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The Molineux Case - Page 2 of 4

In an effort to resolve the problem of the man with the red beard, Detective Carey, in interviewing Newark police officers, came across a patrolman who had seen Molineux in the vicinity of the jewelry store on the day the silver holder had been purchased. After reading about this in the paper, Molineux and his attorney confronted the sales woman who told them that Molineux was not the man who had purchased the silver holder.

Notwithstanding problems and holes in his case, Detective Carey still suspected that Roland Molineux, in an attempt to kill Henry Cornish, had poisoned Katherine Adams. He based this suspicion on the following: Molineux hated Cornish, thus a motive; Molineux had training in chemistry; Doctor Witthaus had found that Mrs. Adams had not been killed by Cyanide of potassium, but from the effects of cyanide of mercury, a corrosive used in the blending of dry colors in the dye factory where Molineux had been employed; the Bromo Seltzer holder had been sold from a story near the dye factory; a patrolman had seen Molineux in the neighborhood on the day the holder was purchased; the secretary of the Knickerbocker Club identified Molineux’s handwriting as being on the fatal package; and, in several of his letters to the club, Molineux had misspelled forty as “fourty.”

It wasn’t much, not nearly enough to obtain an arrest warrant, but just enough to keep Molineux as a prime suspect. The investigation had stalled, and Detective Carey was badly in need of a break. And that is exactly what he got when he learned of the death of a man named Henry C. Barnet, and this man’s connection to Molineux’s wife Blanche, nee Chesebrough. A reporter had dug up information about Barnet and Blanche Chesebrough that would jump-start Detective Carey’s investigation.

Molineux had met Blanche Chesebrough in the summer of 1897 at a yachting party in Maine. She was an aspiring opera singer who hadn’t been able to lift her career beyond singing in the church choir. Blanche had accompanied Molineux to several Knickerbocker Club affairs where, a few months after they had become an item, he introduced her to a friend named Henry Barnet, a successful New York City stock broker and member and resident of the Knickerbocker Club. Barnet, instantly infatuated with the beautiful and mysterious young woman with the green, artificial eye, asked her out. She accepted, and when she did, Henry Barnet went from Molineux friend to bitter rival. In October, 1898, Molineux asked Blanche to marry him. Explaining that she was in love with Henry Barnet, she refused his hand. About a month later, on November 10, Henry Barnet took ill and suddenly died. The official cause of death: cardiac asthenia induced by diptheric poisoning. Eight days after Barnet’s death, Molineux again asked Blanche to marry him. This time she accepted his proposal. They were married on November 29, about a month before Katherine Adams drank the spiked Bromo Seltzer.

In investigating Barnet’s death, Detective Carey learned that a few days before he died, Barnet had received, by mail from an anonymous sender, a box of Kutnow Powder, in its day, a popular stomach remedy. The effervescent laxative had been found on the small table next to Barnet’s bed. Analyzed by Doctor Witthaus, the powder had been laced with cyanide of mercury, the poison that would later kill Katherine Adams. The press ran with the story, linking Barnet’s death to the Katherine Adams/ Bromo Seltzer case. The intended victims in both cases, Cornish and Barnet, had been enemies of the same man, Roland Molineux.

Detective Carey, in suspecting that Roland Molineux had purchased the Kutnow Powder, searched the company’s files and found a handwritten note that read:

Please send me a sample of Salts to 1620 Broadway and oblige

Yours, etc.,
H. Cornish

The Broadway address was a mail drop, a box that had been leased from a private rental company. When Detective Carey showed the note to Henry Cornish, he denied writing it, insisting that someone had forged his signature. The owner of the mail drop, when shown a photograph of Roland Molineux, identified him as the man who had rented the box. Inside the mail box, Carey found two unopened letters, both from patent medicine companies in Cincinnati responding to requests for product samples. Carey contacted these companies and asked for the letters requesting samples of the medicine. When he received the letters, Carey found that they had been written on the same robin’s egg blue paper embossed with the same stationery design of interlocked crescents as the letter sent for the Kutnow Powder. All three letters had been signed, “H. Cornish.”

