Now. Don’t ask me why, but the other day I was clicking in and out of the Times Machine, which I don’t know if that is just for subscribers or what. But never mind that; try to pay attention. I was clicking in and out and reading about the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand.
You know, HEIR TO AUSTRIA’S THRONE IS SLAIN, and like that.
The Times article was brief, but accurate, and gave no hint of the paroxysm of global grief to come. Anyway, I click to the next day, and the archduke’s murder is again the lede, this time in a piece discussing the conspiracy, which was headlined SEE SERB PLOT IN ROYAL MURDERS.
I click to the next day, July 1, 1914, and was surprised to see that Europe had already fallen out of the lede. And off the front page. I clicked to the next day and forgot all about the coming conflagration after reading this headline:
IN MURDER ROOM
BY MRS. CARMAN
…Now that is what I call a brite.
I start to read the article and quickly realize I’ve missed Chapter 1. I click back to July 1, and there it is, in Column 4: WOMAN SHOT DEAD IN DOCTOR’S OFFICE.
The Carman house in Freeport. (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)
So. To catch you up. It’s 1914. Europe is grimly flexing its muscles for war. Mexico is convulsed by revolution. Theodore Roosevelt is hee-hawing in every auditorium that will open its doors to him. And the lede article in The Times is datelined Freeport, Long Island, and it concerns the murder of one Lulu Bailey, wife of a prosperous hat maker.
And it is a lulu of a tale, too. For the better part of July lurid headlines would appear on the front page of The Times as regular as signposts. All for a crime that no one has ever been punished for.
This is what happened. Mrs. Bailey had gone to home office of Dr. Edwin Carman, one of Freeport’s leading citizens and the owner of one of its most glamorous homes. And the good doctor was horrified to relate that some time after 7 p.m., as he was coming back into the room to see Mrs. Bailey, he heard glass breaking and then a gunshot. Mrs. Bailey sank to the ground. She was shot through the lung, and died almost immediately.
The Times article on July 1 provides a sketch of the crime. Dr. Carman reported seeing a man’s hand and a flash of fire in the window. The window screen, with hinges at the top of the frame, had been propped open. Glass from the window was found on the ground outside. The bullet that killed Mrs. Bailey entered her right shoulder and lodged under her left breast.
Dr. Carman told the police he had never met Mrs. Bailey before. Mrs. Bailey’s husband, William, when reached at his home in Hempstead, was initially skeptical that his wife was even at a doctor’s office.
Now. Obviously, I’ve already spoiled the first surprise, but it gets better.
The lede in The Times on July 2 was the revelation that, just a few hours after the death, the doctor’s wife, Florence, had removed a recording device she had surreptitiously installed in the doctor’s offices. (I know!)
It seems that Mrs. Carman did not trust her husband. In fact, she had told people in the dictograph company’s showroom that she sometimes kept an eye on Dr. Carman through the very window Mrs. Bailey was shot from. But, before you get any ideas, Mrs. Carman said she had been in her bedroom the whole time. She assured the police she had never seen Mrs. Bailey before, “dead or alive.”
Day 3’s article focuses on the search for the murder weapon. But it includes other telling details, the first of which is the obvious embarrassment of the Freeport police. The chief had boasted to reporters that the crime scene, under heavy guard, was being professionally and proficiently processed. Yet Mrs. Carman had had no trouble hauling away a large piece of electronic equipment. Chagrined, the chief brought in reinforcements, and the Carman home, which was daily thronged by rubbernecking yokels, took on the appearance of an armed camp.
Even so, the investigation was perhaps already off the rails. The hounds called in by the police to catch the scent of the killer led officers on a leisurely five-mile stroll, to no avail. The dogs “sat down and licked their paws,” the report in The Times said.
Aggressive news coverage — the correspondent for The Times bragged of having braved “a high fence and two bulldogs” in an attempt to sneak into the Carmans’ home — had forced the authorities to postpone the coroner’s inquest. New details seemed to emerge with each advancing hour. Reporters were obsessing over discrepancies in police statements and larding their reports with criticism, with special venom for the local Elks lodge — of which Dr. Carman, the police chief and the coroner were members. After a particularly snide briefing by the coroner, the report in The Times made clear that he “was not a physician.”
Above it all, there were rumors that private investigators and state authorities were being asked to take over the investigation.
Two witnesses came forward to say they saw a man in a straw hat sprinting from the Carman home immediately after the shot was fired. Another witness said he saw a mysterious “woman in white” in the doctor’s office just before the shooting. A third challenged the doctor’s claim that he speedily called for help.
There was even a bizarre, and incomplete, insinuation about the physical condition of Mrs. Bailey’s body. Apparently, one of the doctors who performed the autopsy at first disagreed in some way with the coroner about the state of the victim’s body. At the inquest, the doctors seemed to have their story straight about the “condition of the organs,” the Times correspondent wrote. “There was nothing divulged as to the rumors which had arisen in this connection.”
What rumors? Whatever they were, they were bad enough that Mrs. Bailey’s elderly mother was moved to address reporters on the subject, but only to say that before her daughter was killed no one had said anything crossways about her. “I always felt that those rumors raised since the shooting were false and slanderous,” the victim’s mother said, “and now the autopsy proves them to be so.” (Did it?!)
And, finally, it was revealed that Mrs. Carman had once confronted Dr. Carman and slapped a woman he was with. When asked about this by a mob of reporters, “Dr. Carman was visibly ill at ease over this question, and sought to curtail the interview immediately,” according to The Times report.
On July 4, the lede headline in The Times was MRS. CARMAN NOW IDENTIFIED AS THE WOMAN IN WHITE.
To be continued.