Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Violent Bernice Day, “The Acid Bride” & Her Forgiving Victim - 1927

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): Darby Day, jr., the 21-year-old son of the multimillionaire head of Life Insurance Underwriter’s Association, recovering Hollywood from acid hurled into his eyes by his bride of a few months, who then sought to end his own life, will probably sue for divorce in Chicago.

Even should he not file the divorce action, it expected that Mrs. Bernice Lundstrom Day, the 20-year-old wife will.

On the other hand, the young Mrs. Day has threatened to sue her mother-in-law, Mrs. Darby Day, sr., for alienation of her husband’s affections.

It has been learned since the acid-throwing episode that the divorce court will be no new experience for Mrs. Day.

Back in 1921 her father, Charles T. Lundstrom, a builder and contractor, erected the Montrose bachelor apartments in Chicago.

Bernice, then a high school student and eager for adventure, prevailed upon her father to allow her to act as awl on-board operator in the apartment.

And there she met Howard Fish, the son of Mrs. Jessie M. Fish.

A romance quickly came into being and,  it is said now, progressed despite the objections of her parents. It was even said that Howard, a slender youth dressed himself, upon occasion, in genteel clothing to obtain entrance to the Lundstrom home.
~ Her First Elopement ~

And then, one day, the two jumped into Berniere’s snappy, yellow roadster drove to Waukegan, where they were married.

After the marriage, so the story goes, the young people went to live with Fish’s mother. There were quarrels, and, it is said, the bride once blackened her young husband’s eyes.

They separated; and, a short time later, were divorced. She and Young Day were married after a whirlwind courtship of just two and one-half weeks. The romance is said to have had its beginning in a Sheridan Hotel courtship, when she succeeded in beating him in her yellow speedster.

And, it is said, there were stormy scenes long before they started on their belated honeymoon to the Pacific Coast.

One of Darby’s best friends in Chicago asserts that upon one occasion a party at a select North Side hotel was broken up in a precipitate manner when Mrs. Day, then a bride of a few days, quarreled violently with her husband and struck him.

The acid-throwing came as the culmination of a series of quarrels, after one of which the wife left the home of her mother-in-law in Hollywood.

Then, one night, she returned.

She called young Day to the door of his home. A moment later he staggered back into the house, screaming with pain.

“My eyes! My eyes! She has blinded me!”

~ A Tale of Thwarted Love. ~

Physicians were summoned immediately. In the meantime Mrs. Day

Her sister rushed her to a hospital. Now, after convalescence, she is at liberty on bonds of $5,000 pending the hearing of the charges against her.

She has told a most amazing story, a story of thwarted love, in which she has pictured Mrs. Day, Sr., as the one responsible for the wrecking of their married happiness.

“We never had a chance from the time we were married,” the young wife asserted. “Mr. Day, my husband’s father, was always nice to us, but his mother never caused us anything but trouble.

“She would tell untrue stories about each other, and quarrels would result. Then she would be so sweet about it that it would look as though it was my fault.”

~ Mrs. Day, Sr., Story ~

The most dramatic story of the actual acid throwing has been told by Mrs. Day, Sr., the young man’s mother, who said:

 “Last week she threatened to kill my son several times and I had to take a gun away from her and hide the cartridges. Then Sunday morning she told she had taken poison and that she was going out in the streets to die.

“I talked to her and she finally admitted she hadn’t taken the poison and said she would stay with us. But a moment later she ran out the front door. It was just after this she went up on the hill and jumped down it, bruising herself badly.

“Then Monday night Bernie came to our house and said she had come back to stay. I said, ‘No, dear, you will be better with your own mother for awhile. You go home and rest up and then you can come back in a few days.”

“She said she wanted to talk to Darby. I was afraid she would carry out some of her threats and told him not to go out the door with her. but she did.

“Then she said: ‘Look up at me, dear.” He looked up at her and she threw the acid on his face.”

It is reported Day may not even be seriously scarred as the result of the experience in that the young wife and not use nitric acid, as supposed, but ascetic acid. [The damage on the upper layers of the skin was nevertheless extreme, as is shown in the photograph.]

[“Acid Thrower Faces Second Divorce Case – Darby Day’s Young Wife Showed Stormy Temper Before Second Whirlwind Courtship.” The Star (Wilmington, De.), Apr. 19, 1925, p. 27]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): Beautiful Mrs. Bernice Day, the “Acid Bride,” who brought her short honeymoon to a grim conclusion in California by hurling a searing liquid in the face of her young millionaire husband, has been released from San Quentin Prison, where she served fourteen months of her indeterminate sentence.

