Albert Patrick Trial: 1902
Defendant: Albert T. Patrick
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Albert T. Patrick
Chief Prosecutor: William Travers Jerome
Judge: John William Goff
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: January 22-March 26, 1902
Sentence: Death by electrocution, later commuted to life
imprisonment, and ultimately pardoned by the governor of New York
Significance: The Albert Patrick trial
illustrated the often uncertain nature of medical evidence in
proving a murder. Although the jury found Patrick guilty, lingering
doubts about the evidence eventually caused the governor of New York
to pardon him.
AIbert T. Patrick was the sort of man who gives lawyers a bad
name. A native of Texas, where he went to law school and then practiced law for
several years, Patrick moved to New York in 1892 to escape disbarment
proceedings initiated by a federal judge who was outraged by Patrick's conduct
in a particular case. Once in New York, Patrick continued his shady ways.
Although nothing was ever proven, there were suspicious circumstances
surrounding the death of a wealthy fertilizer magnate who had sued Patrick for
restitution of $5,500—a respectable sum in those days—and surrounding the death
of Patrick's wife in 1896.
In 1896, Patrick also became involved in the affairs of
William Marsh Rice, a multimillionaire and philanthropist. Rice was born in 1816
in Springfield, Massachusetts, and moved to Texas in the 1830s when it was still
the raw frontier. Rice built a fortune in oil, retailing, and real estate, and
his empire extended into Louisiana and Oklahoma as well. In his old age, Rice
had returned to the East Coast to live with his second wife in Rice's Dunellen,
New Jersey mansion.
Rice's wife died in July 1896, and in her will left a
considerable amount of her estate to her family and relatives. Under Texas law,
her estate consisted of half of all property acquired by Rice during their
marriage, which amounted to millions of dollars. Her will conflicted with Rice's
desire to leave virtually all of his estate to the William M. Rice Institute for
the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art in Houston, Texas. Rice, having a
Madison Avenue apartment, asserted that he was a New York resident and therefore
not subject to Texas law. When he started legal actions against the executor of
his wife's estate, O.T. Holt, Holt went to Patrick for help.
William Marsh Rice Murdered
Holt retained Patrick to obtain evidence from anyone who had
ever known Rice that could be used to prove that Rice was legally still a Texan.
During his investigations, Patrick met Rice's personal valet and secretary,
Charles F. Jones. Patrick and Jones thought up an ambitious scheme to murder
Rice, plunder his estate by cashing forged checks on his New York bank accounts,
and get at the rest of Rice's assets through a forged will naming Patrick and
Jones as beneficiaries. Patrick himself drafted the fake will, also deliberately
inserting generous legacies to Rice's relatives at the expense of the institute
in the hope that the relatives would not challenge the will.
On the night of September 23, 1900, Jones covered the
sleeping Rice's face with chloroform-soaked towels. The old man died without a
struggle. Patrick and Jones were unable to carry through their scheme, however.
Rice's Texas lawyer demanded an autopsy and came to New York to begin an
investigation. When Patrick tried to cash the forged checks at Rice's bank, the
bank officials became suspicious and notified the authorities. Patrick and Jones
were soon arrested for Rice's murder. After unsuccessfully trying to commit
suicide, Jones confessed and agreed to testify against Patrick in return for
Patrick Tried And Convicted
Albert Patrick's trial began on January 22, 1902. Patrick
defended himself. The prosecutor was District Attorney William Travers Jerome
and the judge was John William Goff. The central issue of the trial was proving
the corpus delicti, namely that a murder had occurred. Although the
doctors who had performed the autopsy generally agreed that Rice had been killed
by chloroform poisoning, there was enough scientific uncertainty, given Rice's
advanced age, that Patrick was able to keep the trial stalled for over two
months. For example, take Patrick's questioning of Dr. Edward W. Lee:
Patrick: Doctor, assuming that a patient is eighty-four
years of age, that prior to death he had dropsy of the lower limbs for several
months from the knees down, and that the post-mortem findings revealed … the
lungs congested slightly … the kidneys firm [with] a number of small cysts,
and that on the day preceding his death the patient was troubled with his
urine, and had to urinate frequently, … what would you say would be the cause
Lee: Congestion of the lungs and diseased kidneys [which
could be caused by chloroform or by tuberculosis, pneumonia or kidney disease]
On March 26, 1902, the jury returned a guilty verdict against
Patrick. Goff sentenced Patrick to death by electrocution. Luckily for Patrick,
however, one of his sisters had married a wealthy man, John T. Milliken, who was
convinced of Patrick's innocence. Milliken financed a team of lawyers to handle
Patrick's appeals, which tied up the courts for years. In 1906, Governor Frank
Higgins commuted Patrick's sentence to life imprisonment. Patrick continued to
fight for total freedom, however. For the next six years, Patrick and the
Millikenfinanced team of lawyers pursued every avenue of appeal, including,
according to accounts in the press, under-the-table payments to state
legislators and officials.
On November 28, 1912, Governor John A. Dix pardoned Patrick.
Dix claimed that "there has always been an air of mystery about the case." Dix's
pardon was widely criticized, but there was nothing that could be done about it,
especially as Dix was about to leave office anyway. Patrick left New York, never
to return, and died in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1940. Although the Patrick case amply
illustrated the fact that medical evidence is often inconclusive in proving a
murder, it also demonstrated that money makes a difference in the American
system of justice.
—Stephen G. Christianson
William Marsh Rice was born in Springfield,
Massachusetts on March 14, 1816. He was the third of ten children born to David
and Patty Hall Rice. Little is known about Rice's childhood but records indicate
that he worked for a while as a shopkeeper in Springfield before deciding to
move to Texas in 1838.
