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The Hetty G. King Case

From the autobiographical notes of Captain Charles Albertson regarding the time he served in the New York City Police Department.

In the fall of 1895, while acting Captain in the Mercer Street station, John H. Keef, a lawyer from Rochester, came to the station and requested me to assist in finding a woman whose maiden name had been Hetty G. King. She was wanted in Rochester on a charge of bigamy – too many husbands. He had a lot of evidence and in good shape as he was a very able lawyer, but had not warrant from Rochester.

In out of town cases of this kind, it was customary to have a warrant from the place where they were to be taken for trial, although not necessary, as the crime was a felony which had been committed in the State, however, Mr. Keef and I visited Police Justice Cornell at Jefferson Market Court and explained the case to him and he said no warrant was required. After a long search, Hetty G. King’s trunk was located at a boarding house in West Washington Place where she appeared several days later. I arrested her and arraigned her before Judge Cornell where Keef presented his evidence. She was held to await the arrival of an officer to take her back to Rochester and, at my request, Judge Cornell endorsed on the papers, “Warrant applied for but refused, not necessary”.

The following morning, a numerous and brilliant array of Counsel appeared among the several from Rochester. A writ of habeas corpus was obtained from Justice Charles F. McLean. The Justice set the next morning to hear the arguments in the case, stating, “I see Albertson made the arrest and he has had wide experience.” The Justice had been twice Police Commissioner [from 1880-1889]. The writ was denied and Hetty G. went back to Rochester for trial.

When she was tried I was summoned as a witness. The prosecution had five husbands sitting in a row and three ministers who had performed three of the marriages. Her last conquest was a Rochester dentist named Decker. They were married in Switzerland the year before while there were touring Europe. The second last husband was named Lorscheider, a splendid looking high salaried man who had supported her in luxury. He testified that they were married and lived happily for about three years. She claimed that she was not feeling well and was going to Florida with some friends. The night before she left he brought her home several hundred dollars to use on her trip. She refused to accept it stating that she had saved from what he had given her and did not need it. Instead of going to Florida she went to Europe with Decker. Lorscheider was asked by her Counsel if he would take her back if she would come. He quickly said, “Yes,” and there were tears in his eyes. Two other husbands made the same answer to the same question. Every witness stated that she was a model wife in every way, ambitious, a neat house keeper, resourceful, saving. The five husbands were a splendid looking intelligent lot none of them wished to have her punished. Mrs. Decker, the wife of the last husband, was the complainant. She employed lawyer Keef to obtain a divorce and caused the arrest.

I was hurried home by a telegram from Chief Peter Conlin, and as I bade Judge Warner goodbye I said, “She will be acquitted,” and he said, “Impossible.” The jury brought in a verdict of not guilty notwithstanding that four of the marriages were proven beyond a question. No divorce, and no defense and the jury sworn to render a verdict according to the evidence.

Judge Werner later wrote me wishing to know why I believed there would be an acquittal. I replied that the prosecuting attorney over-tried the case; he was as mean as he could be in many ways. He caused the jury to bring in a sympathetic verdict. The strangest part of this case was that Hetty G. was far from good looking, undersized, and a bad figure.

Mrs. Decker was handsome, educated, wealthy in her own right, and when she obtained her divorce, she married a no account bartender who squandered her money and ill treated her. She left [her husband Mr.] Decker with their five small children. Hetty G. moved in and cared for the five, a model step-mother. Rumor said that [Mr.] Decker was very unkind, but the last I heard she was still on the job. It bore out Montaigne’s saying, “If you want your sweetheart to love you tomorrow, be unkind to her today.”

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