The Burdick Scandal – Part III

In the days following the murder, details of the Burdicks’ unhappy marriage and impending divorce seeped out in the newspapers. The police dropped heavy hints to the press that Burdick was known to have women visitors frequently after Mrs. Burdick moved out, and speculated that the murderer could be a woman connected to “Burdick’s domestic trouble”. Some people, particularly those who had known Burdick, were suspicious of these reports. Edwin’s character was sterling, they protested. He wouldn’t have had women in his home in an improper way. Even those who did not know the victim personally had trouble reconciling themselves to the idea of Edwin entertaining anonymous ladies downstairs, while his three daughters and his estranged wife’s mother slept upstairs.

As the investigation progressed, a story began to take shape. Later, Edwin Burdick’s letters and the testimony of his friends, servants, and widow filled in the blanks in the public’s perception. What they saw shocked them.

At the time he was murdered, Edwin Burdick was looking forward to a divorce from Alice. The separation had been a long time coming. Alice Burdick began an affair with Arthur Pennell in 1898, but it wasn’t until New Year’s Day, 1901, that Edwin became aware of it. Pennell had been a close friend of Edwin’s for years, and they had a lot in common. They were both intelligent, wealthy, and well-known men. And, both men were married.

Arthur Pennell
Arthur Pennell, Mrs. Burdick’s lover

Shortly after discovering the affair between his friend and his wife, Edwin moved out of the home he and Alice shared on Ashland Avenue. Letters from Alice poured in, pleading for forgiveness, cajoling Edwin to come home, promising to avoid Pennell. Burdick did return, and quickly left again, this time setting up shop at the Genesee Hotel. More letters from Alice arrived, in which she promises to be a “good girl” and “a loving and true wife”, if Edwin will only come back home.

Once again, Edwin returned, intending to reconcile with his wife. But, if Alice’s affair with Pennell ever ceased – and nothing suggests that it did – the relationship was resumed immediately. Alice and Arthur attempted discretion but they underestimated Edwin, who proved to be far more crafty than either of them.

Alice had a locked mailbox at the post office expressly for the purpose of receiving Pennell’s love letters. Edwin heard rumors of the box’s existence and visited the post office. He introduced himself as Alice’s brother and explained she wanted him to have access to the box as well. Either the postal workers were incredibly naïve or Edwin was a confident actor, but one way or another, he got a duplicate key. Over the course of the next year, he kept tabs on his wife and Pennell – and collected evidence – by steaming the letters open, copying them, and replacing the resealed envelopes in the lock box. Alice, oblivious to Edwin’s spying, continued her affair with Pennell until May 1901, when Edwin suddenly confronted her and ordered her to leave.

Alice Burdick
Alice Burdick

Exiled from home, a stunned Alice pleaded with Burdick to take her back. She apologized, she promised to never see Arthur again, she repeated her vows to be loyal and faithful. Her husband’s responses illustrate a complex man who was angry and hurt, but still unusually compassionate.

Burdick told Alice he could not trust her, but added that if she loved Pennell as she said she did, then he did not blame her for the affair. He said sadly that he loved her long after she had stopped loving him, and pointed out she had replaced her wedding band with a ring Pennell had given her.

Still, Alice begged for forgiveness. She said she wanted to come home. Edwin Burdick appeared to be torn. On the one hand, he wanted Alice back, and he wanted the children to have their mother. On the other, he did not believe Pennell would leave Alice alone, and openly told his wife that he suspected she only wished to reconcile with him until Pennell was divorced.

Finally, he told his wife that if she tried, she might win back both his love and his respect, and Alice returned to Buffalo in the summer of 1901.

Read Part IV.