new trunks

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri, August 5, 1909 

Mary Scott Castle (nee Smith) was married to wealthy Neville Castle (who would eventually become an assistant United State attorney) in San Francisco in 1897, where they were extremely popular with the smart set. In 1900 she began acting, in San Francisco, in the play The Princess and the Butterfly. Neville’s fortune at this time was greatly diminished by Mary’s lavish spending. By 1905 had taken a lover and left her husband to become an actress in New York. Mrs. Castle and her boyfriend, an actor, fought constantly and soon their relationship was on the rocks. Eventually he left her, but it was said that Mary followed him around the country as he performed with various troupes.

Her next boyfriend was a lawyer, a married man named William Craig. Apparently, Craig’s wife, Kate, was Mary’s distant cousin. On August 3, while dining at Peacock Alley of the Waldorf in New York, Craig claimed that he told her that their relationship was over for good. After these words he left the table and Mary, distraught, followed him, pulled out her tiny pistol and shot Craig. 

Mary claimed what actually happened was that Craig, who had been pursuing her, but whose affections she had repulsed, had come to her apartment and attempted to press his suit again, in the process using strong language, when she told him to leave. She claimed that she knew he liked to spend his time at Peacock Alley and went there that night to demand a retraction of what he had said. When she demanded, she claimed that he told her 

“I wish you were dead. I wish Kate and I were dead.”

To which she replied that, “’It would not be long before I was dead’, and then I pulled out the pistol - and it went off”.

Luckily, Craig’s fountain pen repelled the bullet, and while his suit was ruined, his life was saved. Craig initially wanted to press charges, and Mary was taken to jail, where her brother, Captain Smith, had her released by paying her bail, and eventually the suit was dropped. Soon after her husband, rebuilding his fortunes in Nome, Alaska, was granted a divorce. 

Then she met Porter Charlton, son of a prominent judge and a clerk at the National City bank, at Peacock Alley in February 1910. Mary was about 40 at this time, and Porter about was 21, but they fell in love and were married quickly on March 12, 1910. She gave her age as 27 and he as 25. The couple sailed to Europe for their honeymoon and visited London and Paris before settling in Lake Como.

Charlton claimed that Mary debauched him, introducing him to drugs and drink, to which he said she was much addicted, and shocking his youthful sensibilities. He claimed she was prone to violent outbursts and fits of passionate jealousy, and eventually their quarrels became so noisy that the hotel keeper had to ask the couple to leave. From there the couple rented a private villa from a “Count” Ispalatoff, who they entertained often, throwing large parties the neighbors described as “orgies”. The couple continued their quarreling, and even fishermen in boats below the villa claimed they could hear the shouting.

Their most heated and final quarrel occurred on June 8, 1910. After returning from a walk, Mary complained of the heat and fatigue, and then began to complain of Porter’s youthful innocence and their lack of money. Porter claimed that this caused him to snap, and picking up a mallet he was using to repair a chair, beat Mary to death, putting her body into a trunk, which he threw down the stairs and eventually down into the lake where fishermen found it two days later.

Porter left a note to “Count” Ispalatoff, claiming that he and his wife had been suddenly called away and left quickly, and inquired where and when the soonest steamer leaving for America would leave. Ispalatoff, who was not greatly regarded in his community, was immediately suspected. The police began to drag the lake a second time, assuming that they would find a second trunk, this time containing the body of Mr. Charlton. When none was found, they began to think that maybe Porter wasn’t dead after all, especially of talk of the couples frequent arguments became public knowledge. They wired other departments in Paris and London to keep an eye out for a man of Porter’s description.

Porter, meanwhile, was in Genoa, travelling under the name Jack Coleman. He boarded, second class, the Princess Irene to America, after pawning the last of his wife’s jewels. But in New York, Mary’s brother, Captain Smith, had heard the news and was waiting. While watching the dock with two detectives for a different boat, the Deutschland, which he assumed his brother-in-law would take, he and the detectives saw the Princess Irene come into port, and noticed a man who looked strikingly like Porter Charlton. While Mary’s brother had never men Charlton, he had gone to the National City bank and asked for a photograph and description of the man on before meeting the ships. When confronted, “Jack Coleman” said that he was Jack Coleman, not Porter Charlton, but Captain Smith was not convinced. He had “Jack’s” trunks searched, and sure enough, pieces of clothing were found that were labeled “P.C.” and “Porter Charlton”. 

Charlton was taken to the jail, where for a short while he tried to maintain his identity as Jack Coleman, before breaking down and murmuring, “poor Mary”. His father, Judge Paul Charlton, quickly began building his son’s defense, but in any case, justice moved slowly. Attempting to fight extradition, it wasn’t until 1913 when Charlton was brought back to Italy to face charges, and a court date was set for August 1914, where Charlton proposed to plea insanity. But war in Europe broke out in July, and the murder of the American woman by the American man was put on the back burner.

The case was finally called in October 1915, and Charlton was found guilty of the murder of his wife. He was sentenced to six years, eight months in prison, but since he’d been imprisoned since he had confessed in 1910 he only had to serve twenty-nine additional days in Italy before he sailed back to America.