Her “time” spent within prison walls, where she, having been pampered and waited upon al her life, served as waitress to her sisters in gray has mellowed and softened her temperament Gone are the little creases which shadowed her forehead during the weeks of her trial and appeal. Gone are the tiny iron lines around her mouth. She has emerged from confinement more lovely than ever.

No season, on the Lido – no rest cure in the Alps – could have been more effectual than her months of servitude in the long dining-room, or whose floor the sun cast shadowy reflections of symbolic prison bars.

At San Quentin she learned more of patience and forbearance. She learned to serve her fellowmen She learned consideration. Peace crept into her soul and moulded her features into the present appearance of serenity and calm.

Society was aghast at the tragic termination of Bernice Lundstrom Day’s honeymoon.


A member of one of Chicago’s wealthiest families – young, beautiful and popular – she made one of the “catches” of the season. married young Darby Day, Jr., the son of the millionaire insurance broker.

Society and the god of love seemed to smile upon the match. The young couple went to California, where they took up their residence in the luxurious mansion constructed for them in Beverley Hills. They seemed perfectly and blissfully happy.

Then one morning the papers reported that Bernice was lying in a hospital near death from attempted self-poisoning, and that her handsome husband had been horribly scarred and, perhaps, blinded by burns received when Bernice had hurled acid in his face.

The story was published in papers throughout the nation. Friends were astonished that such horror could have crept into the lives of those two who seemed so favored by fortune.

Bit by bit, during the next few days, but there came out – but there were several versions. First was Bernice’s own story and a note hastily written after she had thrown the acid at Darby and later taken poison.

“Darby, I’m sorry as can be,” it read, “but after your mother acted the way he did and would have nothing to do with you after I saw you this P. M. I guess it’s quits.”

“I love you from the bottom of my heart, and they say love will go to extremes. We are both in the same fix and you will never find a love as true or as pure as mine. Mother-in-law should not live with young married people. Love. Bernice.”

From Chicago came a brief message from Darby Day, Sr., just before he took the train for Los Angeles. Bernice had several times acted irrationally, he said, and he believed she might be mentally deranged, he told reporters.

Mrs. Day, Sr., was of the same opinion. Bernice had threatened her son, she said. Only the week before, she alleged, she had taken away a revolver from her daughter-in-law, and hidden it.

“I loved Bernice like a daughter,” Mrs. Day said, “but last week she threatened several time to kill my son and I had to take a gun away from her and hide the cartridge. Then she told me that she had taken poison and was going out on the street to die.

“I talked to her and finally she admitted that she hadn’t taken poison. She said she would stay with us. But a moment later she ran out of the front door. She ran up on the hill by the Douglas Fairbanks house and jumped off. She was badly bruised.

“Monday night she came to the house and said she was thereto stay. I said, ‘No, dear, you will be better with your mother for a week. You go home and rest up, and then you can come back in a few days.’

“She said he wanted to talk to Darby. I was afraid she would carry out some of her threats and told him not to go out of the door with her. He did.

“Then she said, ‘Look up at me, dear.’ He looked up, and she threw the acid in his face
“It also seemed to me that there was the sound of a shot. Darby starred back into the hallway, and cried.

“’Mother! Mother! – she’s blinded me!”

Differing from this version of the painful drama is the account of an eye witness, Carolyn Lundstrom, younger sister of Bernice.

“Sunday my sister called up Darby and he Said he would not see her. We got in our car and drove over there. I did not know that Bernice had any acid with her or intended to do any harm. She went in the house and I stayed in the car. In a few minutes she came running out. She was crying. She said. ‘Let’s drive away Then she said she had burned her hand and told me about the acid.

“We stopped at a drugstore, where she could get something for the burns. She went in and bought two bottles of veronal. She wrote the note to Darby in the drugstore on a telegraph blank. She took the poison in the car.

This testimony was later repeated in court, where Bernice claimed that she had meant to drink the acid herself. She had raised the bottle to her lips, she said, when Darby struck her hand and the acid flew in his face.

It was obvious that the sympathies of the jury were with the young woman. Then came a tense moment.

The prosecuting attorney led young Day to the witness stand. He stood so that only the unscarred side of his face was visible.

“Gentlemen of the jury, said the official, “this is the way he looked before he married this woman.”

Then stripping off the bandage? And turning young Day so that the other side of his face was visible—

“Now look at him,” he shouted — after matrimony!”

The jury and Court gasped at the sight.

