2011-08-10 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
Continued from last week’s Pets: Close Encounters During the MacLevy Prequel to his Stay at the Westminster Kennel Club in Babylon: Long before the Casey Anthony case mesmerized forensic file fans, Roland B. Molineux was the central figure in the crime of the century, actually the crime spanning two centuries. In 1914, this infamous suspect in two poisonings by mail escaped from a Babylon health farm and wreaked havoc as he ran down Montauk Highway, clad only in his bathrobe, assaulting innocent picnickers along the way. Then he broke MacLevy’s arm.
Our convoluted history of the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) clubhouse in Babylon crosses paths with Max MacLevy who was leasing the former WKC clubhouse when it burned down in 1918. Before that, he ran another health farm where the Bulk’s windmill once stood on the way to Bergen Point. Wealthy playboy Molineux knew MacLevy from his NYC gym. His sensational trial had been front page news. Convicted of a cyanide/bromo seltzer cocktail mailgram murder and later acquitted after his Civil War general father paid a fortune for his defense, Molineux came to MacLevy’s to rest.
Supposedly, Molineux needed to recuperate from the strain of writing a Broadway play called The Man Inside dramatizing his 20 month stay on death row in Sing Sing. Other accounts say he was here on his honeymoon, minus his bride. Nonetheless, Molineux wasn’t in Babylon long before he created a ruckus. First, let’s look at a synopsis of his trials that set legal precedents and helped launch tabloid-style reporting:
Poison Pen Pal: The Molineux murders are reminiscent of the US anthrax scare. Christmas Eve 1898 Henry Cornish director of the Knickerbocker Athletic Club received a lethal gift in his mailbox. A Tiffany’s box contained a toothpick holder that encased a bromo bottle; the Madison Avenue address had the word “forty” spelled wrong; and the sender neglected to enclose a card. Cornish put his present aside. It would come in handy after a holiday hangover.
A few days later when his landlady awoke with a headache, he handed her the bottle. She complained of a bitter taste, so he took a swig. Within an hour, Adams was dead and Cornish was ill. Police began looking for anyone who may have had a grudge against Cornish. Soon Molineux surfaced. The two first clashed over a weight lifting competition. After that, Molineux had written angry letters to the club. The Knickerbocker secretary recognized his handwriting and recalled his misspellings of the word “forty.” Molineux’s father, the General, owned a dye company where his suspect son trained as a chemist. Police needed more evidence, and became curious about the earlier, sudden death of Henry Barnet, another Knickerbocker member who happened to be Molineux’s romantic rival. Laxative laced with cyanide was found next to Barnet’s bed, and a little digging uncovered a suspicious note in the drug company’s files requesting the powder signed by Cornish, the first intended victim. Barnet’s beau married Molineux days after Barnet’s death. Police considered this more than a coincidence, but never charged Molineux with Barnet’s murder, which became the technicality that overturned his conviction.
In 1900 Molineux was found guilty of first degree murder, and spent a total of four years at Sing Sing. The case cost NYS $200,000 to prosecute. Meanwhile, Papa the General spared no expense hiring various handwriting experts even those who also testified in the Dreyfus and Lindbergh cases. Reporters stated that the defendant sat in court with a smug grin, playing tic tac toe. In 1902 a jury overturned the conviction after deliberating only four minutes. Sound familiar?
Mayhem on Montauk Highway: September 1914 Molineux came to MacLevy’s health farm (a.k.a. “sanitarium”) for a second treatment because he was on the verge of the breakdown. The producer of Molineux’s play had banned him from the theater because he became so irritable. Shortly after arriving, the prisoner turned playwright ran from MacLevy’s compound toward Babylon Village.
Some accounts say he had on his bathrobe; others claim he was naked. “ROLAND B. MOLINEUX TERRORIZES THE VILLAGE” read the 9/7/1914 NY Times headline. The patient attacked everyone in his path including some Polish people at a picnic. Journalists weren’t politically correct back then, yet old time newsmen had such a way with words. Here is an excerpt from the NY Tribune version of the rampage: “Meanwhile, there are any number of victims of the author and playwright whose health recently has not be of the best. A Polish picnic that lasted until an early hour yesterday ended when it is said he interjected his personality and his fists, the latter regardless of the sex of the Poles.”
Village police subdued him and brought him back to MacLevy who agreed he should be locked up. At that point Molineux broke MacLevy’s arm. The prisoner spent the night in the Village jail which in 1914 would have been today’s Grove St. VFW since Old Town Hall wasn’t built yet. The next morning, a distraught General arrived in Babylon to sign his son’s commitment papers. Molineux remained in the Kings Park Asylum, as it was called then, until his 1917 death from syphilitic dementia. His death certificate reads “died of general paralysis of the insane.” He was 51.
Soon after Molineux “terrorized the Village,” MacLevy relocated his health farm to the more remote location adjoining Southards Pond once owned by the Westminster Kennel Club. The clubhouse became the clients’ lodge; the shooting house his personal quarters, and the rest of the 64 acres were converted into exercise facilities. Whether or not MacLevy’s arm was still in a sling during the move remains unknown. You’d think he’d want to get out of Dodge quickly because of all the negative publicity spawned by Molineux mania. It was bad for business.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Foxy” a pretty Pit mix # 93831, like many of her poor breed, has been confined to a cage a long time She entered in January. While at the shelter “Foxy has blossomed into a real lady, who gets along well with other dogs and has learned to wait quietly for attention. She has gorgeous light green eyes that sparkle like she does. “Sheba” a mature Husky mix #94256 knows how to beat the summer heat by wearing a visor.
Cats: “Twinkles” delightful female Russian Blue type; “Goya” –tuxedo kitten in C-3; lovable white female in C-7- deserves TLC.
Dogs: “Chestnut” #94237- oldie but goodie Shepherd; “Mona Lisa” #93957- pretty Pit mix.