Saturday, September 24, 2011

Minnie Walkup Ketcham, Champion Gold-Digger Vamp Black Widow - 1914


FULL TEXT:

~ The Singularly Unhappy Love Affairs of Mrs. Ketcham ~

When sixteen she married James R. Walkup, 52-year-old Mayor of Emporia, Kansas. Walkup died a month after the wedding from arsenic poisoning and his girl bride was indicted and tried for his death. She was acquitted and received under the will of her husband half a million dollars.

John B. Ketcham, millionaire lumberman died in her house and she claimed marriage to him. The case was settled out of court, Mrs. Ketcham exonerated of any blame for his death and received two hundred thousand dollars from his estate.

De Lancy H. Louderback, Chicago capitalist, gave her three millions of dollars, and died when she cabled him she had married an English officer.

Her English husband has been killed by a shell in the present war, leaving her large estates.

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Information received recently in this country has revealed the death on the firing line in France of the English captain who was the third and last husband of Mrs. Minnie whose marriage to him caused the suicide of De Lancy H. Louderback, aged Chicago capitalist and former associate of Charles T. Yerkes, after he had lavished millions upon her and had hoped to wed her. Thus has ended as tragically as all her previous love affairs the last romance of this beautiful, tragedy haunted woman.

For Mrs. Ketcham’s first husband died a month after their marriage of arsenic poisoning. Her second husband died suddenly and mysteriously in her Chicago mansion.

Louderback, heart-broken by the brief cable that announced her wedding to “a captain in His Majesty’s Royal Guards,” drank cyanide of potassium in solution.

For the first death Mrs. Ketcham was tried and triumphantly acquitted.

After the second she was under investigation for months and was exonerated.

Louderback’s suicide was the action of a disappointed love-crazed old man.

The passing of her English husband by way of a German shell cannot, obviously, in any way be laid at her door by her critics. Indeed, in this last tragedy, Mrs. Ketcham, it is said, has experienced a sorrow like that which drove elderly Mr. Louderback to his end for her last romance was entirely a love match, and in wedding the Englishman the fascinating Southerner had endeavored to wipe out all her sorrowful past and begin life anew.

Perhaps no woman has ever had a more extraordinary love life. Her idiosyncrasy -- for men whose years were double and treble hers and their settlement of fortunes upon her only to find violent death, marked her as a woman apart.

Her career began when she was but sixteen years old. Of one of New Orleans’ old Creole families and by Creole is meant not the popular misconception of that word but its true sense of a pure blooded descendant of the old French settlers she had the compelling, exotic beauty that so often marks the women of these emigres. Her great hazel eyes promised heights of tenderness, a. promise which the red mouth and the languorous pale skin seemed to confirm. With only a little valise, containing the few clothes which she could afford she visited shortly after her sixteenth birthday friends in Covington. Ky. and immediately a score of the eligible men of that city fell in love with her.

Most prominent and promising among them was James R. Walkup, rancher, politician, sportsman.

The courtship was fast and furious, and two months after they met the day that Walkup was elected Mayor of Emporia, Kan., he led little Minnie Wallace to the altar. Walkup was a man of fifty-two years. His bride, as has been said, was just sixteen. She accompanied him to Emporia, where a wonderfully furnished home awaited her as its mistress.

But her happiness was short lived. A month after the wedding Walkup died under circumstances which made suspicions strong that he had met his end as a result of arsenic poisoning. He had been nursed his last few days by his young wife and finally suspicion became accusation.

She was indicted by the Grand Jury and tried during the following October on the charge of Walkup’s murder. The eyes of the entire county centered on the youthful, beautiful defendant and all ears upon the testimony that told of her charm and of the spell she cast on men.

A stranger in Emporia, the Creole at first seemed destined to fail from the furious charges of the prosecuting attorney, but a prominent criminal lawyer, William Jay, himself a man of nearly three score years, appeared suddenly and unexpectedly a few days before the trial, championed her and built in such a defense for the girl widow that she was triumphantly acquitted.

