Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Cuban Con Artist.

 Carolino Amalia Espos y Mina
In May 1831, Cuban exile Lino Espos y Mina found himself alone and penniless in the town of Andalusia, Pennsylvania He stopped at the home Dr. William Chapman and his wife Lucretia and begged for a place to spend the night. A month later Lino was still living with the Chapmans and William was on his deathbed. Fifteen days after William Chapman died, Lino and Lucretia were married. Was Lucretia Chapman an accomplice to murder or another victim of the Cuban con artist?

Date: June 21, 1831

Location: Andalusia, PA

Victim: Dr. William Chapman

Cause of Death: Poisoning

Accused: Lucretia Chapman and Carolino Amalia Espos y Mina

Growing up in Cuba, Carolino Estrada Entrealgo, known as Lino, turned to crime at an early age. He was handsome and charismatic with dark eyes and curly hair. Lino was also short and slender and could easily scale walls and climb through the windows of Cuban aristocrats and make off with their possessions. In a failed attempt to rob the royal treasury in Havana, Lino shot and killed a guard, and at nineteen he was sent to jail for murder. His parents begged, cajoled, and bribed the authorities until they agreed to release Lino, provided he leave Cuba forever. In 1829 he boarded a sailing ship bound for Boston.

Lino lived on credit, obtaining room and board by promising to pay as soon as he could convert his Spanish gold to American currency. When creditors lost their patience, Lino would skip town. He played this throughout the north east and in Philadelphia he was arrested for theft and served fourteen months of an eighteen month sentence. He was pardoned after convincing officials of his innocence.

Free from prison, Lino slipped aboard a steamboat heading up the Delaware River to New York. He had not traveled very far before a ship’s officer asked to see his ticket. Lino was put ashore in the town of Andalusia in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Dirty and tattered, Lino stopped at the first house he saw, the home of Dr. William and Lucretia Chapman.

The Chapmans were an odd looking couple; Lucretia was tall and imposing with auburn hair, William was several inches shorter and quite stout. He was a successful speech therapist and she was an educator who founded one of the first schools in America dedicated to educating young women. They met in Philadelphia and, though William was ten years older than Lucretia, they found they had much in common. William and Lucretia married and had five children. Eventually they moved the school to Andalusia to get away from the growing industrialization of Philadelphia.

Lino begged the Chapmans for help and they agreed to let him stay the night. He gave his name as Carolino Amalia Espos y Mina and regaled them with stories of his life and family. He told them his clothes and money had been stolen in France and he entered the United States penniless. But his father, the Governor of California, had gold and silver mines and would gladly repay the Chapmans for their kindness. Seeing this as an opportunity, William agreed to let Lino live with them while they taught him English and even allowed Lino to order clothes from William’s tailor.

While William’s interest in Lino was financial, Lucretia’s was personal. She was happy to have someone young and energetic to talk to since her marriage to William had grown cold. He had become fat and lazy, preferring to spend his time alone with his studies. When they spoke at all it was usually Lucretia publicly berating her husband for not helping with domestic chores. Unlike William, Lino was a joy to be around. He and Lucretia had long talks and sang songs together. Before long, they would also share a bed. With little attempt at discretion, Lucretia would go to Lino’s room in full view of servants and guests.

On Thursday, June 16, 1831, Lino bought two ounces of arsenic powder, telling the druggist he would be using it for taxidermy. The following day William took sick with stomach cramps and nausea. A doctor was called who diagnosed Williams sickness as a mild case of cholera morbus – the term used at the time for gastroenteritis. The symptoms persisted and Lucretia made him some chicken soup which only made him sicker. The pain and vomiting continued for several days and on June 22 William died.

