And lo, after six weeks of courtroom drama in Santa Rosa’s trial of the century, the jury sayeth thus: Doctor Willard P. Burke was guilty of attempted murder.
THE BURKE MURDER CASE
The speed of the verdict shocked trial watchers – the jury arrived at its decision in slightly over two hours – as did the certainty of their decision; not a single juror thought he was innocent.
The San Francisco Call sent its courtroom reporter to interview Burke in his jail cell. The writer found the doctor melancholy and defiantly declaring his innocence. “…He declared himself sorry for the jurors. He complimented District Attorney Lea on his closing address. He looked forward to seeing him the next democratic congressman and vowed that the forthcoming years would see him voting for Lea. ‘A bright boy,’ he said, ‘a remarkably bright boy…'”
The Press Democrat, which had covered every aspect of the trial in remarkable depth, was caught unawares by its abrupt conclusion. Where they were probably expecting to cover every point of the prosecutor’s closing arguments on the final day, the PD described only a single detail before hurrying on with a terse summary: “District Attorney Lea closed his argument for the prosecution with a comprehensive review of the evidence as presented by both sides, and arrayed his facts in telling style. He is an earnest, eloquent and forceful speaker and held the closest attention of the jury throughout…no detail being overlooked that might tend to strengthen the position of the prosecution.”
The SF Call mentioned another important point, describing that Lea pointed out it was silly for the defense to claim the original dynamite, wrapped in newspaper, could have been buried in sandy mud for 53 days and emerge with the paper still looking like new. All of the reporters failed to catch the point that was actually most interesting – namely that District Attorney Lea apparently told the jury they should find Burke guilty even if they believed he didn’t commit the crime.
We first read about this in the newspapers a week later, when everyone was back in court for sentencing. Defense Attorney Leppo asked for a new trial. The Press Democrat reported: “Dr. Burke was tried for almost everything under the sun,” said Attorney Leppo in his argument, “and every attempt was made to prejudice this defendant in the mind of the jury. The effect of the Court’s ruling was to strengthen any idea that the jury might have gotten that Dr. Burke should be convicted on ‘general principles,’ and in reality amounted to a declaration that he should be found guilty even though he did not really commit the crime.”
Specifically, Leppo’s motion insisted that the judge’s final instructions to the jury were prejudicial. Apparently summarizing a point made by prosecutor Lea, Judge Seawell told them it didn’t matter whether Burke acted alone or helped someone else commit the deed. This was unfair, Leppo argued, because nothing was said during the trial about Burke being an accessory to the crime. Here is exactly what Judge Seawell told the jury:
| I charge you that all persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether it be a felony or a misdemeanor, and whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense or aid and abet in its commission, are principals in any crime so committed.
Therefore, if you are satisfied from the evidence in this case beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that the crime charged in the indictment was directly committed by the defendant as therein set forth, it would be your duty to find him guilty, so, to, if you should be likewise satisfied from the evidence in the case that the explosive referred to in said indictment was deposited and exploded by some other person that the defendant, whose identity is unknown, and you should also be satisfied from the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was concerned in the commission of such crime, as above explained, and that he did not directly commit the act constituting the offense, but aided and abetted its commission, or not being present, advised and encouraged its commission, you should likewise return a verdict of guilty.
The motion for a new trial was denied and Defense Attorney Leppo appealed the decision, all the way to the state Supreme Court, which agreed with Judge Seawell. It didn’t matter whether Burke did it by himself or was an accessory before the fact “…since he can be charged in the indictment as a principal whether he actually committed the offense or aided and abetted or encouraged its commission, he can be justly convicted if the evidence shows that he was connected with the crime in either relation,” the high court ruled over a year later.
All of this legal hairsplitting is (somewhat) interesting, but Gentle Reader is probably asking oneself about now, what about the implications of it all? Did someone else actually handle the dynamite? Yes, I believe so – and I also think the judge, jury, and most everyone else in that courtroom similarly believed that Dr. Burke did not act alone in the attempt to murder Lu Etta Smith.
