A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Happy New Year… in April?

It started with a patron, a picture and a juicy story.
A patron was looking for photos taken by Providence Journal contributor Frank Warren Marshall (1886-1960) when she came across this photo in Lot 161:

c. 1901 View of Dorrance Street from the corner of Fulton. Union Trust Building in under construction on the left.

She asked me if I knew the story about Barnaby’s widow; I did not. Now I do, and so will you.

Jerothmul Bowers Barnaby was born on October 27, 1830 in Freetown, Massachusetts to Stephen Barnaby & Lucy Hathaway, who had a total of 14 children. The family descends from James Barnaby, who was at Plymouth as early as 1660. Educated in country schools, Jerothmul became acquainted with the clothing industry at the early age of 16 when employed as a clerk in his brother-in-law’s store. In 1852, he came to Providence and opened his first store at 15 South Main Street. As a successful businessman, he would have been quite a catch and at a party he met Josephine Amelia Reynolds. The stunning blond socialite caught his eye and they married on September 15, 1857. Their first daughter, Mabel was born in 1860, followed by Harriet Alena in 1864. Success of his company lead Jerothmul to expand and in 1869 he opens his largest store yet at the corner of Dorrance & Westminster Streets; this is closely followed by another daughter, Josephine Maude in 1870.

Providence Journal of Commerce, June 1893, page 37.

Jerothmul was newly rich and like to show off his wealth. He was heavily involved in the Board of Trade and ran for both local & state political positions. In 1875 he built his “castle” on Broadway in, what was then, one of the fanciest neighborhoods in Providence.

Image from Death in the Mail by Martin Day.

The “castle” today:

Google Maps c. 2015

Jerothmul was generous, passionate and unpredictable. He bred harness horses that he raced through the streets of Providence on his way to work and was known to throw free clothing off the roof of his building. In 1884, when daughter Mabel married Montana businessman John Howard Conrad, he threw them a lavish wedding which was covered extensively in the Providence Journal the following day. He built the Conrad Building for his new son-in-law down the street from his store. In 1885, he had an enormous tomb built in Swan Point Cemetery, said to honor his daughter Harriet who died in 1879, but everyone knew it was for him. He was interred there sooner than expected; four years later, on September 19, 1889. He had been dealing with Bright’s disease for years but died suddenly while getting ready to drive those harness horses down Broadway.

 

The Providence Journal, December 18, 1884

The Conrad Building at the corner of  Westminster & Aborn Streets.

The Death of Jerothmul Bowers Barnaby.

Josephine Amelia Reynolds was born on March 6, 1836 to Joseph Reynolds and Rebekah Anthony. She was only 21 years old when she married Jerothmul and spent most of the marriage overwhelmed and intimidated by him.  Following the birth of her third daughter, Josephine experienced partial paralysis of one arm & sometimes would stammer or have trouble finding her words. It was around 1887 that she met Dr. Thomas Thatcher Graves who opened an office across the street on Broadway and treated some of her rich neighbors. The doctor would prescribe tonics & ointments to treat her various maladies. He soon became a confidant and friend. When Jerothmul died he left her a small part of his multi-million dollar legacy, a mere $2500 a year which he justified by claiming she was “too flighty to handle a substantial sum of money”. A week after the funeral, she consulted Graves. He advised her to sue Mabel & John Conrad and her other daughter Maud for a larger share. She did and was rewarded with more money as well as property but lost the limited affection that had existed between mother and daughters. It was at this time that she appointed Graves her power of attorney and put him in charge of her finances. With her new freedom and fortune, Josephine began to travel. One trip, to the Adirondacks, proved to be quite scandalous. Witnesses would later say that a drunken Josephine carried on with the married tour guide, Edward Bennett, on the sawdust covered floor of an icehouse. It was also during this trip that Dr. Graves threatened to have her declared incompetent & put her in an asylum if she bought a cottage on Mr. Bennett’s land. Josephine was not happy with this and contacted a lawyer to have her will changed.

Later, the Boston Globe quoted Dr. T. Thatcher Graves as saying:

“She was a vile woman and she had vile lovers. Once in the Adirondacks he looked through a crack in the icehouse and saw Mrs. Barnaby and the guide, Mr. Bennett, lying drunk on the floor in the sawdust, and with every indication of a previous revolting transaction having taken place.”

After New York, she traveled to California then met up with her friend, Mrs. Florence Worrell in Denver at the home of Mrs. Worrell’s son, Edward. Upon her arrival on April 13, 1891, there was a package waiting for her.

The package had arrived on March 31st, addressed to “Mrs. J. B. Barnaby, care of E.S. Worrell, Jr., 1525 Arapahoe Street, Denver, Colorado.” It was marked “Merchandise Only” and was eight inches long, five inches wide and three inches deep. It was done up in light brown paper, and five 15-cent stamps and two 10-cent stamps, plainly stenciled with the postmark “Boston” on the wrapper. The post office notified the office of Schermerhorn and Worrell Investment Company and an employee of the firm went to retrieve it and it made its way into the hands of Josephine.

Image taken from In Re Molineux Versus A Current Caliostro by Michon de Vars (Arthur W. Brown). This books provides an in-dept look into the process of handwriting analysis to determine who wrote the label.

