An American Tragedy Chapter 21

And then witnesses, witnesses, witnesses—to the number of one hundred and twenty-seven. And their testimony, particularly that of the doctors, three guides, the woman who heard Roberta’s last cry, all repeatedly objected to by Jephson and Belknap, for upon such weakness and demonstrable error as they could point out depended the plausibility of Clyde’s daring defense. And all of this carrying the case well into November, and after Mason had been overwhelmingly elected to the judgeship which he had so craved. And because of the very vigor and strife of the trial, the general public from coast to coast taking more and more interest. And obviously, as the days passed and the newspaper writers at the trial saw it, Clyde was guilty. Yet he, because of the repeated commands of Jephson, facing each witness who assailed him with calm and even daring.

“Your name?”

“Titus Alden.”

“You are the father of Roberta Alden?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, Mr. Alden, just tell the jury how and under what circumstances it was that your daughter Roberta happened to go to Lycurgus.”

“Objected to. Irrelevant, immaterial, incompetent,” snapped Belknap.

“I’ll connect it up,” put in Mason, looking up at the judge, who ruled that Titus might answer subject to a motion to strike out his testimony if not “connected up.”

“She went there to get work,” replied Titus.

“And why did she go there to get work?”

Again objection, and the old man allowed to proceed after the legal formalities had again been complied with.

“Well, the farm we have over there near Biltz hasn’t ever paid so very well, and it’s been necessary for the children to help out and Bobbie being the oldest——”

“Move to strike out!” “Strike it out.”

“‘Bobbie’ was the pet name you gave your daughter Roberta, was it?”

“Objected to,” etc., etc. “Exception.”

“Yes, sir. ‘Bobbie’ was what we sometimes called her around there—just Bobbie.”

And Clyde listening intently and enduring without flinching the stern and accusing stare of this brooding Priam of the farm, wondering at the revelation of his former sweetheart’s pet name. He had nicknamed her “Bert”; she had never told him that at home she was called “Bobbie.”

And amid a fusillade of objections and arguments and rulings, Alden continuing, under the leading of Mason, to recite how she had decided to go to Lycurgus, after receipt of a letter from Grace Marr, and stop with Mr. and Mrs. Newton. And after securing work with the Griffiths Company, how little the family had seen of her until June fifth last, when she had returned to the farm for a rest and in order to make some clothes.

“No announcement of any plans for marriage?”


But she had written a number of long letters—to whom he did not know at the time. And she had been depressed and sick. Twice he had seen her crying, although he said nothing, knowing that she did not want to be noticed. There had been a few telephone calls from Lycurgus, the last on July fourth or fifth, the day before she left, he was quite sure.

“And what did she have with her when she left?”

“Her bag and her little trunk.”

“And would you recognize the bag that she carried, if you saw it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is this the bag?” (A deputy assistant district attorney carrying forward a bag and placing it on a small stand.)

And Alden, after looking at it and wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, announcing: “Yes, sir.”

And then most dramatically, as Mason intended in connection with every point in this trial, a deputy assistant carrying in a small trunk, and Titus Alden and his wife and daughters and sons all crying at the sight of it. And after being identified by him as Roberta’s, the bag and then the trunk were opened in turn. And the dresses made by Roberta, some underclothing, shoes, hats, the toilet set given her by Clyde, pictures of her mother and father and sister and brothers, an old family cookbook, some spoons and forks and knives and salt and pepper sets—all given her by her grandmother and treasured by her for her married life—held up and identified in turn.

All this over Belknap’s objection, and on Mason’s promise to “connect it up,” which, however, he was unable to do, and the evidence was accordingly ordered “struck out.” But its pathetic significance by that time deeply impressed on the minds and hearts of the jurymen. And Belknap’s criticism of Mason’s tactics merely resulting in that gentleman bellowing, in an infuriated manner: “Who’s conducting this prosecution, anyhow?” To which Belknap replied: “The Republican candidate for county judge in this county, I believe!”—thus evoking a wave of laughter which caused Mason to fairly shout: “Your Honor, I protest! This is an unethical and illegal attempt to inject into this case a political issue which has nothing to do with it. It is slyly and maliciously intended to convey to this jury that because I am the Republican nominee for judge of the county, it is impossible for me to properly and fairly conduct the prosecution of this case. And I now demand an apology, and will have it before I proceed one step further in this case.”

