Celebrated Criminal Cases of America: The Murder of Multimillionaire M. Rice in New York

William Marsh Rice resided in Hous­ton, Texas, for many years, and ac­cu­mu­lated a for­tune of $7,000,000.

His wife died in Wauke­sha, Wis., in 1896 under pe­cu­liar cir­cum­stances.

Just pre­vi­ous to her death, she drew up a will dis­pos­ing of $2,500,000 worth of com­mu­nity prop­erty. A man named Holt was ex­ecu­tor of this will, which Rice con­tested bit­terly.

On Sep­tem­ber 16, 1896, after the death of his wife. Rice made a will leav­ing the bulk of his wealth to the “William M. Rice In­sti­tute for the Ad­vance­ment of Lit­er­a­ture, Sci­ence and Art,” which he had founded in Texas in 1891.

This will was drawn up by Cap­tain James A. Baker, a promi­nent Texas at­tor­ney.

About the time of his wife’s death, Rice, ac­com­pa­nied by his Sec­re­tary, Charles T. Jones, left Texas to take up his res­i­dence in New York City, where he en­gaged apart­ments at the Berk­shire, No. 500 Madi­son av­enue. Jones was then 23 years of age, while Rice had passed his 81st year and was ex­tremely ec­cen­tric.

At­tor­ney Al­bert T. Patrick of New York for­merly resided in Hous­ton, Texas, and he trans­acted some legal busi­ness in re­la­tion to Mrs. Rice’s will for At­tor­ney Holt, the ex­ecu­tor. At this time nei­ther Rice nor Jones had met Patrick, but the for­mer de­spised him be­cause he had been in­formed that Patrick had done some “dirty work” in re­gard to the will for Holt.

One evening in No­vem­ber, 1899, Patrick called at Rice’s apart­ments in New York and was met at the door by Jones.

Patrick gave an as­sumed name and stated that he de­sired to see Mr. Rice re­gard­ing a deal in cot­ton. Jones stated that Rice had re­tired for the night and Patrick agreed to re­turn a few evenings later.

He did so and again Rice was in bed. After some hes­i­tancy, Patrick dis­closed his iden­tity to Jones and stated that he was the New York rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Holt, the ex­ecu­tor of the will, and that he was au­tho­rized to ef­fect a com­pro­mise, which he felt con­fi­dent would be en­tirely sat­is­fac­tory to all con­cerned. Jones in­formed Patrick of Rice’s prej­u­dice against him, and ex­pressed the opin­ion that Rice would refuse to meet him. Patrick then re­quested Jones not to in­form Rice of his visit.

After that Patrick called fre­quently after Rice had re­tired for the night, and he and Jones be­came quite con­fi­den­tial.

In the course of con­ver­sa­tion, Rice’s last will was dis­cussed and Patrick slyly re­marked that it was un­for­tu­nate for Jones that the bulk of the vast prop­erty would go to the Rice In­sti­tute and that Jones would re­ceive com­par­a­tively noth­ing. Patrick then in­ti­mated that a “will” could be drawn up in which Jones would re­ceive ad­e­quate com­pen­sa­tion for faith­ful ser­vices ren­dered to Rice.

Ob­serv­ing that Jones was ap­par­ently im­pressed with this sug­ges­tion, Patrick be­came more bold and stated that he would draw up such a will, but as pe­cu­liar­i­ties in type­writ­ing ma­chines fre­quently make it easy to prove whether or not the work was done on a cer­tain ma­chine, he pro­posed that Jones write it on his own ma­chine, as he at­tended to all of Rice’s cor­re­spon­dence, and it might at­tract at­ten­tion if it could be proven that some other ma­chine was used to write this doc­u­ment.

Jones ex­pressed dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the pro­vi­sions of the first will drawn up by Patrick, but even­tu­ally a doc­u­ment was pre­pared which was dated June 30, 1900, and which was sat­is­fac­tory to both con­spir­a­tors.

In this will Patrick sub­sti­tuted him­self for the Rice In­sti­tute and to pre­vent Rice’s rel­a­tives from con­test­ing the forged doc­u­ment he in­ge­niously pro­vided them with a greater por­tion of the es­tate than was be­queathed them in the will of 1896.

