Authors: Colin Evans
When Warner’s findings were corroborated by Dr. Smith A. Coombs, who had assisted at the autopsy, Uterhart argued that Coombs had changed his testimony since the coroner’s inquest. “Isn’t it true that you and Dr. Warner first agreed that the bullet struck the middle finger and then passed to the ring finger and that you afterward changed it to make it that the bullet passed through the little finger and then struck the ring finger?”
“Doctor, aren’t you in the habit of changing your diagnoses?”
Uterhart cocked an eyebrow. He crossed to the defense table and read from a paper that dealt with the witness’s evidence in
Killilea v. Morgan
(1916). In 1915, Michael Killilea had worked as a dairyman on the Glen Cove estate of millionaire banker J. P. Morgan, when Eric Meunter, a German language teacher, broke into Morgan’s mansion and shot him twice. Morgan survived, and Meunter was taken into custody (where he committed suicide). In the days following this attack, a rope was strung across a bridge leading to Morgan’s house to prevent cars from entering the grounds. Killilea, unaware of this precaution, happened to be riding his bicycle at night and hit the rope, throwing him off and hitting his head. The injuries he sustained had doomed him to a life of total blindness, and he filed suit against his employer.
On February 4, 1916, a jury awarded him damages in the sum of twenty thousand dollars. During that case, Coombs had testified on behalf of Morgan, as Uterhart now reminded him. “Is it not a fact that in that case, after having made a diagnosis of concussion of the brain, you afterward changed it and testified that there was nothing wrong with the man?”
When the witness denied doing any such thing, Uterhart waived further cross-examination until he could obtain from the county clerk the record of the case referred to. (Uterhart never did recall Coombs, and probably never intended to do so. He merely wanted to plant doubt in the jurors’ minds about the witness’s veracity.)
Then Weeks called Raymond Hamilton, who operated the taxi service in Roslyn. “Are you acquainted with this defendant, Mrs. Blanca de Saulles?”
“Not personally. I am acquainted with her by telephone.”
He told how on the evening of August 3, at some time between a quarter to seven and a quarter to eight—he refused to be more specific—he had received a telephone call from Blanca, requesting a taxi immediately at Crossways. Hamilton promised to send a cab, but because he was short-staffed that night a delay ensued. This had greatly upset Blanca. Twice more, Hamilton fielded irate phone calls from her. After the second of these follow-up calls, he had dispatched James Donner to Crossways.
Donner took up the story. He told of picking up the defendant—“she seemed angry because I was late”
—and another woman who had hold of a bulldog on a leash. At this point, Suzanne Monteau was asked to stand up, and Donner identified her as Blanca’s traveling companion. He described the harum-scarum journey to The Box, how Blanca kept urging him to go faster and take shortcuts along unfamiliar roads. When eventually they reached their destination, Blanca and the maid alighted, telling him to stay in the car and tend the dog. “She walked across the lawn in a direct line toward the house, with her right hand held against her side, like this.”
Donner stood and demonstrated how the hand was held awkwardly against her person. After that he did not see Blanca until much later that night, when she left the house in the custody of the sheriff. She said, “Take good care of the dog. Drive to Roslyn and see my maid, Louise, and she will pay you for the trip.”
On cross-examination Uterhart seized upon a point in Donner’s testimony. Earlier the chauffeur had said that Blanca told him, “I’ll give you a dollar if you get me there in time.”
“If you got her there
” Uterhart repeated, emphasizing the last two words.
“Yes—if I got her there in time,”
replied Donner. The inference was clear: Blanca wanted to reach de Saulles’s home before Jack returned from the club, although Donner made no direct testimony to that effect.
Weeks called his next witness, Julius Hadamek. A rustle of expectation ran through the court. In press accounts Weeks repeatedly had trumpeted his belief that the Austrian valet would serve as the jewel in the prosecution’s crown, and everyone was eager to hear his testimony. Hadamek—stockily built, dark, and low-voiced—was clearly nervous. Weeks gave him the kid-glove treatment, gently teasing out details of the witness’s background, before turning to the events of August 3. “Did you get a telephone call from Mrs. De Saulles that evening?”
“Yes. She called about 7. She wanted Mr. Jack. I said I’d find out if he was in. Mr. Jack was standing at my elbow. I whispered who it was and he said, ‘Well, I’m out.’ I told Mrs. De Saulles so.”
“Was anything further said?”
“She told me, ‘Don’t say to Mr. Jack I called.’ ”
“Did Mr. De Saulles say anything about going to the club and being back in about an hour?”
Hadamek only admitted these details with the greatest reluctance. Discussing his master’s affairs in public felt like a betrayal of the servant’s code, and it showed. And whether by design or accident, his faltering English and hesitant manner robbed his answers of the impact that Weeks had wanted. The lawyer struggled to extract details of the crucial phone call. Hadamek said that Mrs. de Saulles had asked after the boy’s whereabouts, and he replied that Jack Jr. was in bed. When she had asked why they were keeping him so long, he had fumbled to offer any reasonable explanation. Finally, she had told Hadamek to bring the boy over to Crossways, and he replied that this was not possible.
Weeks moved along. Had the witness seen Mrs. de Saulles later that evening? Yes, she had come to the front door and “asked if Mr. Jack was in.”
