“It was all a fib, Judge.”
Mrs. Evelyn Fariss - Gill - Merritt - Bennett – Bennett - Boell, the former “Follies” beauty, laughed nervously as she confessed lo Judge Frank F. Adel, of Queens County, N. Y., Supreme Court, that she had tried to palm off a bogus baby, picked up in a foundling asylum, as her own in hopes of collecting a quarter million dollars from the estate of the late Joseph F. Moran, shipbuilder, mine owner and baseball magnate of Brooklyn.
According to law, Judge Adel was empowered to place Evelyn behind the bars for ten years for her practical joking. But the story she told was so strange that the Judge mopped his brow, put off imposing sentence from Sept. 28 till Oct. 2, and even then had to take another week to try and make out what kind of a queer character this woman is.
The case of Evelyn is the story of a self-made woman who started with nothing, became a “Follies” girl, collected a list of six husbands, including one she married twice, more than half a million dollars, and now is back at nothing again, with no assets but the bogus baby. And, besides, the Judge finally decided to give her four years in prison to think things over.
Evelyn would have been a great success if she could only have let well enough alone.
Evelyn Emily Fariss was born of poor Mountaineer folks on Signal Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1895, and grew up with very little schooling, money or other advantages except one – she was so full of health, beauty and vivacity that few men could say no to her.
One day, at the age of 18, the simple maid of the mountains entered a large store in Chattanooga and so dazzled its manager, Carl Merrill, that he told her she could have anything in the place. Evelyn mode a wide selection, but, unfortunately, it was a 5-and-10 store, so the manager had not been so very reckless at that. Evelyn look her plunder home, thought it over, came back the next week and look Merrill himself out of his store to a minister and married him.
Living in town was nicer than up m the mountains, but it wasn’t good enough. The young woman began to realize her powers and decided that she could do much better; so she got her parents to have the marriage annulled on account of her youth. A little more than a year later she married William Sherman Gill, who afterward man-led and divorced Renee Adoree, the moving picture actress. This was in 1915, and thought Evelyn did not divorce her second husband for five years, he saw little of her. The mountaineer’s daughter was too busy seeing the world, including New York, where, in 1916, she got into the “Follies” and, had she been free, might have wedded some millionaire stage-door “Johnnie.”
Only a week after her divorce in 1920, Evelyn took her third .husband, Raymond Bennett, a well-to-do native of Chattanooga, and again the marriage lasted five years. Bennett had acquired his fortune by saving and learning to say no and, after a while he said it to his wife’s extravagances. For this cruelty she divorced him back in 1925, only to remarry him during January of 1926. Evelyn thought she had devised a method for making him let go at his money faster, but it did not work. Alter three argumentative months they were divorced again and for good.
Anyway, she was wasting lime in Chattanooga. New York, was where rich men are most plentiful. So Evelyn returned there in 1926, look her husband No. 1, John McNeill, a wealthy New York lawyer, and stayed married to him all the rest of his life, which was about six months.
The widow mourned her loss about a year and a half before wedding her present and fifth spouse, if twice-married Bennett is counted only once. The present incumbent is Frederick Boell, a restaurant man, but he cannot be called a source of profit, because last Summer he advertised that he would no longer be responsible for her debts.
That was supposed to he all the principal romances in the lady’s life until, shortly after the death of Mr. Moran, she revealed still another one. Mr. Moran died late in 1929, leaving his widow, Adeline Stillwell Moran, as executrix; There were plenty of complications, straightening up the huge estate, with its ships and tugboats, New York real estate, mines in Virginia, a baseball club in New Jersey and storks that were tumbling in the stock market panic. But, at least, there was no woman complication, or so the widow fondly believed.
Then her lawyers, the New York firm of Chadbourne, Stanchfield & Levy, regretfully informed her that one had turned up. It was Evelyn, and she introduced a little girl as Peggy Moran, her daughter. Evelyn said that the Moran estate owed little Peggy $250,000, because she was also the late Mr. Moran’s daughter.
Her natural, womanly modesty made her hate to tell the story of her shame, and, of course, she would not have it get into the papers for anything, but duly to her child made it necessary. The widow, hated to hear it too, but here it was arid what was to be done about it?