Whereupon Justice Oberwaltzer, feeling that a very serious breach of court etiquette had occurred, proceeded to summon Belknap and Mason before him, and after listening to placid and polite interpretations of what was meant, and what was not meant, finally ordered, on pain of contempt, that neither of them again refer to the political situation in any way.

Nevertheless, Belknap and Jephson congratulating themselves that in this fashion their mood in regard to Mason’s candidacy and his use of this case to further it had effectively gotten before the jury and the court.

But more and more witnesses!

Grace Marr now taking the stand, and in a glib and voluble outpouring describing how and where she had first met Roberta—how pure and clean and religious a girl she was, but how after meeting Clyde on Crum Lake a great change had come over her. She was more secretive and evasive and given to furnishing all sorts of false excuses for new and strange adventures—as, for instance, going out nights and staying late, and claiming to be places over Saturday and Sunday where she wasn’t—until finally, because of criticism which she, Grace Marr, had ventured to make, she had suddenly left, without giving any address. But there was a man, and that man was Clyde Griffiths. For having followed Roberta to her room one evening in September or October of the year before, she had observed her and Clyde in the distance, near the Gilpin home. They were standing under some trees and he had his arm around her.

And thereafter Belknap, at Jephson’s suggestion, taking her and by the slyest type of questioning, trying to discover whether, before coming to Lycurgus, Roberta was as religious and conventional as Miss Marr would have it. But Miss Marr, faded and irritable, insisting that up to the day of her meeting with Clyde on Crum Lake, Roberta had been the soul of truth and purity, in so far as she knew.

And next the Newtons swearing to much the same thing.

And then the Gilpins, wife and husband and daughters, each swearing to what she or he alone saw or heard. Mrs. Gilpin as to the approximate day of Roberta’s moving into her home with one small trunk and bag—the identical trunk and bag identified by Titus. And thereafter seeming to live very much alone until finally she, feeling sorry for her, had suggested one type of contact and another, but Roberta invariably refusing. But later, along in late November, although she had never had the heart to say anything about it to her because of her sweetness and general sobriety, she and her two daughters had become aware of the fact that occasionally, after eleven o’clock, it had seemed as though Roberta must be entertaining some one in her room, but just whom she could not say. And again at this point, on cross-examination, Belknap trying to extract any admissions or impressions which would tend to make it look as though Roberta was a little less reserved and puritanical than all the witnesses had thus far painted her, but failing. Mrs. Gilpin, as well as her husband, was plainly fond of her and only under pressure from Mason and later Belknap testified to Clyde’s late visits.

And then the elder daughter, Stella, testifying that during the latter part of October or the first of November, shortly after Roberta had taken the room, she had passed her and a man, whom she was now able to identify as Clyde, standing less than a hundred feet from the house, and noticing that they were evidently quarreling she had paused to listen. She was not able to distinguish every word of the conversation, but upon leading questions from Mason was able to recall that Roberta had protested that she could not let him come into her room—“it would not look right.” And he had finally turned upon his heel, leaving Roberta standing with outstretched arms as if imploring him to return.

And throughout all this Clyde staring in amazement, for he had in those days—in fact throughout his entire contact with Roberta—imagined himself unobserved. And decidedly this confirmed much of what Mason had charged in his opening address—that he had willfully and with full knowledge of the nature of the offense, persuaded Roberta to do what plainly she had not wanted to do—a form of testimony that was likely to prejudice the judge as well as the jury and all these conventional people of this rural county. And Belknap, realizing this, trying to confuse this Stella in her identification of Clyde. But only succeeding in eliciting information that some time in November or the early part of December, shortly after the above incident, she had seen Clyde arrive, a box of some kind under his arm, and knock at Roberta’s door and enter, and was then positive that he was the same young man she had seen that moonlight night quarreling with Roberta.

And next, Whiggam, and after him Liggett, testifying as to the dates of arrival of Clyde at the factory, as well as Roberta, and as to the rule regarding department heads and female help, and, in so far as they could see, the impeccable surface conduct of both Clyde and Roberta, neither seeming to look at the other or at any one else for that matter. (That was Liggett testifying.)