Nine days after William’s funeral Lucretia and Lino were married by an Episcopal bishop in a secret ceremony in New York. The planned to honeymoon in Mexico and Lucretia went first to Syracuse, New York, to see if her sister, Mercy, would run the school in her absence. She returned to find that Lino had sold William’s books and Lucretia’s silver spoons. Then Lino took the horse and buggy to Philadelphia then sold them and took a steamboat to Baltimore, sending word that a friend had died there. In his absence Lucretia learned that all of Lino’s stories about himself and his father were lies. She also learned that while she was in Syracuse he had spent a night in a Philadelphia hotel with two women. The marriage was over

Philadelphia police constable Willis Blayney received word of a Washington businessman being swindled by a man named Lino Amalia Esposa y Mina. Washington police had a letter indicating the man had also swindled a widow named Lucretia. Blayney questioned Lucretia Chapman who admitted to being married to Lino but could offer no information as to his whereabouts. Lino was arrested in Boston, and a Philadelphia newspaper printed a story accusing him of murdering Dr. Chapman. Lucretia fled her home.

William Chapman’s body was exhumed from his grave at All Saints Church. Though at the time there was no test for arsenic poisoning, the condition of the body and the smell of the stomach and other internal organs convinced the autopsy doctors that William Chapman had been poisoned. Lucretia was arrested in Erie County, Pennsylvania and both she and Lino were charged with murder.

Trials:  Lucretia Chapman Espos y Min -February 14, 1832
             Carolino Amalia Espos y Mina -April 24, 1832

Attorneys for the defendants realized that if Lucretia and Lino were tried together they would end up fighting each other, so they moved to have the cases separated. The request was granted over the objection of the prosecution.

Lucretia’s case was taken up first and it was a major attraction, drawing thousands of spectators to the Doylestown courthouse. The prosecution introduced numerous witnesses who testified to Lucretia berating her husband and to her intimacy with Lino prior to her husband’s death. They asserted that Lucretia had made the chicken soup that had killed William. As proof that the soup was poisoned, a neighbor testified that his flock of ducks had eaten something in the Chapman’s yard that day and when they came home they all fell over dead.

Lucretia’s lawyer, David Paul Brown, was a skilled orator and among the most famous attorneys in Philadelphia. He contended that there was no proof of poisoning, that any number of things could have killed the ducks, and that William Chapman had died of natural causes. His star witness was the Chapman’s ten-year-old daughter, Lucretia, who testified:
“Pa ate only a few spoonsful of the soup, but ate very heartily of the chicken. I ate some of the soup myself.”
After two days of summation, the jury deliberated for just over two hours and returned a verdict of not guilty.

Lino’s trial was more straightforward. He did not have Lucretias’s high-powered attorney, just two court appointed lawyers, one of whom had not yet passed the bar. They introduced no witnesses and relied only on the verdict of Lucretia’s case and a deposition from a doctor who asserted there was no way to differentiate between death by arsenic poisoning and death by cholera morbus.

The jury deliberated for three hours then pronounced Lino guilty of first degree murder.

Verdicts: Lucretia Chapman Espos y Mina - Not guilty
                Carolino Amalia Espos y Mina - Guilty of first degree murder

On June 21, 1832, in front of a crowd that resembled "Philadelphia on the Fourth of July", Carolino Amalia Espos y Mina was hanged. His last words, called out in English, were:
"Farewell, my friends. Farewell, poor Mina, poor Mina. He die innocent. He die innocent."
Lucretia's noteriety prevented her from reopening her school, or even finding work as a teacher. She eventually travelled west and tried her hand at acting. But her reputation followed her and she was booed off stage in Cincinnati. Lucretia died in 1841 at the age of 53.

Wolf, Linda. The Murder of Dr. Chapman: The Legendary Trials of Lucretia Chapman and Her Lover. Harper Collins, 2004.

Du Bois, William E.Trial of Lucretia Chapman : otherwise called Lucretia Espos y Mina, who was jointly indicted with Lino Amalia Espos y Mina, for the murder of William Chapman. Philadelphia: G.W. Mentz & Son, 1882.

Dr. William Chapman is buried in an unmarked grave in All Saints Episcopal Church in Hulmeville, PA


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