The revelation was this: During the five-year.-period while Evelyn was Mrs. Gill and which was largely spent in New York, one of the reasons why she had been too busy to divorce her husband was the fact that she had met Mr. Moran, whose attentions made her forget, she was married. Moran and Evelyn had become, acquainted during the run of that great Broadway musical hit “Irene.” The shipbuilder had been lucky in other investments, but his luck in show business was almost miraculous. Someone had persuaded him to he the “angel” of that show. “Angels” are supposed to lose the money they put into such ventures but, though Moran knew nothing of the theatre, he not only got his money hack but a big profit.
The chief privilege of an “angel” is the right lo hang Around backstage and gel chummy with actors and actresses, especially the latter. Mr. Moran exercised this right. Theoretically he was entitled to the friendly consideration of the show’s star, the lovely Edith Day. But it so happened that Miss Day was otherwise occupied between an angry and jealous husband and a lover the English actor Pat Somerset, whose attentions were so notorious that the United Slates Government took notice, almost excluding him ffom the country on the “moral turpitude” question. So the “angel” did not bother Edith much but became interested in the former “Follies” girl, now understudy of “Irene.” Her salary as understudy was insignificant, but Evelyn did not exactly starve. Her “sugar daddy” paid her many times as much as the star’s salary.
It was this fact that had made her name already familiar to the lawyers and warned them that at least one Very important part of her story was true. They had found among the effects of the deceased cancelled checks drawn to her, during 1920 alone indicating that Mrs. Moran had paid her between $375,000 and $500,000.
Evelyn had found an “angel” all for her little self and what an “angel” he was! Apparently everything was pleasant until some mean person informed Moran that his little girl friend was married. This information made the rich man nervous or something and he insisted that she get a divorce right away. It was not an just quietly unreasonable request, so she went to Chattanooga and did that little favor for him. It is a wise husband who knows the real reason his wife is divorcing him – till afterward.
The mountaineer’s daughter had to stay in Tennessee a considerable time and might well have employed it with thoughts of how to keep the good will of that extraordinarily generous man in New York. All she really had to do was to come back to New York divorced and keep out of the many other entanglements to have that golden shower keep up indefinitely.
But Evelyn never could let well enough alone. While she was in Chattanooga, she met Bennett, found him an easy victim for her charms and just couldn’t resist the temptation lo marry him. It had taken Moran a long time to discover her second husband and this third one might escape his notice any difference to Bennett either.
It didn’t, for Bennett never suspected his rival. But somehow Moran found out that a week after his sweetheart had gotten a divorce at his expense, she had married another and he was disgusted. He broke off relations with Evelyn and soon after married the lady who was to be his widow.
As soon as she found out that Moran meant it, Evelyn went back to her new husband but after Moran’s munificence the best that Bennett could give her seemed stingy. She divorced him, remarried him, found him still unsatisfactory and divorced him again.
The part that interested the estate was Evelyn’s assertion that born of that intimacy with Moran was little Peggy. As the great man of affairs had not wished to acknowledge this irregular parentage he had asked her to please keep his name out of the records andgive the credit to someone else, she said. Evelyn assured the lawyers that though this almost broke her maternal heart, she had faithfully done so, protecting Mr. Moran’s reputation and only asking that her dear little daughter be properly taken care of. This she said Mr. Moran had solemnly promised to do by leaving a quarter of a million dollars to her in his will.
Evidently he had neglected it and now, as her baby’s guardian, she demanded that the estate pay her. The estate wanted to see some written evidence of that agreement. Evelyn explained that it had all been verbal, a sort of gentleman’s or rather gentleman-and-lady’s agreement. However, she could, if forced to, produce witnesses and lots of other evidence m court substantiating their intimacy though she would do so with reluctance because it would distress Mrs. Moran. She thought it would be much nicer concerned if someone would write her that check for $250,000.
The widow and the lawyers did not see it that way, so Evelyn threatened and finally brought suit. Things looked u bit ominous. While there was no written evidence of any promise by the dead millionaire it was clear that the woman could prove the evidence of the affair, and considering that the woman could prove the existence of the affair, and considering that he had tossed away about half a million in one year on her, it would seem quite reasonable to a jury that he might have promised half that amount for his daughter.
