The Burdick Scandal – Part XV

Wednesday, April 1, 1903 was a cold, rainy day. Inside the courthouse, Justice Murphy cleared his throat before reading his verdict.

Edwin Burdick came to his death through several blows delivered by a dull-edged weapon, delivered with “homicidal intent”, Justice Murphy said.

Edwin Burdick
Edwin Burdick

Although the murderer was no stranger, he said, it was not a woman. A woman could not have wielded the forceful blows that killed Edwin Burdick. And, he added, “Expert testimony offered that nothing of an impure nature had taken place in the den proceeding Mr. Burdick’s death.”

He asked: “Where is the motive for this crime?”

The evidence against Arthur Pennell was reviewed. He was the lover of the victim’s wife, and the first person Alice Burdick contacted upon learning of Edwin’s death. “She loved Pennell, and he apparently became infatuated with her.”

He mentioned the private detectives employed by Burdick and Pennell. “So far as appears from the evidence,” he said. “Pennell had not succeeded in compromising Burdick in any way. Burdick, however, had a lot of evidence, consisting of letters written by Mr. Pennell to Mrs. Burdick of such a gushing, love-sick, importuning nature that their publication meant complete humiliation and social ruin to their author.”

ARP
Arthur Pennell

The judge mused whether Pennell’s desperate mind, already steeped in wrongdoing, was weak enough to be overcome by temptation to murder Burdick. He talked of killing Burdick on at least two occasions. He was familiar with the layout of the home. Two weeks before the murder, he purchased a revolver. The day after the murder, he purchased a second gun. He was with Alice the day before Burdick was killed, and in Buffalo the night of the murder.

“Someone,” the judge said, “has contrived to make the crime scene look like the work of burglars, but the locked front door and the lack of footprints in the snow prove this was no burglar.”

He commended Dr. Howland for refusing to accept Dr. Marcy’s urging to describe the crime as a suicide. “But for his rugged honesty,” the judge said. “We would not have known that one of the most clever and shocking murders of this or any age was committed at our very doors.”

Mrs. Hull
Mrs. Hull

“The actions of Mrs. Hull on that morning and her testimony on the stand have caused me much thought and study,” Justice Murphy declared. “To my mind, they are inconsistent with a perfect want of knowledge as to what actually occurred. So little apparent feeling for the dead man, such an evident desire to cover up the crime, and no disposition whatever to aid the authorities in apprehending the murderer may be explainable, but they have not been explained.”

In an interview later that day, the judge elaborated. “Mrs. Hull has not told all she knows. I am convinced that she cares little if the murderer of her son-in-law is ever apprehended. If she, the servant girls, and Mrs. Burdick told the police everything they knew to be true the very first day, we would have had some one – I don’t care to say who – behind bars.“

Burdicks

“Marriage is the cornerstone of society,” Justice Murphy said severely. “And it is something sacredly regarded by all. To make little of it is to forfeit the good will and respect of our people and to invite their most severe censure. It is our duty to censure Mrs. Burdick. But great as her wrong has been, great is her punishment.” It’s interesting that the judge believed the public attention would be so humiliating to Alice that it actually constituted a terrible punishment.

The judge  returned to the crime.

“The facts would constitute just grounds for suspicion on which a warrant could be issued, were Pennell alive. That would not mean, however, that he is guilty. He would have the right to a trial. But he can never be placed on trial. Let us be fair then to the dead, as well as the living. He must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Edwin Burdick’s murder was officially closed but never solved.

1903 headline
The writer of this headline deserves a Pulitzer

Aftermath

The Pennell inquest on April 11 lasted a few hours. Justice Murphy presided, and his conclusion was that it was impossible to tell whether the wreck that killed the Pennells was accidental or by design.

Within 36 hours of Edwin Burdick’s murder, Alice resumed residence at 101 Ashland Avenue with her mother and daughters. Later in the year, she was awarded full control of her husband’s estate, despite being cut out of his will. Contemporary papers noted that the den was “thoroughly transformed” and that Mrs. Burdick’s presence in the shopping district wearing fashionable clothing still created a stir amongst shoppers.

Very little information exists about the Burdicks’ lives in the years following Edwin’s murder, especially compared to the flood of media attention surrounding the inquest. Here is the information that is available:

  • 1905: The Pennell estate paid Alice $32,381.23
  • 1907: Alice was defeated in trying to control $40,000 Edwin left to their children.
  • 1909: Marion married H. Arthur Brereton. They moved to Cleveland and had a daughter, also named Marion.
  • 1911: Marion died of peritonitis at age 23.
  • 1915: Carol, age 24, married Clifford Weiss.
  • 1920: Alice appeared in the 1920 census, living with Mrs. Hull and her daughter Alice, now 27.
  • 1923: Carol gave birth to a son, Donald. The same year, Mrs. Hull passed away, at age 85.
  • 1940: After living some time with Carol’s family, the last record of Alice appears in the 1940 census, when she was 79 and boarding in Joseph Parish’s home. Alice Sill also boarded there; she was probably Alice’s youngest daughter.
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