The Love Nest

The Love Nest

COLTON, Sept. 16.—Accused of living as man and wife at the Anderson hotel here, Mrs. Helen M. Cassidy and William J. McLean, prominent real estate broker of this vicinity, were in A. W. U’ren’s justice court this morning for preliminary hearing. They are charged with adultery, and also contributing to the delinquency of a minor, with the husband of Mrs. Cassidy as the complaining witness.

The San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California), Sept. 17, 1926

Helen Cassidy had a stormy marriage. She and her husband Howard separated three times and had also gotten divorced and remarried. By 1926 the couple’s marriage was on the rocks again, so Helen took their youngest child, a five-year-old daughter, and left Howard. He moved back to his home state of Colorado with their two sons.

Helen took up with an older man, a real estate developer named William Johnston “W. J.” McLean. The couple, along with Helen’s child, moved into a residential hotel in Colton, California, a community just east of Los Angeles. The Anderson Hotel was close to where McLean and his business partner planned to build 100 stucco homes inspired by Spanish architecture. The Iowa-born McLean, who was unmarried, had previously worked in the Hollywood film industry as an assistant director.

Anderson Hotel

Anderson Hotel in Colton, circa 1930.

Howard hired a detective to locate his wife and their child. The detective found Helen and the little girl living with McLean at the hotel. The newspapers described the couple’s abode as a “Colton love nest.”

Furious over what Helen had done, Howard brought suit against his wife and McLean for adultery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor child. He also threatened to sue McLean for damages over alienation of Helen’s affections, demonstrating that “hell hath no fury like a man scorned.”

Adultery, defined as sex acts between a married person and someone who is not that person’s spouse, was a criminal offense in California at the time Helen and Howard were battling out their marriage out in the courts. The laws have since been changed and it’s currently only an “offense against public morals” in California, but it remains a crime, at least on the books, in many other states.

Convicted of adultery just after Christmas in 1927, Helen and McLean were sentenced to five to seven years each in state prison. Somewhat ironically, the pair was incarcerated in the same prison — San Quentin. (Women were held in San Quentin from the late nineteenth century until 1933 when the California Institute for Women in Tehachapi opened its doors.) Their mug book photos were taken during a period at San Quentin, in the late 1920s and 1930s, when the subject faced the camera head on and an angled mirror was placed over his or her shoulder. Only a single mugshot photo was produced, reducing both time and cost of photography.

Howard sued for a divorce, which was granted while Helen was still inside, and he got custody of the couple’s three children. Helen requested that she be allowed to see her children once she was released from prison. According to her attorney, “She writes to me that she thinks she has atoned in full, under the execution of the sentence of the law, that a year in prison has changed her and that if she cannot see her three children her heart will break.” The divorce court judge agreed that Helen had “atoned for her sins” and should be allowed to see the children “at any reasonable time.”

Helen was paroled from San Quentin after 14 months and McLean was released after he served 18 months. The couple didn’t reunite after their prison terms were up. McLean returned to L.A., where he no doubt carefully checked the marital status of his future girlfriends. Helen moved to an apartment by herself in Berkeley, just north of the UC campus in northern California. Hopefully Howard followed the judge’s orders and allowed his ex-wife to see her children again.

Featured photos: San Quentin prisoner photos of Helen Cassidy and W.J. McLean. California State Archives.

Other Men’s Wives

Other Men’s Wives

Joseph Evans was a matrimonially challenged man. His first wife, Mary Jane, died of blood poisoning in 1899, leaving him with three sons under the age of nine. Joseph needed to find a woman to care for him and his children.

Three years later Joseph married 35-year-old Rebecca Kane and the family moved into a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. All seemed to be well, except for the fact that Rebecca Kane was actually Rebecca Burnham, wife of William Burnham of Reading, Massachusetts, and mother of two sons with William.

Due to disability and age — he was 73 — William had not worked for years, so the townspeople of Reading provided financial support to the family. Rebecca saved $1200 of this money and handed the cash over to Joseph Evans, who briefly boarded at the Burnham home. Joseph used the money to set himself up in the furniture moving business, buying horses, wagons and “other accoutrements.”

Using their new horses and wagons, Joseph and Rebecca moved most of the Burnham furniture and belongings, including William’s overcoat, to their Cambridge home. The large expenditures for the moving business brought Joseph, who was not a wealthy man, to the attention of the police. On February 20, 1904, the couple were arrested and charged with bigamy.

Joseph claimed he didn’t realize Rebecca was already married. Rebecca claimed William had a first wife still living, so her marriage to him wasn’t valid. Local sympathy was with William and the Burnham sons.

The bigamy charges were eventually dropped. Presumably Rebecca returned to William, along with their furniture and his overcoat. Joseph needed to find another wife.

Wouldn’t you think Joseph would carefully vet the marital status of the next woman with whom he lived? Unfortunately he didn’t, and a year and a half later he found himself in police custody again. This time the charge was murder.

On the evening of Tuesday, August 1, 1905, Joseph fatally shot a private detective named George Frazer in the hallway of his Cambridge home. A Rhode Island man, Allan J. Barber, hired Frazer to locate his wife, Gertrude. And locate her he did — in the home of Joseph Evans. The story was that she was the Evans family’s “housekeeper.” Allan and the local police wisely remained outside while Detective Frazer entered the Evans home alone.

I bought the pistol to protect myself. I had no idea who the visitors were. I had my children and property to protect, and feared that burglars were attempting to break into my home.”

— Joseph Evans, quoted in the Fitchburg Sentinel, August 3, 1905

Joseph was tried for murder and acquitted on the grounds that he was defending his home against unwanted intrusion.

Allan Barber sued his wife for divorce in November 1905, alleging adultery, though no one was named in his petition. Gertrude sued her husband for non-support and sought $5000 in alimony.

On February 9, 1907 Joseph Evans and Gertrude Hemenway Barber were married in Arlington, Massachusetts. Hopefully they lived homicide-free and happily ever after and Joseph never needed to find another wife.

Featured photo: Joseph Evans, carte de visite mugshot (front and back of card). Collection of the author.