Start with Burke’s alibi: The loud explosion marked the exact moment of the crime and he had a reasonable – albeit not perfect – explanation of his whereabouts. Two patients said he briefly visited each of them 5-10 minutes before the explosion was heard. Judging from the 1911 photograph seen at right, the cabin-tents appear to be at least 100 yards from the main building. It is possible, but not likely, that he left the patient’s rooms, collected the dynamite from his study, rushed to the tent area, placed the explosive, strung out a lengthy fuse (which would burn about 30 seconds per foot, and let’s not forget this was being done in darkness and he had never personally handled dynamite) then sprinted back to the main building before the big bang. Could 59 year-old Willard Burke have done that? Could you?
Burke’s behavior, however, strongly suggested he desired the death of the woman who insisted Burke was the father of her child and who was now contacting attorneys, apparently planning to file a lawsuit against him. Shortly before Christmas, 1909, Burke visited his gold mine in the Sierras and returned with six sticks of dynamite. At once he began saying that Lu Etta had told him she wanted to commit suicide by blowing herself up. No one else heard her say such a thing. While she was recuperating from her injuries after the explosion, it was discovered that Burke was treating her wounds with potentially lethal doses of arsenic. He was not indicted for a second attempt at murder, but in later denying the appeal by Burke’s defense team, the California Supreme Court agreed that it certainly appeared that Burke “…contemplated that the death of Miss Smith would be the result of the continued application of this ‘slow poison.'”
Having now read everything available about the case, thought about it for months and having written in this space ten articles chronicling the crime investigation and trial, I humbly submit that I’ve come to know Dr. Burke and Miss Lu and the others fairly well. Here is what I believe happened:
Although he was twenty years older, Willard had known Lu for almost her entire life. She was in the same grade as his youngest brother Alfred at their school in Upper Lake, and Willard’s sister testified she first met Lu when she was about four. Over the next two decades their paths probably crossed many times after he graduated from medical college; most of his family continued to live on their Lake County farm in Bachelor Valley while Willard practiced medicine mainly in Napa and Sonoma Counties. As mentioned earlier, Burke testified Lu Etta first came to his Sanitarium in 1901 as a patient, then remained there as an employee for several years. The next snapshot of them comes from shortly after the 1906 earthquake. She was living at the time in Yolo County and he wrote a friendly letter letting her know the Sanitarium survived without serious damage. He offered to send money. She testified they had sexual intercourse for the first time a month later.
From that point on, Lu Etta Smith was entirely dependent upon Willard Burke. He sent her money for living expenses at various places around the Bay Area or paid her landlord directly. When she arrived at his sanitarium, eight months pregnant, he put money in her bookkeeping account that paid for her residence there.
When you scrape this tale to its bones, it comes down to one thing: Money. Everything else – their sexual relationship, the eccentric views held by each of them, even, to a degree, the paternity of the child – is a MacGuffin. Lu Etta, a woman in her late 30s with a grade school education and few friends, wanted a nest egg; Willard was a miser who boasted of his great generosity, while not giving her a penny more than he deemed necessary. She overreached, writing a letter promising to disappear before the trial began in exchange for $20,000 (about a half million dollars in today’s currency). He went on the cheap even when it was obviously against his best interests; when she did voyage to Japan to hide from the trial lawyers, he ignored her pleas for the allowance that was promised and would have allowed her to stay there.
Her relationship with Willard became arduous once she was at the sanitarium for the birth of her child. She wasn’t at ease with either the patients or members of the staff, who viewed her as very eccentric and possibly deranged (the bookkeeper wrote that she was “almost an imbecile”). She repeatedly asked Burke for money so she could go away. Burke refused and gave orders to staff that she was not to be allowed to leave. She threatened to sue. She also created scenes in front of sanitarium guests and staff demanding he admit fatherhood. This was no simple mother’s emotional outcry; Burke was a very wealthy man – his gold mine alone was valued at $6 million in modern terms – and he had no descendant heirs. Except for little Willard P. Burke Smith, of course.