It was this gesture that sent Bernice to prison.

When the jury returned, after sitting six hours, they declared a verdict of “guilty of assault with intent to do bodily harm with a caustic chemical,” and the accompanying sentence was set for from one to fourteen years. The Court dismissed the plea for a new trial, but allowed Bernice ten days in which to appeal.

Finally, after fruitless efforts to bring the case before a higher court. Bernice surrendered. Crushed, she had decided not to fight ay longer.

To San Quentin Prison she went. As waitress there she served such people as Clara Phillips, “The Hammer Girl”; Dorothy Ellingson, the jazz-crazed flapper who slew her mother, and Mrs. Peete, convicted of slaying Jacob Denton.

The Days, meanwhile with aversion in their hearts for Bernice, returned to Chicago. Darby’s eye sight had been saved, but he remained badly scarred by the acid burns.

He took immediate steps to divorce Bernice and she was released from prison on $10,000 bail in order that she might come East and contest the suit. The divorce was granted and the former Mrs. Darby Day, Jr., went back to her “home” behind prison bars.

In Chicago, young Day was finally prevailed upon to visit a famous plastic surgeon in an effort to eradicate the scars. Friends pleaded wit him to be lenient with Bernice. She was in prison, but she could be pardoned or paroled. All that was necessary was his intervention.

Darby refused. Each glance at the reflection in his mirror made him hate her more.

Then a thought came to him. After all, it was his scars that kept him from forgiving her. If a surgeon could restore his face, could he not find it in his heart to do something for Bernice?

Finally he said, “if the surgeon gives, me back my face, I will go before the California Board and ask them to forgive my wife and set her free.”

So Bernice’s fate hung upon a surgical operation. After months of suspense it was performed. It was a delicate one. Muscles, had to he shifted and skin, taken bit by bit from the shoulder, had to be grafted upon the edges of the incisions. Small sections of scarred epidermis must be removed from the right eye.

By a miracle of modern surgery, the operation was successful and Darby Day’s face, except when scrutinized under a microscope, was just as it had been.

And Bernice, calm and peaceful, no trace in her bearing of the former “Acid Bride,” has been released from prison in the custody of her mother. She has gone to Chicago to be united with her family.

But while Bernice was working out her prison term and did not go so smoothly with the injured bridegroom. There was, first, the suspense and agony of the facial operation. Then there was Lady Rose Bledzo.

That was the name the auburn-haired cabaret dancer was known by in Chicago. She was a beautiful Mexican girl who had lived several lifetimes of hectic excitement in her brief twenty-odd years.

At sixteen, she was employed as a dancer in a cabaret in Mexico City.

Her name was made the toast of the town by many ardent admirers. One, a savage Spaniard, in a fit of jealous rage, carved a small “devil’s pitchfork” on her cheek with his sharp, pointed stiletto.

In order to escape from him, the little dancer fled to Texas under the protection of another admirer. He had promised to care for her, but she received at his hands nothing but cruelty and abuse, she declared later.

Finally, when he stabbed her in the back, she fled to Chicago, where she lived as best she could, dancing occasionally in obscure cabarets.

Then she met “Yellow Kid” Weil.

Love was indeed mated out to this poor girl in strange terms. Her latest protector proved no more chivalrous than former ones. He ended their romance by attempting to brand her on the cheek with the glowing end of a cigar.

By this time, it may be imagined that Lady Bledzo had acquired a number of well-scattered scars. She took her bruised feelings and self to a plastic surgeon – the same one who was at the time employed in restoring Darby Day’s good looks.

She and Darby met.

After a short acquaintance, Darby promised Rose —she says—three things; to pay for her operation, to make her his “ideal,” and to marry her. Darby forgot all three, she said.

Lady Bledzo was annoyed at this oversight, and one evening, feigning indifference, stepped out to dinner with another admirer. When she returned to her home, she found Darby searching for certain love letters.

She called to him indignantly. He then, he declared to the police, struck her and dragged her by the hair.

And now that Bernice has been freed from prison and looks out upon a world reopened to her with new calm and serenity, Darby Day is facing a suit filed by Lady Bledzo for $200,000 - $100,000 heart balm, and $100,000 skin balm.

[“Beautifying the ‘Acid Bride’ With Prison Bars,” The Sunday Messenger (Athens, Oh.), Nov. 20, 1927, p. 24 (?)]




SEE: “Acid Queens: Women Who Throw Acid” for a collection of synopses of similar cases.


For more on the Heart Balm Racket, see:


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