proved beyond any doubt that Mrs. Parker was the forger of the checks in
the possession of the District Attorney, and of many others beside, some
of them for very large amounts. The evidence of Sweeney was of itself
quite sufficient to warrant a conviction. To make assurance doubly sure,
however, the District Attorney upon the second trial moved a new
indictment, setting forth as the forgery a check signed "E. Bierstadt,"
so that when Parker took the stand, as he had done in the former trial
and testified that he was the forger, he found himself unable to write
this new signature, and hence his testimony went for nothing.
But even the testimony of Sweeney was that of an accomplice, requiring
corroboration, while that of Peabody remained the evidence of "a mere
policeman," eager to convict the defendant and "add another scalp to his
official belt." With an extraordinary accumulation of evidence the case
hinged on the veracity of these two men, to which was opposed the denial
of the defendant and her husband. It is an interesting fact that in the
final analysis of the case the jury were compelled to determine the
issue by evidence entirely documentary in character. It is also an
illustration of what tiny facts stamp whole masses of testimony as true
On her examination Mrs. Parker had sworn among other things: (1) That
she had no knowledge of the envelope, the back of which had been used by
Parker for the purpose of directing Rogers, Peet & Co. to deliver the
clothes and money to his messenger--and, of course, that the words "Mr.
Geo. B. Lang" were not in her handwriting. This was one of the envelopes
claimed by the prosecution to have been originally addressed in pencil
and sent to themselves by the Parkers through the mail for this precise
purpose. (2) That she had never seen the "Kauser practice sheets," and
that the words "Alice Kauser," repeated hundreds of times thereon, were
not in her handwriting. For some reason unknown to the District
Attorney, however, she admitted having written the words "I am upstairs
in the bath-room" upon a similar sheet, but claimed that at the time
this was done the reverse of the paper was entirely blank.
Microscopic examination showed that among the words "Alice" and "Kauser"
on the practice sheets some one had written a capital "M." One of the
legs of the "M" crossed and was superimposed upon a letter in the word
"Alice." Hence, whoever wrote the "M" knew what was on the practice
sheet. An enlargement of this "M" and a comparison of it with the "M" in
the defendant's signature to her formal examination in the police court,
with the "M" in "_Mr._" in the address on the envelope and with that in
the "Mrs." on the "Peabody sheet," rendered it obvious that they were
all written by one and the same hand. Therefore it was clear that the
defendant was familiar with the contents of the practice sheets (Fig.
8.), even if she had not written them herself and had not told the truth
in this regard.
Moreover, it was fairly easy to see that the same hand that had written
the words "I am upstairs in the bath-room" upon the second practice
sheet had at the same time and with the same pen written the rest of the
sheet. This was clearly perceptible on examining the "e's" and "a's."
A comparison of the address "Mr. Geo. B. Lang" (on Fig. 1) with the name
Mrs. James D. Singley (on Fig. 4) also shows clearly that one and the
same person wrote them both. And to the accuracy of all these
self-evident propositions a leading handwriting expert in New York added
his unqualified opinion.
Thus, but for a little carelessness in failing to destroy odd scraps of
paper and to disguise her penmanship which it seemed to her quite
unnecessary to do, as in the address of the "Lang" envelope, Mrs. Parker
might well have gone free after all.
It is impossible to describe all the varied dramatic features of this
interesting case. No one who was present is likely to forget the
impression made by the defendant at her second trial, when in defiance
of overwhelming proof she still struggled to vindicate herself.
Her counsel contended throughout the trial that she was a hitherto
innocent young woman led astray and started upon a criminal career by a
rascally husband, whom she still loved devotedly and for whose sake
she had prepared to confess herself a criminal. That James Parker
introduced his wife to a life of crime there can be no doubt, but that
she had a natural predilection for it must be equally obvious. It is
probably true that Mabel Parker's affection for her convict husband was
unfeigned and deep. The natural repugnance of the American jury for
convicting a woman was shown when in spite of the overwhelming proof
upon the Parker woman's second trial the jury remained out eight hours
and then found her guilty of "uttering only," with a strong
recommendation for mercy. She was sentenced to the Bedford Reformatory.
[Illustration: Fig. 8--One of the loose sheets upon which Mabel Parker
illustrated her methods and her skill as a penman to the supposed
Five Hundred Million Dollars
This story, which ends in New York, begins in the Department of the
Gironde at the town of Monsegur, seventy-five kilometers from Bordeaux,
in the little vineyard of Monsieur Emile Lapierre--"landowner." In 1901
Lapierre was a happy and contented man, making a good living out of his
modest farm. To-day he is--well, if you understand the language of the
Gironde, he will tell you with a shrug of his broad shoulders that he
might have been a Monte Cristo had not _le bon Dieu_ willed it
otherwise. For did he not almost have five hundred million dollars--two
and a half _milliards_ of francs--in his very hands? _Hein_? But he did!
Does M'sieu' have doubts? Nevertheless it is all true. _C'est trop
vrai_! Is M'sieu' tired? And would he care to hear the story? There is a
comfortable chair _sous le grand arbre_ in front of the veranda, and
Madame will give M'sieu' a glass of wine from the presses, across the
road. Yes, it _is_ good wine, but there is little profit in it, when one
thinks in _milliards_.
The landowner lights his pipe and seats himself cross-legged against the
trunk of the big chestnut. Back of the house the vineyard slopes away
toward the distant woods in straight, green, trellised alleys. A dim
haze hangs over the landscape sleeping so quietly in the midsummer
afternoon. Down the road comes heavily, creaking and swaying, a wain
loaded with a huge tower of empty casks and drawn by two oxen, their
heads swinging to the dust. Yes, it is hard to _comprendre_ twenty-five
hundred million francs.
It was this way. Madame Lapierre was a Tessier of Bordeaux--an ancient
_bourgeois_ family, and very proud indeed of being _bourgeois_. You can
see her passing and repassing the window if you watch carefully the
kitchen, where she is superintending dinner. The Tessiers have always
lived in Bordeaux and they are connected by marriage with
everybody--from the blacksmith up to the Mayor's notary. Once a Tessier
was Mayor himself. Years and years ago Madame's great-uncle Jean had
emigrated to America, and from time to time vague rumors of the wealth
he had achieved in the new country reached the ears of his
relatives--but no direct word ever came.
Then one hot day--like this--appeared M. le General. He came walking
down the road in the dust from the _gare_, in his tall silk hat and
frock coat and gold-headed cane, and stopped before the house to ask if
one of the descendants of a certain Jean Tessier did not live
hereabouts. He was fat and red-faced, and he perspired, but--_Dieu_!--he
was _distingue_, and he had an order in his buttonhole. Madame Lapierre,
who came out to answer his question, knew at once that he was an
Ah! was she herself the grandniece of Jean Tessier? Then, Heaven be
thanked! the General's toilsome journey was ended. He had much to tell
them--when he should be rested. He removed the silk hat and mopped his
shining forehead. He must introduce himself that he might have credit
with Madame, else she might hardly listen to his story, for there had
never been a tale like it before since the world was. Let him present
himself--M. le General Pedro Suarez de Moreno, Count de Tinoco and
Marquis de la d'Essa. Although one was fatigued it refreshed one to be
the bearer of good news, and such was his mission. Let Madame prepare
herself to hear. Yes, it would be proper for her to call M'sieu', her
husband, that he might participate.
Over a draft of this same vintage M. le General imparted to them the
secret. Lapierre laughs and shrugs his shoulders as he recalls the
scene--the apoplectic General, with the glass of wine in one hand,
waving the other grandiloquently as he described the wealth about to
descend upon them.
