By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
In July 23, 1895, Lillian "Lilly" Low was found dead in the woods on Washington Heights. She had seated herself with her back against the stump of a tree and had shot a revolver bullet through her right temple. She was 19 years old.
Undertaker Maloney's Shop at 400 East 26th St. held her remains until her burial. Her father James Low Jr. purchased two plots in Woodlawn Cemetery, one for his daughter and the other for himself. His brother Joseph T. Low had refused to allow Lilly to be laid to rest in the family plot since she was a suicide. There was no religious ceremony at the grave.
The police were still trying to solve the mystery of Lily's death, and to verify the motive which led her to take her life.
In the bosom of her dress a letter addressed to "Dear Baby Cuckoo" and signed "Big Brother Tommie' was found. It was determined that Henry Champney and Dr. Thomas Jefferson Biggs had composed it, and "Tommie" was believed to be Dr. Biggs.
Right after Lillian's body was found, Dr. Biggs disappeared from his office on E. 30th Street. He'd been a prominent physician in Cincinnati connected with the medical college. Four years before he divorced his wife Lula citing fraud after a 60 day marriage. This was fodder for the tabloids, and did not reflect well on his character.
The morning of Lily's burial a detective was sent to New Rochelle to look for Robert W. Inman, and his friend Henry Champney, who were frequently seen in Lily's company during the last few months of her life. But it was learned that Inman's yacht had relocated further up the Sound. Robert Inman was the nephew of John W. Inman, the Southern railroad magnate and cotton merchant.
A coroner's warrant was issued seeking Dr. Thomas J. Biggs, Henry P. Champney, vice-present of the Bovinine Company and a Miss Amelia K. Hanson, who had the same address as Champney since she ran a boarding house for men where one of the two men resided. They were charged with having knowledge of the death of Lillian Low.
Lillian's father described that his daughter left their home in March of the same year, complaining that he was cruel to her. He said he always provided for her in all things.
But Lily's misfortune started with the circumstances of her birth.
Twenty five years before, James Low went to France and fell in love with a Frenchwoman named Josephine Ramoi, who he met in Nice. They never married, but lived together a number of years. During their time together she bore him 6 children, five of whom he said, she killed. One by one soon after birth she would destroy them. One she threw into a tub of freezing water, another she suffocated with cologne. Lily survived because she was the only daughter. Eventually James Low found out she had a husband somewhere. But it was only after she left him for another man, that he took Lily with him. They traveled around the world, and had come to New York four years before.
He said that Miss Hanson lured Lily to go and live with her. Mr. Low tried repeatedly to have Lily return and live with him, but she declined all his offers. One day he went to see her, and Miss Hanson denied she was in the house and ordered him to leave. He pleaded to see his daughter, and Miss Hanson called Dr. Biggs who ejected him from the premises.
The reason he gave for their interest in Lily was that as his only heir, she would inherit his wealth. He said that during the winter, when they learned of Lily's illegitimate birth they tried to blackmail his brother Joseph, who was a wealthy millionaire merchant. Joseph Low did not receive them, and the scheme went nowhere.
Dr. O'Hanlon autopsied Lily and found "marks of violence" on her body which indicated she might have been raped. Perhaps Lily had committed suicide due to the attack. It was learned that Lily had a dispute with Miss Hanson, and two days later killed herself.
Lily's father told a reporter, "I do not know. But really, her end was not a surprise to me. I had a strange presentment that she would come to a bad end. I did my best to get her back, but I could not. I could not get near her."
According to the three persons accused of some type of involvement in Lily's death, the girl had threatened suicide twice. Once she took poison, but was saved.
Mrs. Tryson who rented the apartment where Mr. Low and his daughter lived told reporters, "The stories that he beat her and ill-treated her are absolutely false. I never saw father and daughter who showed so much affection for each other as they did. Mr. Low's eyes were troubling him, and he never went out much. Even when he was sick last March she said to me one day, with her pretty French accent: 'My father is the only friend I have in the world, and if he should die I would kill myself.'"