The picture of a beautiful wronged woman and her little daughter, the innocent victim, gazing at the jury with wondering, trustful eyes, was alarming.
At this point Mr. John G. Broady, one of the lawyers for the estate, packed his grip and set forth to follow Evelyn’s somewhat circuitous path from that mountain home in Tennessee to New York to see if she had forgotten a chapter or two in the story.
Broady hoped to prove that Peggy was not the daughter of Moran but he did more. She is not even any relation to Evelyn. Her name is Ernestine Smith and she is the daughter of Ernest and Monda Smith. Her father was killed in a railroad accident and her mother is still living in California. The records showed that Evelyn had simply adopted the little one from the Crittenton Home in Chattanooga, given her the name of Peggy instead of Ernestine and changed her last name to agree with each new husband she took until finally she was introduced to the lawyers of the Moran estate as Peggy Moran.
What Evelyn did with all her money Mr. Broady did not lake lime to find out. But that it is all gone, there is no doubt – probably just frittered away, like most easy money. Queerest of all is the question of what motive was in the mind of this most undomestic and unmotherly woman when she adopted Ernestine. It is evident that she then had no thought of blackmailing either Moran or his estate because it is now known that she had not yet met him.
Poor little Ernestine, bumped about from home to home, with :i new father and a new name every little while, and a fearful and wonderful mother who turned up at intervals, sometimes dripping with jewels and sometimes as now, without a cent. Last and most pathetic of all she has been innocently thrust into the leading role of an attempt to swindle a widow out of a quarter million dollars.
Confronted with the evidence that Peggy is really Ernestine Smith and was brought to the home by Monda Smith, Evelyn remarked:
“What of it? I was masquerading under the name of Monda Smith at that time to protect Mr. Moran. I invented that yarn about the father killed in an accident. Then later I came and adopted my own child “
A few weeks later, confronted with the real Monda Smith herself, the former “Follies” girl decided that the jig was up.
Evelyn disappeared, but was indicted for perjury, and finally traced to a Summer resort near Boston, where she was telling fortunes in a tent for 50 cents a fortune. By advice of her lawyer, she confessed and will he in retirement now until the parole board turns her loose to look for another husband.
This is not the first time that Mr. Moran’s widow, who has since become Mrs. Max Bamberger, has had to face an unusual suit. In 1926 the Morans were sued for 100,000 by Mrs. Moran’s best friend, Mrs. Violet Thomle, and, for $10,000 more by Mrs. Thomle’s husband for loss of his wife’s services on account of the unexpected and savage attack of the Moran’s huge police dog, Major.
According lo the story told in court, Mrs. Thomle was visiting Mrs. Moran and her sister Mrs. Carr in one of the bedrooms of the Moran mansion in Brooklyn. Mrs. Thomle sat on the bed occasionally stroking a little poodle that also reposed there. On the floor watching her lay the muscular form of the big police dog.
Mr. Thomle did not know that Major hated that poodle and became engaged when anyone pelted it. The big dog gave no sign of his resentment and nothing happened until both Mrs. Moran and Mrs. Carr stepped out of the room for a moment. As soon as they were gone. Major, without a growl or any other warning, leaped at the visitor’s throat and so lacerated her throat and chest before its mistress could come to the rescue that Mrs. Thomle had to stay in bed at the Moran’s house ten days under the doctor’s care and then had to be told that she could never wear a low cut dress again on account of the scars.
But even worse was that every night she dreamed of the attack all over again. However, the jury didn’t think anyone to blame. So all Major’s playfulness cost his mistress was a good friend, a good scare and a lawyer’s fee.
[“Evelyn’s Bogus Baby - The ‘Follies Girl’s’ Folly in Trying to Squeeze $250,000 Out of Millionaire Moron’s Estate by Offering Little Peggy as Evidence – A Child Picked Up at a Foundlings’ Home,” American Weekly (San Antonio, Tx.), Oct. 25, 1931, p. 7]
For more cases, see: Paternity Fraud Rackets