Yes, the General must begin at the beginning, for it was a long story.
First, as to himself and how he came to know of the affair. It had been
on his return from the Philippines after the surrender of Manila, where
he had been in command of the armies of Spain, that he had paused for
repose in New York and had first learned of the Tessier inheritance. The
precise manner of his discovery was left somewhat indefinite, but the
Lapierres were not particular. So many distinguished persons had played
a part in the drama that the recital left but a vague impression as to
individuals. A certain Madame Luchia, widow of one Roquefailaire, whom
he had accidentally met, had apparently been the instrument of
Providence in disclosing the history of Jean Tessier to the General. She
herself had been wronged by the villains and knew all the secrets of the
conspirators. But she had waited for a suitable opportunity to speak.
Jean Tessier had died possessed of properties which to-day, seventy
years after, were worth in the neighborhood of five hundred million
dollars! The General paused for the effect, solemnly nodding his head
at his astounded auditors in affirmance. Yes, it was even so!
Five hundred million dollars! No more--and no less! Then he once more
took up the thread of his narrative.
Tessier's lands, originally farms, were to-day occupied by huge
_magasins_, government buildings, palaces and hotels. He had been a
frugal, hardworking, far-seeing man of affairs whose money had doubled
itself year by year. Then had appeared one Emmeric Lespinasse, a
Frenchman, also from Bordeaux, who had plotted to rob him of his estate,
and the better to accomplish his purpose had entered the millionaire's
employ. When Tessier died, in 1884, Lespinasse had seized his papers and
the property, destroyed his will, dispersed the clerks, secretaries,
"notaries" and accountants of the deceased, and quietly got rid of such
persons as stood actively in his way. The great wealth thus acquired had
enabled him to defy those who knew that he was not entitled to the
fortune, and that the real heirs were in far-away France.
He had prospered like the bay tree. His daughter, Marie Louise, had
married a distinguished English nobleman, and his sons were now the
richest men in America. Yet they lived with the sword of Damocles over
their heads, suspended by a single thread, and the General had the knife
wherewith to cut it. Lespinasse, among other things, had caused the
murder of the husband of Madame Luchia, and she was in possession of
conclusive proofs which, at the proper moment, could be produced to
convict him of his many crimes, or at least to oust his sons and
daughter from the stolen inheritance.
It was a weird, bizarre nightmare, no more astonishing than the novels
the Lapierres had read. America, they understood, was a land where the
rivers were full of gold--a country of bronzed and handsome savages, of
birds of paradise and ruined Aztec temples, of vast tobacco fields and
plantations of thousands of acres of cotton cultivated by naked slaves,
while one lay in a hammock fanned by a "_petite negre_" and languidly
sipped _eau sucree_. The General had made it all seem very, very real.
At the weak spots he had gesticulated convincingly and digressed upon
his health. Then, while the narrative was fresh and he might have had to
answer questions about it had he given his listeners opportunity to ask
them, he had hastily told of a visit to Tunis. There he had by chance
encountered Marie Louise, the daughter of Lespinasse, living with her
noble husband in a "handsome Oriental palace," had been invited to dine
with them and had afterward seized the occasion while "walking in the
garden" with the lady to disclose the fact that he knew all, and had it
in his power to ruin them as impostors. Marie Louise had been
frightfully angry, but afterward her better nature had suggested the
return of the inheritance, or at least a hundred millions or so, to the
rightful heirs. The General had left the palace believing all would be
well, and had retired to Paris to await letters and further
developments, but these had never come, and he had discovered that he
had been deceived. It had been merely a ruse on the part of the woman
and her husband to gain time, and now every step that he took was dogged
by spies in the pay of the Lespinasses, who followed him everywhere. But
the right would triumph! He had sworn to run the conspiracy to earth!
Many hours were consumed in the telling of the story. The Lapierres were
enchanted. More than that, they were convinced--persuaded that they were
heirs to the richest inheritance in the world, which comprised most of
the great American city of New York.
Persons who were going to participate in twenty-five hundred millions of
francs could afford to be hospitable. M. le General stayed to dinner. A
list of the heirs living in or near Bordeaux was made out with the share
of each in the inheritance carefully computed. Madame Lapierre's was
only fifty million dollars--but still that was almost enough to buy up
Bordeaux. And they could purchase Monsegur as a country place. The
General spoke of a stable of automobiles by means of which the journey
from Bordeaux to the farm could be accomplished in the space of an hour.
That night the good man and his wife scarcely closed their eyes, and the
next day, accompanied by the General, they visited Bordeaux and the
neighboring towns and broke the news gently to the other heirs. There
was M. Pettit, the veterinary at Mormand; Tessier, the blacksmith in
Bordeaux; M. Pelegue and his wife, M. Rozier, M. Cazenava and his son,
and others. One branch of the family lived in Brazil--the Joubin Freres
and one Tessier of "Saint Bezeille." These last had to be reached by
post, a most annoyingly slow means of communication--_mais que
Those were busy days in and around Bordeaux, and the General was the
centre of attraction. What a splendid figure he cut in his tall silk hat
and gold-headed cane! But they were all very careful to let no inkling
of their good fortune leak out, for it might spoil everything--give some
opportunity to the spies of the impostor Lespinasse to fabricate new
chains of title or to prepare for a defense of the fortune. The little
blacksmith, being addicted to white wine, was the only one who did not
keep his head. But even he managed to hold his mouth sufficiently shut.
A family council was held; M. le General was given full power of
attorney to act for all the heirs; and each having contributed an
insignificant sum toward his necessary expenses, they waved him a
tremulous good-by as he stood on the upper deck of the steamer, his silk
hat in one hand and his gold-headed cane in the other.
"He will get it, if any one can!" cried the blacksmith enthusiastically.
"It is as good as ours already!" echoed Rozier.
"My friends," Madame Lapierre assured them, "a General of the armies of
Spain and a Chevalier of the Order of Jiminez would die rather than fail
in his mission. Besides," she added, her French blood asserting itself,
"he is to get nineteen per cent. of the inheritance!"
As long as the steamer remained in sight the General waved
encouragingly, his hat raised toward Heaven.
"_Mais_," says Lapierre, with another shrug as he lights his pipe, "even
you would have believed him. _Vraiment_! He would have deceived the
Up the road the wain comes creaking back again. A crow flaps across the
vineyard, laughing scornfully at good M. Lapierre, and you yourself
wonder if such a thing could have been possible.
On a rainy afternoon in March, 1905, there entered the writer's office
in the Criminal Courts Building, New York City, a ruddy, stoutly-built
man, dressed in homespun garments, accompanied by an attractive and
vivacious little woman, who, while unable to speak a single word of
English, had no difficulty in making it obvious that she had a story to
tell of the most vital importance. An interpreter was soon found and the
names of the visitors disclosed. The lady, who did the talking for both
of them, introduced herself as Madame Valoie Reddon, of Bordeaux, and
her companion as M. Emile Lapierre, landowner, of Monsegur, They had
come, she explained, from France to take possession of the inheritance
Tessier. She was a personal friend of Madame Lapierre, and as the
Tessiers had exhausted all their money in paying the expenses connected
with securing the fortune, she, being a well-to-do gentlewoman, had come
to their assistance, and for the last few months had been financing the
enterprise on a fifteen per cent. basis. If Madame Lapierre was to
receive ten million dollars, then, to be sure, Madame Reddon would have
one million five hundred thouand dollars; but, of course, it was not for
the money, but on account of friendship, that she was aiding them. I
would understand that three years had elapsed since a certain
distinguished General Pedro Suarez de Moreno had disclosed to the
Lapierres the fact that Madame was the heiress to the greatest estate in
America. M. Lapierre solemnly nodded confirmation as the lady proceeded.
