Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nellie Tipton Muench’s Epic Paternity Fraud Scam: St. Louis, 1937

4th Chapter of Mrs. Muench’s “Gift of God” Baby Hoax –

Few Plots in Fiction as Ingenious and Unusual as the One For Which the Former St. Louis Leader of Fashion Has Been Convicted and Which Places Her at Last on the Threshhold of the Penitentiary

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FULL TEXT: Mrs. Nellie Tipton Muench together with her physician husband, Dr. Ludwig O. Muench, Mrs. Helen Berroyer and Wilfred Jones, an attorney, all of St. Louis, Mo., were  recently convicted in the Federal Court there of using the mails to defraud.

The government’s charge was that the quartet had used the Post-office in a conspiracy to persuade Dr. Marsh Pitzman, a wealthy St. Louis doctor, that he was the father of Mrs. Muench’s famous “Gift-of-God” baby which later turned out to be not her baby at all. They expected to get about a quarter of a million dollars from Doctor Pitzman if he could be convinced of his parentage and kept convinced, the government said. The jury believed it.

So ended the fourth chapter of a three-year continued story in real life which for ingenuity of plot, and sometimes downright fantastic incredibility, equals any effort of fiction writers.

Nellie is the daughter of the late Rev. and Mrs. Will M. Tipton, of Odessa, Mo. When she married the promising young Dr. Muench in 1912, they settled down in St. Louis in the midst of the most fashionable Missouri social set. Soon she became one of its leaders. Although not wealthy Dr. Muench had a nice income, sufficient to take care of Nellie’s wants and to provide such luxuries as pure-bred chow dogs, and the “Milzi” dress shop which she managed when it became smart for society women to go into trade.

Thus the life of the Muenches ran along pretty much on an even keel until 1928. Then the Mitzi dress shop suddenly failed. Nellie filed a petition in bankruptcy, and when it became public, her society friends raised their eyebrows. Her creditors did more than that. They let out wails which were heard all over St. Louis, for it seemed that the modest little dress shop had piled up debts amounting to nearly $77,000.

The excitement soon died down, and, except to the creditors, Nellie’s misadventure was soon forgotten as new and more interesting events took place. Among these was the kidnaping and holding for ransom in April, 1931, of Dr. Isaac D. Kelley, a wealthy and socially prominent specialist.

Dr. Kelley had been lured from his home and held for $250,000 ransom. Excitement ran high for several days and then the specialist was released by his captors. Later, he insisted that he had paid no money for his release. Nevertheless the local authorities were interested and began an investigation.

Three years later, on February 7th, 1934, after many detours, that investigation led to the fashionable door of Nellie Tipton Muench. Adolph Fiedler, the proprietor of a beer garden in a St, Louis suburb, declared positively that she had been the “finger woman” in the Kelley kidnaping. Fiedler said that the plan to kidnap the wealthy physician had been laid out in his place, and Mrs. Muench was to point out Kelley to the gang.

Acting on Fielder’s tip Nellie was indicted, to everyone’s surprise, and she was placed under $25,000  bail to await trial.

All of this doesn’t seem to have much connection with the “Gift of God” baby and the now disillusioned Dr. Pitzman, but it had – because if Nellie had never been arrested in the kidnapping case it is possible that she would never had thought of the baby.

Nellie’s trial on the kidnaping charge was delayed on one technicality and another. Finally it was set for September, 1934, but on August 18th Nellie surprised. St. Louis again. Her husband, Dr. Muench, proudly announced that she had given birth to a boy – or, as she herself declared:

“A gift of God in time of my despair.”

And that is how it came to be called the “Gift-of-God” baby, entering into the first chapter of the serial story whose fourth chapter has just closed.

The little stranger immediately became the center of interest from many angles. In the first place, District Attorney Harry C. Blanton believed that in having the baby Mrs. Muench was taking an unsportsmanlike advantage of justice.

“She’s foisting a baby on the public as a ruse to gain sympathy in her kidnap case,” he said.

Then the medical profession doubted whether the baby actually belonged to her, pointing out the unusualness of a woman of forty-two having her first baby at that age.

On the other hand, Dr. Muench declared that it was his baby, while all the time Dr. Pitzman believed, privately, that it belonged to him. The reason why he believed so goes right back to Christmas Eve of 1933, when the red-haired Nellie stood under a bunch of mistletoe in the Muench home and kissed him.

“There was a sprig of mistletoe hanging in the living room,” he testified as government witness at the trial just ended. “When I passed under it Mrs. Muench said, ‘Will you not take advantage of it?”— here the doctor dropped his voice and spoke hurriedly —” and I did take advantage of it.”

Dr. Pitzman and Dr. Muench occupied adjoining offices. Dr. Pitzman had known Mrs. Muench since 1927, but it wasn’t until the mistletoe episode that their relations became more than formal.

“Until after the Kelley kidnapping charges were brought, I never had a more uneventful acquaintance than my acquaintance with Mrs. Muench,” the doctor testified.

“For a long time I thought it was unfair. I didn’t want to step across a line I had never stepped across before.”

But he did, and then, after a while, Nellie told him she was going to have a baby.

So Nellie had her baby, or, at least, displayed a baby which she said was hers, and Dr. Pitzman believed that it was his. And he gave Nellie numerous checks amounting to more than $13,000 before he came to the conclusion that not only was the baby not his, but that neither was it Mrs. Muench’s.

Whether the baby helped or not, Mrs. Muench was acquitted on the kidnapping charge. This closed the first chapter of the story.

She wanted him back, and said that Mrs. Muench had obtained him under false pretenses.