Rice started out in business as a merchant in Houston, Texas.
His first business partnership with a Barnabas Haskill was formed in 1840 but
dissolved by 1842. In 1844 Rice became a commission and forwarding merchant in
partnership with Ebenezer B. Nichols, a successful Houston businessman. By 1850
Rice's siblings began to follow him to Houston and assisted in his ventures. On
June 29, 1850 Rice married Margaret Bremond whose father Paul was one of Rice's
many business partners. In the census of 1860, Rice is listed as having $750,000
in real and personal property, making him one of the wealthiest men in Texas at
On August 13, 1863 Margaret Rice died, possibly from cholera
or yellow fever. Shortly after his wife's death, Rice went to Monterrey, Mexico
and stayed there until August of 1865 when he returned to Houston. Later in that
summer, he went to Massachusetts for business and did not return to Houston
until 1866. On June 26, 1867 Rice married for a second time. His second wife was
Julia Elizabeth Baldwin Brown, a widow and a daughter of Horace Baldwin, one of
the early mayors of Houston. Elizabeth's sister Charlotte was the wife of
William's younger brother Frederic.
Rice and his second wife moved to New Jersey to live with
Rice's sister Charlotte and her family. Rice and his wife divided their time
between New York City and New Jersey with occasional trips to Houston to oversee
During one of the Rices' visits to Houston, he was approached
by Cesar Maurice Lombardi, who was interested in building a high school in
Houston. Rice had been interested in endowing an educational institute of some
kind, having revised his will twice previously to include a school for needy
boys, first in New Jersey, then in New York City. After the meeting with
Lombardi, Rice decided to fund an institute of higher learning in Houston.
On May 19, 1891 the charter for the William M. Rice Institute
for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art was incorporated in Austin,
Texas. Captain James Addison Baker, William's brother Frederic, Houston
businessmen Emanuel Raphael, Cesar Lombardi, James E. McAshan and Alfred S.
Richardson were named as the first board of trustees.
In article two of the charter:
"(t)he objects, intents, and purposes of this Institution
are declared to be the establishment and maintenance, in the City of Houston,
Texas, of a Public Library, and the maintenance of an Institution for the
Advancement of Literature, Science, Art, Philosophy and Letters; the
establishment and maintenance of a Polytechnic school; for procuring and
maintaining scientific collections; collections of chemical and philosophical
apparatus, mechanical and artistic models, drawings, pictures and statues; and
for cultivating other means of instruction ..."
The institute was initially endowed with a promissory note for $200,000 to be
paid upon Rice's death. Rice revised his will on September 26, 1896 and left the
bulk of his estate to his namesake institute.
Elizabeth Rice's health began to fail in the early months of
1896. The Rices moved to Houston in April 1896, hoping the warm weather would
improve Elizabeth's condition. On June 1, 1896 Mrs. Rice drew up a new will
without her husband's knowledge naming Orren Holt, a Houston lawyer, as her
executor. The will claimed that the Rices were residents of Texas (a community
property state) and Elizabeth could bequeath half of the Rice estate as she saw
fit. Rice moved Elizabeth to a hotel in Waukesha, Wisconsin shortly after the
new will was signed. Elizabeth died on July 24, 1896 in Waukesha. Rice returned
to New York City.
In September 1896 Orren Holt, Elizabeth's executor, filed to
probate Elizabeth's last will. Captain Baker, Rice's lawyer, informed Rice of
the situation and a court battle began over the will. Rice disputed his wife's
claim that she had been a Texas resident since this division of their estate
would decrease what was available for the institute.
During the battle over the estate two lawyers became involved
with the proceedings and would end up greatly influencing the final results.
Captain Baker, a trustee of the Rice Institute, served as William Rice's lawyer.
Albert Patrick, the other lawyer, was hired by Orren Holt in 1898 to investigate
the residency question in New York City. There Patrick met Charlie Jones, Rice's
valet. The two spent a great deal of time together and slowly a plan was formed.
At first it seemed that Patrick was only interested in the
settlement of the contested will and was looking for any way to win. He
convinced Jones, in the spring of 1900, to start poisoning Rice with mecury
pills as a way to avoid a court battle. By the summer of 1900 Patrick came up
with the idea to forge a will that left the majority of Rice's estate to himself
and small sums to relatives and friends. The forged will was dated June 30,
On September 8, 1900 a hurricane struck the Gulf Coast and
one of Rice's businesses, the Merchants and Planters Oil Company, suffered
severe damage. The business manager telegraphed that they needed money for
repairs and the sum was most of what Rice had available in his bank account.
Patrick was worried at the loss of such a large sum of ready cash and he
convinced Jones to use chloroform to kill Rice.
On September 23, 1900 Rice was murdered by Jones. Patrick, in
his haste to get hold of Rice's cash, tried to withdraw money from Rice's bank
using a check forged by Jones right after Rice's death. The bank refused to
honor the check since Patrick's name was spelled incorrectly. When calling to
verify the check with Rice, the bank learned that he was dead. Since the
circumstances were suspicious, the bank contacted Rice's Houston lawyer, Captain
When Baker arrived in New York City, he learned there had
been a new will written up by Patrick. Baker was suspicious of the will since
Rice had never notified him of any changes to the one Baker had drawn up on
September 26, 1896. This suspicion led to a long and sensational trial where
Patrick's version of the will was exposed as a forgery and the scheme to kill
Rice was discovered.
