Great Valley Baptist – Devon PA

Murder or suicide? Thanksgiving Day 1904 tragedy at Robert Sayre Brodhead home

Strafford train station, Strafford, PA (Wikimedia: Author Lucius Kwok; 17 Apr 2005)

Strafford train station, Strafford, PA (Wikimedia: Author Lucius Kwok; 17 Apr 2005)

It was Thanksgiving Day 1904 in Strafford, Pennsylvania, and just after 10 a.m., 22-year-old Caroline (“Carrie”) Reinholtz, a household servant in the home of Robert Sayre Brodhead and his wife Minnie, delivered a suitcase to the train station for express shipment to Wilkes-Barre. Robert, Minnie and their young children had gone there for a few days to spend the holiday with other Brodhead family members. The station agent later reported her to have been in excellent spirits, laughing and trading a few jokes. She then returned to the Brodhead home at 227 Strafford Avenue, and presumably sat down to write a suicide note.

Hours later the family’s stable boy, Eddie Fitzpatrick, also on duty that day, came into the house at around 6 p.m. to see if there were more chores for him to do, and discovered Carrie dead on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood with seven bullet holes in her chest and her throat slashed by a steel carving knife with such force that the tip of the knife broke off and lodged under her breast bone.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov 26, 1904 (www.fultonhistory.com)

Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov 26, 1904 (www.fultonhistory.com)

An inquest was held two days later, and Carrie’s death was ruled a suicide by the coroner—an unbelievable verdict for many, considering the bullet wounds were inflicted in the third story bathroom with a heavy revolver and her throat was slashed downstairs in the kitchen, indicating she would have to have survived the seven self-inflicted gunshot wounds sufficiently to be able to drag herself down two flights of stairs, through a hallway, into the drawing room to get the knife from the sideboard, and into the kitchen, and then still have enough energy and determination to slash her own throat. Add to that that no trail of blood was found between the upstairs bathroom and the kitchen, and that the revolver held but five cartridges, a circumstance that would have required a pause to reload.

The revolver belonged to Robert Brodhead; it was one that was always in the household; the servants knew its location and the location of extra cartridges in the event they were ever home alone facing an intruder.

Suicide note, 26 Nov. 1904, Fredericksburg Daily Star, Google news archives

Suicide note, 26 Nov. 1904, Fredericksburg Daily Star, Google news archives

Carrie’s beau Jerome Newman of Belmar, NJ, who most recently worked as assistant baggage master at Atlantic City, was briefly held by the police, but after witnessing his sincere devastation and earnest wish to cooperate, he was released. Jerome and Carrie had become acquainted in the summer of 1902 when the Brodheads stayed at a cottage in Belmar (a seaside resort town). Jerome wept as he read the suicide note, and confirmed that the handwriting was Caroline’s and that details mentioned in the note would unlikley be known by any outsider.

Jerome had come to Strafford on Thanksgiving Day to spend the holiday with Carrie. He tried to get into the house several times that day, but nobody answered the door, so he waited about nearby. When Eddie Fitzpatrick found the body, he immediately summoned the doctor, and Jerome came into the house with the doctor and confirmed Carrie’s identity. Distraught, Jerome went to the station and traveled home. He returned the next morning, and that was when he was detained by the police.

NY Globe and Commercial Advertiser, Tues, 29 Nov. 1904 (www.fultonhistory.com)

NY Globe and Commercial Advertiser, Tues, 29 Nov. 1904 (www.fultonhistory.com)

Carrie’s family was extremely distraught; her younger sister Ella also worked for the Brodheads and had travelled to Wilkes-Barre with the family. Carrie’s father Christian Reinholtz lived in a Strafford boarding house and had done some gardening work for the Brodheads the previous summer. (His wife, Carrie’s mother, had died 10 years previously and was buried in Virginia.) Mr. Reinholtz had seen Carrie just two days prior to the tragedy and said she had been in excellent spirits and very much looking forward to Jerome’s visit. He rejected any suggestion that Carrie would have killed herself; all Carrie’s family believed that foul play was involved.

There was intense debate in the community and further afield about the suicide verdict. Most locals refused to accept it. Carrie’s brother-in-law Charles Dingle represented the family who wanted to pursue the theory of murder and had their own suspicions about a certain individual whose photo they claimed had gone missing from Carrie’s album, and whose footprints, they alleged, led away from the house through a vegetable patch where torn-up pieces of a letter had been found. This person killed Carrie, they said, shooting her upstairs and then carrying her downstairs to finish her off in the kitchen. They wanted to obtain the album, but it was in police custody.