We’ll never know exactly when he decided that blowing Miss Smith to smithereens was his best option. He may have visited his mine that December of 1909 because he actually wanted to only discuss new machinery; he may have asked the miners for the dynamite on a whim because he remembered they needed to blow up a big rock on the property. But when he returned to Sonoma County with the dynamite, he was given a ride from the train station by Dr. Hitt, who informed him “there had been quite a commotion at the sanitarium on account of Lu Smith having telephoned to San Francisco to an attorney.” A few moments later in their conversation, Burke dropped the comment that she and her child would be “better off dead.” It was also around this time he stopped making payments into her sanitarium account – for a tightwad like Burke, that was a definite tell.
But if he were planning to kill her with dynamite, why would he broadcast that Lu Etta had supposedly told him she planned to blow herself up? Wouldn’t that make him about the stupidest murderer of all time? What he was actually doing, I believe, was advertising for someone else to kill her. He was providing both the means and the expectation that the act would be committed – and anyone working at the sanitarium realized it would be a great boon for Doctor Burke if the problem that was Lu Etta Smith disappeared. All Burke needed was for someone to do him this great service.
That someone, I firmly believe, was Aggie Burke, Dr. Burke’s sister-in-law.
No one else in our cast of characters had greater motive to perform Willard such a solid favor. She and her husband Alfred were supposed to be the managers of the sanitarium, but apparently were hangers-on who did little; Dr. Burke had recently commented he would like to jettison them, and if the place were to be sold or leased to someone else they would undoubtedly be first to go. She was also apparently a troublesome drunk; while Burke was at his mine collecting the dynamite, there was outrage at the sanitarium after she slapped or punched Dr. Hitt in the snoot. She (and Alfred) also had the greatest opportunity to commit the crime, as they seem to be living in another of the tent-cabins – they were first on the scene after the explosion. And finally, it was Aggie who elbowed her way into the spotlight as the sanitarium spokesperson as reporters swarmed the scene, loudly defending Dr. Burke while telling them Lu Etta was a lunatic who was likely holding the sizzling stick of dynamite between her teeth until she lost her nerve at the last moment.
Don’t believe Burke was hoping to murder Lu Etta by proxy? Look also at the arsenic incident.
(As mentioned before, Burke’s use of arsenic was unusual and old-fashioned by 1910, but not improper. Lu Etta’s wound developed “proud flesh” while healing and small amounts of arsenic were applied directly to such diseased tissue in 18th and 19th century medicine. Here’s a reference in the 1797 Encyclopaedia Britannica and another in a 1871 pharmacology on Chinese medicine.)
In his testimony, Burke told the court he took over as Lu Etta’s physician the evening after the explosion. A couple of days later the wound began looking and smelling foul. He treated it with witch hazel (to reduce swelling), boracic acid (a harmless antiseptic) and a one percent solution of arsenic. When there was no improvement by the next day, he increased the arsenic dosage to seven percent solution – well within the range that could cause death, according to a doctor testifying for the prosecutor, particularly when it was applied in the manner used by Burke, as a dressing.
District Attorney Lea led Burke through a damning series of questions: Burke used the seven percent solution only once. He left the arsenic by Lu Etta’s bedside. It was in a small white paper box, the same as used for the boracic acid. Arsenic and boracic acid look the same. The box containing the dangerous dosage of arsenic was unlabeled. He did not tell the nurses that he was using arsenic.
The inference in the prosecutor’s questioning was clear: Burke hoped a nurse changing Lu Etta’s wound dressing would use the arsenic by mistake and kill her.
