The Burdick Scandal – Part IV

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

Edwin allowed Alice to return to the home they shared in Buffalo in the summer of 1901 and quickly saw she had no intention of avoiding her paramour. And by the end of November, a private detective hired by Edwin reported that he had more than enough evidence to dispel all doubt that Arthur Pennell and Alice Burdick were conducting an illicit affair.

Edwin soon saw that his darkest suspicions about his wife were only incorrect in that they did not go far enough. Edwin had a tense confrontation with Pennell, which seemed to settle nothing. On December 3, he ordered his wife to leave the house and never return. Alice traveled to Niagara Falls, then to New York City, and finally to Atlantic City, where she seemed to establish a transient residence.

An illustration of Alice Burdick


Two weeks after evicting his wife, Edwin Burdick sued for divorce and named Arthur Pennell as the co-respondent, i.e., the cause of the split.

Alice Burdick’s future looked bleak. She was exiled from her daughters, her home, and her mother. She had little to her name beyond what was in the cheap bureau in her hotel room in Atlantic City.  She wanted to come home, she wrote to Edwin. She was so sorry. She would avoid Pennell this time.

Why did Alice want to come back? Certainly, her reasons for wanting to return to Buffalo were more about missing her posh lifestyle than missing her husband and children. Alice believed Pennell would divorce his wife and marry her. She wanted to believe that and she was waiting. But she did not see why she needed to wait alone in a dark hotel room in New Jersey. Once she was secure of Arthur, she would leave Edwin behind and never think of him again. Until then, she would pacify him with promises to reform.

Alice was completely financially reliant on Edwin. He was generous and forgiving, but she despised him because of how easily she could manipulate him. She was confident in her power over him.

But Edwin was immovable. He refused to have her back.

But this time, there were no responses. In vain, she looked for letters, telling of his pain and admitting he missed her too. Alice continued to write, and begging him when matters grew desperate. “For our daughters’ sake!”

From the time he uncovered his wife’s affair in 1901, Edwin and Alice Burdick seemed to play the same scene over and over, as if on a loop. He would demand she put a stop to the affair, and attempt to punish her in some way. She would cry and promise to change, and eventually Edwin would forgive her and agree to give her another chance. Alice never seriously considered ending the affair with Arthur Pennell, and inevitably Edwin would catch them together again. Then the cycle would repeat. And now Edwin had said, Enough.


Arthur Pennell immediately and emphatically denied the affair with Alice, but he knew the case for a divorce was strong. Burdick had copies of the letters between he and Alice, and the sworn affidavits from a private detective who trailed Alice and Arthur constantly. He shadowed them to their secret local rendezvous, to their romantic weekend in Niagara Falls, to their lavish suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

After a series of increasingly frantic messages from Alice, Pennell visited Edwin and attempted to persuade him to drop the divorce suit. To his surprise, he found his former friend to be as stony as Alice said he was. He was absolutely deaf to Pennell’s entreaties. Arthur grew desperate, and his tone betrayed his fear. The scandal would ruin him, he told Burdick. His marriage, his career, everything would be lost. Edwin must drop the suit or Pennell would kill Burdick, Alice, and himself.

Edwin seemed to have turned a corner. In the past, he took his wife back because his love for her overcame the wounds she inflicted and his feeling of deep shame. Now, it was as if a frost had covered his heart and his emotions were on ice.

Edwin said if Alice and Pennell would “keep a decent home” (i.e., get married), he would personally forgive both of them and he would share custody of the girls. This was a generous offer – and a crafty one. Pennell had no interest in divorcing his wife and marrying Alice, and Edwin knew it. But Pennell had managed to convince Alice that he really did share her wish to get married. It’s just that it was not feasible right now. Edwin’s offer made marrying Arthur more than feasible for Alice – it was her only hope of clinging to her comfortable lifestyle.

Still Pennell would not initiate a divorce from his wife. He told Alice he would gladly separate from his wife, but she refused to let him go. He convinced her to launch a counter-suit, in which she alleges Edwin’s infidelity with three other women: a prominent local socialite, a “Jane Doe”, and Mrs. Warren of Cleveland. Pennell’s aim was to publicly shame Burdick and force him to drop the suit, which had been scheduled to be presented to the court the first week of March. In another unsuccessful confrontation with Edwin, Arthur Pennell coolly refused to take any responsibility for Alice’s “infatuation” with him.


Edwin and Alicia
Edwin and Alice

Edwin was not deterred by these new allegations, despite the possibility they were at least partially true. Burdick openly admired Helen Warren, a Buffalo native who had married a businessman and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. On the morning following Burdick’s murder, a newspaper clipping about Mrs. Warren’s divorce was found just a few feet from the body. The prominent socialite was Gertrude Paine, whose photograph was also found in Burdick’s den. She was forced to admit to accepting money from him, but she insisted it was a loan and their relationship was “purely social”. “Jane Doe” was probably a Miss Hutchinson, who was once employed by Burdick. She now lived off the interest of a mysterious sum that she insisted was her own, and no gift of Burdick’s.

Carrie Pennell

Mrs. Carrie Pennell, Arthur’s wife, wrote to Edwin, pleading with him “to take Allie back”. Her letter was piteous but there was no mistaking the menace behind her words. “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 confided to a friend that it was Mrs. Pennell who had told him of the affair on New Year’s Eve in 1900. He lamented that if she’d only kept quiet, none of this would have happened. A curious attitude for a wronged husband!

Edwin was murdered one week before he and Alice were to have gone to their divorce hearing. That afternoon, Mrs. Pennell wrote a sad letter to her sister that gives us a little window into the way she and her husband referred to their connection to the Burdicks.

“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.”

A few days after writing to her sister, Carrie Pennell went out with her husband in their electric carriage. The carriage with its detachable top was a novelty that attracted a lot of attention, and Pennell loved it. Tonight he was restless and upset, and he told his wife that driving was a distraction for him. It had been nearly two weeks since the murder, and Mrs. Pennell did not think her husband had had a single moment’s rest since then.

She went out with him, shrugging off the discomfort of riding in the electric carriage in the rain. It was only March 10, and it was still quite cold. Nevertheless the Pennells drove around town slowly and aimlessly.

At the outskirts of town, the carriage rolled to a stop and people watched curiously as the Pennells got out. Passers-by noted how strange it was to see the stately Mrs. Pennell standing in the mud with the rain pouring down on her, helping her husband wrestle the detachable top off the automobile.

With a shout, Pennell gestured to his wife to get back in to her seat. The electric carriage took off at a jump. Pennell was driving much faster now. He raced past the onlookers, and the wind blew his hat off. He did not slow the carriage even as he entered the road by Gehre’s rock quarry. The carriage accelerated just as it reached the edge of the quarry. It was airborne only a moment before plunging down 20 feet. Arthur Pennell was killed instantly and Carrie died a few hours later, never regaining consciousness.


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

Read Part V.