The Burdick Scandal – Part VI

With the technical evidence of the doctors and police complete, the inquest moved on to focus on those close to Burdick.

Though Gertrude Paine was not named as a suspect, and all suspicion was now focused on Arthur Pennell, people were visibly excited when the socialite and close friend of the Burdicks’ was subpoenaed.

Without a doubt, it was Gertrude – or Mrs. Seth Paine, as the newspapers generally referred to her – who had dominated the headlines in the story of the Burdick murder. Pictures and illustrations of her accompanied nearly every story, even when she wasn’t mentioned in the article itself. The press gushed over her beauty and elegance, while noting there was no one to account for Gertrude’s whereabouts at the time of the murder.

Gertrude Paine part VI
Mrs. Gertrude Paine

For reasons that aren’t clear, Dr. Paine’s profession as a dentist frequently required him to be away from home for days at a time, and he had been away on the night of Burdick’s murder. Mrs. Paine kept a number of boarders in her home, but everyone was asleep during the time Burdick was killed.

Gertrude Paine was likely named in Alice’s divorce suit as one of the women with whom Burdick had had an affair. She defended her relationship with him as “purely social” but admitted he lent her money.

Mrs. Paine inquest

For all that, the evidence she was actually involved in the crime was extraordinarily flimsy. She was admittedly a friend to Edwin Burdick, and her photograph, inscribed “Affectionately, Gertrude”, had been found in the den. However, but it was one of many photographs of friends and family. The police openly questioned her, but determined she had no motive, and was genuinely saddened by Edwin’s death. The fiction that she had played a major role in the murder seemed to be an invention of the press.

Mrs. Paine was indignant, and provided an unintentionally hilarious rebuke in the press:

“Some of the so-called Elmwood smart set have said I was a hypnotist. They have tried to connect me with Fred Freeborn’s suicide. It is laughable. As to the report that Fred Freeborn, Edwin Burdick, and others were in my power, it is an outrageous and atrocious falsehood, a lie told without the slightest regard for a woman rendered defenseless in the eyes of the public.” 

Gertrude Paine
The glamorous Mrs. Paine

Her appearance at the inquest caused a sensation, and the people fought for seats to listen to her testify. The newspapers’ fixation on her can only be described as creepy. After recounting the details of her exquisite dress, jacket, hat, and accessories in great detail, the press added this icky description:

Her voice was that of a woman of a refinement; her manner that of a well-poised woman of the world. She thoroughly understood the ordeal she was to go through, and was prepared for it. There was a trace of weariness in her tones, betraying the distastefulness of the entire proceeding, but she held herself well in hand, betraying her inward struggle only by a frequent moistening of her lips and a dry cough. 

On the stand, the well-dressed Mrs. Paine was questioned at length by DA Coatsworth. The witness testified she and her husband had long been close friends of the couple. She flatly denied visiting the Burdick home at any time without her husband, or that Edwin Burdick ever visited her when she was alone.

Mrs. Paine had met the victim several times at various locations, including a general store and two candy stores, after Alice Burdick had gone to Atlantic City in November. According to the witness, Burdick had telephoned her to request the meetings.

“What did he say then about Pennell?”

“He seemed to feel very bad about Pennell coming in and breaking up his family,” Gertrude said.

“Then he blamed Pennell for breaking up his family? He told you he sent her away?”

“No, he said, ‘Now you can understand why she is away.’ He said Pennell had agreed to leave the city, but he did not believe he would.”

Gertrude Paine had spoken to Edwin Burdick on the telephone the very day of the murder, but she reported nothing unusual in their conversation, and stated that the victim did not sound agitated or upset.

Mrs. Pennell
Mrs. Carrie Pennell

Mrs. Paine had visited with Mrs. Pennell, and they discussed the rumor of the Pennells’ divorce. “She said she had heard the story but that she had no intention of doing anything of the kind. She said she had spoken to Mr. Burdick about taking his wife back.”

Mrs. Paine was dismissed, it is to be assumed, amidst sighs of admiration.

Read Part VII.