Burke was not indicted on this second attempt to kill Lu Etta, although he certainly could have been charged with criminal negligence for not labeling the poison, even if there was no iatrogenic injury or death as a result. Nor did prosecutor Lea present the Grand Jury with evidence that Aggie Burke or other persons unknown must have had a hand in setting off the dynamite. Given Dr. Burke’s high standing in the community, Lea must have realized he would be lucky to get any sort of conviction at all and it was best to stick to a simple narrative: Burke got the dynamite, Burke used the dynamite, and intended to kill his troublesome mistress.
Burke was sentenced to ten years at San Quentin. “The defendant stood for a moment as one dazed,” the Press Democrat reported, “and then made his way back to his chair just inside the railing that separates the court and spectators. As he faced around, a tear-drop glistened in his eye. But he bade no sign, and the tear-drop did not fall.”
L’affaire Burke was now yesterday’s news, but the Press Democrat couldn’t yet say goodbye to its story of the century. The paper sent round its society reporter, the delightfully clueless Dorothy Anne, to interview Lu Etta and true to form, the interview ended up being mostly about Dorothy Anne interviewing. Golly, that woman is sure in touch with her feelings. The PD published two lengthy essays in defense of Burke, both stating he couldn’t have possibly been guilty because he is such a nice guy.
(RIGHT: Willard P. Burke, inmate. Photo courtesy Bancroft Library, UC/Berkeley)
While his sentence was on appeal, Burke asked for bail about three months after the verdict, claiming his health was failing in the county lockup. Bail was granted at $50,000, his bond underwritten by Santa Rosa’s richest men including Con Shea, John Overton and Frank Grace. In midsummer the PD reported Burke was in town, “looking very well, in fact many of his friends declare better than he has for years.”
The sanitarium was sold after the trial to a couple of homeopathic doctors: Dr. Carrie Goss Haskell of San Francisco and Dr. Wellingham B. Coffeen (consistently misnamed as “Coffen” or “Coffin” in the papers, probably because doctor + coffin = funny). It was renamed “Woodland Acres Sanitarium.”
The strangest episode in those months after the trial came in July, when the superintendent of Burke’s gold mine and a Detective Hurst “retained by several wealthy friends of Dr. Burke” showed up in Lakeport and tried to get Earl Edmunds to confess to the dynamiting; his uncle Dillard, the former bookkeeper of the sanitarium, confronted them on street the next morning and caused quite a row. This little adventure is all the more mysterious because Edmunds, an orderly who was 19 at the time, had the best alibi for that night as he was flirting with a pretty nurse when the explosion was heard.
About fourteen months after the trial, the California Supreme Court finally rejected his appeal. The next day Willard P. Burke began his new life as San Quentin inmate #25602.
What became of the players in our little melodrama?
|MRS. MARIAN DERRIGG The intriguing Mrs. Derrigg (who was probably “Marion Derrig” but also used at least two other aliases) was a long-time friend of Dr. Burke. She was instrumental in efforts to hide Lu Etta in Japan and spin the story that she was suicidal. She was wanted as a witness by both the defense and prosecution, but she successfully hid from detectives in Los Angeles, surfacing the very day the trial ended. “The woman is one of the most mysterious characters I have run across,” District Attorney Lea told the San Francisco Call. “As I understand she is a handsome blonde, a little over 30 years of age, and has the faculty of making men do her will. She bobbed into the Burke case with the utmost mystery. We have discovered that following the explosion and the indictment of Burke she went to the sanatorium [sic], took a hurried trip to Los Angeles, and then shot up again in San Francisco, buying a ticket to Japan for Lu Etta Smith. Whatever her relations were with Burke they were rapid, to say the least.” In January, 1912, the SF Call reported she was in an Ohio state asylum and “her case is said to be incurable.”
|ALFRED BURKE and AGGIE BURKE Dr. Burke’s younger brother died about two months after the verdict. The cause was not mentioned in the papers, but it appeared he was in rapid decline during his brother’s trial (feel free to speculate about Dostoevskian guilt over his role in an attempted murder of a childhood friend). The Press Democrat reporter commented, “The marked change that has taken place in the appearance of Alfred Burke since the beginning of his brother’s trial has been one of the features of this sensational case. From a strong, robust man, the very picture of health, Alfred Burke has wasted away until he is only a shadow of his former self.” Aggie remained at the sanitarium working as a housekeeper at least through 1919.