Patrick was found guilty of murder and forgery on March 26,
1902 and was sentenced to die in the electric chair. Jones, who confessed to his
part of the events, ended up being released despite being the one who had
actually committed the murder. Patrick's sentence was commuted to life
imprisonment by the governor of New York, but eventually won a full pardon in
A Murder Conspiracy
from True Stories of Crime, Chapter IX (1908)
by Arthur Train
FORMERLY ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY
NEW YORK COUNTY
WILLIAM M. RICE, eighty-four
years of age, died at the Berkshire Apartments at 500 Madison Avenue, New York
City, at about half after seven o'clock on the evening of Sunday, September 23,
1900. He had been ill for some time, but it was expected that he would recover.
On or about the moment of his death, two elderly ladies, friends of the old
gentleman, had called at the house with cakes and wine, to see him. The elevator
man rang the bell of Mr. Rice's apartment again and again, but could elicit no
response, and the ladies, much disappointed, went away. While the bell was
ringing Charles F. Jones, the confidential valet of the aged man, was waiting,
he says, in an adjoining room until a cone saturated with chloroform, which he
had placed over the face of his sleeping master, should effect his death.
Did Jones murder Rice? If so, was it, as he claims, at the
instigation of Albert T. Patrick?
These two questions, now settled in the affirmative forever, so far as
criminal and civil litigation are concerned, have been the subject of private
study and public argument for more than seven years.
Mr. Rice was a childless widower, living the life of a recluse, attended only
by Jones, who was at once his secretary, valet and general servant. No other
person lived in the apartment, and few visitors ever called there. Patrick was a
New York lawyer with little practice who had never met Mr. Rice, was employed as
counsel in litigation hostile to him, yet in whose favor a will purporting to be
signed by Rice, June 30, 1900, turned up after the latter's death, by the terms
of which Patrick came into the property, amounting to over seven million dollars,
in place of a charitable institution named in an earlier will of 1896.
It is now
universally admitted that the alleged will of 1900 was a forgery, as well as
four checks drawn to Patrick's order (two for $25,000 each, one for $65,000, and
one for $135,000, which represented practically all of Rice's bank accounts), an
order giving him control of the contents of Rice's safe deposit vaults (in which
were more than $2,500,000 in securities), and also a general assignment by which
he became the owner of Rice's entire estate.
Thus upon Rice's death Patrick had
every possible variety of document necessary to possess himself of the property.
Jones took nothing under any of these fraudulent instruments. Hence Patrick's
motive in desiring the death of Rice is the foundation stone of the case against
him. But that Patrick desired and would profit by Rice's death in no way tends
to establish that Rice did not die a natural death. Patrick would profit equally
whether Rice died by foul means or natural, and the question as to whether
murder was done must be determined from other evidence. This is only to be found
in the confession of the valet Jones and in the testimony of the medical experts
who performed the autopsy. Jones, a self-confessed murderer, swears that upon
the advice and under the direction of Patrick (though in the latter's absence)
he killed his master by administering chloroform. There is no direct
corroborative evidence save that of the experts. Upon Jones's testimony depended
the question of Patrick's conviction or acquittal, and of itself this was not
sufficient, for being that of an accomplice it must, under the New York law, be
In the confession of Jones the State had sufficient direct evidence
of the crime and of Patrick's connection with it, providing there was other
evidence tending to connect Patrick with its commission. This corroborative
evidence is largely supplied by the facts which show that for a long time
Patrick conspired with Jones to steal the bulk of Mr. Rice's estate at his death.
This evidence not only shows Patrick's possible motive for planning Mr. Rice's
murder, but also tends to corroborate Jones's whole story of the
Rice did not know Patrick even by sight. He had heard of him only as a person
retained by other lawyer (Holt) to do "the dirty work" in action brought by Rice
against Holt, as executor, to set aside Mrs. Rice's will, in which she assumed,
under the "Community Law" of Texas, where Rice had formerly resided, to dispose
of some $2,500,0000 of Rice's property. If Rice was a resident of Texas
she had the legal right to do this,--otherwise not. Holt employed Patrick to get
evidence that Rice still was such a resident. Rice knew of this and hated
Patrick's connection with the Rice litigation had begun four years before the
murder, which was not planned until August, 1900. His first visit to Rice's
apartment was made under the assumed name of Smith for the purpose of
discovering whether the valet could be corrupted into furnishing fictitious
proof of Rice's intent to reside in Texas. He flattered Jones; told him he was
underpaid and not appreciated, and, after a second visit, at which he disclosed
his right name, persuaded him to typewrite a letter on Rice's stationery
addressed to Baker, Botts, Baker & Lovett (Rice's attorneys), in which he should
be made to say that he had lost hope of winning the suit against Holt, was
really a citizen of Texas, and wanted to settle the litigation. Patrick said
that he could arrange for the signing of such a letter and was willing to pay
Jones $250 for his help. Jones agreed.
Patrick now learned that Mr. Rice was living with no companion except Jones;
that he held little communication with the outside world; that the valet was in
his confidence and thoroughly familiar with his papers, and that the will made
in 1896 disinherited natural heirs in favor of an educational institution which
he had founded in Texas. He also learned that while Mr. Rice was 84 years of age
he was in possession of all his faculties, conducted his own business, and might
live for years. Possessed of these facts Patrick's evil mind soon developed a
conspiracy with Jones to secure the whole estate.
Mr. Rice's pet charity was the William M. Rice Institute "for the advance of
science, art and literature," of Texas, which he had founded in 1891. He had
donated to it more than a million and half dollars. By the will of 1896 only
small legacies were bequeathed to relatives, while the bulk of his fortune was
left to the Institute.