Patrick con­vinced Jones that it might arouse sus­pi­cion if he (Jones) re­ceived a large part of the es­tate, but if no pro­vi­sion was made for him, he could have no ap­par­ent mo­tive for being a party to a fraud and it would be taken for granted that the doc­u­ment was gen­uine. With the un­der­stand­ing that Patrick would pay him $10,000 per year Jones type­wrote the will, which cov­ered four pages. At the bot­tom of each page Rice’s sig­na­ture was traced, ev­i­dently from the same model, as each was ex­actly the same size and shape.

At this stage of the pro­ceed­ings, the thought oc­curred to Patrick that it might seem sin­gu­lar that Rice should leave him, a stranger, the bulk of his prop­erty, so he per­suaded Jones to type­write and send sev­eral let­ters to him (Patrick), which would fur­nish ev­i­dence that Rice was Patrick’s warm per­sonal friend and in whom he re­posed the great­est con­fi­dence. These let­ters, to which Patrick forged Rice’s name, were sent through the mail, and at Patrick’s sug­ges­tion Jones placed a copy of each in Rice’s let­ter file. Patrick also forged Rice’s name to nu­mer­ous checks, which Jones sent out in his ca­pac­ity as pri­vate sec­re­tary—the ob­ject being to gather these checks af­ter­ward if nec­es­sary and show by them that the sig­na­tures on them and on the will was in the same hand­writ­ing, Jones also gave Patrick a type­writ­ten order for se­cu­ri­ties and cash in dif­fer­ent safe de­posit vaults, to which Patrick forged Rice’s name.

In the early part of Au­gust, 1900, Jones in­formed Patrick that Rice seemed to be im­prov­ing in health. Patrick then gave Jones a very sig­nif­i­cant glance and asked:

“Don’t you think he is liv­ing too long for our in­ter­ests?”

After some hes­i­ta­tion he re­marked that if Jones would let him in some night he would soon put Rice out of the way.

Dr. Curry, a friend of Jones’, but who had no con­nec­tion with this con­spir­acy, pre­scribed mer­cury for Jones, and Patrick sug­gested that Rice be given a dose of it at fre­quent in­ter­vals to weaken his sys­tem prepara­tory to ad­min­is­ter­ing chlo­ro­form.

Patrick stated that a physi­cian’s pre­scrip­tion was necessary to pro­cure chlo­ro­form in New York, so Jones com­mu­ni­cated with his brother in Texas, who in­no­cently for­warded the amount re­quested.

The mer­cu­r­ial pills caused a se­vere di­ar­rhoea, and Dr. Curry was called in and pre­scribed for Rice, but in ig­no­rance of the cause of the dis­or­der.

It was in­tended to con­tinue ad­min­is­ter­ing mer­cury to Rice for many days be­fore chlo­ro­form­ing him, but Rice, for some rea­son un­known to Jones, sent a telegram to Cap­tain Baker, his at­tor­ney in Texas, re­quest­ing him to come to New York at once. Rice also in­formed Jones that he in­tended to ex­pend $2,500,000 in re­con­struct­ing a mill in Texas. Jones com­mu­ni­cated this in­for­ma­tion to Patrick, and it was then de­cided to act at once.

At 8 p. m., on Sat­ur­day, Sep­tem­ber 22, while Rice was sleep­ing soundly, Jones sat­u­rated a small sponge with chlo­ro­form, and putting it in a towel shaped into a cone, he placed it on Rice’s face. At the ex­pi­ra­tion of thirty min­utes, Rice ap­peared life­less. Jones then re­moved the cone and, after burn­ing it in the stove, he opened the win­dows and no­ti­fied Patrick and Dr. Curry that Rice was very low. The doc­tor and lawyer ar­rived to­gether, and after a brief ex­am­i­na­tion it was found that Rice was dead, and the doc­tor signed a death cer­tifi­cate, as­sign­ing old age, a weak heart and col­locra­tel di­ar­rhoea as the cause of Rice’s demise.

In the early part of Sep­tem­ber, Jones, act­ing under Patrick’s in­struc­tions, type­wrote a let­ter, pur­port­ing to be from Rice to Patrick, in which Rice in­structed Patrick to have his body cre­mated.