|DR. WILLARD P. BURKE Despite his ten year sentence, the doctor spent less than three years in prison. Instead of working in the infirmary as he hoped, he went to San Quentin. He was pardoned by Governor Hiram Johnson in January, 1916, having been on parole for six months before that, during which he chopped wood in Butte county. Gentle Reader may recall that Johnson was hired as Burke’s original defense attorney, but dropped out before the trial began to run for office. The pardon allowed him to practice medicine again and he said he intended to reopen the sanitarium. (I do not know whether or not that happened.) He had a medical office in Healdsburg, according to the 1929 phone directory, and between then and 1935 was also listed in Santa Rosa as operating “baths” at 819 Fourth street. He died January 31, 1941 in Sonoma County.
|LU ETTA SMITH The day after the verdict, the Call reporter asked Lu Etta what she planned to do. “How am I to know?” She replied. Lu Etta spent the next year in limbo, living in Berkeley with her son at the expense of Sonoma County, who wanted her ready to testify in case the Third District Appeals Court ruled in favor of Dr. Burke. When the Court of Appeals upheld the verdict exactly a year later, it was announced that she was planning to sue Burke for $25,000 damages. Her attorney was Fannie McG. Martin, one of the founders of the suffrage movement in Sonoma County. Nothing came of that, however, and the last we hear of Lu Etta in that period was a little item a few months later, when it was reported she had moved to San Francisco to find work as a nurse, being months behind her Berkeley rent since Sonoma County stopped paying her bills. The 1940 census found her in Oakland living with son Willard, who was an accountant at the WPA office. She died in Alameda County in 1950, age 79.
A personal note: In writing about the doings at Burke’s institution over these ten articles, I fell into the habit of typing “asylum” when I meant to write, “sanitarium.” The more I got into the story, the more “Burke’s Asylum” sounded right. Don’t know why.
BURKE CONVICTED!Verdict Returned Last Night by Jury on the Third BallotVERDICT A SURPRISETurned Over to the Sheriff and Is Now in Jail
“In the Superior Court of the County of Sonoma, State of California: The People of the State of California, plaintiff, against W. P. Burke, defendant. We the jury, find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictment.”
The above verdict was returned by the jury at 11:15 last night in the case of Dr. Burke, charged with the attempted murder of Lu Etta Smith, which has been on trial for nearly two months. The end came suddenly and unexpectedly and created a sensation, as no one had anticipated a verdict with such little delay.
The indictment, which was returned by the grand jury on February 25, 1910, charged the defendant with having committed the “crime of maliciously depositing and exploding explosives with intent to injure a human being.”The Jury Retires
District Attorney Clarence F. Lea completed his masterful closing argument about 8 o’clock. Judge Emmet Seawell at once began reading his instructions to the jury and it was 8:40 when he concluded. The jury was provided with blank verdicts, and placed in the custody of Bailiff Don McIntosh filing out of the court room at 8:45 to decide the fate of the defendant.
The general sentiment of those present during the reading of the Court’s instructions was that they were favorable to the defendant. While no one expected an immediate verdict there was no tendency to leave the court room except by a few to get into the lobby for fresh air.Call for Evidence
It was about 9:15 when the bell from the jury room startled those within hearing. In response to the bailiff’s prompt answer the jury asked that the dynamite and fuse offered in evidence by the defense be given them to take to their room. This request was complied with and nothing more was heard from the jury room.
At 10 o’clock Judge Seawell instructed the bailiff to lock the jury up for the night, but at the same time informed them that if a verdict was reached before midnight he might be called.
