The Burdick Scandal – Part VII

As the details oozed out, a shadowy noose tightened around Arthur Pennell.

Arthur Reed Pennell

A sales clerk from a store where Pennell purchased a .32, two weeks before Burdick’s murder, was called to testify. The clerk related that Pennell returned to the store on February 27th, just two hours after the murder was discovered, to purchase another gun, an Iver & Johnson. When the clerk expressed surprise at his buying another gun so soon, Pennell said the first gun had been stolen.

Edwin Burdick had been beaten to death, not shot, but the DA implied Pennell was contemplating suicide. The 35-year-old attorney had heavily insured his life, to the tune of $235,000 (the equivalent of $6.5 million today). Witnesses described Pennell as a shady character and the papers featured daily unconfirmed reports that he was a swindler whose deceptions were unraveling — another motive for suicide.

Great 1903 ad for Iver Johnson guns
                                  1903 ad for Iver Johnson guns

Burdick’s business partner, Charles S. Parke, testified that he believed Pennell was behind the murder, if not the actual killer. However, before the details were known, he and others in the office believed Burdick had committed suicide. Dr. Marcy must have had a stroke when he heard that. How easy it could have been, had Dr. Howland not insisted on calling the police!

Parke said that Burdick had told him about the divorce, and that he blamed Pennell more than Alice. Parke asked Burdick why he didn’t kill Pennell, and Edwin replied, “How could I care for my children with a murder on my hands?”

The witness said Edwin told him both the Pennells pleaded with him to drop the divorce suit, even after legal action began.

“Pennell had been making a further appeal to him and said things which Mr. Burdick understood to be a threat of suicide. I think he said he threatened to kill Mrs. Burdick and himself if that suit were not discontinued. Burdick told me he thought the threat was a bluff.” The witness added, “He said he had been warned to look out for Pennell, but he believed Pennell was a physical coward and he had no fear of him.”

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The day Parke testified, a local newspaper published a letter Edwin Burdick had written to his mother, that detailed Pennell’s legal maneuverings:
“He put in an amended answer to my complaint making counter charges against me, and asking for the custody of the children and alimony. There Is no question about the outcome. I shall get my divorce, but I am going to let the matter go slow for a time. I am in no hurry now, and it may be two to six months before it comes to trial. I think he is trying to desert her – to find an excuse for a quarrel— and I am going to give them time to do it. I am not worrying about the matter very much.”

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F.G.H. King and Alexander Quinn, both employees of the Hotel Roland, described separate encounters at the hotel bar with an inebriated Pennell, who was there visiting Mrs. Burdick. According to the witnesses, Pennell stated, “There is one man I could kill, even if I swing for it.”

Both witnesses identified a photograph of Arthur Pennell.

He later told one of the men he was having the greatest time of his life, even though it was at the expense of another. Then he raised his glass and called a toast, “Here’s to death!”

Whatever you may think of a drunken man shouting out a theatrical toast to Death in a roomful of people he didn’t know, you couldn’t possibly admire it more than the press did. Reporters were so inspired by Arthur Pennell’s reported toast that they decided to create melodramatic headlines of their own, like these:

I'll kill

One man

This is my favorite!

At the turn of the century, bumper was a slang term used to refer to a glass filled to the brim.

The Hotel Roland, which was located at 59th Street in New York, sounds like a curious place. While definitely not a Motel 6 type of establishment, Hotel Roland was not the Ritz. It seems to be the 1903 equivalent of a Best Western.

Hotel Roland

It billed itself variously as transient, temperate, and “especially desirable for single men and elderly people” which really makes you wonder what sort of amenities the Hotel Roland featured. The temperance part is baffling, since Pennell was at the hotel’s bar when he uttered the incriminating threats to Burdick, and one of the witnesses who gave testimony was employed by the hotel as a bartender.

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Read Part VIII.