Jay explained that he had seen a picture of Mrs. Walkup in a St. Louis paper and “had read innocence in her eyes.” He spent more than $4,000 of his own money in her behalf. He proved that Walkup was a habitual user of arsenic and that he had taken an overdose. [“Proved” should have been put in quotes.” A detailed account of the Walkups and how the poison played its role in the death is found in Vamp of New Orleans,” Murder by Gaslight,” Feb. 19, 2011, which informs us that “an autopsy was performed which revealed what everyone knew; James Walkup had died of arsenic poisoning. However, a thorough examination showed no sign of syphilis and no indication of chronic arsenic use.”]

After the trial she was the recipient not only of many offers to appear on the stage, but of other hearts and fortunes. She accepted none, returning to New Orleans with her mother. Soon she began to make frequent trips to New York and Chicago, and later traveled extensively in Europe.

Attorney Jay became the conservator of the estate she received as beneficiary under the will of her husband.


In 1894 Mrs. Walkup appeared in Chicago and bought a home at No. 2421 Indiana avenue. The beautiful girl had become a still more beautiful woman. Whose poise was that of a duchess and whose intelligence and wit charmed all. Her house became a gathering place for brilliant men and women. Men of wealth, social position and high attainments were her friends.

On November I3, 1897, John B Ketcham, a retired millionaire lumberman. Sixty years old, died in her home. After his death Mrs. Minnie Wallace Walkup appeared with a marriage certificate dated September 24. 1897, and declared had been married to Ketcham in Milwaukee.

She explained that she and her suitor had kept their love a secret because they did not want comment on the discrepancy between their ages to mar their bills. When asked why she had given her heart and hand to two such elderly men, surprise looked out of her big, tender eyes.

“Their knowledge of life fascinates me.” she said. “A man must know how to woo a woman to win me and young men have not the experience “

George D. Ketcham, of Toledo, began a suit to prevent his dead brother’s wife from receiving any of the estate. After months of inquiry and investigation Mrs. Ketcham was exonerated of any blame for Ketcham’s death and the suit was settled out of court. Ketcham left $225,000 in property and $75,000 in insurance, and Mrs. Ketcham received $200,000 from the combined amounts.

For two uninterrupted years the sorrowful siren entertained famous men from all over the world in her Indiana avenue. Then Detlaf Hansen, who had been her attorney during the investigations that followed Ketcham’s death, filed suit against her for attorney’s fees.

And Hansen made the trial which followed a most spectacular one by charging that her claim to marriage with Ketcham was fraudulent, and that in reality the Creole-Japanese butler had covered his shoulders with a shawl, as was the infirm millionaire’s custom, and had gone through the ceremony In Milwaukee with her just to give Mrs. Ketcham a claim to a share of the estate!

It was during this hearing that De Lancy H. Louderback’s name began to be whispered about in connection with her.

At one time during the litigation she was known to have resided in Louderback’s New York home under guard of detectives employed by him. And on the second day of the Chicago hearing of the case Mr. Louderback was constantly present in the court room.

That case ended by Mrs. Ketcham settling with Hansen out of court.

Then began the swift decline of Louderback’s fortunes. He was without question madly in love with Mrs. Ketcham, despite the discrepancy in their ages. When she came to New York she lived in a magnificent home on East Eighty-eighth street that had been furnished and prepared for her by him. And upon her he lavished his wealth.

The story of their first meeting is interesting. Up to that time Louderback had been a great figure in Chicago’s financial world. His domestic life was not unhappy and his wife was a familiar figure among the Chicago fashionables. It was. indeed, at an exclusive ball at one of Chicago’s fashionable hotels that the traction magnate first saw the Creole. Her alluring young figure was clothed in a peacock sown that from shoulder to hem was n mass of color. A close band of emeralds – for Mrs. Ketcham was enabled to possess very wonderful jewels – bound her black hair. From the moment that his eyes fell upon her Louderback was fascinated.

“But she is divine divine!” he told an old friend who took him to task for his actions.