Before he could go further with his investigation, Carey had to find out if Cornish or Molineux had written the letters requesting the samples of medicine. To do this, he hired a New York City questioned document examiner named William J. Kinsley. Kinsley had been in the field ten years, and in the past five, had testified as an expert in dozens of civil and criminal trials. Following his involvement in the Molineux case, Kinsley would go on to testify in a number of high-profile cases.3 Kinsley compared the writing on the three patent medicine request letters with samples of Molineux’s known writing, and concluded that Molineux had written the letters on the robin egg stationery, not Cornish.

When the owner of a New York City mail box rental service read about Carey’s identification of the letters signed “H. Cornish,” he informed the detective that in May, 1898, five months before Henry C. Barnet had gotten sick and died, he had rented a box to man who called himself H.C. Barnet. In that box, Carey found an unopened medicine sample request which, according to William Kinsley, had also been written by Molineux .

At this point, Molineux had not been questioned by the authorities, but after receiving William Kinsley’s report, prosecutor James W. Osborne asked Molinuex for a set of formal handwriting samples. Molineux agreed, showing up at the district attorney’s office with his lawyer, George Gordon Battle. The handwriting samples were acquired by William Kinsley who dictated to Molineux certain carefully selected words that included the address of the Knickerbocker Club. When Molineux wrote forty, he misspelled it “fourty,” just like it had appeared on the Bromo Seltzer package.

Armed with a substantial quantify of questioned writing, as well as conceded and request samples bearing Molineux’s known writing, Carey called in virtually every qualified handwriting expert in the country, eight in all, to examine the evidence. None of these experts were told of Kinsley’s findings, or what any of the other experts had concluded. When all of the document examination reports were in, the decision among all of the experts was unanimous, Roland Molineux had written the three Cornish letters, the Barnet letter, and the address on the Bromo Seltzer package.

The coroner’s inquest into Katherine Adam’s death began on February 9, 1899 and lasted three weeks. Although the inquest had been convened to consider the Bromo Seltzer case, prosecutor John Osborne used the occasion to prove that Henry Barnet had also been murdered. To that end, he put Doctor Witthaus on the stand who testified that the Kutnow Powder found on the table next to Barnet’s bed had been spiked with the same kind of poison that had killed Katherine Adams, cyanide of mercury. Osborne called Molineux’s wife, Blanche Chesebrough Molineux to the stand and grilled her about her affair with her husband’s rival, Henry Barnet. When she denied that her relationship with Barnet had been romantic, Osborne produced a love letter she had written to him. Having established a motive for Barnet’s death, Osborne called William Kinsley and some of the other handwriting experts who connected Molineux, through document analysis, to the poisons that had caused both deaths. Since coroner’s inquests are all prosecution and no defense, the case against Molineux looked strong. On February 27, the coroner’s jury unanimously recommended that Roland Molineux be brought before a grand jury on a charge of murder in the death of Katherine Adams. Molineux was immediately arrested and hauled off to jail.

Molineux had not been charged with killing Henry Barnet because there was no physical proof that Barnet had been poisoned to death. In an effort to determine if he had died of foul play, the coroner’s physician ordered, on the day following Molineux’s arrest, that his body be exhumed for autopsy. An examination of Barnet’s organs by Doctor Witthaus revealed that Barnet had in fact ingested cyanide of mercury, but the conclusion drawn from this evidence was made inconclusive by the fact that Barnet, shortly before he died, had taken a dose of Calomel, a remedy that contained mercury.

The grand jury indicted Molineux in the spring of 1898, however, because prosecutor Osborne had used details of Henry Barnet’s death as evidence in the Adams case, the indictment was set aside on appeal. A second attempt at indicting Molineux failed when the grand jurors refused to return a true bill. Finally, on Osborne’s third try, he got his indictment. The murder trial was set for November l4, 1899.

3. In 1909, William J. Kinsley was brought into an obscene letter case involving a suspect named Oscar Krueger who had, a year earlier, been identified as the writer of the questioned document by another handwriting expert. On the strength of this expert’s testimony, Krueger was found guilty in Federal Court and sent to prison in Atlanta. Because he didn’t have any money, he had been unable to hire his own expert. He had been in prison one year when the government re-opened the case by asking Kinsley to examine the handwriting. When Kinsley reported that Krueger was not the writer of the obscene letter, he was pardoned by President Taft. In 1900 Kinsley published a 24-page booklet called, Tales Told by Handwriting. NY: Ames-Rollinson Co.

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com