Saturday, November 11, 2017


Joe was my mother's grandfather. That is, Joe was my mother's mother's father. Joe was murdered by his mistress Ella in Indianapolis in the summer of 1904, seven years before my mother was born.

While my mother didn't know Joe, I assume she knew something about him. She lived the first few years of her life with her mother and Joe's widow, Ida -- my mother's grandmother-- and some of Ida's sisters (all widow-women themselves) in a big rattle-trap farm house on the east edge of Indianapolis. The farmhouse burned down in 1914, or maybe 1913, and though my mother was only three or maybe younger when the house burned down, the image of the fire was seared in her memory for the rest of her life. A firehouse was built on the site in 1915. The family moved to a newer, nicer house next door.

How much my mother knew about her grandfather I don't know. She never mentioned him to me. But then he had been long dead by the time my mother was born, shot in the mouth by his mistress Ella during a drunken lunch at Ella's house which she shared with her husband Frank. The house was not far from the Marmon plant where both Frank and Joe worked as machinists.

What I know about Joe and his murder comes from newspaper reports -- the murder and Ella's trial were covered extensively by the Indianapolis papers. Ida staged a big funeral for Joe, with a procession to the cemetery passing by Ida's big ol' rattle trap farm house where the family were gathered on the porch in mourning clothes. According to the papers, it was quite a spectacle. The Nordyke Marmon company paid for the funeral.

According to the papers, Ella's trial was quite the spectacle too. Ida attended every day along with her widowed sisters and Frank, Ella's husband, as well as friends of both the deceased and his murderer.

Ella was convicted and sent to prison, but she was released to an insane asylum some six months later, and I have found no further mention of her. Nor have I found any more mention of her husband, Frank.

Ella claimed she acted in self defense when she shot Joe. She said she was merely his laundress, not his mistress, and he had threatened her and knocked her down, so she got her gun from the chest of drawers in her bedroom and shot him dead. Unfortunately for Ella, there were witnesses, neighbors who'd come over for lunch and beer with Joe and Ella (Frank had gone back to work at the plant) and they saw what happened.

According to the witnesses, Ella's and Joe's relationship was well known and had been going on for at least two years. Frank knew about it and he seemed to approve. However, Joe used a different name in his dealings with Frank and Ella. As if he were living a double life. How much Ida and her children knew about Joe's other life is impossible for me to know now. As far as anyone connected with Ella and Frank knew then, Joe lived with and took care of his invalid mother. His marriage to Ida and the children he had with her (daughter Edna -- my mother's mother -- and son Ralph, my mother's uncle) were apparently not known to Ella's friends. When Joe's invalid mother moved to Chicago to stay with her daughter, Joe attempted to sell her house and things to help support her -- and no doubt himself as well.

Joe had plans. What they were was never made clear, but his plans did not include Ella. At the fateful drunken lunch in the summer of 1904, Joe told Ella that he was done with her, and he wouldn't be seeing her any more. According to witnesses, Ella said that if she couldn't have him, no one could, and she got her gun and shot him. A doctor was called for and then the police. Joe's injuries were too severe -- one account said he died instantly -- and the police took Ella away to jail.

During World War 1, Ralph moved to Chicago with his mother Ida, but Ida moved back to Indianapolis within a few years. Ida lived in Indianapolis with one or another of her widowed sisters, one of whom remarried, until she died in 1935. For his part, Ralph married a prostitute in Chicago. Unfortunately, she was promptly confined to an insane asylum herself. Ralph didn't divorce her and didn't remarry. He stayed in Chicago working on lakeshore tugboats for the rest of his life.

Edna, my mother's mother, married in 1910, and my mother was born the following year in November. As it happened, a half-brother Edna and my mother knew nothing about was born in March of 1911. They had the same father. Different mothers.

My mother's father was arrested for a burglary he insisted he did not commit in May of 1912, and by the end of 1913 he no longer lived in Indianapolis. He'd joined his older brother in St. Louis. In 1914 he married the young daughter of German immigrants in St. Louis, and within a few months, she gave birth to a daughter, Helen. My mother's mother had sued him for divorce in August of 1912, not long after his arrest, but I don't know if the divorce was ever granted.

When my mother's father was killed in a rail yard incident in St. Louis in December of 1916, my mother and her mother attended the funeral (which my mother remembered being in Indianapolis, but it wasn't. It was in St. Louis.) My mother also remembered the Big Scandal at the funeral of her father: the discovery that he had another wife and daughter, making him a bigamist. Yes, her father had another wife and daughter in St. Louis. And his first wife also lived in St. Louis, married to his older brother. There were three children from his first marriage. The daughter had been taken in by another brother, and two sons were coming into adulthood at his parents' house. My mother's mother was his second wife (legally). The half-brother my mother knew nothing about was born to a high school girl in an unwed mother's home.

At least some of the menfolk in my mother's ancestry were... busy.

[I've written several other versions of this story, and I'll probably keep trying until I get it right!]

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