Strangest Poison Mystery In Criminal Annals

It’s quite a whodunnit. See if you can figure it out. Charles Twigg and Grace Elosser were, by all accounts, in love. They were to be married on New Year’s Day. But the night before the wedding, they were both found dead.

“Charlie is the best man that ever lived,” she said to an intimate friend on the morning of the day of her death. “And I am the happiest girl in the world to get such a treasure.”

Such was Grace Elosser as she appeared to friends and acquaintances within two hours just preceding her mysterious death.

And a fitting complement to this attractive girl was the young man to whom she was so soon to be wedded, Charles E. Twigg. Losing his heart to her in the Indian Summer of the last Autumn, his impetuous wooing soon won her for himself.

So what happened? How, a day before the wedding, did they both end up dead? Let’s look at the sequence of events:

[Twigg] arrived in Cumberland shortly after noon that 31st day of December. And it is now that the mystery commences, a mystery so baffling that now, after the lapse of nearly a fortnight, the officials of Cumberland are compelled to admit they are as much in the dark as they were when they first grappled with the case.

When he reached Cumberland, he, with all the ardor of a young and eager lover, sought his sweetheart over the telephone. She laughingly told him that she was up to her eyes in the work of preparation for their marriage on the next day, and did not have a moment’s time for him that afternoon. Upon which Twigg, as any devoted lover might do, begged for a quarter hour’s interview. Of course the sweetheart could not resist such importunity — and Twigg hurried up to the Elosser home.

All the evidence goes to show that Miss Grace Elosser and Twigg acted on that meeting a short hour before their tragic deaths just as two fond lovers would act in meeting the day before their nuptials.

The family accorded them the parlor and left them to themselves. In half an hour Mrs. Elosser entered upon them, apologizing for her intrusion by explaining that the seamstress who was engaged on Grace’s wedding dress desired to speak with her over the telephone. Twigg, during Grace’s absence at the wire, engaged Mrs. Elosser in such airy and light talk as a young man would indulge in with his prospective mother-in-law when his mind was filled with thoughts of the important event of the next day. When Grace returned, Mrs. Elosser left, playfully shaking her finger at the couple as they sat cosily on the divan and warning them that time was too precious to spend in loverlike endearments when there was so much in the way of preparation for the wedding.

That was the last seen in life of Grace Elosser or Charles Twigg. Nearly an hour later Mrs. Elosser, desiring to know what definite arrangements the couple had determined on in the matter of their wedding tour, went to the door of the parlor and softly knocked.

“I knocked on the door with a smile on my face, said Mrs. Elosser to the representative of The Times, “for when I had been in the parlor before both Grace and Charlie Twigg seemed so supremely happy that I could not but smile at the recollection of it. I gave a short knock and entered without waiting a reply. The doorway though which I entered is on the same wall as that against which was the sofa whereon Grace and Charlie sat. I did not fully enter the room, but merely thrust in my head, saying as I did so, ‘Grace, dear, I want to ask you something. You won’t mind my coming in, will you?’

“And then I stopped. There was a silence in the room, a queer, strange silence. Looking towards the sofa I saw the odd, strange attitudes of my daughter and her betrothed. It looked as though they had fallen asleep, but in a most grotesque position.

“Mr. Twigg’s head had fallen over on Grace’s shoulder, while her head was thrown back against the wall with the face turned upward. Their hands were tightly clasped. Grace’s other hand hung down by the side of the sofa, listless and dead.”

Ghastly. So what happened? The options were a double-suicide, or a murder-suicide, or perhaps a double-murder. An autopsy showed poison in their systems. They both seemed so happy that suicide made little sense. So who could have done it? And how? Charlie had once fancied Grace’s younger sister, May. Could she have poisoned them, perhaps out of jealousy?

Was the poison in their wine? Charlie had been chewing gum. Perhaps it was poisoned, and he inadvertently spread the poison with his kiss.

A few weeks after this article was published, the culprit was discovered:

A doctor named Littlefield heard that there was a small gas stove in the parlor in which the bodies were found. He was studying carbon monoxide poisoning and suspected that this might have been the culprit. So to test his theory, a cat was locked in a box, and the box was put on the sofa. Everything in the room was set as it was when the couple died, and then the door to the room was closed.

Ninety minutes later — the same amount of time the couple was alone in the room — the door was reopened and the cat was found dead. The experiment was repeated, with the same conclusion.

In February, State’s Attorney Jack Robb announced that no particular person was believed to be responsible for their deaths.

Perhaps now would be a good time to check the battery on your carbon monoxide alarm.

STRANGEST POISON MYSTERY IN CRIMINAL ANNALS: The Elosser Case in Cumberland, Md., Makes a Commonplace Little City Memorable Among the Records of Unsolved Murder Cases. (PDF)

From January 15, 1911

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