After an afternoon of sightseeing, Josephine & Mrs. Worrell were tired. While they prepared a couple hot toddies, the ladies speculated who could have sent the mysterious gift. Josephine’s first thought was Mr. Bennett, since he was a “friend in the woods” but was confused by the “Happy New Year” greeting as it was April. Regardless, they raised their glasses and toasted “Happy days. Here’s to that naughty boy in the woods.”  What happened next was sworn to in court documents by several witnesses. Mrs. Worrell drank the whole glassful in one quick shot, while Josephine sipped hers slowly. Within five minutes Mrs. Worrell began to feel an intense internal burning followed by a great pain that led to rapid vomiting. She swore she was poisoned but the others laughed and said that since Josephine was fine, she couldn’t have been. However, within a few hours, Josephine began to feel sick as well. At this point doctors were called to the house. Both women were in agony but around 2am Mrs. Worrell’s nausea began to subside while Josephine grew steadily worse. For the next two days, Josephine drifted in and out of consciousness whispering “sick, very sick” & “I’ll hunt down who did this…don’t think Ed Bennett sent it….maybe Sallie Hanley – my secretary – she hated me… Dr. Graves will know what to do….” On Saturday, Edward Worrell, Jr. sent a telegram to Dr. Graves and Josephine’s daughter Mabel Conrad in Helena, Montana:

MRS. BARNABY DANGEROUSLY ILL. COME IF YOU WISH TO SEE HER ALIVE.

Josephine died the next day at 2pm.

Providence Journal, April 25, 1891

What followed was a sensational story in its time and on the front page of American newspapers for over a year. It was the first ever murder committed by mail and resulted in the longest trial in the history of the United States (up until then) – almost six weeks.

Once it was determined that the whiskey contained deadly amounts of arsenic and that Josephine was indeed a murder victim, a list of potential suspects began to form:

  • Dr. T. Thatcher Graves: personal physician to the deceased as well as controller of her finances. He was set to receive $25,000 in her 1st will, which had been reduced to $10,000 in her 2nd. He claims he did not know he was in the will at all.
  • Mrs. Emma “Kitty” Graves: long-suffering wife of Dr. Graves.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Edward Worrell: friends of the deceased, set to receive $10,000 from the will. Currently having financial trouble, this was seen as a strong motive.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Edward Bennett: friends of the deceased, also set to receive $10,000.
  • John Howard Conrad: son-in-law. Angry after the lawsuit over Jerothmul’s will, he felt Josephine cost him a lot of money & property.
  • Sallie Hanley: recently dismissed personal maid of the deceased. Hired by Dr. Graves to report back to him information on Josephine.

The list was quickly narrowed done to one: Dr. T. Thatcher Graves.

Dr. Thomas Thatcher Graves. Image from “A Revolting Transaction“.

A grand jury in Denver charged him with the murder of Josephine and on December 3, 1891 a jury was selected. The trial began on December 9th with District Attorney Isaac N. Stevens’s opening address; defense council’s presentation by Judge Henry Marshall Furman was the following day. Both sides called a parade of witnesses with the defense trying to show innocence by placing blame on Mr. & Mrs. Bennett. Closing arguments were made at the end of December and the case was given to the jury. On January 2, 1892, the jury returned with their verdict: guilty in the first degree. Dr. Graves wept.

The courtroom was packed on January 11th when Dr. Graves appeared before the judge for sentencing. When asked to stand he again professed his innocence. Judge Rising read the guilty verdict and told him that he would be taken into custody and handed over to the warden at the state penitentiary who would then determine which day, during the week of January 31st, he would be “hanged by the neck until you shall be dead”.

Dr. Graves lawyers entered a plea for an appeal and the legalities dragged on. They eventually got the first verdict dismissed on a technicality and a new trial was promised. All the while, Graves remained in jail.

On September 2, 1893 Graves enjoyed a visit with his wife, who came to see him every day, and when they parted he said, “Good-bye, darling – promise you’ll come back early tomorrow morning!” At nine o’clock the next day he did not report for breakfast and a guard went to check his cell. The doctor was dead. He left several letters. One of which was to the coroner:

Please do not hold any autopsy upon my remains. The cause of death may be rendered as follows: Died from persecution – worn out – exhausted.

No autopsy was performed. No cause of death ever determined. Was he murdered? Was it suicide? Was he really guilty of the murder of Josephine Barnaby? We will never know.

Jennifer L. Galpern, Research Associate/Special Collections

 

Resources

  • The Last Will and Testament of Jerothmul B. Barnaby of Providence, R.I. 1888. (R.I. Biog B 23)
  • Bayles, Richard M., ed. History of Providence County, Rhode Island. New York: W.W. Preston & Co., 1891. (F 87 P9 B3 v.1)
  • Brown, Arthur W. In Re Molineux Versus a Current Cagliostro. Providence: Snow & Farnham, 1901. (R.I. Auth Brown)
  • Conrad, Barnaby. “A Revolting Transaction.” New York: Arbor House, 1983. (HV 6534 D45 C66)
  • Day, Martin. Death in the Mail. Providence: The Journal Print, 1892. (HV 6555 U5 G7 c.1)
  • Lane, John J., pub. Three of a Kind. Laconia, N.H., 1904. (R.I. Biog B 24)
  • In the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado. T. Thatcher Graves, Plaintiff in Error, vs. The People of the State of Colorado, Defendant in Error. Monday, December 4, 1892. Oral Arguments of Henry Marshall Furman and Thomas Macon, for Plaintiff in Error. Judgement of the Supreme Court. [Stenographic Report by J.W. Christy] (KFC 1845.9 G776 1892)
  • Providence Journal of Commerce. Vol. 1, No. 1. June, 1893. (HF 1 P8 v.2)

 

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4 comments on “Happy New Year… in April?

  1. Great article! I read and enjoyed “A Revolting Transaction,” and have taken a couple of tours of the Barnaby Castle. So interesting.

  2. Richard Slaney
    16 April 2017

    Great article, great writing, thanks.

  3. Bobbie Rea
    19 April 2017

    Hi! Great story. Don’t you think it would be appropriate to credit the patron who found the photo?

  4. Tree Callanan
    21 April 2017

    What a great story. Please dig up more and share!

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