Sunday, May 20, 2018

Emma LeDoux - The Black Widow of Amador County (Part One)

"The Ione Public Cemetery sits on a hillside along the outskirts of town. It’s unadorned and barren appearance gives off a feeling of loneliness as you wander the tiers of concrete blocks and individual plots. The area itself is so dry that even the grave markers look parched.  Among the monuments stands a weather beaten obelisk. Cracks run through the stone, like the lines of a dried up tributary that once made its way to the mouth of a body of water.  This monument belongs to Calvin Cole.  

Calvin Cole’s death on March 26, 1866, is where this story truly begins. I believe that this one death may have actually inspired events that were to take place nearly four decades later.  You see, Mr. Cole’s death was considered somewhat suspicious given the circumstances. According to an article in the Amador Dispatch newspaper in 1866, it states that Mr. Cole died “from the effects of some irritation of the brain and stomach brought on by some unknown cause to them.”

During the inquest of his death, the doctor stated that Mr. Cole’s “stomach was diseased and there was an adhesive membrane of the skull that was not natural.”   The article also went on to report the state of Mr. Cole’s remains upon examination. “He found the condition of the stomach caused by some artificial irritation; He presumed the contents of the stomach would be analyzed. He did not see the medicine that had been taken, did not notice anything about the brain that would cause instant death; it was his opinion that water was in the stomach that caused the death; whether the results were the effects of two agents or one, he didn’t think it possible to tell.”

Mr. Cole’s wife stated at the inquest, that around 1:30 p.m., her husband came in and requested to eat his supper in order to hurry up and get his horse ready to go after the cows. She claimed that he ate his supper, went to get the cows and came home around sunset. Then they both went to milk the cows together, and when Mr. Cole walked out to the gate, he was complaining of feeling ill.  After attempting to go to bed, he started vomiting and mentioned that he was afraid that he may have taken too much of the medicine prescribed by his doctor for his health. He only lived another thirty minutes or so, and then passed away.

So could Sarah Cole have poisoned her husband? Well, it looks like a possibility. But what did she have to gain from it? Mr. Cole died with very little to his name besides $100.00 listed as his personal property. In fact, it was Mrs. Cole who had more money. She had $2,000.00 in personal property and $5,000.00 in real estate, so the motive for money is out the window.  But the general cause of his death still seemed suspicious, especially since the stomach contents were supposed to be analyzed but never were. Maybe it was all an accident, and Mr. Cole just took too much of his medicines after all. But the question still lingers, was it really an accident?

You might ask, where does Mr. Cole fit in with the story of Emma LeDoux?  Mr. Calvin Cole was none other than Emma LeDoux’s paternal grandfather.  It is safe to assume the probability that years later, the sheer mention or rumor of suspicion about her grandfather’s death might have influenced or inspired her. It seems she was quite callous and calculating, having personality traits that could make it all the easier for her to dispose of an unwanted spouse in such a way.  Of course, that’s just conjecture. With this chapter, you will have a chance to go over the details of Emma’s story from the beginning, drawing your own conclusions about just what may have  prompted the inception of the Black Widow of Amador County.

In March of 1906, after drugging Albert McVicar in a Stockton hotel room, Emma LeDoux then stuffed him into a trunk and left it on the platform at the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in Stockton, California.  The details of his death, witness statements and reports being published about the trial, exploded into the papers daily as one of the biggest media sensations of the time. The only event that took precedence over this case was the Great Earthquake of 1906, which actually put Emma’s trial on hold.

When I was researching Emma’s story, it was clear that not much was documented about Emma's life and experiences prior to the murder. Although the story that catapulted Emma into infamy took place in 1906, I felt the need to give Emma a back story before proceeding with the ghastly details of the murder.

Emma LeDoux was born Emma Theresa Cole on September 10, 1875. She was born in the small town of Pine Grove, east of Jackson in Amador County, California. Her parents were Thomas Jefferson Cole from Ione, California, and Mary Ann Gardner. According to research by Emma’s distant cousin Ruth Blankenbaker,  Emma’s maternal grandfather Eli owned a mine off of Clinton Road, near Jackson.  Family genealogy records show that by the time Emma was about three years old, her family moved to Oregon for about ten years until returning back to Amador County in 1888.

By the age of 16, Emma was married to Charles Barrett, 22, of Pine Grove.  Emma’s mother, Mary Ann Cole had given consent for Emma to wed Charles in an affidavit signed on February, 2, 1892. Only eight days later, on February 10, 1892, Emma’s father, Thomas Jefferson Cole left his wife. 