About a month after Patrick's first visit to the Berkshire Apartments, that
is, in December, 1899, while he and Jones were examining Rice's private papers,
they stumbled upon the will. Patrick saw his opportunity. By the forgery of a
new will which would increase the legacies of those mentioned in the will of
1896 and leave legacies to every person who might have any claim upon the
estate, it would be for the interest of those persons to sustain and carry into
effect the forgery. The whole scheme was based upon the belief that "every man
has his price." He told Jones that he thought the will unjust; that he did not
think it right to leave so little to relatives, and later he brought to Jones a
rough draft of a will which could be substituted for the genuine one. Patrick
was to get half the estate, the relatives were to receive double or three times
the amount provided in the 1896 will, and what was left was to be given to the
Rice Institute. He proposed that Jones should typewrite this will, and
guaranteed to arrange for the witnessing and signing of it, and promised that
Jones should get whatever he wanted. Jones at first objected, but was finally
won over. Rewritten many times to include new ideas of the conspirators, the
document finally reached the form of the will of June 30, 1900, in which Patrick
substituted himself for the Rice Institute and made himself one of the executors.
An ingenious part of the conspiracy was the decision to leave the 1896 will
in existence. If Patrick had destroyed it and the relatives had succeeded in
overthrowing the will of 1900, the estate would have been left without
testamentary disposition and the relatives would have got more than was provided
by either will. With the will of 1896 in existence, however, the relatives would
get less if they overthrew the forgery. By retaining it, therefore, Patrick
figured that the relatives would have selfish reasons for accepting the forgery
The preparation of this bogus will occupied about a month, and the next
question was the procurement of witnesses. It was desirable to get the same
persons who witnessed the former will. These were Walter H. Wetherbee and W.F.
Harmon, clerks for many years at Swenson's banking house. On the assumption that
Wetherbee had been injured by Rice and was therefore hostile to him, Jones
practically unfolded the scheme. He told Wetherbee that one of Mr. Rice's bonds
had disappeared and that Rice had accused Wetherbee of stealing it. He wound up
with the suggestion, "I will get one witness and you can get another and the
thing is done." But Wetherbee indignantly declined to join in the conspiracy.
Morris Meyers, who had been employed in Patrick's office, and David L. Short,
a friend of both, were the false witnesses finally selected.
They were clothed with the appearance of honesty and were brought into
contact with Rice by Jones at various times: Meyers as a notary public, and
Short as commissioner of deeds for the State of Texas, an appointment procured
for him by Patrick probably for this specific purpose.
The date of the forged will, June 30, 1900, was selected to correspond with
the date of three genuine papers which Rice acknowledged before Short on that
The next step was to obviate the absurdity of Patrick's being selected as the
residuary legatee at a time when he was engaged in bitter litigation against
Rice. The best way out was for Patrick to pose as a lawyer who had brought about
a settlement of this expensive litigation and thus won Rice's regard. Patrick
first tried to accomplish this by getting friends to visit Rice and urge a
settlement. But Rice rebuffed them all. Accordingly, Patrick again resorted to
forgery, and in August, 1900, manufactured an instrument of settlement, dated
March 6, 1900.
But such an agreement would not explain the paradox of a man whom Rice hated
and despised and did not know by sight turning up as the principal beneficiary
under his will. It was necessary to manufacture evidence to be used after Rice's
death in support of his claim of close relations. The idea of a personal meeting
with Rice had been abandoned on Jones's advice, and Patrick therefore caused the
valet to prepare twenty-five or thirty forged letters addressed to him and
purporting to come from Rice. These referred to current business matters and
conveyed the impression that it was Rice's custom to seek the lawyer's advice.
One instructed Patrick as to the terms of the will of 1900. Carbon copies were
made for filing in Rice's letter book after his death.
To make assurance doubly sure and to secure immediate possession of Rice's
securities a general assignment to Patrick of all Rice's estate was forged, and
an order giving him access to and possession of the securities on deposit in
Rice's safety vault.
But Patrick did not stop here. He procured from Jones three checks signed by
Mr. Rice in the regular course of business, one payable to Jones for his July
salary and the other two for the July and August salary of an employee of Rice's
in Texas named Cohn. These three checks Patrick kept as models, forwarding to
Cohn two forged checks filled out by Jones upon which Rice's signature had been
traced, and returning to Jones a substitute check with Rice's signature traced
upon it. All three checks passed through the banks unsuspected. Traced
signatures were also substituted for genuine ones upon letters dictated by Rice
to his Texas correspondents. Thus Patrick secured the circulation of five copies
of Rice's signature which, if occasion demanded, he could produce as standards
of comparison to correspond with his other forgeries.
The principal preparations
were complete. But title under the will might long be delayed and perhaps even
eventually fail. Patrick was poor and in no condition to conduct adequately a
serious litigation. The moment Mr. Rice died a large amount of cash would be
necessary. For the procurement of this Patrick and Jones looked to the current
balance of Rice's bank account, which amounted to some two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars on deposit at Swenson's private bank and at the Fifth Avenue
Trust Company. With this they felt reasonably secure of success. For even if the
will should be set aside as fraudulent they had a second line of defense in the
general assignment of the estate and the orders to Rice's two million five
hundred thousand dollars of securities.
While the evidence affords a motive for Patrick to desire the death of Mr.
Rice, it does not of itself, up to this point, indicate the slightest intention
on the part of Patrick to do away with the old gentleman. It was therefore
conceded by the prosecution that, upon Jones's own testimony, the conspiracy to
murder was not formed until about seven weeks before the event. The first
evidence which points to an intent to murder is the famous "cremation letter,"
dated August 3d.
The cremation letter from Mr. Rice, authorizing Patrick to cremate his body,
shows that Patrick intended to do away with Rice in such a way that an autopsy
must, if possible, be prevented and the evidence of murder destroyed. That
Patrick forged such a letter was evidence that his connection with the murder
was premeditated and deliberate. To cremate the body before an autopsy it was
necessary to procure a physician's certificate that Rice had died from natural
causes. He therefore made preparation to secure such a certificate, and then
upon the strength of the cremation letter to give directions for the immediate
destruction of the body.
