The Burdick Scandal – Part IV

It was no surprise to anyone who knew the Burdicks when the marriage collapsed.

Edwin allowed Alice to return to the home they shared in Buffalo in the summer of 1901, but she and Arthur Pennell did not honor their promise to end the affair, and merely attempted better concealment. Edwin’s suspicions grew over time, and he eventually hired private detectives to follow his wife and Pennell.

It quickly became obvious that Edwin’s suspicions were incorrect only in that they didn’t go far enough. After a confrontation with Pennell and separately with Alice, Burdick ordered his wife back out on December 3. She traveled to Niagara Falls and New York City, before moving to Atlantic City, with no intention of returning.

An illustration of Alice Burdick

Two weeks after his wife’s departure, Burdick sued for divorce, naming Arthur Pennell as the co-respondent, i.e., the cause of the split.

Alice Burdick’s future looked bleak. Exiled from her daughters, her home, and her mother, she had little to her name beyond what was in her hotel room in Atlantic City. Until she was secure of Arthur, she had no intention of giving up Edwin. She begged him to reconsider. For their daughters’ sake, she pleaded. But Edwin was immovable. He refused to have her back.

While he publicly denied the affair with Alice, Arthur Pennell knew the case for a divorce was strong. Burdick had copies of the letters between he and Alice, and sworn affidavits from a private detective hired to follow his wife. The detective had gathered evidence of a trip the pair had taken to Niagara Falls together, and shared a hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Pennell attempted to dissuade Edwin from following through with the divorce. At first, he merely tried to persuade his old friend, but when matters grew desperate, his tone changed. The scandal would ruin him, he told Burdick. His marriage, his career, everything. He threatened to kill Alice and himself, if the divorce suit wasn’t dropped.

Edwin had no intention of welcoming Alice back, but he continued to be generous, and offered to allow she and Pennell to share custody of their daughters, provided they kept a decent home. He said he would forgive Pennell everything if he would divorce his wife and marry Alice.

Pennell refused. To Alice, he said he would gladly get a divorce, but his wife would not consent. To Edwin, he refused to take any responsibility for Alice’s “infatuation” with him.

Edwin and Alicia
Edwin and Alice

Arthur Pennell was furious. He convinced Alice to launch a counter-suit, in which she alleges his infidelity with three other women: a prominent local socialite, a “Jane Doe”, and Mrs. Warren, of Cleveland. The accusations may have true, but the intent must have been to threaten Burdick with public shame and force him to drop the suit, which was to be heard the first week of March.

Alice Burdick’s allegations were based on at least some degree of truth. Burdick openly admired Helen Warren, a Buffalo native who had married a Cleveland, Ohio businessman. A newspaper clipping noting her divorce was found a few feet from Burdick’s body, the morning of his murder.  Mrs. Gertrude Paine, whose photograph was found in Burdick’s den, admitted to receiving money from him, but insisted it was a loan and their relationship was purely social. And there were rumors that “Jane Doe” was a Miss Hutchinson, who was once employed by Burdick, but now lived off the interest of a mysterious sum that she insisted was her own, and no gift of Burdick’s.

Carrie Pennell

Carrie Pennell, Arthur’s wife, wrote to Edwin, pleading, begging him “to take Allie back”. Her letter was piteous but menacing. “Do you want to put an end to all of our lives?” she demanded.

Burdick sent an exasperated reply, explaining he had taken his wife back three times, and would not do so again. He later confided in a friend that it was Mrs. Pennell who had told him of the affair to begin with, and if she’d only kept quiet none of this would have happened. A curious attitude for a wronged husband!

A week after Edwin Burdick’s murder, on the very day his divorce hearing was scheduled, Mrs. Pennell wrote a letter to her sister — and if it is sincere, Arthur Pennell was a greater scoundrel than even Burdick believed him to be.

“I feel sometimes as if I could not stand up under the strain, yet for Arthur’s sake I must,” Mrs. Pennell wrote. “It is harder for him than for me as he is so sensitive and has such pride and honor. To think that all this trouble should come to us through our efforts to aid others.”

On March 10, less than two weeks after the murder, the unthinkable occurred.

In the evening, Arthur Pennell and his wife went for a drive in their electric carriage. They drove slowly for a time, then despite the rain, they stopped to take the top off the carriage. When they resumed their seats, the carriage was driven much faster. Witnesses said Pennell’s hat blown off, and then the machine plunged 20 feet down into Gehre’s rock quarry. Arthur Pennell was killed instantly; Mrs. Pennell lingered a few hours, and died without regaining consciousness.


The Pennells' electric carriage, retrieved from the rock quarry
The Pennells’ electric carriage in the rock quarry

Read Part V.


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