This had the effect of practically clearing the court room as it was then believed there would be no verdict before morning. Dr. Burke, with his wife, Dr. and Mrs. H. F. Dessaud, R. E. Grisby and his daughter, and Frank Golden, who were in the court during the evening, left court room with Attorneys Leppo and Cowan. District Attorney Lea had left for home immediately after the close of his argument completely prostrated.Verdict is Reached
Just after 11 o’clock the jury bell again rang and the bailiff, who responded, was informed that the jury had reached a verdict and was ready to report to the court.
A hurry summons was immediately sent out for the Court…
…”Read the verdict, Mr. Clerk.”
Clerk Burroughs hand trembled slightly as he took the paper and began reading slowly and distinctly the words thereon.Watches Jury and Court
Dr. Burke, sitting besides his wife behind his attorneys just inside the railing separating the public, had scarcely taken his eyes from the jurors from the moment the first one appeared at the door and entered the room until the paper was passed to the clerk. He then followed it with his eyes and watched the Court closely as if to read his mind as Judge Seawell read the words which meant so much to him.
There was no sign, however, from the Court, and there was a deathly stillness as the clerk read, “Guilty as charged.”
[…]How the Jury Stood
Three ballots were taken and on the first two ballots the jury stood 11 for conviction and one blank. On the third ballot there were 12 for conviction. At no time was there a vote recorded for acquittal.
[…]Lea’s Telling Argument
District Attorney Lea closed his argument for the prosecution with a comprehensive review of the evidence as presented by both sides, and arrayed his facts in telling style. He is an earnest, eloquent and forceful speaker and held the closest attention of the jury throughout.
Taking up the matter of the buried dynamite, and the marked package afterwards introduced by the defense as being the one brought down by Greenwell from the mine some ten days after the explosion. Lea emphasized the strange character of Attorney Golden’s request and reminded the jury had said, “I have foolishly destroyed the evidence needed to keep Dr. Burke from going to the penitentiary”; how Greenwell had at first demurred saying: “You are asking a good deal of a man with a family, to expect him to do something that may land him in State’s prison”; how Greenwell had finally consented to procure the four sticks of dynamite and two fuses as per Golden’s request; how Greenwell took a fast team, and, under the shield and darkness of the night drove twenty-two miles through the mountains, went down into the deep canyon to the mouth of the mine, and secured the evidence wanted, returning with it to Oroville just as the gray dawn was breaking and bringing it to this city the following day, where it was delivered to Golden in the back room of a second-class hotel at which Greenwell had registered under an assumed name, and after a midnight drive to Burke’s Sanitarium, where he expected to see Golden and deliver over the package that same night of his arrival.
“Yes, that much-needed evidence had been destroyed,” cried Lea in a dramatic manner as he suddenly turned and faced the aged defendant. “But it was destroyed on the night of February a year ago by this defendant when he applied his match to the fuse beside the tent-cottage in which Lu Smith and her child lay peacefully sleeping.”
Following up his argument, District Attorney referred to the haste that had been displayed in procuring the dynamite from the mine, and Golden’s claim that he wanted it to use for experimental purposes. “But it was not until after the beginning of this trial, or nearly eleven months after the dynamite came into his possession, that any experiments were made,” said Lea. The remainder of the argument was along similar lines, no detail being overlooked that might tend to strengthen the position of the prosecution.– Press Democrat, January 28, 1911LU SMITH’S LIFE TRAGEDYAn Interview by Dorothy Anne
When I rang the bell last night at the Mead home on Chinn street, where Lu Etta Smith is at present living, I will confess my heart was down in my boots–and my boots were wet and cold.
That “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” was a motto plainly in my mind’s eye. Reporter after reporter from the San Francisco dailies had plead, argued and threatened, trying to make Lu Etta Smith talk for publication. She was obdurate. She would not. She had nothing to say to them; therefore she said nothing. Would she talk to me? That was the vital question.
I rang the bell. The door was answered by a most polite and agreeable young lady who was armed for an odious male. She gasped when she saw me and smiled a cold smile when I made my errand known.