Patrick, with the view of having at hand a physician who would be
unsuspicious, and who would issue a certificate of death from natural causes,
induced Jones to send for Dr. Curry, his own friend and physician, on an
occasion when the valet was ill. This was in March, 1900. Dr. Curry came and
Jones, acting under Patrick's advice, cautioned him not to mention the lawyer's
name to Rice. In course of time he saw Rice, gained his good opinion and became
his attending physician. But Rice did not die, and curiously enough it was he
himself who suggested to Jones the instrumentality of death which was finally
employed, for he read an article dealing with the dangers of chloroform as an
anæsthetic, and discussed it with the valet. This suggestion was conveyed to
Patrick, who asked Dr. Curry whether chloroform left any traces discoverable
upon an autopsy. Dr. Curry rather carelessly replied that it left but slight
traces if administered only in the quantities which would be fatal to a man with
a weak heart. Patrick told Jones, so Jones alleges, to procure some chloroform
and this he did, sending to Texas for two bottles of two ounces each. From Dr.
Curry's remarks it was manifest that a weakened condition of the patient was an
important element, and as Jones was taking some mercury pills (prescribed for
him by Dr. Curry), the valet induced his master to take some of them. The old
gentleman was benefited, however, rather than weakened. This was before
the forgery of the cremation letter. It was clear that larger doses of mercury
would be necessary, and accordingly Patrick furnished Jones with pellets
containing the drug in such quantities that Jones, experimenting with one of
them, became ill.
They had now the means to effect gradual death, but as mercury leaves
traces discernible at an autopsy, it was decided that the body must be cremated
promptly. Hence the cremation letter. It was hoped that Rice might drop off at
any moment, owing to his weakened condition, and in anticipation of death
Patrick discontinued his visits to the apartment in order to establish a
satisfactory alibi. Jones also frequently absented himself from the apartment in
the evenings after the old man had fallen asleep.
On September 16th Rice had an attack of acute indigestion, which might
have resulted seriously had it not been for the mercurial pills which promptly
relieved him. The reader should observe that practically all of this testimony
comes from Jones. There is no extraneous evidence that Patrick induced the
giving of the mercury. Patrick, however, spread false rumors as to Rice's
general health and also as to his financial condition and intentions, namely,
that Rice was only worth seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and that
those who expected he was going to leave his money to the Institute were doomed
to disappointment. But neither his statements about Rice's condition nor his
remarks as to the disposition and extent of his property are inconsistent with a
mere hope that he would die and thus leave Patrick free to enjoy the
fruits of his forgeries.
There now occurred, however, an event which may well have played a part in
inducing Patrick to supplement forgery by murder. On Sunday, September 16th, the
plant of the Merchants' and Planters' Oil Company of Houston, Texas, of which
Rice owned seventy-five per cent. of the capital stock, was destroyed by fire.
The company being without funds to rebuild, its directors telegraphed to Rice
requesting him to advance the money. The amount needed was two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars--and if Rice consented, all the available funds on deposit in
the New York banks, upon which the conspirators relied to accomplish their
object, would be exhausted. Jones endeavored to dissuade the old man from
advancing the money, but without effect, and Rice sent a letter to Houston
agreeing to supply one hundred and fifty thousand dollars and more in
instalments of twenty-five thousand dollars each. This was on September 18th,
after he had wired to the same effect on September 17th.
Patrick and Jones
suppressed a telegram that Rice would advance two hundred and fifty thousand
dollars, and on September 19th the old man received word that the first draft in
conformity with his telegram of September 17th had been drawn and would arrive
in New York on the 22d. Jones says that on showing this to Patrick the latter
announced that Rice must be put out of the way as soon as possible. Accordingly,
on September 20th and 21st, Jones administered larger doses of mercury than
usual, which, while weakening and depressing him, failed to cause his end.
Saturday, September 22d, the draft was presented at Rice's apartment. The old
man was not confined to his bed, but Jones told the bank messenger, after
pretending to consult him, that Rice was too ill to attend to business that day
and to return on Monday. That night Jones and Patrick met, and it was agreed (according
to Jones) that Rice must not be allowed to survive until Monday. They still
hoped that he might die without any further act upon their part, but Jones was
informed by Dr. Curry that, although the old man seemed weak and under a great
mental strain, he nevertheless thought that he would recover. This Curry also
told to Patrick, the latter calling at the doctor's house about five o'clock in
"You think Mr. Rice will be able to go down Monday morning?" Patrick asked.
"You had better wait until Monday morning comes," replied Dr. Curry.
"Do you think he will be able to go down town next week?" persisted the
The doctor answered in the affirmative.
That night Mr. Rice slept quietly until eight o'clock Sunday morning. Dr.
Curry called and found him in excellent condition, having eaten a hearty
breakfast. His heart was a trifle weak, but it was sound. His organs were all
working normally; he felt no pain. The doctor left without prescribing any
medicine, stating that he would not return unless called, and expressing his
opinion that the patient would recover. This was about eleven o'clock, and Jones
immediately hastened to Patrick's house and reported the conversation.
It was clear that Rice's death would not occur before Monday morning. He
might live to pay over the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars; long enough
to give further testimony in the Holt litigation, and thus expose the whole
fraudulent scheme of pretended settlement and of friendly relations with the
lawyer, and finally, perhaps, even to make a new will. The success of the
conspiracy demanded that Rice should die that night. Did he die naturally? Was
his death caused by any further act of the conspirators? Did Jones kill him by
means of chloroform?