It was the one subject talked about in the Gironde and Bordeaux--that
is, among those who had been fortunate enough to learn anything about
it. And for three years the Tessiers, their wives, their sons' wives,
and their connections, had been waiting to receive the glad tidings that
the conspirators had been put to rout and the rightful heirs reinstated.
It was some time before the good lady succeeded in convincing her
auditor that such a ridiculous fraud as she described had actually been
perpetrated. But there was M. Lapierre and there was Madame Valerie
Reddon sitting in the office as living witnesses to the fact. What
wonderful person could this General Moreno be, who could hypnotize a
hard-headed, thrifty farmer from the Gironde and a clever little French
woman from Bordeaux into believing that five hundred million dollars was
waiting for them on the other side of the Atlantic! I expressed my
surprise. Madame Reddon shrugged her sloping shoulders. Well, perhaps it
was hard for M'sieu' to believe, but then there were the proofs, the
documents, the _dossier_, and, most of all, there was the General
himself. Oh' if M'sieu' could see the General in his tall silk hat and
I asked for the documents. Madame Reddon opened her bag and produced a
package of nearly one hundred letters, written in a fine Spanish hand.
Oh! he had been a wonderful writer, this gorgeous Count de Tinoco and
Marquis de la d'Essa. She had met him herself when he had been in
Bordeaux. Madame Lapierre had introduced him to her, and she had heard
him talk. How beautifully he talked! The stories of his experiences as
General of the armies of Spain under Don Carlos and as Brigadier-General
in the Philippines were as fascinating as a romance. But it was his
letters which had really led her to take a personal interest in the
undertaking. With a sigh Madame Valoie untied the little blue ribbon
which bound up the pitiful little history. If M'sieu' would be good
enough to grant the time she would begin at the beginning. Here was his
first letter written after the General's return to America:
_June 25, '02._
My dear M. Lapierre:
We have had a terrible voyage. A horrible storm broke loose in
mid-ocean, endangering all our lives.... The waves, like mountains,
threatened every instant to swallow us all; the spectacle was
terrifying. I fell from the top of the stairs 'way down into the
hole (_sic_), hurting my right leg in the centre of the tibia bone.
The ship's doctor, who is nothing but a stupid fool, left me
helpless almost the entire day.... If ever I should have dreamt what
would occur to me in this trip, not for all the gold in the world
would I have embarked. But, now that I am here, I shall not retreat
before any obstacle, in order to arrive at the fulfillment of my
enterprise, and no matter at what cost, even at that of my life. It
is necessary that I succeed--my pride demands it. Those who are in
the right shall triumph, that is sure.... In the mean time, will you
kindly give my regards to Madame and your son, and all of your
relatives, not forgetting your good old servant. Squeezing your hand
cordially, I bid you adieu.
Pedro S. de Moreno.
"Can you not see the waves, and observe him falling down the hole?" asks
"Mais, voici une autre."
_July 11, 1902._
M. Jean Lapierre.
_My dear M. Lapierre_: As soon as I could walk a little I began my
research for the impostors of the inheritance Tessier. Without a
doubt some person who is interested in the case has already advised
them of my arrival in New York, and to take the necessary
precautions to lead me astray in my researches.
Already I have discovered almost everything. I know even the house
in which resided the deceased before his death. It is a house of
twenty-five stories high, which resembles the Church of Saint
Magdalene in Paris. To-day it is the biggest bank in New York. I
have visited it from top to bottom, ascending and descending in
steel elevators. This is a marvelous palace; it is worth more than
five million dollars. The house itself has the numbers 100, 102,
104, 106, 108, 110, 112, 114, 116 and 118. In other words, it covers
the ground of ten other houses made into one.
I have also visited six houses belonging to him, which are worth
millions and are located around Central Park....
As soon as the brothers Lespinasse knew that I had arrived in New
York they immediately took their departure, one for Paris to find
his father, Emmeric Lespinasse, the other to the city of Tuxpan, in
Mexico, to visit the properties stolen from the heirs. I have come
to an understanding with the Reverend Father Van Rensselaer, Father
Superior of the Jesuits, and have offered him two millions for his
poor, in recompense for his aid to recover and to enter into
possession of the inheritance. He takes great pains, and is my
veritable guide and confidant....
I have visited Central Park, also a property of the deceased; this
property alone is worth more than twenty million dollars.... I have
great confidence in my success, and I am almost sure to reach the
goal, if you are the heirs, for here there is a mix-up by all the
The wound of my leg has much improved, the consequences which I
feared have disappeared, and I expect soon my complete
convalescence, but the devil has bestowed upon me a toothache, which
makes me almost crazy with pain. I shall leave, nevertheless, to
begin my campaign.
Will you be kind enough to give my regards to your wife and son, and
to our old friend, etc., etc.
PEDRO S. DE MORENO.
"May the devil bestow upon him five hundred million toothaches!"
exclaims Lapierre, for the first time showing any sign of animation.
The other letters were read in their order, interspersed with Madame
Reddon's explanations of their effect upon the heirs in France. His
description of the elevators of steel and of the house that covered an
entire block had caused a veritable sensation. Alas! those wonders are
still wonders to them, and they still, I fancy, more than half believe
in them. The letters are lying before me now, astonishing emanations,
totally ridiculous to a prosaic American, but calculated to convince and
stimulate the imagination of a _petit bourgeois_.