Robert Brodhead, who returned from Wilkes-Barre at  3 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving, told authorities that he knew of no reason Carrie would go so far as to take her own life. Granted, he said, she had been melancholic over the previous month and had been disappointed on several occasions when Jerome failed to show as promised. But overall, he said, Carrie seemed to be a happy young lady. He did agree that the handwriting in the suicide note appeared to be Carrie’s, but could not accept the idea that she was so despondent as to kill herself.

NY Globe and Commercial Advertiser, Tues, 29 Nov. 1904 (www.fultonhistory.com)

NY Globe and Commercial Advertiser, Tues, 29 Nov. 1904 (www.fultonhistory.com)

Those in support of the suicide theory primarily had the note to point to. As for the contradictions of the case, they could explain some of them.  The cartridges in the revolver were six years old and the powder in them perhaps insufficient so as to cause fatal damage. Carrie’s dress caught fire, and it was suggested that she used the skirt of her dress to cover up the flames, which would have eliminated a trail of blood as she made her way downstairs to the kitchen.

An autopsy was performed on November 26. Seven entrance wounds and five exit wounds were found, all were determined to be not necessarily fatal in an immediate sense. The coroner and the jury found the suicide note to be the most influential piece of evidence, and on its basis, rendered a verdict of suicide. The fact that there were seven bullet wounds and the revolver only held five cartridges was explained by the theory that Carrie either went to Mr. Brodhead’s bedroom closet (on the 2nd floor) to retrieve more cartridges after she emptied the five into herself, or she kept additional cartridges with her to begin with. The motive for suicide was that Carrie did not receive a promised letter from Jerome from Belmar, saying he was coming that day, and that after several disappointments over unkept promised meetings, she felt despondent enough to kill herself.

Those refuting the cartridge theory pointed out that the the box with additional cartridges was found to be all tied-up, so Carrie could not have retrieved more cartridges after the five were spent. These people introduced the idea that a second revolver would have to have been involved. Furthermore, Jerome was convinced Carrie would have given him more time to get to the home; he had only arrived an hour later than anticipated. (Note: Carrie had apparently asked her sister about the revolver’s location before the family left for Wilkes-Barre, but this was normal, the Brodhead family and servants said; whenever anyone was going to be left alone in the house, the revolver’s location was always pointed out.)

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 29, 1904 (www.fultonhistory.com)

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 29, 1904 (www.fultonhistory.com)

Unfortunately, what may have been critical evidence was destroyed. Four bloodstained finger prints were discovered on the bathtub when the doctor initially came to the residence. These were wiped away inadvertently, so no comparison with Carrie’s prints could be made.

St Mary's Episcopal Church in Wayne Pennsylvania at Louella and Lancaster in Downtown Wayne Historic District. (Wikimedia Commons, contributed by 'smallbones' on December 8, 2012)

St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Wayne Pennsylvania at Louella and Lancaster in Downtown Wayne Historic District. (Wikimedia Commons, contributed by ‘smallbones’ on December 8, 2012)

Carrie’s funeral took place on November 28, 2904, at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Wayne, PA, and she was buried in the Great Valley Baptist Cemetery in Devon, Pennsylvania. Carrie’s family and Mr. & Mrs. Brodhead were present as was Jerome. To fulfill Carrie’s dying wish that she be buried next to her mother, her mother was to be disinterred from her Virginia grave and relocated to be near Carrie.

The district attorney’s office declared the matter closed on November 30; the family insisted it would pursue its own investigation to prove Carrie was murdered. They said the suicide note could have just been Carrie’s way of hurrying Jerome along with a marriage proposal. The community of Strafford and nearby Wayne was united in its support of the family’s pursuit of the murder theory, believing Carrie deserved not to go down in history as the victim of yet another unsolved mystery.

Unfortunately, I have not yet learned what the outcome was to the family’s private investigations. Perhaps, I will come across those details some day or someone reading this will offer some clues. Hopefully there were some conclusive outcomes so that the matter could be laid to rest once and for all and so that Carrie —and her family— could rest in peace.

A bit of Brodhead biography

Robert Sayre Brodhead was my great grandfather Andrew Douglas Brodhead‘s cousin. Robert was the sixth child of Daniel Dingman Brodhead Sr. and Mary Ann Brodrick. (For those who have been following this blog, Robert is the younger brother of William Hall Brodhead who eloped in secret with the much younger Miss Van Tassel, and he was an uncle of Charles Reginald Brodhead who died of lockjaw in 1899. He was a nephew of my 2nd great grandfather Andrew Jackson Brodhead.)