Jones's story is that Patrick supplied him with some oxalic acid which was
to be mixed with powdered ammonia and diluted in water, on the theory that it
was preferable to chloroform since it would not require Jones's presence in the
room at the moment of death. Jones said that he endeavored to administer the
mixture to the old man, but that he refused to take it. Jones had already
procured the chloroform from Texas, as has been stated, and had turned it over
to Patrick. He says that that afternoon he procured this from Patrick, who told
him how to administer it. This was a few moments after six o'clock. Rice was
sleeping soundly. The colored woman who did the housework was absent for the day
and the rooms were deserted. He saturated a sponge with chloroform, constructed
a cone out of a towel, placed the sponge in the cone, put the cone over the
sleeping man's face and ran out of the room and waited thirty minutes for the
chloroform to complete the work. Waiting in the next room he heard the door bell
ring, and ring again, but he paid no attention to the summons. In point of fact
he was never quite sure himself whether the bell was not the creation of his own
overwrought brain. At the end of half an hour he returned to the bedroom,
removed the cone from Rice's face and saw that he was dead, then after burning
the sponge and the towel in the kitchen range he opened the windows,
straightened the rooms out, called the elevator man, asked him to send for Dr.
Curry, and telephoned to Patrick that Rice was dead.
Jones had no sooner telephoned Patrick that Rice was dead than the lawyer
hastened to Dr. Curry's, and within forty minutes appeared with him in Rice's
apartments, assuming complete charge. Summoning an undertaker and having the
cremation letter at hand, he gave orders for speedy cremation. But he now
discovered the principal mistake in his calculations. He had omitted to
investigate the length of time required to heat the crematory. This he now
discovered to his horror to be twenty-four hours. But the body must be destroyed.
The undertaker suggested that the body might be embalmed while the crematory was
being heated, and Patrick at once seized upon the suggestion and gave orders to
that effect, although the cremation letter sets forth specifically that one of
the reasons why Rice desired cremation was his horror of being embalmed. The
body was embalmed at the apartments that night, Dr. Curry innocently supplying
the certificate of death from "old age and weak heart," and as immediate cause,
indigestion followed by collocratal diarrhœa with mental worry."
Having arranged for the cremation at the earliest possible moment, Jones
and Patrick rifled the trunk in which Rice kept his papers, and stuffed them in
a satchel which Patrick bore away with him.
The funeral was to be held early Tuesday morning and the ashes conveyed by
Jones to Milwaukee, to be interred near the body of Rice's wife, while the
relatives should not be notified until it should be too late for them to reach
The next step was to secure the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars
which Rice had on deposit. Patrick had already forged Rice's name to blank
checks on Swenson and the Fifth Avenue Trust Company. Early Monday morning Jones,
with Patrick looking over his shoulder and directing him, filled out the body of
the checks, which covered all but ten thousand dollars of Rice's deposits. These
consisted of one for twenty-five thousand dollars and one for sixty-five
thousand dollars on Swenson, one for twenty-five thousand dollars and another
for one hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars on the Trust Company. They were
all made payable to the order of Patrick and dated September 22d, the day before
Rice's death. One of the drafts on the Fifth Avenue Trust Company was cashed for
him by a friend named Potts early Monday morning, and was paid without suspicion.
But now came the second error, which resulted in the exposure of the
conspiracy and conviction for murder. Jones, in filling out the twenty-five
thousand dollar check on Swenson, had in his nervousness omitted the "l" from
Patrick's Christian name, so that the check read "Abert T. Patrick," and Patrick
in his excitement had failed to notice the omission or attempt to obviate it by
extra indorsement. This twenty-five thousand dollar Swenson check was intrusted
to David L. Short for presentation to Swenson & Sons for certification. When he
presented it, Wallace, the clerk, recognized Jones's handwriting in the body of
it, and thought the signature looked unnatural. He took it to a rear office,
where he showed it to Wetherbee,who was the person whom Jones had approached
nine months before with a request that he join the conspiracy to manufacture a
bogus will. Wetherbee compared the signature on the check with genuine
signatures in the bank, and returned it to Short without any intimation that he
regarded it as irregular, but assigning as the reason the defect in the
indorsement. Short thereupon returned the check to Patrick, who supplied the
necessary supplementary indorsement and telephoned to Jones what had occurred,
instructing him to say that the check was all right in case the Swensons should
Half an hour later Short returned to Swenson's, where the check was
examined by one of the firm. Rice's apartments were then called up, and Jones
said that the checks were all right. But this did not satisfy Mr. Swenson, so he
instructed Wallace to call up the apartment again and insist on talking to Mr.
Rice. Jones delayed replying to Wallace and in the afternoon called up Patrick
on the telephone, inquiring what he should say. Patrick replied that he would
have to say that Rice was dead. And in accordance with this Jones informed
Swenson that Rice had died at eight o'clock the previous evening. It was thus
clear to Swenson that although the maker of the check was dead, Patrick, a
lawyer, cognizant of that fact, was seeking to secure payment upon it. For Jones
had told Swenson that he had reported Rice's death to the doctor and to Rice's
Patrick, accompanied by Potts, went immediately to the bank, where Swenson
informed him that the check could be paid only to the administrator. Patrick
replied that there would be no administrator; that Rice had left no property in
this State, and informed Swenson that he had an assignment by Rice to himself of
all Rice's securities with Swenson He also invited Swenson to the funeral.
Later in the day Patrick attempted to obtain possession of Rice's
securities in the Safety Deposit Company and in the Fifth Avenue Trust Company,
by presenting forged instruments of transfer and the orders heretofore referred
to; but after some delay the trust companies declined his access. The conspiracy
had begun to go to pieces The two mistakes and the failure to secure funds
placed Patrick in a dangerous position.