The General in glowing terms paints his efforts to run down the
Lespinasse conspirators. Although suffering horribly from his fractured
tibia (when he fell into the "hole"), and from other dire ills, he has
"not taken the slightest rest." He has been everywhere--"New Orleans,
Florida, to the city of Coney Island"--to corner the villains, who "flee
in all directions." The daughter, Marie Louise, through whom the General
expects to secure a compromise, has left for New Orleans. "Wonderful
coincidence," he writes, "they were all living quietly and I believe had
no intention whatever to travel, and two days after my arrival in New
York they all disappeared. The most suspicious of it all is that the
banker, his wife and children had left for Coney Island for the summer
and to spend their holidays, and certainly they disappeared without
saying good-by to their intimate friends.... I have the whole history of
Tessier's life and how he made his fortune. There is a family for the
use of whom we must give at least a million, for the fortune of Tessier
was not his alone. He had a companion who shared his troubles and his
work. According to the will they were to inherit one from the other; the
companion died, and Tessier inherited everything. I do not see the
necessity of your trip to New York; that might make noise and perhaps
delay my negotiations." Then follows the list of properties embraced in
PROPERTY AND PERSONAL ESTATE OF THE HEIRS
1 The land of Central Park ceded to the
city of New York, of the value of $5,000,000.00
2 He had at the National Bank--United
States Bank--deposited in gold--twenty
to thirty million dollars. He
never withdrew anything; on the
contrary, he always deposited his income
3 The big house on Broadway, Nos. 100
to 118, of twenty-five stories, to-day
the largest bank in New York 5,000,000.00
4 The house on Fifth Avenue, No. 765,
facing Central Park, to-day one of
the first hotels of New York--Hotel
5 House on Fifth Avenue, No. 767, facing
Central Park, to-day the biggest
and most handsomest of American
hotels, where the greatest people and
millionaires stop--Hotel Netherland 20,000,000.00
6 Two coal mines at Folkustung in Texas 9,000,000.00
7 A petroleum mine in Pennsylvania
(Mexican frontier) 6,000,000.00
8 Shares of silver mine at Tuxpan,
9 The house at Tuxpan and its grounds,
10 The pleasure home and grounds in
Florida (New Orleans) in the city of
Coney Island 500,000.00
11 The house which covers all the Esquare
Plaza (no number because it is all
alone). It is an immense palace,
with a park and gardens, and waters
forming cascades and labyrinths,
facing Central Park 12,000,000.00
12 The block of houses on Fifth and Sixth
Avenues, facing on this same Central
Park, which, as all these grounds belong
to him, he had put up. They
are a hundred houses, that is called
here a block 30,000,000.00
13 He is the owner of two railroads and
owns shares of others in Pennsylvania
and Canada 40,000,000.00
14 A line of steam and sail boats--Atlantic.
The Pennsylvania and the Tessier
and other names 100,000,000.00
15 A dock and a quay of eight hundred
meters on the Brooklyn River for
his ships 130,000,000.00
16 Several values and debts owed him and
which at his death had not been collected $40,000.00
Which is in francs 1,952,775,000
Plus 5 per cent 976,388
Total in francs 1,953,751,388
"Do you blame us?" asks Madame Valoie, as I listen as politely as
possible to this Arabian Nights' dream of riches.
The letters continue: The General is surrounded by enemies, of which the
worst are French, and he is forced continually to change his residence
in order to escape their machinations. But all this takes money. How can
he go to Tuxpan or to the city of Coney Island? "You cannot know nor
imagine the expense which I have had to discover that which I have
discovered. I cannot live here like a miser, for the part I represent
demands much of me. Every moment I change my residence, and that costs
money." He adds a little touch of detail. "I must always be dressed
properly, and laundry is very dear here--a shirt costs twenty-five cents
to wash, and there are other necessary expenses.... You have forgotten
to tell me if you have received the album of views of New York in which
I have indicated the properties of the deceased, I squeeze your hand."
"Yes, and our purses too," adds Madame Valoie. "Would M'sieu' care to
see the album of the Tessier properties? Yes? M'sieu' Lapierre, kindly
show the gentleman."
Lapierre unbuttons his homespun coat and produces a cheap paper-covered
blank book in which are pasted small photographs and woodcuts of various
well-known New York buildings. It is hard not to smile.
"M'sieu' will see," continues Madame Valoie, "that the dream had
something substantial about it. When we saw these pictures in Bordeaux
we were on the point of giving up in despair, but the pictures convinced
us that it was all true. Moreover, just at that time the General
intimated that unless he had more money he might yield to the efforts of
the Lespinasse family to buy him off."
Madame Valoie points vindictively to a certain paragraph in one of the
letters: "Of course they are convinced that I am not for sale, not for
anything.... To my regret, my very great regret, I shall be forced to
capitulate if you do not come to my aid and that quickly, for I repeat
to you that my funds are all gone."
"And here is his bill," continues Madame Valoie, producing a folded
document composed of countless sheets of very thin paper, bound
together at the edges by strips of heavier material. This, when
unfolded, stretches entirely across the room and is seen to be composed
of hundreds of typewritten items, of which the following may serve as
EXPENSES IN NEW YORK
July 12, Train to New Orleans .......... $25.50
" 16, Train to Florida ........... $ 2.50
" " Dinner on train ........... $ 2.00
" 17, Hotel in Florida ........... $ 2.00
" 18, Trip to Coney Island ........... $ .50
" 19, Return to Florida ........... $ .50
" 21, Return from Florida to New Orleans $ 2.50
" " Laundry ........... $ 1.15
Dec. 3, Return to New York ........... $ 6.50
" 24, Train to Vera Cruz ........... $57.50
Jan. 4, Trip to Tuxpan ........... $ 2.50
" 5, Return to Vera Cruz ........... $ 2.50
" 6, Sudden night trip to Halifax,
Nova Scotia, via Buffalo and
Niagara Falls ........... $50.50
" 18, Laundry for three months ......... $ 5.00
To Agent Pushyt John, a meerschaum and amber
cigar-holder and pipe ........... $ 7.00
Tobacco jar of shell and silver ........... $ 4.00
To Indian Peter South-Go, a watch, a suit,
and a pair of shoes ........... $16.50
To my general agent of confidential reports
for his daughter, a gold ring and a
feather fan ........... $ 7.00
A necktie for himself and scarf pin in
gold and with stone for the necktie ... $ 8.60
To the letter-carrier to bring me my
correspondence and not give it to any
one else when I should change address . $ 4.00
Invitation to the Consul and his two
agents in Washington hotel ........... $12.00
Several invitations to cafes and saloons
to the Police Agents ........... $ 2.00
Invitations to old employees of Jean
Tessier, to tear from them the
declarations ........... $ 1.50
Barber expenses ........... $11.50
Tobacco and matches, July to December,
three packages each week, ten cents
each ........... $ 7.80
Changing hotels to lead astray the agents
of the impostors ........... $ 9.50
"To obtain a collossal fortune as yours will be, it is necessary to
spend money unstintingly and to have lots of patience. Court proceedings
will be useless, as trickery and lies are necessary to get the best of
the scoundrels. It is necessary also to be a scoundrel."
"That he might well say," interpolates Lapierre. "He succeed, _c'est
I rapidly glanced over the remaining letters. The General seems always
to be upon the verge of compelling a compromise. "I have already
prepared my net and the meshes are tightly drawn so that the fish will
not be able to escape.... For an office like this one needs money--money
to go quickly from one place to another, prosecute the usurpers, not
allow them an instant's rest. If they go to some city run after them at
once, tire them with my presence and constantly harass them, and by this
means compel them to hasten a compromise--"
The General is meeting with superhuman obstacles. In addition to his
enemies he suffers all sorts of terrible bodily afflictions. Whenever
the remittances from the Lapierres do not arrive the difficulties and
At last, however, after an interval of two years, things took a turn for
the better. A "confidential representative" of the conspirators--one
"Mr. Benedict-Smith"--arrived to make a bona fide offer of one hundred
and fifty million dollars in settlement of the case. The General writes
at great length as to exactly in what proportion the money should be
divided among the heirs. The thing is so near a culmination that he is
greatly exercised over his shabby appearance.
I am without a son and too badly dressed to go before the banker in
the very likely case of his arrival here. Send me my baggage at once
with the first steamer, and mark each piece "fragile." This is all.
My regards to Madame Lapierre and your son. I am cordially yours,
squeezing your hand.
PEDRO S. DE MORENO.
But the Lapierres and Tessiers, while not for an instant distrusting the
honesty of the General, had become extremely weary of sending him
money. Each heir felt that he had contributed enough toward the
General's "expenses and invitations." Even the one hundred and fifty
millions within easy reach did not prompt immediate response.
About the same time an extraordinary messenger arrived at the Lapierre
farm, purporting to come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and
instructing Lapierre to repair immediately to Paris. The messenger
explained that the presence of Lapierre was desired at the Ministry in
connection with some investigation then in progress into the affairs of
one Jean Tessier. Then the messenger departed as mysteriously as he had
Good M. Lapierre was highly excited. Here was indubitable evidence of
the truth of the General's assertions. But, just as the latter had
intended, perhaps, the worthy farmer jumped to the conclusion that
probably the messenger from Paris had been sent by the conspirators.
"At the last moment," wrote Lapierre to Moreno, "I received from Paris a
letter commanding me to go to the Ministry, and at the same time a
telegram recommending that I leave at once. I shall write you from Paris
all that I learn to your interest. If this letter should not reach you
sealed in red wax, with small indentations made with a sewing thimble
and my initials, which I always sign, it is that our correspondence is
seized and read."
