Author’s Note: This is part two of the story I started last week. The columns ran in the Cumberland Times-News last year and recently won a local column award from the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association. Since I like the story, I thought I would share it with those of you who live outside of the Cumberland, Maryland, area. If you missed the first part, you can find it here.
Charles Twigg and Mary Grace Elosser mysteriously died on the eve of their wedding in 1910.
New Year’s Day 1911 should have been a day of rejoicing for the Twigg and Elosser families. Instead it turned into a day of mourning and mystery.
The day before, Charles Twigg and Mary Grace Elosser had been found dead in a room in the Elosser family home. Though the couple had been alone in the room, other family members had been in the house and no one heard anything suspicious and there were no marks on the bodies.
No one knew what had happened. Had it been a double suicide or a murder-suicide and why would either happen on the eve of their wedding?
An autopsy showed that both Twigg and Elosser had poison in their systems. Had someone poisoned them, making it a double murder?
Theories abounded. Twigg had originally been interested in Elosser’s younger sister, May, but had fallen in love with Elosser. Had May poisoned the couple out of jealousy? Had Twigg’s chewing gum been poisoned and he passed the poison to Elosser when they kissed? Anna Elosser, Elosser’s mother, was quick to accuse Twigg as a jealous murderer who had killed her daughter.
Eight-year-old Harlan Norris, a neighborhood boy, told investigators that he had seen the couple sitting with empty glasses and a bottle of green liquid between them. Anna Elosser said that the bottle had contained ammonia, which the family had used to try and revive Twigg and Elosser before they were known to be dead. The glasses had contained drinks that were also brought in to try and revive the couple.
Nationwide interest was quickly sparked over the mystery. Reporters from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, and other places arrived in Cumberland seeking answers and people to interview. The Elosser Family hired Pinkerton detectives to conduct an investigation independent of the Cumberland Police investigation.
Amid this controversy, the couple who should have been started the rest of their lives together were buried separately on Jan. 3. Elosser was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Cumberland and Twigg was buried at the Methodist church in Keyser.
At the coroner’s inquest, doctors Koon, Foard, Harrington, Broadrup, and Owens all testified that they had found cyanide in the blood of the Twigg and Elosser. Chemist George Baker concurred with their findings. What no one could explain was how it had gotten there.
The final conclusion of the inquest was that death had come from “poisoning administered in a manner unknown,” according to the Cumberland Evening Times.
Weeks after their death, the killer was identified as a small gas stove in the parlor. Drs. John Littlefield and A. H. Hawkins had been studying carbon monoxide poisoning and suspected that this is what happened to the couple. They replicated the situation in the Elosser home with a cat in a box sitting in for the couple. After 90 minutes in a closed room, the cat was dead. The experiment was repeated later in the day with a cat and a rabbit. This time, the cat died, but the rabbit survived.
The doctors who had testified of cyanide poisoning were skeptical at first. State’s Attorney David Robb continued following up every lead. Based on the new information, he had the stove in the Elosser home on First Street in South Cumberland examined.
The Cumberland Evening Times reported, “the startling discovery was made at the time of the test last week that the flue, in which the pipe from the gas stove fitted, was banked with soot, three feet high in the flue and seven inches thick at the base of the flue. There was absolutely no draft, and when the stove was lighted with the draft pipe in the flue, the flames boiled and emitted a gas odor.”
Because the couple had been closed in the room with no ventilation, they had been overcome by the poisonous fumes. Others who went into the room didn’t suffer the same fate because when they entered the room, the doors were open allowing for ventilation.
It was an accidental death and one of the earliest documented cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.
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