Two o'clock on Monday afternoon, eighteen hours after the death, Jones, at
Patrick's direction began to notify the relatives that Rice had died the evening
before, and that the funeral would take place the following morning. The
telegrams to Baker and to Rice, Jr., in Texas, were in the following
Mr. Rice died eight o'clock last night under care of physicians.
Death certificate, "old age, weak heart, delirium." Left instructions to be
interred in Milwaukee with wife. Funeral 10 A.M.
tomorrow at 500 Madison Avenue.
It is significant that care was used to convey the information that the
death was a natural one with a physician in attendance; that the body was to be
interred in Milwaukee, without reference to the cremation. This may well have
been so that if any suspicions of foul play should arise, the recipient
realizing that they could not reach New York in time to arrest matters there,
might hasten to Milwaukee to intercept the body, where they could be met by
Jones with the cremation letter in his pocket and his urn of ashes under his arm.
But the telegram did arouse suspicion, and Baker and Rice
immediately wired Jones as follows:
Please make no disposition of Rice's remains until we arrive. We
leave to-night, arrive New York Thursday morning.
Baker also instructed N.A. Meldrum, a Texan then in New York, to co-operate
with Jones in preserving everything intact.
In the meantime, however, Swenson had notified his attorneys, who in turn
had informed the police and the District Attorney's office, and that evening at
about eleven o'clock James W. Gerard, accompanied by a detective, who posed as
the lawyer's clerk, interviewed Patrick at his home. Patrick informed Gerard
that he had an assignment of all Rice's property and also a will of Rice's of
which he was executor. This was the first reference to the will of 1900.
informed Gerard that he would not receive a cent under its provision. To have
explained the real terms of the will would, under the circumstances, have
excited too much suspicion. Yet he was eager to let the Swensons know that as
executor he was in a position to control the profitable banking business that
would arise from the settlement of the estate. In the meantime four Headquarters'
detectives, representing themselves as lawyers, visited the apartments.
Patrick hurried to 500 Madison Avenue, where he learned of Meldrum's
presence in town. Things were turning out far from the way in which he had
expected. He then hastened to his office downtown, which he reached about half-past
one in the morning, and, alone, destroyed great quantities of paper, attempting
to dispose of them through the toilet bowl, which was so clogged that the water
flowed out upon the floor, necessitating an apology to the janitor.
silence of the night misgivings came upon him. He lost his nerve, and at two
o'clock in the morning called up the undertaker and revoked the signed order for
cremation which he had given. Leaving the office at about five in the morning he
first visited Meyers, thence proceeded to his own boarding-house, and from there
went to the apartments, which he reached at eight o'clock. Here he found the
detectives who had been on guard since early morning to forestall any attempt to
remove the body.
At the funeral itself he attempted to conciliate adverse interests and to
win witnesses for his purpose. He had begun to do this the very night that Rice
had died, when he told the elevator man that he was remembered in Rice's will.
He had also informed Wetherbee that he had a five thousand dollars' legacy. At
the funeral were Blynn, one of Rice's nephews, who had come on from
Massachusetts, and two ladies, to each of whom he stated that they had legacies
which would soon be avail able provided there was no contest of the will.
The detectives now informed Patrick that he was wanted at Headquarters,
and Patrick invited Potts to accompany him, informing the latter that the police
suspected that there was something unnatural in the cause of death, but that he
could explain satisfactorily. As a matter of fact no such intimation had been
made to him by the police or anyone else. At Police Headquarters after an
interview with Inspector McClusky he was permitted to go his way.
Patrick returned to Rice's apartments, sent for Short and Meyers, and
conferred with them there. He took this occasion to tell Maria Scott, the
colored woman who worked in the apartment, that she was suspected of having
poisoned Rice, and that she had better say nothing about his death. Jones told
her that she was remembered in the will and that it would be worth her while to
stand by himself and Patrick, who would see that she was taken care of.
Meanwhile the coroner had sent the body to the morgue for autopsy.
The autopsy was performed on Tuesday, forty-three hours after death
occurred, by Dr. Donlin, a coroner's physician, in the presence of Dr. Williams,
also a coroner's physician, and of Professor R.A. Witthaus, an expert chemist.
The two physicians testified at the trial that the organs of the body, except
the lungs, were normal in condition, save as affected by the embalming fluid.
They and Professor Witthaus agreed in their testimony that the lungs were
congested. Dr. Donlin spoke of their being "congested all over"; while Dr.
Williams characterized it as "an intense congestion of the lungs--coextensive
with them." Outside of the lungs they found no evidence of disease to account
for death, and beyond the congestion these showed nothing except a small patch
of consolidated tissue about the size of a twenty-five cent piece. They
testified, in effect, that nothing save the inhalation of some gaseous irritant
could have produced such a general congestion, and that the patch of tissue
referred to was insufficient to account for the amount of congestion present.
Dr. Donlin could not testify what the proximate cause of death was, but was firm
in his opinion that no cause for it was observable in the other vital organs. In
this Dr. Williams concurred. He was of the opinion that chloroform would act as
an irritant upon the lungs and cause precisely that general congestion
observable in the case of the deceased. Professor Witthaus testified that his
analysis revealed the presence of mercury, obtained as calomel, and while the
amount was not sufficient to cause death, its presence indicated that a larger
quantity had existed in life. The embalming fluid had contained no mercury, and
he and Dr. Donlin agreed that the embalming fluid would have no effect upon the
lungs beyond a tendency to bleach them. In other words, the People's evidence
was to the effect that no cause of death was observable from a medical
examination of the body save the congestion stated to exist in the lungs, and
that this might have been caused by chloroform.