Events followed in rapid succession. Lapierre, the Tessiers, including
the little blacksmith, became almost hysterical with excitement. A
gentleman, by name "Mr. Francis Delas," called upon Lapierre and offered
him twenty-five million dollars spot cash for his wife's share in the
Tessier inheritance. This person also claimed that he had a power of
attorney from all the other heirs, with the exception of Pettit and
Rozier, and asserted that he was on the point of embarking for New York
in their interest. He urged Lapierre to substitute him for Moreno. But
Lapierre, now convinced that everything was as the General had claimed
it to be, indignantly rejected any such proposition aimed at his old
friend, and sent Mr. Francis Delas packing about his business.
"This is what my answer has been to him: 'Sir, we have already an
agent with whom we can only have cause to be satisfied, so that your
services are not acceptable or needed.' He left me most dissatisfied
The sending of this confederate on the part of the wily General had
precisely the effect hoped for. Lapierre and his friends were now
convinced that the inheritance Tessier was a reality, and that powerful
personages were not only exerting their influence to prevent the
rightful heirs from obtaining their property, but had also in some way
secured the cooperation of government officials. It was agreed, on all
hands, that the worthy landowner, accompanied by Madame Reddon, had
better proceed at once to the scene of operations and unite with the
General in their common purpose. Once on the ground Lapierre could
assume direction of his own campaign.
Lapierre and Madame Reddon accordingly sailed for America and arrived in
New York on the fourth of December, 1904, where they were met on the
dock by the General, who, freshly barbered, and with a rose in his
buttonhole, invited them, as soon as they had recovered from the fatigue
of landing, to make a personal inspection of their properties.
These heirs to hundreds of millions of dollars were conducted by the
"Marquis de la d'Essa and Count de Tinoco" to the Battery, where he
gallantly seated them in an electric surface car, and proceeded to show
them the inheritance. He pointed out successively Number 100 Broadway,
the "Flatiron" Building, the Fifth Avenue Hotel and the Holland House,
the Waldorf-Astoria, the Vanderbilt mansion at Fifty-seventh Street and
Fifth Avenue, the Hotel Savoy and the Hotel Netherland, incidentally
taking a cross-town trip to the ferry station at East Twenty-third
Street, and to Bellevue Hospital. A public omnibus conveyed them around
Central Park--also their own. And, in spite of the cold weather, the
General insisted on showing them the "Tessier mansion and estate at Fort
George"--visible from the Washington Bridge--"a beautiful property in
the centre of a wood." Returning, he took them to the Museum of Natural
History and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which contained
Having thus given them a bird's-eye view of the promised land, the
General escorted them to his apartments and allowed them to see the Ark
of the Covenant in the shape of a somewhat dilapidated leather trunk,
which contained a paper alleged to be the will of Jean Tessier, made in
Bellevue Hospital (one of his possessions), and unlawfully seized by the
Lespinasse family. It was only, Moreno alleged, through the powerful
influence of the Jesuits that he had been able to secure and keep a copy
of this will.
Although the Marquis de la d'Essa must have known that his days were
numbered, he was as gay and as entertaining as ever. Then, suddenly, the
scales began to fall from Madame Reddon's eyes. The promised meeting
with Marie Louise Lespinasse and her mysterious representative, "Mr.
Benedict-Smith," was constantly adjourned; the "police agents," whom it
had been so necessary to entertain and invite to saloons and cafes, were
strangely absent, and so were the counsellors, Jesuit Fathers, bankers,
and others who had crowded the General's antechambers. A slatternly
Hibernian woman appeared, claiming the hero as her husband; his landlady
caused him to be evicted from her premises; and his trunk containing the
famous "_dossier_" was thrown into the street, where it lay until the
General himself, placing it upon his princely shoulders, bore it to a
"And now, M'sieu'," said little Madame Reddon, raising her hands and
clasping them entreatingly before her, "we have come to seek vengeance
upon this _miserable_! This _villain m'sieu_! He has taken our money and
made fools of us. Surely you will give us justice!"
"Yes," echoed Lapierre stubbornly, "and the money was my own money,
which I had made from the products of my farming."
A month later Don Pedro Suarez de Moreno, Count de Tinoco, Marquis de la
d'Essa, and Brigadier-General of the Royal Armies of the Philippines and
of Spain, sat at the bar of the General Sessions, twirling his mustache
and uttering loud snorts of contempt while Lapierre and Madame Reddon
told their story to an almost incredulous yet sympathetic jury.
But the real trial began only when he arose to take the witness chair in
his own behalf. Apparently racked with pain, and laboring under the most
frightful physical infirmities, the General, through an interpreter,
introduced himself to the jury by all his titles, asserting that he had
inherited his patents of nobility from the "Prince of Arras," from whom
he was descended, and that he was in very truth "General-in-Chief of the
Armies of the King of Spain, General Secretary of War, and Custodian of
the Royal Seal." He admitted telling the Lapierres that they were the
heirs of five hundred million dollars, but he had himself honestly
believed it. When he and the rest of them had discovered their common
error they had turned upon him and were now hounding him out of revenge.
The courtly General was as _distingue_ as ever as he addressed the
hard-headed jury of tradesmen before him. As what _canaille_ he must
have regarded them! What a position for the "Count de Tinoco"!
Then two officers entered the courtroom bearing the famous trunk of the
General between them. The top tray proved to contain thousands of
railroad tickets. The prosecutor requested the defendant to explain
"Ah!" exclaimed Moreno, twirling his mustaches, "when I was General
under my King Don Carlos, in the Seven Years' War of '75 and also in
Catalonia in '80, I issued these tickets to wounded soldiers for their
return home. At the boundaries the Spanish tickets were exchanged for
French tickets." He looked as if he really meant it.
Then the prosecutor called his attention to the fact that most of them
bore the date of 1891 and were printed in French--not in Spanish. The
prisoner seemed greatly surprised and muttered under his breath vaguely
about "plots" and "conspiracies." Then he suddenly remembered that the
tickets were a "collection," made by his little son.
Beneath the tickets were found sheaves of blank orders of nobility and
blank commissions in the army of Spain, bearing what appeared to be the
royal seal. These the General asserted that he had the right to confer,
by proxy, for his "King Don Carlos." Hundreds of other documents bearing
various arms and crests lay interspersed among them. The prisoner drew
himself up magnificently.
"I was the General Secretary of War of my King," said he. "When I had to
give orders to the generals under me, of whom I was the chief, I had the
right to put thereon the royal imprint of Don Carlos. I was given all
the papers incident to the granting of orders and grades in the army,
and I had the seal of the King--the seal of the Royal King."
But, unfortunately for the prisoner, the seals upon the papers turned
out to be the legitimate arms of Spain and not those of Don Carlos, and
as a finale he ingenuously identified the seal of the Mayor of Madrid as
that of his "Royal King."
Next came a selection of letters of nobility, sealed and signed in the
name of Pope Leo the Thirteenth. These, he asserted, must have been
placed there by his enemies. "I am a soldier and a general of honor, and
I never did any such trafficking," he cried grandly, when charged with
selling bogus patents of nobility.
He explained some of his correspondence with the Lapierres and his
famous bill for twelve thousand dollars by saying that when he found out
that the inheritance Tessier did not exist he had conceived the idea of
making a novel of the story--a "fantastic history"--to be published "in
four languages simultaneously," and asserted solemnly that he had
intended printing the whole sixteen feet of bill as part of the romance.
