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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 professional career.
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 hundred-to-one shot.”
“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 ‘Sweeney.'”
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 ‘wise.'”
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 game.”
“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 ‘come-on.'”
“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 envelopes.”
“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 there_?”
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 _in ink_.”
“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 Sergeant Clark.
“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 please:
“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 detectives.
“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 Kauser.]
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 was brought.]
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 case.
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 or false.
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 ex-convict “Hickey.”]
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 aristocrat.
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 voulez-vous_?
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 devil himself!”
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 gold-headed cane!
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 Madame Reddon,
“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 devils….
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 the inheritance:
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 there 25,000,000.00
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 Savoy 8,000,000.00
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, Mexico 15,000.00
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 —————- $390,555,000.00
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 illustrations:
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 Etc., etc.
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 Etc., etc.
“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 sure_.”
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 diseases increase.
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 arrived.
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 and scolding.”
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 “Tessier’s collections.”
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 fifteen-cent lodging-house.
“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 their possession.
“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 see again.
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 darkly-glowing surface.
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 follows:
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 heart.
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. Wright:
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 inscribed:
“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