A Love Triangle Comes to a Dismal End in a Cincinnati Hallway

This is Part 2 of the story of the man who so generously gave up his wife. A wonderful Old Spirituals reader, Judy McNeel, asked what became of Mrs. Baldwin, which turned out to be an excellent question.

In March 1908, as Annie headed off into the sunset with her first husband Marshall, her sister, Mollie Baldwin, was also by her side. According to the Kentucky Post-Star, Mrs. Baldwin was arrested later that night for killing a man who had been in their group named Edward Warden.  The Post-Star had gotten a crucial detail wrong. It wasn’t Mollie who killed Warden, but her enraged (and estranged) husband, John Baldwin.

Mollie, as it happened, had been separated from her husband, John Baldwin for two months. Not everyone was as eager to part with his wife as Murphy had been, and Baldwin really wanted his wife to come home. Yet every time he tried to make a date with Mollie to talk to her about their marriage, she was a no-show. Worse, he could not find out her address, which raised suspicions that she was living with another man.

Baldwin had been drinking at a saloon with his friend Brooks Frazer when he overheard someone say they had a date to meet Mrs. Baldwin at the Bohemia Concert Hall. He and Brooks hurried there and just after eleven, they saw Mollie Baldwin come down the steps accompanied by her sister Annie, William Marshall, Anna Toker, and Edward Warden.

According to Baldwin, he hurried to Mollie’s side and an argument ensued. Her companions left but Mollie finally agreed to ask her friend Anna Toker to join herself, Baldwin, and Brooks Frazer. He had agreed and she led him to Edward Warden’s flat and told him to stay downstairs while she asked Anna to join them. “It might take five minutes, it might take twenty,” she admonished him. According to other witnesses, Baldwin struck Mollie and she left with the group, but turned back and saw Baldwin following them.

Either way, Baldwin ended up waiting in the lobby of the flat, expecting Mollie to reappear. Meanwhile, she escaped to Warden’s flat. Mrs. Baldwin had, in fact, been living in the flat for two months though there was some question of whether Warden lived there too or if he sublet out the rooms. Whether he lived there or not, he was there that night.

In any event, Baldwin got tired of waiting for his wife and climbed upstairs and banged on the door. Warden opened it, saw Baldwin, and slammed the door in his face. Mollie, terrified, pleaded with Warden to drive her husband away and he agreed to force Baldwin to leave.  It seems logical to assume Mollie was living with Warden, based on her running to him for help and his willingness to chase her husband off.

Warden snatched up a hammer and flung open the door. Baldwin, whose anger had not been at all assuaged by having a door slammed in his face, was ready to fight. A brawl ensued. Warden was armed with the hammer, but Baldwin had a definitive advantage. At 35, he was much younger than Warden. He was also a laborer who was accustomed to physical strain. Edward Warden was 44, and he worked the electric lights at the playhouse.

Nevertheless, Warden made a first wild strike at Baldwin with the hammer, which his opponent deflected. A second blow landed squarely, inflicting a deep wound on Baldwin’s skull. The bloodied Baldwin let out a roar and grappled for the hammer, ultimately seizing it from Warden. The theatre employee was dealt a terrific blow and immediately crumpled over and lay lifeless on the carpeted staircase. His skull, the Cincinnati Post revealed, was crushed like an eggshell.

Baldwin staggered backward and then out of the building, with the sound of his wife’s screams of horror in the night air. He immediately went to the police station where he gave himself up. He returned with the police to the scene shortly afterward, where Mrs. Baldwin, the Marshalls, and Anna Toker were arrested. Brooks Frazer, Baldwin’s saloon friend, was supposed to be arrested too. He cleverly asked the police if he could ride with his friend, giving the police the impression he would be easy to manage, but managed to slip away while their backs were turned.

The last two short articles published about the case mentioned that, two days after the murder, charges against Mollie Baldwin were dismissed and she was freed from jail.

With his head tied up in bandages, John Baldwin, was in Police Court a few days later a charge of murder, and the prisoner said he killed Warden in self-defense. His case was continued to Mar 31 and bond was set at $2500.

One sad little footnote to the story was that Warden had a brother who was in the hospital suffering from heart lesions and his health was so frail that they were afraid to tell him of his brother’s murder. There was some concern he would ask for Edward, who came to see him daily, and a question of whether they should wait until the day of the funeral to inform him of his brother’s passing.

Unfortunately, like so many stories from this era, the newspapers quickly moved on without providing any resolution to any of our questions. I couldn’t learn anything else about the case in the newspaper archives. I briefly visited the Ancestry database but Baldwin and Casey (Mollie’s maiden name) were common. I didn’t find a prison or a divorce record. That’s not to say those records don’t exist, but I didn’t see them.

My guess is Baldwin managed to beat the charge with his claim of self-defense. If there had been a trial, especially a sensational one, the newspapers would have been all over it. But who knows?

2 Comments

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  1. Really interesting! I wonder if jury sympathy would be in Baldwin’s favor since he was trying to get his wife back? I think a jury was composed of all men at that time. We would probably need to look at things with regard to thinking at that time in history. Today, I think more people would consider that he had hit his wife and consider him an abuser.

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