Then, to the undisguised horror of the unfortunate General, at a summons
from the prosecutor an elderly French woman arose in the audience and
came to the bar. The General turned first pale, then purple. He hotly
denied that he had married this lady in France twenty-three years ago.
"Name of a name! He had known her! Yes--certainly! But she was no wife
of his--she had been only his servant. The other lady--the
Hibernian--was his only wife." But the chickens had begun to come home
to roost. The pointed mustaches drooped with an unmistakable look of
dejection, and as he marched back to his seat his shoulders no longer
had the air of military distinction that one would expect in a general
of a "Royal King." His head sank on his chest as his deserted wife took
the stand against him--the wife whom, he had imagined, he would never
Any one could have seen that Elizabeth de Moreno was a good woman. Her
father's name, she said, was Nichaud, and she had first met the prisoner
twenty-three years ago in the village of Dalk, in the Department of the
Tarne, where, in 1883, he had been convicted and sentenced for stealing
bed linen from the Hotel Kassam. She had remained faithful to him in
spite of his disgrace, and had visited him daily in prison, bringing him
milk and tobacco. On his liberation she had married him and they had
gone to live in Bordeaux. For years they had lived in comfort, and she
had borne him eight children. He had never been to any war and was
neither a general nor, so far as she had known, a friend of Don Carlos.
She had supposed that her husband held some position in connection with
the inspection of railroads, but, in 1902, it had come out that he was
in the business of selling counterfeit railroad tickets, and had
employed a printer named Paul Casignol to print great numbers of
third-class tickets for the purpose of selling them to ignorant soldiers
and artisans. Moreno had fled to America. She had then discovered that
he had also made a practice of checking worthless baggage, _stealing it
himself_ and then presenting claims therefor against the railroad
companies. She had been left without a sou, and the rascal had taken
everything she had away with him, including even the locket containing
the hair of her children. By the time she had finished her story
Moreno's courage had deserted him, the jury without hesitation returned
a verdict of guilty, and the judge then and there sentenced the prisoner
to a term at hard labor in State's prison.
* * * * *
"_Mais oui_," grunts Lapierre, as the crow, with a final caw of
contempt, alights in a poplar farther down the road, "I don't blame the
bird for laughing at me. But, after all, there is nothing to be ashamed
of. Is one to be blamed that one is fooled? _Hein_! We are all made
fools of once and again, and, as I said before, he would have deceived
the devil himself. But perhaps things are better as they are. Money is
the root of all evil. If I had an automobile I should probably be thrown
out and have my neck broken. But if M'sieu' intends to take the next
train for Bordeaux it is as well that he should be starting."
The Lost Stradivarius
In the year 1885 Jean Bott, a native of Hesse Cassel, Germany, emigrated
with his wife Matilda to this country, bringing with him a celebrated
violin known as "The Duke of Cambridge Stradivarius," which he had
purchased in 1873 for about three thousand thalers--a sum representing
practically the savings of a lifetime. Bott had been leader of a small
orchestra in Saxe Meiningen as early as 1860, and was well advanced in
years before he determined to seek his fortune in America. His wife was
an elderly woman and they had no offspring.
"This violin, my husband and myself made up the family--I loved it like
a child," she testified at the trial.
So also did Bott, the old musician, love his instrument, and no hand but
his own was ever permitted to lift it from its case or dust its
Whatever may have been its owner's genius, he prospered little in the
new world, and, although he labored conscientiously at his profession,
the year 1894 found him still giving lessons upon the violin to only
half a dozen pupils, and living in two rooms at 355 West Thirty-first
Street. But Bott, having the soul of a true musician, cared but little
for money and was happy enough so long as he could smoke his old
meerschaum pipe and draw the bow across the cherished violin held
lovingly to his cheek. Then hard times came a-knocking at the door. The
meagre account in the savings-bank grew smaller and smaller. The
landlord, the doctor and the grocer had to be paid. One night Bott laid
down his pipe and, taking his wife's wrinkled hand in his, said gently:
"Matilda, there is nothing else--we must sell our violin!"
"Even so!" she answered, turning away her face that her husband might
not see the tears. "As God wills."
The next day "The Duke of Cambridge Stradivarius" was offered for sale
by Victor S. Flechter, a friend of Bott's, who was a dealer in musical
instruments at 23 Union Square. It so happened that Nicolini, the
husband of Adelina Patti, was ambitious to own a genuine Stradivarius,
and had been looking for one for a long time, and, although he was but
an indifferent player, he had, in default of skill to perform, the money
to buy. The matter was easily adjusted by Flechter, and Nicolini drew
his check for the sum specified, which, properly certified, was tendered
to Bott. But Bott had never seen a certified check and was unaccustomed
to the ways of business.
"If I part with my violin I must have real money--money that I can
feel--money that I can count. It was that kind of money that I paid for
my violin," said he doggedly.
Nicolini, in a rage, believing himself insulted, tore the check to bits
and declared the transaction at an end.
Now the price agreed upon for the violin had been forty-five hundred
dollars, of which Flechter was to receive five hundred dollars as his
commission, and when, through old Professor Bott's stubbornness, the
sale fell through, the dealer was naturally very angry. Out of this
incident grew the case against Flechter.
The old musician was accustomed to leave his treasured instrument in the
lowest drawer of his bureau at the boarding-house. He always removed it
before his pupils arrived and never put it back until their departure,
thus insuring the secrecy of its hiding-place, and only his wife, his
sister-in-law, Mollenhauer, a friend, and Klopton, a prospective
purchaser, knew where it lay.
On the morning of March 31, 1894, not long after the Nicolini incident,
Bott gave a single lesson to a pupil at the boarding-house, and after
his midday meal set out with his wife for Hoboken to visit a friend. The
violin was left in its customary place. It was dark when they returned,
and after throwing off his coat and lighting the gas the old man
hastened to make sure that his precious violin was safe. When he pulled
out the drawer it was empty. The Stradivarius was gone, with its leather
case, its two bows and its wooden box.
Half distracted the musician and his wife searched everywhere in the
room, in closets, under beds, even behind the curtains, before they
could bring themselves to admit that the violin had in fact disappeared.
Frantically Bott called for Ellen, the servant girl. Yes, there had been
a caller--a young man with dark hair and a small, dark mustache--at
about five o'clock. He had waited about half an hour and then had said
that he guessed he would go. She had not noticed that he took anything
away with him. In his despair the old man turned to his old friend
Flechter, and the next day the dealer came to express his sympathy. He
urged Bott to notify the police of the theft, but the old man was
prostrated with grief, and it was the wife who, with Ellen Clancy,
finally accompanied Flechter to Police Headquarters. The police had no
idea who had taken the old fellow's fiddle, and did not particularly
care anyway. Later they cared a good deal.
Bott now began an endless and almost hopeless search for his beloved
instrument, visiting every place where violins were sold, every pawnshop
and second-hand store again and again until the proprietors began to
think the old man must be crazy. Sometimes Flechter went with him. Once,
the two travelled all the way over to New Jersey, but the scent proved
to be a false one. Bott grew thinner and older week by week, almost day
by day. When the professor did not feel equal to going outdoors Mrs.
Bott went for him, and on these occasions often called at Flechter's
store to report progress, ask his advice and secure his encouragement.
One day during one of these visits in the July following the loss of the
violin Flechter handed Mrs. Bott a sheet of paper, saying:
"I have written something down here. If you have that printed and put a
reward to it you will get your violin back."
The wording, partly printed and partly written in script, ran as
VIOLIN LOST. $500 REWARD.