My quest was quite useless, but would I come in? I did so and quickly, before she could change her mind. She would ask Miss Smith if she would talk to me. She did. Miss Smith said she would not talk. When Miss Smith said she would not, she should not. That was all there was to it. I suppose I should have left, but I did not.
I tried again. I argued what a very harmless reporter I was, how cold the nigh was how far I had come. I told of my sympathy for the unfortunate woman and — the young lady said she would ask Lu Etta Smith again, but she really didn’t think it any use.
Miss Smith then sent word back that she would talk to me if I would come into the dining room.
The dining room in the Mead home is the usual comfortable, well-furnished room of the American home. There were just the heavy oak table and chairs and a small couch. Seated on the couch, as if roused from a recumbent position, was probably the most discussed woman in the town and State, Lu Etta Smith.
She looked worn and tired, and I felt ashamed of myself for inflicted my presence upon her, even briefly. The lines in her face showed genuine sorrow and a nervous smile came and went as I talked.
“Reporters are a nuisance, are they not, Miss Smith,” I ventured.
“Yes,” she conceded, “today I have been burdened with them. They caught me coming after a walk with my boy and insisted I talk. I ran into my room and shut the door. Don’t you think they are very rude?”
Immediately I arose to the defense of the unfortunate reporter who is detailed to get a story at all hazards.
“Why do you not talk to them?” I added. “It would be easier.”
“They ask me too many questions and talk to me too long,” she almost defiantly answered.
I thought the topic exhausted.
“Have you any plans for the future?” I asked, noticing she held Froebel’s book on kindergarten work in her hand. “Do you plan to take up the kindergarten work as your future life work?”
“Only as it affects my baby,” she answered. “He is getting to be a big boy now, and is beginning to notice things. I want him to have the right start.”
That Miss Smith is more than ordinarily interested in this subject has been evident by the interest she has taken in attending lectures on the subject lately given by Miss Brown. I saw her there myself. So the conversation gently glided into the criticism of Miss Brown’s work.
“I thought you might be going to stay in Santa Rosa,” I rather insisted, hoping to get an expression of what she had planned for the future.
She shook her head sadly.
“It is too near the Sanitarium, I am afraid.”
“But if Dr. Burke is in the hands of the law, he cannot harm you.”
Then a most unexpected turn to the conversation took place. Quite unknowingly we discussed prisons and how work in portioned out to the prisoners, and I volunteered some information about the jute mill and the rockpile. I knew a lot. I had just heard it discussed at the Saturday Afternoon Club.
I told her the jute mill was run at a loss of $3,000 per year, even if everybody did work for nothing, and that everybody worked either there or on the rockpile.
Lu Etta Smith involuntarily stiffened, a look of something almost akin to terror crept into her eyes.
She leaned forward nervously and looked straight at me.
“If what you say is true, I hope Dr. Burke never goes to prison,” she said.
“Do you mean to tell me after what you say you have suffered at his hands, the disgrace of the trial, the terror and anxiety of waiting for the verdict, that you do not want to see him punished?”
“No, I believe in remedial punishment.”
“You mean that you think the punishment his conscience would give him, if he were free, would be sufficient?”
“Yes, that’s what I think.”
“Well, what state do you think a man’s conscience would be in if he had plotted and planned as the jury evidently believe Dr. Burke has? Do you not think it would be somewhat dulled?”
She shook her head and smiled a wan smile. The terrible tragedy of it all came over me, I couldn’t stand it. I left.
In my heart of hearts I believe Lu Etta Smith loves Dr. Burke! That all this trial and conviction has been a grief, not a joy to her. She told me frankly the only fear she ever had of him was that he would shut her up in an asylum for the insane.
What will become of Lu Etta Smith now? Who will turn to her the helping hand? Who will help her raise that beautiful little blue and white baby boy she so dearly loves?
These questions surged through my brain as I jumped into the waiting taxicab.
God only knows.– Press Democrat, January 29, 1911