The Burdick Scandal – Part V

The obsessive coverage surrounding the inquest into Edwin Burdick’s murder was an early forerunner of today’s sensational trials. The packed courtroom and the public’s insatiable appetite for seedy details were new to Police Justice Thomas Murphy and District Attorney Edward Coatsworth.

Thomas Murphy, Police Justice
Thomas Murphy, Police Justice

Two important facts emerged just before the inquest. The first was that Edwin Burdick had rewritten his will in December, leaving everything to his daughters, and cutting his wife out without a cent. Burdick’s estate was estimated to be at least a million dollars.

The second was that the police and DA Coatsworth publicly stated the killer was female. (The DA’s theory was that Pennell caused Burdick’s murder but a woman actually committed the crime.) The crime scene bore out this theory, and a policeman named Meyers had come forward with evidence to corroborate the theory.

Meyers’ beat included the vicinity of the Burdick home, and he was patrolling there the night of the murder. Around midnight, he spotted a lone woman, nicely dressed, hurrying away from Ashland Avenue. Meyers said when she saw him, she dodged into the shadows and quickened her pace. At the time, he assumed she didn’t realize he was a policeman, and simply wanted to avoid meeting a stranger. But the police believed he may have seen Edwin Burdick’s murderer.

The Chief of Detectives, Patrick Cusack, was leading the investigation. He was already a well-known figure in Buffalo. When President William McKinley was assassinated there in 1901, Cusack led the investigation into Leon Czolgosz, who was electrocuted for the crime not long afterwards.

Patrick Cusack
Chief Patrick Cusack

Cusack was the primary source of official information for the press. It was he who leaked information about the crime scene to the press, and he who advanced the theory of a female killer. He dismissed the idea of a man, or a man and a woman, claiming too much noise would have been made for the family to remain asleep upstairs. Besides, the crime scene suggested the murderer was a woman.

The conclusion the police reached was that the murderer was let in the front door by Edwin Burdick. After escorting his guest to the den, and presenting refreshments, Edwin seated himself and the killer struck. The murder weapon, they revealed, was one of Burdick’s golf clubs, which were propped against a wall in one corner of the den. The murderer hit Burdick several times, and after killing him, walked directly to the kitchen to wash their hands. Afterwards, they returned to the den, wiped the putter down, and returned it to the set. The killer then left through the front door, locking it behind them. There was no evidence of a key being stolen from the home, and the police believed the murderer was already in possession of it prior to the night Burdick was killed.

An artist’s conception of Burdick chatting with his murderess

There were two unusual aspects of the crime scene. Though the front door was closed and locked, the inner storm door was left standing open. The door was always closed at night.

Also, an open window in the kitchen was unusual on a very cold night, and the Burdick servants swore positively the window was locked the night before.  However, no one had entered or left the house through the window. The snow beneath the window was undisturbed, and ice was caked on the outer sill.

The police learned little from initial statements by the occupants of the house. They complained that Dr. W.H. Marcy, the family physician, repeatedly attempted to prevent the detectives from interviewing the children and Mrs. Hull.

Dr. Marcy testified. He was the first person to enter the home after the murder, at Mrs. Hull’s specific request. The doctor described entering then den and opening the shade to let in the light, then spotting a stream of blood from the sofa. He removed two pillows from the heap and unwrapped the quilt partially, and after discovering Burdick, dropped the blanket instantly. He noticed the tarts and cocktails, and concluded Burdick was killed by a woman visitor. He revealed little beyond his concern that the horrors of the murder and the scandalous circumstances might overwhelm the family, particularly Mrs. Hull, whose heart, he said, was weak.

Dr. John Howland, the deputy medical examiner, was more communicative. Marcy was there as the family physician, but Howland’s role was to identify the time and cause of death. He told of Dr. Marcy meeting him at the front door of the Burdick home, and his efforts to persuade Howland to falsify the cause of death as suicide. Howland examined the body, and positively refused. Dr. Marcy explained the Burdicks were to be divorced and there were rumors about Mrs. Burdick’s conduct. Reporting Burdick’s death as a suicide would hush up the whole scandal, he said; Howland refused to do this and called the police around 9:30 a.m.

Dr. Howland described a tuft of hair found beside the victim, which was too long to be Burdick’s. He thought the murder happened in the den, and that the first blow killed Burdick, though several were delivered afterward. He noted that the body had been moved from its original position by the time he saw it, either by the killer or Dr. Marcy, because of the location of the wounds.

DA Coatesworth
Edward E. Coatsworth

Howland provided evidence that contradicted the theory of a woman murderer. “Had Mr. Burdick a woman companion in his den the night of his death?” Coatsworth asked.

“From the autopsy, I should say he had not,” came the prim answer.

Howland estimated the time of the murder as 2 a.m., casting doubt on whether the woman Policeman Meyers spotted was connected to Burdick’s death.

Read Part VI.