Thursday, February 2, 2012

The two weeks that made Headlines

In 1909, seventeen year old heiress Roberta Buist DeJanon, grandaughter of wealthy Philadelphia seedman Robert Buist Jr (his father credited with introducing the poinsettia to the United States), and daughter of Ferdinand H. De Janon, disappeared from her house "Bellevue-Stratford" in Philadelphia, with a false intention to visit the dentist. And she disappeared, along with her dog and a 46 year old waiter from Vienna named Frederick Cohen. He had inherited a small fortune from his brother who had emigrated to Australia. Loving horse races, and he lost by spending his one million seven hundred dollars in a short time. He went then to work as a waiter again, this time at the Hotel Birham, and at the Bellevue-Stratford hotel he along with another waiter served the De Janon family, inside their apartments, due to the heiress' mother illness. The heiress' mother had died a month before her run away. After her name appeared on the newspapers' headlines for many days, they both got married, Frederick having divorced from his wife in exchange of valuable items. Later on they would divorce and she would marry Harry Blank Cavendish. As other sources inform as well, she later on married Stephen Glaser, 26 years old, in 1911, after her grandfather had died that same year, which creates a doubt regarding the real name of the so called Cohen, or maybe Cavendish, since the year of her disappearance was 1910. She possibly divorced him in 1930.

The headlines showed different possibilities regarding their whereabouts, including a trip to Mexico.

While disappeared, newspapers asked people to help find the elopes, and some had mentioned they saw him in New York, while others would point at the races in Philadelphia, thus starting a hunt that kept for days making the news on different newspapers, from El Paso until Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, etc. They were searched all along the US, including Canada, until they were found in Chicago.

It seems that she was not the only rich girl to have left home and go ahead with her way, as through reading newspapers regarding this story, another heiress had left her house and had married her chauffeur.

As a note aside, Patrice De Janon, the heiress' grandfather on her paternal side, I discovered to have been a sword-master and Spanish teacher at West Point Military Academy, being himself of Spanish origin and a gentleman. He had a kind of conspiracy against him at the academy, which leaded him to address a long explanation as an Answer and Defense, and asking for help to the President of the United States, then Franklin Pierce published in 1864.

Patrice De Janon


Buist, the father, breakfasted with Roberta, and then went to his club, or about his business, returning at 4 o'clock. Miss Hester (Roberta mother's nurse), remained with the child, but she, too, departed finally.
Cohen and the girl were thrown together. The waiter, tenderly sympathetic toward the girl in her bereavement, used that sympathy as a stepping stone to her affections. He was devoted in his attentions; no youthful lover ever thought by wiser methods to win the object of his affection than Cohen practiced to gain Roberta.
He won. The girl became enamored of him. She wrote letters penned in a childish hand, that, if true, are the strangest love letters ever published. The girl, addressing her lover as "papa", poured out in her simple sentences the whole story of her infatuation for the bald-headed Lothario, who won her regard.
And when Cohen had completed the conquest of that girlish heart he planned the affair that gave the story of the heiress and the waiter to the world. On Christmas day Cohen gave up his position at the Bellevue-Stratford. Not a word did he say to his wife of his action. She believed he was still employed as a waiter.
Three days later, about 9 o'clock in the forenoon, Roberta de Janon went out, presumably to a dentist. Two hours before Cohen had kissed his wife good-by and said he would return to their lodgings at night. Since that time neither was seen until they were captured in Chicago.


At first, a private investigation of the family followed the disappearance of the daughter. The reason for this was assigned by the relatives to the discovery of a note in the room of Ferdinand de Janon, which had been written by his daughter, announcing her intention of killing herself, as life held nothing for her since her mother had died.
But the investigation of two days was fruitless. And on Friday, the last day of 1909, the news could no longer be concealed, and the world was given the story of the heiress and the waiter, one of the strangest stories of infatuation that ever proved truth to be stranger than fiction.
To revert to the chronology of the case for a time. The investigation showed that Roberta had not appeared at the dentist's that morning. However, accompanied by Tootsie, her little fox terrier, she went to a department store, made a few purchases and came out without the dog. The man stationed at the store entrance had noticed the dog, and asked her where she had taken the animal. Roberta, in a laughing manner, said she had given the animal to a friend.


From the store, the girl and Cohen were traced to the Broad street station, and for two weeks and a day have been wrapped in a shroud of mystery that has concealed their location as effectually as though they had been engulfed by an earthquake.
That that girl had plotted to leave with Cohen, was shown in her actions previous to her disappearance. For days past she had been purchasing articles such as a person would need who was to travel. A dozen under-vests, various other articles of lingerie, a traveling clock, a traveling case, heaps of articles upon which women dote had been purchased by her, and charged to her grandfather's account. But on the day she went to the department store, the day that she disappeared, Roberta didn't purchase anything.
When Cohen and the heiress went away, attention was called to the third side of the inevitable triangle: MRS. COHEN.
Nature had indeed cast the injured wife in a peculiar mold. She was informed of her husband's perfidy, and the tale she wove about the erring spouse and the girl, discounted in its absorbing, not to mention its peculiar interest even the story of the love of December and May.

When the detectives went to Mrs. Cohen she first pulled out bundles of notes and photographs and silently handed them to the officers. When the astonished detectives saw the contents they were puzzled. For the letters were those of Roberta de Janon to the waiter, the photographs were those of the girl taken in various poses, exactly the style of photograph that a lovelorn maiden would send to her suitor.
"How did you get these?" asked one of the detectives.
And then came the story. Mrs. Cohen, with a lifeless voice, a voice that carried none of the emotion which she afterward showed she felt, told them that she knew of the girl's infatuation for her husband.
Intimate details of the progress of the strange attachment of the heiress for the waiter she related and then, breaking into a vigorous recital, said that her husband had told her all about the affair.

"Fred often told me of the girl who was in love with him," she added. "He showed me the notes that he received, he showed me the photographs that she had given him, he told me all about it. He never kept their relations secret from me, and he always spoke of loving Roberta and that they would elope some time. That time was when he was ready to go."
With this amazing declaration finished, Mrs. Cohen was asked why she hadn't informed the relatives of the girl, why she had not left her husband or separated from him or, in any event, stopped this affair. Her answer to the first question was that she did not wish her husband to lose his position at the hotel. To the second she answered that her religion would not permit of a divorce, and in regard to a separation she said she loved her husband and would cling to him through everything.
To the last question came the strangest reply of all. Mrs. Cohen said the reason why she did not stop the affair existing between her husband and the heiress was because she never feared that she would lose him, and felt that in the strength of his love for her she had a shiled and bulwark that would prevail against the shafts of love directed by Roberta.
Hardly had she concluded this remarkable tale, when immediately she became excited and started to revile her husband. She would unmask him as a villain, follow him to "hell" if necessary and bring down upon him the righteous punishment he deserved. The girl's punishment she would leave to heaven, she said. Started on this theme, she railed against her errant spouse and gave the detectives the impression that her misfortune and desertion had mentally unbalanced her. For weeks the search for the waiter and the heiress was continued. The newspapers were filled with accounts of it. But they had covered their tracks well, and though the detectives thought they had several clews from time to time, nothing definite developed until the proprietress of the Chicago boarding house, suspecting who her lodgers were through pictures of them she had seen in the papers, notified the police. Thus was Roberta de Janon restored to the arms of her forgiving grandfather, who throughout the hunt had not faltered in his determination to find her.

SYRACUSE NY HERALD, January 16, 1910

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