But Nellie was prepared for this move. She had the affidavits of three reputable doctors to prove that it was her own baby. First of all, she had her husband. Of course, he declared, the baby was hers. Then she had the socially prominent Dr. Pitzman. He thought he had the best of reasons to declare that the baby was hers. Finally, she had Dr. Maurice Thompson, the physician who had made out the birth certificate, which was placed on file by Dr. Muench.

In spite of this array of medical authority, however, Anna Ware still insisted that the baby was hers and she wanted him back. She went into court and filed a habeas corpus action to get the little “Gift-of-God” into her possession. When the case came up on October 14, 1935, Nellie went to the Court of Appeals confidently.

She soon lost her confidence, however, for after Anna Ware told how her baby had been born in the home of Mrs. Rebecca Winner, a St. Louis midwife, there was conclusive evidence that the child was really born to Anna and not to Nellie. So Anna Ware got her baby back, and the second chapter of the much tangled Muench story was told. In this chapter, however, the name of Dr. Pitzman did not appear.

The third chapter was not long in opening. It began with Nellie, her husband, Wilfred Jones the attorney, and Mrs. Berroyer being charged with conspiracy to obtain, without the approval of the Juvenile Court, not only the Ware baby, but another named Oberg, which had died a few days after being smuggled to Mrs. Muench. She and her fellow-defendants secured a change of venue to Kahoka, Mo.

And there the State produced as star witness Grace Carolyn Thomasson Diefenbach, a much-married- blonde, who had figured largely in the news because the relatives of rich old Mr. Hugh Thomasson had accused her of practically kidnaping the ancient gentleman, forcing him to marry her, and then keeping him a prisoner until he managed to escape. But the story Grace told was far more startling than her own had been, and parts of it were confirmed by the trusting Dr. Pitzman himself, in person.

Grace testified that m May 1935 while resting in Miami, she received a wire from Nellie’s attorney, Wilfred Jones. Jones wanted her to come to St. Louis immediately to help in a “big deal.” Two further messages to the same effect prompted her to action She went to St. Louis, met Jones, and with him and Mrs. Muench talked over the plan to fleece trusting Dr. Pitzman she said.

Jones had already looked over the baby market and found two to his liking, or rather two that would fill the bill from the standpoint of time as they had not been born yet. They decided that the baby of Estelle Oberg a servant girl, was the one they wanted The baby was to be born in June.

Then, according to Mrs. Thomasson after Wilfred Jones had made arrangements with the Oberg girl, Mrs. Helen Anderson Berroyer, a friend of Jones and Dr. Muench, brought the baby home to Nellie, waiting in “child-bed.” 

Dr. Muench noticed that the Oberg infant was very ill and he phoned to Dr. Aaron Levy, an infant specialist at the Jewish Hospital, to come right over. Dr. Levy arrived, and believed that the baby belonged to Nellie. He advised that it be taken to the hospital immediately. Mrs. Berroyer, who said she had helped in the “birth” of the baby, took it to the hospital, where soon died.

This put Nellie in the unusual position of having had a baby without any baby to show Dr. Pitzman, said Mrs. Thomasson. It was an emergency which would have to be met promptly and would have to be handled carefully inasmuch as Dr. Levy had already seen one of Nellie’s babies.

Mr. Jones proved equal to the emergency. According to Mrs. Thomasson he sent her to Chicago to look over the baby market there. In the meantime, he negotiated with Anna Ware for her baby, and by the time Mrs. Thomasson came back from Chicago with her prospect list, the Ware baby was gurgling contentedly beside Nellie while both Dr. Muench and Dr. Pitzman beamed in approval.

As to how Dr. Pitzman, a competent physician, could have been so completely fooled by Nellie, Mrs. Thomasson had an answer to that. Nellie was a buxom lady. She wore a tight corset and the day on which she told Dr; Pitzman that she was going to have a baby she left her corset off and borrowed some X-ray plates showing an unborn baby, which she passed off on Dr. Pitzman as his own, said Mrs. Thomasson.

Thus ended the third chapter, but the principal characters faced more complications. The Government became, interested. If, as brought out In the Kahoka suit, they had cheated Dr Pitzman and had written him letters they were guilty of using the mails to defraud, a penitentiary offense. The United States postal inspectors immediately began to investigate, and with the indictments against the four the fourth chapter of the story opened.

When the case came up before Federal Judge George H. Moore, the defendants were faced with nine separate counts. The jury found them guilty on five of these counts, each one being based upon separate letters which the Government contended had been mailed to further the plot against Dr. Pitzman

At the Government trial Dr. Pitzman and Mrs. Thomasson were star witnesses, and both were bitterly attacked by the defense – Dr. Pitzman as a “man without honor” and Mrs. Thomasson as a woman of studied cunning and base deceit,” who is “liable to tell you that she gave the Statue of Liberty to the United States instead of France.”

There was no denial of the relations between Mrs. Muench and Dr. Pitzman, but all four defendants denied the allegations of conspiracy and any effort to extort money from Dr. Pitzman by the letters.

They have appealed the verdict to a higher court, where, without doubt a fifth chapter will be written but whether it will be the last no one can say. The maximum penalty may be five years in the penitentiary and $5,000 fine

In one of the letters which she had written to Dr. Pitzman, Nellie had added a postscript: “My baby will be proven to be mine beyond all question of doubt. I will never desert him. And he will be a source of happiness to all who know him,”

In writing this, Nellie proved to be much more optimistic than prophetic.

[“4th Chapter of Mrs. Muench’s ‘Gift of God’ Baby Hoax – Few Plots in Fiction as Ingenious and Unusual as the One For Which the Former St. Louis Leader of Fashion Has Been Convicted and Which Places Her at Last on the Threshhold of the Penitentiary,” The American Weekly (San Antonio, Tx.), Jan. 10, 1937, p. 9] 





For more cases, see: Paternity Fraud Rackets 


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