He told her that Mr. de Saulles was in the living room. At this point Mrs. de Saulles had rebuked him sharply. “What is the meaning of it that you keep Jack here? It is my time to have him.”
Hadamek’s voice became lower still as he told the court that before he could say anything else, Caroline Degener had appeared on the stairs and confirmed to Blanca that Jack was in the living room.
Just then, much to Hadamek’s relief, the phone had rung. It was while answering that call that he heard gunshots. He dropped the phone, ran into the living room, and quickly surveyed the scene. Blanca was standing over her prostrate husband, holding a pistol. “Madam,” he asked Mrs. de Saulles, “what have you done?” She had turned to him and said, “I had to do it. I couldn’t stand it any more.”
In all the confusion, Hadamek lost track of her whereabouts, and he next saw her some time later when she was sitting in the garden with her maid. Weeks had no further questions.
Uterhart began his cross-examination slowly. “Hadamek, when Mrs. de Saulles called you on the phone, wasn’t the first question she asked, ‘Where is Jack?’ ”
“Didn’t she mean the boy?”
“Yes, the boy.”
Uterhart reminded the witness of his earlier testimony, an admission that he had been instructed by Jack de Saulles to say that he was at the Meadow Brook Club and would be there for an hour. “That was a lie, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, sir.” This answer came in such a subdued tone that the judge admonished the witness sharply to “speak up, so the jury may hear you.”
Uterhart continued. “You told it because he was your master and told you to do it, didn’t you?”
As Hadamek spoke he looked to Charles de Saulles for support. None was forthcoming. Charles and the rest of his family sat frozen-faced. Thus far, Hadamek had served as an excellent witness for the defense.
Uterhart wanted clarification of the actual words used by Blanca that night on the phone. “Didn’t she say to you, ‘Don’t say anything about my ringing up; I’ll be right over to get Jack’?”
Hadamek gave it some thought, before replying, “Yes, sir.”
A hum rippled through the court. If true, Hadamek’s testimony provided strong evidence that Blanca
gone to the house merely to get her son. Not that the prisoner seemed to notice. All through Hadamek’s time on the stand not once did her eyes stray toward the witness. Nothing could disturb her lethargy, or so it seemed.
Someone else similarly afflicted was prosecutor Weeks. Throughout the cross-examination he had remained astonishingly mute despite Uterhart’s flagrantly leading questions. And he saw no reason to break that silence as the big defense counsel pressed on. “Now, brush up your memory again, and tell what was the very last thing you heard Mr. De Saulles say to the defendant.”
“I heard him say to her ‘No, no, no.’ ”
“Did he say that firmly, emphatically?”
“It wasn’t so very loud, but he said it as if he meant it.”
“Who was in the living room when you went there after you heard the shots?”
“Only I and Major De Saulles.”
“Where were Mrs. Degener and Marshall Ward?”
“I don’t know—they may have been in the dining room.”
“Are you positive Ward was not in the room?”
The court collectively gasped. At the prosecution table, Weeks must have listened to this exchange in a state of numb disbelief. Hadamek’s testimony had hit him like a lightning bolt. In press interviews, at the inquest, and at the grand jury hearing, Ward claimed to have witnessed the shooting, yet here was direct evidence that turned his claim on its head, effectively branding him a liar. Worse still, this accusation came from a fellow prosecution witness. Courtroom disasters didn’t come much bigger.
Uterhart paused for a moment to let the jury absorb Hadamek’s allegation. He told the valet to look at the defendant as she sat with her chin resting upon her hand, her elbow on the table. “On the night you have been describing,” he asked, “did not Mrs. De Saulles appear to you like a very ill woman?”
At long last, Weeks pulled himself upright to object. The witness, he said, wasn’t qualified to pass such an opinion, as the defense well knew. Justice Manning sustained the objection and reprimanded Uterhart over such egregiously inappropriate questioning. Uterhart clucked an apology and turned back to the witness. “Well, would you say that after the shooting that evening she looked as pale or paler than she looks now?”
“I do not remember, but after the shooting she was very pale.”
“Much paler than she is now?”
The court rustled again, observers wondering how anyone could possibly look whiter than Blanca at present. Uterhart readied himself for one last broadside.
“Marshall Ward didn’t hold her by the hand or wasn’t near her and didn’t help put Mr. De Saulles on the couch after the shooting, did he?”
Uterhart sat down with the air of a wholly satisfied man.
Weeks, on the other hand, looked almost shell-shocked as he struggled to salvage something from this shambles. “You pretend to say that Ward was not in the living room when the shots were fired. You weren’t there, were you?”
“No, sir. I was in the hall.”
“Then you don’t know, do you?”
Weeks had phrased these two questions artfully. At no time had Hadamek said that Ward wasn’t in the room at the time of the shooting, only that he was not present a few seconds later. Weeks had twisted the testimony to his own advantage. But it had come at a high price; casting doubt on your own witness is a strange turn of events for an attorney.
As Hadamek left the stand, he exchanged a bleak smile and a word with the defendant. No one could hear what Blanca said, but the valet’s grave response was in keeping with his position: “Very good, madam.”
Uterhart might not have landed any knockout blows, but when court was adjourned for the day there could be little doubt as to which side would most enjoy the evening meal.