Emma’s first marriage took place on March 2, 1892, as there was a 30 day waiting period prior to marrying at the time. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last very long, and rumors spread quickly that meddling parents were the cause of their early marital ruin. After four years of marriage, Charles left Emma on May 1, 1895. In an interview published by the Amador Dispatch, a man by the name of Keagle, who ran the Yosemite Bar in Stockton, had once owned a saloon on the corner of California and Main Streets in Jackson. This is near the place where the present Hein & Company book store is located. Keagle had his own recollections that he shared with the press. “I used to run a saloon up in Jackson and it was there that I became acquainted with her about sixteen years ago. Her family lives a few miles above Jackson, but I don’t know what the family name is. Shortly after I went up there she married a young rancher by the name of Barrett, living near Pine Grove. She did not live with him very long, however. They had some kind of split up and he got a divorce from her upon the ground of infidelity, I believe.”— Amador Dispatch, March 30, 1906.

Friends of both Emma and Charles later claimed that their separation and divorce may have been due to Emma having allegedly taken part in “extra marital" relations. By January 5, 1898, after the divorce case had been held up for nearly three years, the judge granted the divorce decree.

Next, Emma married her second husband, William Stanley Williams. The 1900 Census in Globe, Arizona, shows William and Emma living together, having been married for two years. This means they were married around 1898, which was around the same time her divorce from Barrett was finalized. William’s occupation was listed as a miner and that he was born in England.  Unfortunately,  Williams died in Cochise County, Arizona, on June 20, 1902, under suspicious circumstances. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Bisbee, AZ.
"According to information from Bisbee, William S. Williams, A.N. McVicar and the woman accused of McVicar's murder at Stockton were quite well known in Bisbee prior to and during 1902. Williams died under suspicious circumstances being attended by Dr. C.L. Edmundson at the last. Poisoning by nitric acid was suspected, but it was later decided that Williams had died of natural causes, presumably heart failure. He was quite heavily insured. The widow secured between $4000 and $5000, $2000 of it being from the Ancient Order of United Workmen and the balance being the old line insurance.
Williams was a member of the Miners Union in Globe and that organization forwarded $75 to the widow for burial expenses. The fraternal insurance was paid to her by Lewis Hunt, record of the Workmen. The money was paid to the woman under the name of Mrs. Emma T. Williams. Williams lived in Bisbee for five or six years, being known as a steady, reliable and straightforward man. Long prior to the death of Williams, according to report, he had occasion to take his wife to task for her familiar associations with McVicar, whose attentions gave him much concern. Undoubtedly, this fact had something to do with the doubts that arose at the time , concerning the “regularity” of William’s death, but they were not strong enough to occasion further investigation after the opinion that death occurred from heart failure was rendered. McVicar renewed his attentions to the widow, and in the latter part of 1902, they were married.” - San Francisco Call, March 30, 1906

Although the newspapers of the time mentioned that they suspected that Williams had been poisoned by nitric acid. Then later, they reported it as natural and “more than likely heart failure.”  The official death record by Dr. Edmundson states that the cause of death was “gastroenteritis,” which is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.  The average person today would associate the term “gastroenteritis” with bacterial or viral infections, or even food poisoning, but medical case studies have proven that “gastroenteritis” can be caused by a number of things, including certain medicines and the overuse of alcohol.
Williams’ body hadn't even been in the ground three months before Emma married her third husband. Albert Newton McVicar was born in Canada in 1869. When the McVicar family came to the U.S., they settled in Wichita, Kansas. According to the San Francisco Call, dated April 1, 1906, Albert’s brother, J.E. McVicar recalled that Albert had left Kansas and went westward to Cripple Creek, Colorado, when the area was booming.

He took a job with Wells Fargo and quickly was promoted as an agent. By 1901, he had quit Wells Fargo and relocated to Globe, Arizona, where he met Emma.  The two wed on September 1, 1902 in Cochise, Arizona.  What I found very interesting is that upon their marriage, Emma moved back to California traveling between her mother and step-father James Head's ranch in Jackson and the Tenderloin District in San Francisco. At the time, that area was full of theatres, hotels and was also well known for its active nightlife, including prostitution. So what in the world was a married woman doing there, and so far away from her newly wedded husband, Mr. McVicar?     
So by this time, Emma has been married a total of three times, and it didn't seem she planned on stopping there. Although she was married to McVicar, Emma seemed to enjoy her freedom gallivanting from San Francisco to Amador County, while McVicar was somewhere else. Emma claimed she managed to support herself by means of working as a seamstress and by the help of her "gentlemen friends."  I suspect that she secretly also dabbled in the oldest profession, more than likely during her visits to San Francisco.            