The Low family was well connected. James Low Jr. was the son of James Low, President of the United States Trust Company and a millionaire. His sister Laura went on to marry Oliver Harriman the wall street banker. She was one of the leaders of New York's fashionable society. The family belonged to the top "400" of New York families. However James Low was the black sheep of the family, and neither he or his daughter were welcomed at the Harriman house.
Two days after Lily's funeral Oscar Lipsaker, a Mott Street baker, said he had seen Lily and Dr. Biggs go into the little grove on Washington Heights where the body was found. He said from their conversation and mannerisms towards each other they appeared to be lovers.
On July 30, the coroner's jury returned the verdict of suicide. The three persons in custody were released. Why Lily's body bore signs of violence and rape were never explained.
Later on it turned out that while Henry Champney was spending time at Amelia Hanson's boarding house he was a married man. His wife Lydia died in February 1896, and he married Amelia two months later.
James Low, perhaps to forget the tragedy of his daughter's death, remarried in 1900 to Esmeralda Campbell. He was 60, she was 30, and a year later they had a son who died the same day of his birth. They remained married until his death in 1926.
Two years later, Esmeralda Low married a much younger man named Evan Hyer Brouwer. He was 30 years younger than her. According to Esmeralda it was supposed to be a platonic relationship, but her young husband wouldn't work, and drank often. He wanted to live off the fortune she had inherited from her dead husband.
Esmeralda sued for divorce alleging cruelty, and finally secured her release in 1931. She told the courts that "her husband repeatedly assaulted and attempted to assault her, used vile and abusive language, causing her great anguish in mind and body, that he is a habitual drunkard, threatened to throw acid in her face and on one occasion threatened to run their automobile over an embankment to kill them both."
As to the three individuals that were suspected of causing Lillian Low's death in some form, they went on to have their own strange experiences.
Dr. Thomas Biggs married Louise Pitt in 1902. She was 18 years his junior. Then he went on to practice medicine in Stanford, Connecticut and in 1910 was the City Health Officer. In 1913, he died at the age of 48 of complications from Bright's Disease.
Henry Champney was released based on the findings of the coroner's jury in 1895, in regards to Lillian Low's death. However in May 1898, he was once more embroiled in a scandal of a strange death. This one involved a neighbor.
Amelia Krauss, an Austrian national reported at the coroner's office that her sister Miss Catherine C. Raubitschek died April 25, 1898. One of the persons figuring in the affair was the wife of Henry T. Champney, President of the Bovinine Prepared Food Company.
She asked for an investigation at the request of her sister Lady Nora Gordon, who lived in Monte Carlo, who on learning of their sister's death cabled her. They employed private investigators, and based on their findings the family wanted the matter presented to the Austrian Consul.
Their sister died at her home at 174 W 82nd St. and her body was taken by a family living opposite her house. The said neighbors were Henry Champney and his wife. She claimed that Amelia Champney knew where she lived, and also knew the address of their brother who also lived in the city.
Mrs. Krauss claimed they found out about their sister's death five days after the event, and through their sibling that lived in Monte Carlo.
They went to the Champneys who had taken charge of the body, and the couple refused to give the family any information. They could not even learn where body was sent, until a detective found it at an undertakers in 23rd St.
They not only concealed her death, but they had taken all her belongings to their house They had also dismissed her own doctor, and had engaged another one to care for her during her last illness. When Catherine Raubitschek died, the Champney took it upon themselves to dismiss her two servants, and their whereabouts were unknown, so they could not be questioned by police.
Mrs. Krauss said the family did not even know their sister was unusually ill. When she sent her daughters to check on Catherine two or three times per week prior to her death, the servants said she would not see them. Which seemed very strange to the family since they were on friendly terms.
After hearing the story from Amelia Krauss, a reporter went to see Mr. Champney at his home at 157 W. 82 St. Surprisingly Mr. Champney was in a conversation with a young man who turned out be working for the undertakers who had charge of the body.