Robert was married twice. First on 7 January 1885 to Susan Amelia Shoemaker (b. 1860) who passed away; as far as I know no children came from that marriage. His second marriage was to Sarah Claire (“Minnie”) Stafford of Rome, Georgia, sometime around 1894/5. They had two children: a daughter Frances Clyde Montgomery Brodhead (b. 24 Sept 1895) and a son Robert Stafford Brodhead (b. 14 April 1899).

Robert was vice president of an incorporated company that owned various Brodhead coal-producing properties in Colorado (more about that in an upcoming post). The business was a family affair: oldest brother Harry was president and younger brother Albert was secretary and general manager.

In the 1900 census, Robert and Minnie’s household at 132 Park Avenue in Wilkes-Barre, PA, included son Robert (1) and daughter Frances (3); domestic servants Eliza Reinholt (Michigan-born, 21- in spite of the difference in spelling, I think she may have been Carrie’s older sister who married Charles Dingle), Annie Jennison (Danish, 19), and Delia McCarder (Alabama-born, 60);  Harry Brodhead (52, Robert’s oldest brother), and parents Daniel D. Brodhead (83) and Mary Brodrick (73). Robert’s occupation was listed as a coal operator; brother Harry — a mining engineer; and father Daniel as a ‘capitalist’.

Fuel Magazine, The Coal Operators National Weekly, Volume 14, 1909

Fuel Magazine, The Coal Operators National Weekly, Volume 14, p. 267, 1909

On 7 December 1909, just over five years after the Reinholtz murder, Robert died at home from endocarditis at the relatively young age of 48. He was preceded in death by his father Daniel Dingman Brodhead (d. 3 Jun 1905) and mother Mary Ann Brodrick Brodhead (d. 5 May 1909), and four of his siblings: James (1850-1863), Elizabeth (1853-1853), Alice (1864-1869) and William H. (1857-1895). He was survived by brothers Henry, Daniel, Albert, and sister Emily.

Robert’s wife Minnie was left a rather wealthy widow, and —from what I’ve gleaned from newspaper clippings— spent her time engaged in raising the children; undertaking charitable activities; visiting family members; overseeing her daughter’s societal debut and subsequent betrothal to Mark A. Cooper of Rome, Georgia; and enjoying trips further afield to places like Toronto, her home state of Georgia, etc. Daughter Montgomery’s marriage to Cooper, planned for October 1919, never took place, however. She ended up marrying a Mr. Barker  and having a son named Peter. Further down the road there was a second marriage for Montgomery–to one Frederick Harris Warner Jr.  I’ve seen no indications thus far that Minnie’s son Robert ever married.

Note: For details on the Stafford family’s history, visit pp. 505-506 of Our Family Circle, compiled by Annie Elizabeth Miller, Macon, GA: JW Burke 1931, available for viewing on the HathiTrust website. Click here.

(NB: Robert may have been named in honor of Robert H. Sayre, who held top positions with the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Bethlehem Iron Works, which became Bethlehem Steel.)

Resources:
Fredericksburg, Virginia Daily Star, 26 Nov 1904
Woodbury NJ Daily Times, 28 Nov 1904
Troy NY Daily Times, 25 Nov 1904
Pawtucket Times, 25 Nov 1904
Philadelphia Inquirer, 25, 26, 27, 29 Nov and 1 Dec 1904
NY Globe and Commercial Advertiser, 29 Nov 1904

P.S. A Victorian house dating back to that era still stands on that street — at No. 211. Built in 1890, it is now a bed and breakfast, and their website has many interior photos posted. Because the house strongly resembles the one whose photograph appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer (26 November 1904, inset), you can easily get an idea of the possible layout of the Brodhead house. Visit www dot bnbinn dot com. BTW, Wayne, PA, is now the official location of this address, not “Strafford.”

Note: This post was pieced together from many press clippings of that time. Initial articles, in particular, seemed to contradict each other somewhat concerning certain details, most notably the number of gunshot wounds. For that, I went with the number uncovered during the autopsy. I suggest reading the articles yourself, if interested, to get a sense of what variations occurred in the press reports and to view the accompanying images. Please let me know if you notice any errors in this piece or have additional information. Thank you.

Categories: Brodhead, Brodrick, Death, Great Valley Baptist - Devon PA, Pennsylvania, Scandal, Strafford, Thanksgiving, US Federal 1900 | 6 Comments

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