No questions asked for return of instrument taken from residence of
Jean Bott March 31, 1894, 355 W. 31st St. Absolute safety and
secrecy guaranteed. Victor S. Flechter, No. 21 Union Square, violin
maker and dealer.
Mrs. Bott thanked him and took the notice away with her, but its
publication had no result. The old professor began to fail, he no longer
had an instrument upon which to teach his pupils, and those he could
avail himself of seemed harsh and discordant. He had no appetite, and
even found no solace in his pipe. Almost penniless they were forced to
give up their lodgings and move to Hoboken. Mrs. Bott still kept up the
search, but the professor could no longer tramp the streets looking for
his violin. He sat silent in his room, slowly, surely, dying of a broken
In course of time some one advised Mrs. Bott to lay her case before the
District Attorney, and accordingly, during the summer, she visited the
Criminal Courts Building and told her story to Colonel Allen, one of the
assistants, who became greatly interested. The overwrought old woman had
begun to suspect everybody, and even to accuse her husband's friend,
Flechter, of a lack of any real interest. She thought he ought to be
able to find the violin if he really made the effort. Allen began to
take notice. The sleuth in him pricked up its ears. Why, sure,
certainly, Flechter was the one man who knew what Bott's violin was
really worth--the one man who could sell it to advantage--and he had
been done out of five hundred dollars by the old musician's stupidity.
Allen thought he'd take a look into the thing. Now, there lived in the
same boarding-house with Allen a friend of his named Harry P. Durden,
and to Durden Allen recounted the story of the lost violin and voiced
his suspicions of Flechter. Durden entered enthusiastically into the
case, volunteering to play the part of an amateur detective. Accordingly
Durden, accompanied by a Central Office man named Baird, visited
Flechter's place of business and the two represented themselves as
connoisseurs in violins and anxious to procure a genuine Strad. for a
certain Mr. Wright in St. Paul. Flechter expressed entire confidence in
his ability to procure one, and did almost succeed in purchasing for
them the so-called "Jupiter Strad."
All this took time, and at last, on April 28th, 1895, poor old Bott died
in his boarding-house in Hoboken. After the funeral the widow settled up
her affairs, changing her boarding place temporarily, and, having no
ties in this country, determined to return to end her days in the
Fatherland. On May 21st she wrote to Flechter, who had lost all track of
her, that her husband had died, that she had moved to 306 River Street,
Hoboken, and that she thought seriously of going back to Germany. Two
days later Flechter wrote the following letter to the Central Office
man, who had given his name as Southan, an employe of the alleged Mr.
MR. SOUTHAN, care of H. P. Durden.
_Dear Sir_: Write to inform you that I have a genuine Strad. to
offer you and would like to see you at your earliest convenience.
Very respectfully yours,
VICTOR S. FLECHTER.
When Allen saw this letter it seemed to him absolutely to confirm his
suspicions. Now that the only person in the world who had been
authoritatively able to identify the "Duke of Cambridge" Stradivarius
was dead, Flechter was offering one for sale.
Then occurred the strangest thing of all. On May 28th, five days after
Flechter's letter to Southan, Mrs. Bott received the following
extraordinary epistle. Like the notice given her by Flechter in his
office, it was partly written in printed capitals and partly in script.
_May 28, 1895._
To MRS. BOTT, 306 River Street, Hoboken, N. J.
_Dear Madam_: I wish to inform you that the violin taken from your
house some time ago will be returned if you are willing to abide by
agreements that will be made between you and I later on. It was my
intention first to dispose of it, but on account of its great value
and the danger it would place me in by offering for sale being a
violin maker and dealer and not being able to sell with safety for
such a large sum of money I concluded to wait. I have now thought
the matter over and come to the conclusion that a little money is
better than none and if you are anxious for the return of the violin
and willing to pay a sum of money, small compared with the value of
the violin, I think we can make a deal. You can put a personal in
the New York Sun saying I am willing to give a sum of money for the
return of the violin. No questions asked. Mrs. J. Bott. When I see
your personal in the Sun I will let you know how the exchange can be
made. CAVE DWELLER.
This letter appeared to be written in a somewhat similar hand to that
which penned the offer of the reward, which, according to Mrs. Bott, was
Flechter's. By this time the widow and Allen, were in close
communication. The "Cave Dweller" letter, could it be shown to be in
Flechter's penmanship, seemed to fix the crime on the violin dealer.
Flechter's store is two flights up and looks out into Union Square.
Before the window hangs a large gilded fiddle and the walls are
decorated with pictures of famous musicians. In the rear is a safe where
the more valuable instruments are kept; in the front sits Flechter
himself, a stoutish man of middle height, with white hair and mustache.
But on June 23, 1895, Flechter was out when Durden and Baird called, and
only his clerk and office-boy were on hand. Durden wished, he said, to
see the genuine Strad. about which Mr. Flechter had written him. The boy
went to the safe and brought back a violin in a red silk bag. Inside was
"Antonius Stradivarius Cremonis fecit Anno Domini 1725."
The figures 17 were printed and the 25 written in ink. Durden examined
it for some fifteen minutes and noted certain markings upon it.
On June 26th they called again, found Flechter in and asked to see the
violin. This time the dealer look it himself from the safe, and, at
their request, carried it to 22 Gramercy Park, where Durden said he
desired some experts to pass upon its genuineness. On the way over
Flechter guaranteed it to be a genuine Strad., and said it belonged to a
retired merchant named Rossman, who would expect to get four thousand
dollars for it. He himself would want five hundred dollars, and Durden
should have five hundred dollars, so that they must not take less than
five thousand dollars.
Once at Allen's boarding-house Flechter played upon the violin for
Durden and the supposed Southan, and then the former asked to be allowed
to take the instrument to a rear room and show it to a friend. Here
Mrs. Bott, positively identified the violin as that of her husband,
clasping it to her bosom like a long-lost child. This was enough for
Durden, who gave the instrument back to Flechter and caused his arrest
as he was passing out of the front gate. The insulted dealer stormed and
raged, but the Car of Juggernaut had started upon its course, and that
night Flechter was lodged in the city prison. Next morning he was
brought before Magistrate Flammer in the Jefferson Market Police Court
and the violin was taken out of its case, which the police had sealed.
At this, the first hearing in this extraordinary case, Mrs. Bott, of
course, identified the violin positively as "The Duke of Cambridge," and
several other persons testified that, in substance, it was Bott's
celebrated violin. But for the defendant a number of violin makers swore
that it was not the Bott violin at all, and more--that it was not even a
Stradivarius. One of them, John J. Eller, to whom it will be necessary
to revert later, made oath that the violin was _his_, stolen from him
and brought to Flechter by the thief. On this testimony the magistrate
naturally decided that the identity of the instrument had not been
established and ordered that Flechter be discharged and the violin
returned to him.
Ordinarily that would have been the end of the case, but Allen had his
own private views as to the guilt of the dealer and on August 28th the
Grand Jury filed an indictment against Flechter accusing him of
feloniously receiving stolen property--the violin--knowing it to have
been stolen. Great was Flechter's anger and chagrin, but he promptly
gave bail and employed the ablest counsel he could afford.
Now began the second act of this tragedy of errors. The case was called
for trial with the People's interests in the hands of James W. Osborne,
just advancing into the limelight as a resourceful and relentless
prosecutor. I say the _People's_ case but perhaps _Allen's_ case would
be a more fitting title. For the defense Arthur W. Palmer held the fort,
directing his fire upon Osborne and losing no advantage inadvertently
given him. The noise of the conflict filled the court house and drowned
the uproar on Broadway. Nightly and each morning the daily press gave
columns to the proceedings. Every time the judge coughed the important
fact was given due prominence. And every gibe of counsel carried behind
it its insignia of recognition--"[_Laughter_]" It was one of those first
great battles in which the professional value of compressed air as an
explosive force and small pica type as projectiles was demonstrated. It
was a combat of wind and lead--an endurance contest during which the
jury slept fitfully for three long weeks.
