Summer Reading: The Story of Jane Lathrop Stanford (8)

I wrote this in 1999.

This is the story of Jane Lathrop Stanford and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death in the early 1900s.

Part 8

Bertha Berner was immediately summoned and handed Mrs. Stanford glasses of warm salt water easing her distress. When Elizabeth Richmond peered into the bottle she saw undissolved particles of a mysterious substance, and took the container to the downstairs kitchen.

Bertha, with Elizabeth Richmond at her side, inserted her index finger into the water, tasted it, and said it made her feel ill. Later the maid denied that the incident occurred.

When some of Mrs. Stanford’s relatives heard about the “poisoning,” they brushed it off, stating she was a “victim of hallucinations, prone to declare she had been poisoned whenever she became indisposed.”

But Mrs. Stanford was convinced someone in the mansion had tried to poison her, and she directed attorney Montford Wilson to retain the Harry N. Morse Detective Agency to quietly investigate, including conducting a chemical analysis of the mineral water.

The chemist’s report was kept secret, but it was finally learned that enough strychnine lurked in the water to kill at least four people. The Morse Detective Agency’s involvement in the case brought to light many theories: The Chinese housekeeper suspected Bertha Berner of the deed as she was the only person with the opportunity to poison the water. Another speculation was that the poison was meant for Bertha, or that the poisoning was an act of revenge on the part of the housekeeper or someone else.

The theory that a jealous servant wanted to cast blame on another had strong support, but private detective Harry N. Norse did not buy any of these theories, and he failed incriminate anyone.

Shortly after the “poisoning,” an eye-glass hook became loose on the dress worn by Mrs. Stanford. She wanted the maid, Elizabeth Richmond, to repair the garment immediately. Richmond took the dress to her room, returning it the following morning. When reprimanded by Mrs. Stanford the maid responded with a “flash of anger.”

A few days later, Elizabeth Richmond was relieved o fher duties and replaced by May Hunt, a former employee. With no place to go, Albert Beverly invited Richmond to stay with his family in San Mateo until she found a new position.

(Part 9 next)

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About June Morrall

1947 - 2010
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