Thursday morning Mr. Baker and F.A. Rice the brother of the deceased,
arrived in New York. Patrick showed them the cremation letter, and, inasmuch as
they took a neutral position in the matter, ordered the cremation to proceed,
and accordingly it took place that very day. He also endeavored to win the
confidence of Baker, but succeeded in accomplishing little. He finally gave the
latter a copy of the 1900 will and the original will of 1896. He also informed
Baker that he had taken a large number of papers from Rice's apartments, and
turned over to him a considerable number of them. He also surrendered on Friday
the two Swenson checks.
After considerable discussion Baker told Patrick flatly that he would
never consent to the probate of the 1900 will; that he was satisfied that the
'96 will was the last will of Rice, and that he would insist upon its being
probated, to which Patrick replied, that so far as he was concerned he did not
know but that the probate of the '96 will would suit him just as well as the
probate of the 1900 will; that it was a matter of indifference to him, and that
so far as the Rice Institute was concerned he was prepared to give Baker from
three to five million dollars for it, or any other sum Baker might name. These
negotiations and conferences continued until the fourth of October, Patrick
yielding step by step, until he had divested himself of all control of the
documents and securities.
Meantime sufficient evidence having been secured, Patrick and Jones were
arrested on a charge of forgery and held for the Grand Jury. Bail was fixed at
ten thousand dollars each, but was not forthcoming.
On October 21st, Mr. House, Patrick's lawyer, visited Patrick and Jones in
the Tombs. Jones says that after Patrick had talked to Mr. House the former
called Jones to one corner of the room and told him that House insisted on
knowing definitely whether a crime had been committed and directed Jones to tell
House that a murder had been committed, but that he (Patrick) was not concerned
in it. This Jones declined to do without implicating Patrick. The two prisoners
then returned to House and Jones says that he informed House that he had killed
Rice by chloroform, and gave him the "same story which he told on the witness
stand." After this Jones apparently lost his nerve and told Patrick that he
intended to commit suicide. This idea Patrick encouraged, agreeing that they
should both do it at about the same time.
On the 26th of October Jones made a statement to Assistant District
Attorney Osborne which was in large part false, and in which he endeavored to
exonerate himself entirely from complicity in any of the crimes, and in which he
charged the actual administration of the chloroform to Patrick. Four days later
Osborne sent for him and told him he had lied, upon which Jones became confused,
continued to persist in some of his statements, qualified others and withdrew
still others. He was completely unnerved and that night attempted, by means of a
knife which Patrick had supplied him, to cut his throat. The attempt was a
failure, and he was removed to Bellevue Hospital, where he remained until
November 12th. He then finally gave the statement which corresponded with his
testimony upon the trial and which jibed with all the circumstances and evidence
known to the District Attorney.
Did Patrick conspire with Jones to murder Rice? What corroboration is
there of Jones's story that he killed Rice under Patrick's direction? First:
What proof is there that murder was committed?
Roughly, that Jones so swore; that Rice died at the time alleged; that he
did not die from disease, but that he died from a congestion of the lungs which
could have occurred only in the case of a living organism by the administration
of some such irritant as chloroform; that some one, therefore, must have killed
him, and that Jones alone had the opportunity.
Second: What proof is there that Patrick directed the murder?
Evidence of an elaborate conspiracy, as briefly heretofore set forth,
which contemplated the death of Rice. Of course Patrick wanted Rice to
die. If Patrick was not implicated in the killing, what motive had Jones to
commit the deed? Why did Rice die at the precise psychological moment which
would enable Patrick to prevent two hundred and fifty thousand dollars on
deposit being diverted to Texas. And finally, why did Patrick prepare a forged
cremation letter for the destruction of the body? If the conspiracy contemplated
a natural death, nothing could be of greater value to the two parties
concerned than the means of proving that the death was not unnatural.
This, in the most abbreviated form, is the case against Patrick. Space
forbids any reference to his elaborate and ingenious defense, which was based
entirely on an alleged complete failure of corroboration of Jones's testimony.
Starting with the premise that the word of a self-confessed murderer and thrice-perjured
scoundrel was valueless as proof, he contended that there was no adequate
evidence that Rice's death was felonious, and that the congestion of the lungs
could have been and was caused by the embalming fluid and was only attributed to
the chloroform after Jones had given his final version of how the murder was
Technically the case against Patrick was not a strong one.
Dramatically it was overwhelming. His own failure to testify and his refusal to
allow his lawyer, Mr. House, to relate what passed between them in the Tombs,
remain significant, although not evidence proper for a jury to consider.
Wherever lawyers shall get together, there the Patrick case will be discussed
with its strong points and its weak ones, its technicalities and its tactics,
and the ethics of the liberation of Jones, the actual murderer, now long since
vanished into the obscurity from which he came. On the one hand stands a public
convinced of Patrick's guilt, and on the other the convicted "lifer" pointing a
lean finger at the valet Jones and stubbornly repeating, "I am innocent."
In 1906 the Governor of New York commuted the
death sentence of Albert T. Patrick to life imprisonment, and the most
extraordinary struggle in the legal history of the State on the part of a
convicted murderer for his own life came to an end. The defendant in the "Death
House" at Sing Sing had invoked every expedient to escape punishment, and by
the use of his knowledge had even saved a fellow prisoner, "Mike" Brush, from
the electric chair.
William M. Rice, eighty-four
years of age, died at the Berkshire Apartments at 500 Madison Avenue, New York
City, at about half after seven o'clock on the evening of Sunday, September 23,
Albert T. Patrick immediately after release.