Both men left the room, and then the undertaker returned to the room and told the reporter that "Mr. Champney has decided not to be seen on the matter."
Later Mr. Champney said, "We notified only the sister in Europe of the death, because she was one to who the deceased's property went. We took charge of Miss Raubitschek only as a matter of benevolence. She was a friend of ours, and that is all there is to it."
Catherine Raubitschek who was 45 years old, was determined to have died from heart and lung trouble as determined by Dr. Russell T. Ruff who attended her. She left a will in which she named Mrs. Champney as executrix.
The coroners decided to hold the body until an autopsy could be made by their physician, however they had little hope of discovering anything since the body had been embalmed.
The newspaper noted that Henry T. Champney figured in the suicide case of Lillian Low in 1895. According to Mrs. Krauss, the Amelia Hanson arrested in the case of Lillian Low was now Mrs. Champney.
When asked by the reporter if this was true she became indignant and refused to reply.
Amelia Krauss failed to sign an affidavit in a timely manner, and her sister was buried, and no further investigation was made into whether Catherine's death was natural or not.
Henry Champney died in 1913, and his wife Amelia in 1938. They had one daughter Edith who died in 1927, when she was 29 years old.
The strange case of Lillian Low continued to surface in the newspapers, including where she once lived. In 1902, the house where Lily lived with Miss Hanson located at 103 W. 58 Street, was cited by the newspapers as a house tied to tragedy.
The apartment was occupied by William Hooper Young who murdered Mrs. Pulitzer. He was the grandson of Brigham Young.
On September 19, 1902, Anna Pulitzer was found in the Morris Canal outside Jersey City, New Jersey. She'd been stabbed several time and her head was bruised. She was a married woman but she was known as a prostitute.
A cabman told police that a few days before her death, he took Mrs. Pulitzer and a man to an apartment in New York City that turned out to belong to John Willard Young. Inside the police found beer bottles, and a bottle with chloral hydrate crystals and a carving knife with blood on it. They found blood on bedsheets in a closet, under the kitchen sink, the floors and the walls. The words, "blood atonement" were scrawled in a notebook, and there were several references to verses from the Bible. It was determined Anna Pulitzer died from a drug overdose, and the injuries to her body occurred post-mortem.
During the investigation it was found John Young was in France, but his son Hooper would use the place when he was gone. The law caught up with Hooper Young in Connecticut. He was drunk and dressed like a hobo. He blamed Pulitzer's death on a third man, Charles Eiling who had been in the apartment with them. He'd left to purchase whiskey, and when he returned she was dead. He helped Eiling dispose of the body, because he didn't want his father involved in the notoriety of a prostitute being killed in his apartment. He said he tried dismembering Pulitzer's body, but after he cut into her abdomen he lost his nerve.
The police searched for Charles Eiling, but no one by the name could be found.
While living in Salt Lake City, William Hooper Young was a reporter for The Herald and became notorious there for challenging another reporter for a rival paper to a duel, because of an article that had been written about him.
When the crime hit the newspapers, it was thought he committed the murder in accordance with the Mormon principle of "blood atonement". Others thought the couple had an affair going back years when he was a Mormon missionary in New Jersey.
The motive for the murder was never determined.
He was tried in 1903. After initially pleading not guilty, he changed pled guilty to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to hard labor in the state prison for the rest of his life to be served at Sing Sing Prison. The judge decided not to impose the death penalty, because some doctors determined that Young was probably medically if not legally insane.
He was paroled in 1924, and went to live with his father in New York City, who died shortly thereafter. In 1928, he went to California trying to locate one of his half sisters. In 1937, a social security number was issued for him. A year later, Folsom Prison listed a William Hooper Young who was sent there from Los Angeles. The paperwork referenced he'd been incarcerated in Sing Sing. He was charged with Sec 288(a) which in California involved oral copulation, and which also included lewd acts with a minor.
The date and place of his death remain unknown.
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer