Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Sad Story of Aunt Jennie's Death

Ida Jane "Jennie" Kimball was second daughter of William and Sarah Kimball, and the sister of Martha Amanda Kimball Wisemiller, who was Louis Butler's great-grandmother.  She was known to the Butler family as Aunt Jennie, and as evidenced as some family pictures I have, enjoyed a close relationship with her nieces and nephews including Jesse Butler, Lou's father.

This past week with the help of one of Lou's cousins I've not yet met, I've discovered a very interesting, yet very sad story about Aunt Jennie's death.  Family stories told of Jennie's last husband poisoning her, but until this week we had no proof of that happening.  But now we know the rest of the story.

Aunt Jennie Kimball Matheson  with Butler nieces
Susie Belle - Beulah Alice - Ida Amanda
circa 1913

Does this look like an authentic suicide note?

             Aug. 9, 15
Dear Artle
   I Will son be
   go on I Cant stand this pain
   dont worry you
   Will be better of
   good by Dear
   I Cant get wel
   god will for give me

Or how about this one?

you are not to blame for anything I took it all alone.

 Those notes were evidence produced by the grieving husband of our relative, Ida Jane "Jennie" Kimbell McCormick, when he was put on trial for her death.  Jennie had been in poor health since shortly after their marriage (her third marriage) in June of 1914, and Arthur had hired a nurse and consulted a physician in an attempt to diagnose her mysterious illness. However, his efforts were to no avail and she died leaving an estate of $100,000.  The initial coroner's report determined that "she came to her death while seated at dinner August 9 from strychnine poison taken with suicidal intent." (article from Grand Rapids Press, 17 August 1915).

Jennie was buried in her family plot in White Cloud, Michigan, but concerns about her mysterious death were not buried with her.  Public opinion demanded that another inquest be held after the "women of Ladysmith, Wisconsin" shared their interpretation of the tragedy - which included their impressions of Arthur as a smooth talking, suave rascal who seemed to be very interested in Jennie's money.

During this investigation, Arthur (or Astor) McCormick claimed that Jennie had appeared to him on after her death and instructed him where to find her suicide note that would surely exonerate him.  He appeared at the district attorney's office with the first one, and when that didn't seem to be convincing enough, Jennie conveniently came to Arthur in a "vision" in the middle of the hearing telling him of the second note under the rug in her bedroom. 

However, after convincing testimony from a handwriting expert, John Tyrrell, Jennie's notes were found to be phony and Mr. McCormick was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, having killed his wife by poisoning.

To read the article that brought all this to light, click here.