Mrs. Louderback, it is said, left the ball in tears. Soon afterward Mrs. Ketcham sold her Indiana avenue home and moved to the Grand Pacific Hotel. There dozens of mutual friends saw her at various trips with the financier: Indeed, he fairly flaunted his devotion to her in the face of the world. Gone at once was the domestic life built up through the years and his wife forgotten.

He was intensely jealous of the woman who had captured his heart. Mrs. Ketcham’s beauty naturally brought to her the glances and attentions of men wherever she went. Outbursts of frantic rage could be looked for whenever the two appeared together in public he continually raved that “every man in he world was conspiring to take her from him, and it was about this time that be built for her the “house within a house,” or the “House of Mystery,” as it has been called in fashionable Ravenswood.

The construction of this extraordinary monument to a man’s insane infatuation and insane jealousy must have cost him nearly a million dollars. It is literally a house within a house. The outer shell was built of massive stone, whose strength and thickness are not apparent on looking at the exterior. Windows and doors are reinforced with steel. And within this is the “inside house.” This house is separated from the outer covering, by a space large enough to enable a man to walk everywhere between, and also to allow guards to be placed there if necessary. Within this space are said to have been built secret passages, loopholes, listening posts and all the mechanism for surveillance and espionage that a jealous Sultan with an ingenious mind might have devised to keep watch upon his favorite Sultana.

Friends of Louderback said that the place became a mania with him, and that he boasted continually that no one could ever reach the inner dwelling, “the sanctuary,” as he called it, without his knowledge and permission.

For a time Louderback and Mrs: Ketcham went from store to store baying the most extravagant furnishings for the “House of Mystery” almost priceless adornments that later gave the place its third title of “Paradise Palace.” The furnishings are supposed to have cost, the traction man still another million. And when at last it was completed the woman did not enter it! Louderback never had chance to try out upon her his ingenious devices, nor did his traps ever have opportunity to snare any lover whom his excited imagination pictured by the score.

On the very day that she was supposed to enter as chatelaine of “Paradise Palace” she took her trunks and shook the dust of America from her jewelled shoes. She settled in London. Neither she nor Louderback offered any explanations, nor is it known just what occurred that made her decide to leave him.

It is known, however, that upon three separate occasions Louderback gave her a million dollars, three million in all. And how much more than this no one can know.

At any rate, the years passed until nine had gone by, and then his wife’s death made him free to ask Mrs. Ketcham to marry him. Letters that she had sent to him from across the ocean had carried many promises from her that as soon as his wife died she would become his bride.

On the very day that this happened he cabled Mrs. Ketcham, notifying her and instructing her to start for America immediately to fulfill her promise.

And after three or four nerve – racking days had passed he received a brief cable from her saying that she had passed out of his life forever and was now the wife of a captain in His Majesty’s Royal Guards!

The decline of Louderback the old man was swift, indeed. after the receipt of this message, and it was not long before the cyanide which he kept in his medicine cabinet to experiment with grass seed wrote the finish to this chapter of Mrs. Ketcham’s love story.

And when the will was read it was found that De Lancy Louderback had let Mrs. Ketcham one-fourth of his entire remaining estate, and the astonishing fact was revealed that of all his estate and of all his vast fortune only ten thousand dollars remained!

Thereafter memory or the New Orleans siren faded away, as she had intended it to do, no doubt. Only from time to time it was whispered that, her past unknown and unsuspected by those with whom she cares. In contact, she was living an life in England, and that out or her deep sincere love for her British husband the woman as she had been known in America had been utterly lost.

And now comes the news of the death of the man who had taught her what real love is, and for whom she had felt an emotion that none of her elderly husbands or suitors could possibly have aroused within her. And by his death equally, without doubt. She is now knowing some of that sorrow which drove Louderback to the grave.

[“Mrs. Wallace Walkup-Ketcham’s 4th Tragic Romance,” syndicated (Star Company), The Washington Times (D.C.), Aug. 25, 1918, Magazine section, p. 5]

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For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.

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For more cases like this one, see: Vamps – Femmes Fatales – Predatory Women

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