And after them again, others. Mrs. Peyton to testify as to the character of his room and his social activities in so far as she was able to observe them. Mrs. Alden to testify that at Christmas the year before Roberta had confessed to her that her superior at the factory—Clyde Griffiths, the nephew of the owner—was paying attention to her, but that it had to be kept secret for the time being. Frank Harriet, Harley Baggott, Tracy Trumbull and Eddie Sells to testify that during December last Clyde had been invited here and there and had attended various social gatherings in Lycurgus. John Lambert, a druggist of Schenectady, testifying that some time in January he had been applied to by a youth, who he now identified as the defendant, for some medicine which would bring about a miscarriage. Orrin Short to testify that in late January Clyde had asked him if he knew of a doctor who could aid a young married woman—according to Clyde’s story, the wife of an employe of Griffiths & Company—who was too poor to afford a child, and whose husband, according to Clyde, had asked him for this information. And next Dr. Glenn, testifying to Roberta’s visit, having previously recalled her from pictures published in the papers, but adding that professionally he had been unwilling to do anything for her.

And then C. B. Wilcox, a farmer neighbor of the Aldens, testifying to having been in the washroom back of the kitchen on or about June twenty-ninth or thirtieth, on which occasion Roberta having been called over the long distance telephone from Lycurgus by a man who gave his name as Baker, he had heard her say to him: “But, Clyde, I can’t wait that long. You know I can’t. And I won’t.” And her voice had sounded excited and distressed. Mr. Wilcox was positive as to the name Clyde.

And Ethel Wilcox, a daughter of this same C. B.—short and fat and with a lisp—who swore that on three preceding occasions, having received long distance requests for Roberta, she had proceeded to get her. And each time the call was from Lycurgus from a man named Baker. Also, on one occasion, she had heard her refer to the caller as Clyde. And once she had heard her say that “under no circumstances would she wait that long,” although what she meant by that she did not know.

And next Roger Beane, a rural free delivery letter-carrier, who testified that between June seventh or eighth to July fourth or fifth, he had received no less than fifteen letters from Roberta herself or the mail box at the crossroads of the Alden farm, and that he was positive that most of the letters were addressed to Clyde Griffiths, care of General Delivery, Lycurgus.

And next Amos Showalter, general delivery clerk at Lycurgus, who swore that to the best of his recollection, from or between June seventh or eighth and July fourth or fifth, Clyde, whom he knew by name, had inquired for and received not less than fifteen or sixteen letters.

And after him, R. T. Biggen, an oil station manager of Lycurgus, who swore that on the morning of July sixth, at about eight o’clock, having gone to Fielding Avenue, which was on the extreme west of the city, leading on the northern end to a “stop” on the Lycurgus and Fonda electric line, he had seen Clyde, dressed in a gray suit and wearing a straw hat and carrying a brown suit-case, to one side of which was strapped a yellow camera tripod and something else—an umbrella it might have been. And knowing in which direction Clyde lived, he had wondered at his walking, when at Central Avenue, not so far from his home, he could have boarded the Fonda-Lycurgus car. And Belknap in his cross-examination inquiring of this witness how, being one hundred and seventy-five feet distant, he could swear that it was a tripod that he saw, and Biggens insisting that it was—it was bright yellow and wood and had brass clops and three legs.

And then after him, John W. Troescher, station master at Fonda, who testified that on the morning of July sixth last (he recalled it clearly because of certain other things which he listed), he had sold Roberta Alden a ticket to Utica. He recalled Miss Alden because of having noted her several times during the preceding winter. She looked quite tired, almost sick, and carried a brown bag, something like the brown bag there and then exhibited to him. Also he recalled the defendant, who also carried a bag. He did not see him notice or talk to the girl.

And next Quincy B. Dale, conductor of the particular train that ran from Fonda to Utica. He had noticed, and now recalled, Clyde in one car toward the rear. He also noticed, and from photographs later published, had recalled Roberta. She gave him a friendly smile and he had said that such a bag as she was carrying seemed rather heavy for her and that he would have one of the brakemen carry it out for her at Utica, for which she thanked him. He had seen her descend at Utica and disappear into the depot. He had not noticed Clyde there.

And then the identification of Roberta’s trunk as having been left in the baggage room at the station at Utica for a number of days. And after that the guest page of the Renfrew House, of Utica, for July sixth last, identified by Jerry K. Kernocian, general manager of said hotel, which showed an entry—“Clifford Golden and wife.” And the same then and there compared by handwriting experts with two other registration pages from the Grass Lake and Big Bittern inns and sworn to as being identically the same handwriting. And these compared with the card in Roberta’s suit-case, and all received in evidence and carefully examined by each juror in turn and by Belknap and Jephson, who, however, had seen all but the card before. And once more a protest on the part of Belknap as to the unwarranted and illegal and shameful withholding of evidence on the part of the district attorney. And a long and bitter wrangle as to that, serving, in fact, to bring to a close the tenth day of the trial.