Act­ing in ac­cor­dance with these “in­struc­tions,” Patrick took charge of the body and or­dered an un­der­taker to have it cre­mated im­me­di­ately, but when in­formed that the cre­ma­tion could not take place the next day, he re­quested that the re­mains be em­balmed at once.

Im­me­di­ately after the un­der­taker left, Patrick searched Rice’s room and took $450 in bills, valu­able se­cu­ri­ties and jew­elry.

On the fol­low­ing Mon­day, Patrick in­structed Jones to fill out checks from Rice’s check book, ag­gre­gat­ing $250,000, on the Fifth Av­enue Trust Co. and on Swen­son & Sons’ bank, made payable to Al­bert Patrick, to which the lat­ter forged Rice’s sig­na­ture.

Through an over­sight on Jones’ part, he mis­spelled Patrick’s first name on one of the checks on Swen­son’s bank. Patrick also over­looked this de­fect, and when he went to the bank to draw the money, he signed his cor­rect name “Al­bert Patrick” on the back of the check.

The clerk then called his at­ten­tion to the fact that the check was made payable to A-b-e-r-t Patrick, and re­fused to pay the money until he had com­mu­ni­cated with Rice. The clerk then tele­phoned to Rice’s apart­ments, and Jones as­sured him that Patrick was all right.

The clerk ex­pressed a de­sire to speak to Rice per­son­ally, where­upon Jones, after a slight hes­i­ta­tion, stated that Rice was dead. The en­tire trans­ac­tion aroused the sus­pi­cion of the bankers, and Max Gumpel, the San Fran­cisco hand­writ­ing ex­pert, who was then in New York, was con­sulted, and he im­me­di­ately pro­nounced the sig­na­ture of Rice a forgery.

In the mean­time, Patrick made arrange­ments to have Rice’s body cre­mated on Tues­day, and he telegraphed to Holt, the ex­ecu­tor of Mrs. Rice’s will, that he had an agree­ment signed by Rice which would end the lit­i­ga­tion.

The au­thor­i­ties de­cided to per­form an au­topsy on Rice’s body, and at the in­quest physi­cians tes­ti­fied that all the or­gans were nor­mal ex­cept the lungs, which were con­gested.

They also tes­ti­fied that noth­ing could have caused that con­ges­tion but the in­hala­tion of some gaseous ir­ri­tant. Chemist Wit­thaus tes­ti­fied that his analy­sis re­vealed the pres­ence of mer­cury, but not in quan­ti­ties suf­fi­cient to cause death.

On Oc­to­ber 4, Patrick and Jones were ar­rested on a charge of forgery.

In some man­ner Patrick, who feared Jones would tes­tify for the State, passed a knife into his cell and sug­gested that they jointly com­mit sui­cide. Jones made the at­tempt by cut­ting his throat, but the wound was not fatal.

In Jan­u­ary, 1901, Jones made a com­plete con­fes­sion of the facts as re­lated above, and Patrick was then charged with mur­der.

When Jones be­came a wit­ness for the State he was re­moved from the prison, fur­nished with com­fort­able quar­ters in an apart­ment house, and per­mit­ted to go to places of amuse­ment.

At the trial nu­mer­ous ex­perts were pro­duced who tes­ti­fied that the will and checks were forg­eries, and Jones’ brother from Texas and the ex­press agents tes­ti­fied re­gard­ing the send­ing of the chlo­ro­form with which Rice was mur­dered.

Patrick was found guilty and sen­tenced to be elec­tro­cuted but the Gov­er­nor com­muted the sen­tence to life im­pris­on­ment.

The case was ap­pealed to the Court of Ap­peals, but a new trial was de­nied. Judge Denis O’Brien ren­dered a dis­sent­ing opin­ion, in which he se­verely crit­i­cised the au­thor­i­ties who granted Jones im­mu­nity and per­mit­ted him to live in lux­ury dur­ing the trial.

On March 5, 1909, Patrick ap­plied to the Ap­pel­late Court for his free­dom on a writ of habeas cor­pus. He acted as his own at­tor­ney, and stated that he had never asked to have his penalty com­muted to life im­pris­on­ment. After again protest­ing his in­no­cence, he cried: “Give me lib­erty or give me death.”

The writ was de­nied.


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