By August 26, 1905, Emma became a bigamist by marrying her fourth husband, Eugene “Jean” LeDoux of Sutter Creek.  Mr. LeDoux grew up with Emma in Amador County, his family’s ranch being next door to Emma’s step-father’s property. From the reports, LeDoux was very quiet prior to and during the ceremony which was performed at the County Clerk's office in Woodland, California.  The two were wed by Judge Lampton, in the presence of Byron Hillhouse and Constable Parker.

The couple registered at the Byrns Hotel under the names Mrs. E. Williams and Mr. Jean LeDoux, of Sacramento; however, Judge Lampton’s recollection was that Emma had given her residence as Jackson on the marriage license, while LeDoux gave his as Sutter Creek. The Judge also mentioned that the ceremony itself was odd, admitting that LeDoux didn’t act like the normal husband who was happy to wed his bride, and even going so far as to refuse kissing upon completion of the vows.  As fast as the ceremony came and went, so did the couple, exiting town as fast as possible. Instead of returning to the hotel, the pair walked straight to the train station over an hour early to await their ride to an uneventful honeymoon elsewhere.
LeDoux and McVicar knew nothing about the other during this time. I am not sure how Emma managed to keep McVicar a secret. Probably the fact that he had been absent most of the marriage aided in Emma's deception and allowed her the ability to act as if she was legally free to wed LeDoux. By the time that Emma had married LeDoux, McVicar had already moved to California, and was actually just about 46 miles south in Jamestown, working at the Rawhide Mine as a timber man. During this period, Emma would frequently spend time with both husbands for the next seven months without either one learning of the others existence.  No one could have imagined what was going to take place next.

According to the San Francisco Call dated March 30, 1906, it states that Dr. John Dillon of San Francisco claimed that on the night of March the 12th, 1906, that Emma LeDoux, a patient he knew for years,  called him to the residence at Lexington House, 212 Eddy Street, Room 21, to treat her husband McVicar. Emma stated that she needed the doctor's help because she believed he had been poisoned.  Dr. Dillon suspected arsenic or morphine poisoning and immediately took action by "washing out" his stomach and giving McVicar a light sleeping potion.

After McVicar recovered enough to speak to the doctor, he was questioned about what he had taken that made him so violently ill. McVicar answered, "I do not know. She said it was the clams and beer we had a short time ago."  It was then that Emma seemed "startled and perplexed" and claimed that she forgot to tell the doctor that they had eaten some bad clams and that must have been the cause. The doctor was a bit skeptical being that Emma had consumed the very same clams and beer as McVicar and yet didn't appear to be ill at all.  The doctor waited until McVicar was resting peacefully before leaving and came back the next day to make sure he was recovering completely.

During the visit Emma approached the doctor for a prescription to purchase some cyanide of pot-assium, knowing the doctor could prescribe it while they were there.  The newspapers state that upon Emma's request, Dr. Dillon jokingly replied, "You're not going to give him anymore, are you?"  

Emma claimed that her need for the cyanide was for her hobby of photography and that she needed it to develop her photographs. Her big excuse was that she could procure it in Stockton, but since she had taken photos right there in San Francisco, she didn’t want to wait to develop them. The doctor agreed. Emma and the doctor went on to the Harrison drug store where he then went to the back to pick up the bottle of cyanide; however, he noticed that it was empty. The clerk working at the front claimed he was writing out a requisition for new inventory of the poison. The fact that the pharmacy didn't have the cyanide Emma wanted, made her somewhat disappointed, the doctor claimed. To remedy the situation, the doctor then wrote her a prescription so that she could pick up some at the nearby pharmacy on Ellis Street.
As if the cyanide wasn't asking too much, Emma then turned on the water works and told the doctor that the incident earlier had really stressed her out and caused her too much excitement. She then confessed that she had previous addictions to morphine, and that she needed some badly. Believing that she was professing the truth, the doctor gave her one dram, or sixty grains of morphine and warned her of the risks of the drug.  He didn't think too much more of the matter until learning of McVicar's death two weeks later in the newspaper. It was then that he was interviewed and stated, "I am satisfied that a previous attempt was made to murder McVicar by poison, and that I saved his life.”  ----
--Copyright, 2016 - Chapter 18, from the book "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered," by J'aime Rubio (ISBN 13: 978-15239881175, ISBN 10: 1523981172)  

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Emma LeDoux - The Black Widow of Amador County (Part Three)

" At the morgue McVicar’s brother, J.E. McVicar, had arrived from Cripple Creek, Colorado, to identify the body. During an interview wi...