Two things, the prosecution claimed, proved Flechter's guilt: first, the
fact that the violin found in his possession was "The Duke of
Cambridge"; second, that the "Cave-Dweller" letter was in the same
handwriting as Flechter's notice of reward.
Of course the latter proposition carried with it the necessity of
proving in the first place that the notice itself was in Flechter's
penmanship. Flechter through his counsel said it wasn't, and that he had
never told Mrs Bott that it was. He claimed that his brother-in-law,
John D. Abraham, had written it. Mrs. Bott, he alleged, was an old lady
and was mistaken in her testimony when she swore that he had said, "I
have written down something." He had not said so. Mr. Abraham
corroborated him. He had written it himself sitting in an armchair, all
but the words "355 West Thirty-first Street," which had been put in by a
certain Mr. Jopling who had been present. Mr. Jopling swore that that
was so, too. But, on cross-examination, it developed that Mr. Abraham
had been practicing making copies of the notice at the suggestion of the
lawyer for the defense, and, when Mr. Jopling took the stand, he was
called upon to explain an affidavit made by him for Assistant District
Attorney Allen, in which he affirmed that he did not know _who_ wrote
the words "355 West Thirty-first Street." His explanation did not
explain, and, anyhow, there did not seem to be any particular reason why
Abraham and Jopling should have written Flechter's notice for him.
Besides, even if Flechter did _not_ write it and Abraham _did_, it would
still remain almost as bad for Flechter if it was shown that "Cave
Dweller" was his own brother-in-law.
But Mrs. Bott was a woman who appealed strongly to a jury's sympathies,
and she was clear that Flechter had said that he had written the notice.
Moreover, she recalled that the date had first been written _May_ and
that Flechter had erased it and inserted _March_ in its place. A
microscopic examination revealed the fact that such an erasure had been
made. When the smoke cleared the credibility of the defense appeared
badly damaged. But the precise point was of little importance, after
all. The great question was: the identity of 'CAVE DWELLER.' On this
point a number of witnesses testified from a general knowledge of
Flechter's handwriting that the "Cave Dweller" letter was his, and three
well-known handwriting "experts" (Dr. Persifor Frazer, Mr. Daniel T.
Ames and Mr. David Carvalho) swore that, in their opinion, the same hand
had written it that had penned the notice.
It is not unlikely that Flechter's fear of a conviction led him to
invite testimony in his behalf which would not bear the test of careful
scrutiny. Many an innocent man has paid the penalty for uncommitted
crime because he has sought to bolster up his defense with doubtful
evidence without the incubus of which he would have been acquitted.
Naturally the chief point against Flechter, if it could be established,
was his actual possession of the Bott Stradivarius when he was arrested.
Upon this proposition Mrs. Bott was absolutely positive beyond the
possibility of error. So were eight other witnesses for the prosecution.
Then the defense produced a violin alleged to be the same one exhibited
in the police court and brought by Flechter to Durden's house, and asked
Mrs. Bott and her witnesses what they thought of it. Mrs. Bott could not
identify it, but she swore no less positively that it was an entirely
_different_ violin from the one which she had seen before the
magistrate. Then Osborne hurled his bomb over his enemy's parapet and
cried loudly that a monstrous wicked fraud had been perpetrated to
thwart Justice--that the defense had "faked" another violin and were now
trying to foist the bogus thing in evidence to deceive the Court. _Ten
witnesses_ for the prosecution now swore that the violin so produced
was _not_ the one which Flechter had tried to sell Durden. Of course it
would have been comparatively easy to "fake" a violin, just as Osborne
claimed, and the case sheds some light upon the possibilities of the
"old violin" industry.
The star witness for the prosecution to prove that the instrument
produced in the police court _was_ the Bott violin was August M.
Gemunder, and his testimony upon the trial before Recorder Goff is
worthy of careful examination, since the jury considered it of great
importance in reaching a verdict, even requesting that it should be
re-read to them some hours after retiring to deliberate. Gemunder
testified, in substance, that he belonged to a family which had been
making violins for three generations and had himself been making them
for twenty years, that he was familiar with Bott's Stradivarius, having
seen it three times, and that he firmly believed a large part of the
violin produced before the magistrate _was_ the missing Bott--certainly
the back and scroll. Moreover, he was able to describe the markings of
the Bott violin even to the label inside it. It should be mentioned,
however, that in the magistrate's court he had been called only to
_describe_ the Bott violin and not to _identify_ the one produced as the
Bott itself. He further swore that the violin now offered by the defense
on the trial was _not_ the one in evidence before the magistrate, but
was one which he had sold some years before to one Charles Palm.
The defense, on the other hand, called among its witnesses John P.
Frederick, a violin maker, who testified that he was familiar with the
Bott Strad. and had seen it in 1873 at Bott's house, Grenecher Castle,
in Germany; that he had repaired it in this country in 1885; that the
instrument in court was not a Strad. nor even a good imitation of one,
and, of course, was not the "Duke of Cambridge," but that it _was_ the
identical instrument produced before the magistrate, and one which he
recognized as having been sent him for repair by Charles Palm in 1885.
Thus both sides agreed that the fiddle now offered in evidence was a
bogus Strad. once belonging to a man named Palm, the only element of
conflict being as to whether or not the violin which Flechter had
offered for sale was the Palm instrument, or, in fact, Bott's famous
"Duke of Cambridge."
All this technical testimony about violins and violin structure
naturally bored the jury almost to extinction, and even the bitter
personal encounters of counsel did not serve to relieve the dreariness
of the trial. One oasis of humor in this desert of dry evidence gave
them passing refreshment, when a picturesque witness for the defense, an
instrument maker named Franz Bruckner, from South Germany, having been
asked if the violin shown him was a Strad., replied, with a grunt of
disgust: "Ach Himmel, nein!" Being then invited to describe all the
characteristics of genuine Stradivarius workmanship, he tore his hair
and, with an expression of utter hopelessness upon his wrinkled face,
exclaimed despairingly to the interpreter:
"Doctor, if I gave you lessons in this every day for three weeks you
would know no more than you do now!"--an answer which was probably true,
and equally so of the jury who were shouldered with the almost
impossible task of determining from this mass of conflicting opinion
just where the truth really lay.
The chief witness for the defense was John J. Eller, who testified that
he had been a musician for thirty years and a collector of violins; that
the violin in court was the same one produced before the magistrate, and
was not Bott's, but _his own_; that he had first seen it in the
possession of Charles Palm in 1886 in his house in Eighth Street and St.
Mark's Place, New York City, had borrowed it from Palm and played on it
for two months in Seabright, and had finally purchased it from Palm in
1891, and continued to play in concerts upon it, until having been
loaned by him to a music teacher named Perotti, in Twenty-third Street,
it was stolen by the latter and sold to Flechter.
It appeared that Eller had at once brought suit against Flechter for the
possession of the instrument, which suit, he asserted, he was still
pressing in the courts, and he now declared that the violin was in
exactly the same condition in every respect as when produced in the
police court, although it had been changed in some respects since it had
been stolen. It had originally been made of baked wood by one Dedier
Nicholas (an instrument maker of the first half of the nineteenth
century), and stamped with the maker's name, but this inscription was
now covered by a Stradivarius label. Eller scornfully pointed out that