Date: January 6, 1872
Location: New York, New York
Victim: "Jubilee" Jim Fisk
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Accused: Edward S. Stokes
"Jim Fisk (aka The Stokes Verdict)" - June Lazare
He learned the tricks of the trade from Daniel Drew who was a master at manipulating stock prices. Jim teamed up with Drew and Jay Gould to keep Cornelius Vanderbilt from gaining control of the Erie Railroad by continually issuing fraudulent Erie stock, unbeknownst to Vanderbilt, until Vanderbilt finally conceded. The Erie Railroad became the center of Jim’s operations
Josie Mansfield was considered extraordinarily beautiful, a fact that she discovered early and had always used to her advantage. As one historian put it,
“Perhaps a colder disgrace to her sex has never helped to ruin man since the world began.”She was born in Boston, but when she was around ten years old the family moved to Stockton, California. Soon after, her father was killed in a duel over a political matter and mother remarried a man named Warren. As Josie was growing up she earned the reputation as an incorrigible flirt. She caught the eye of a middle-aged attorney named D. W. Perley and Warren had to chase him away twice, with a pistol to his head. The matter became something of a scandal but Josie would later say she was being used by her parents in a blackmail plot.
She married a wandering actor named Frank Lawler. The marriage had been Josie’s idea, Lawler said,
“Finally I did marry her to save her from the evil influence of her own parents.”The couple drifted east but Josie began to stray; they divorced after two years.
After meeting Jim Fisk, Josie gave up any attempt at acting. By 1870 she was living in a four story house on Twenty-Fourth Street that Jim had given her along with an extensive wardrobe, fine jewelry and virtually anything else she wanted.
On New Year’s Day, 1870, Josie Mansfield hosted an open house with an ample punch bowl and people were coming and going all day. Fisk invited Ned Stokes to join him at the party and there introduced him to Josie. As they chatted around the punchbowl people commented on what a handsome couple Josie and Ned made. At the time it pleased to see them together—his sweetheart and his bosom friend.
Not long after that Ned Stokes began paying call on Josie Mansfield and the relationship soon became a full blown love affair. When Fisk found out he sent a letter to Josie to find out where matters stood. She responded by accusing him of seeing actresses behind her back—a rumor that was circulating Manhattan at the time. This initiated a long series of letters between Jim and Josie which were, on both sides, sometimes accusatory, sometimes loving.
Fisk confronted Stokes, asking him to leave Josie alone. Stokes replied:
“Ask me anything else, Jim,” he replied. “Anything else in the world, I’ll do; but I can’t keep away from Josie. I Love her—and she loves me!”Fisk thought he could handle the matter as if it were a business deal. He proposed they ask Josie to settle the things once and for all, and decide which of them she wanted. Josie’s response was
“I don’t see why we can’t all three be friends.”To which Jim replied:
“No, Josie, it won’t do. You can’t run two engines on the same track in contrary directions at the same time.”As far as Fisk was concerned Josie had chosen Ned Stokes, but Josie continued to ask Fisk for money. She claimed that he had told her he was holding $25,000 in trust for her. She wanted it all. He refused this request, but agreed to pay any bills incurred up until five minutes to eleven o’clock three weeks prior—the time she had refused him. When he received her bills some had been obviously backdated. He paid them anyway, and several after, but their relationship had taken a legalistic turn.
Fisk and Stokes began to fight over the refinery. Stokes demanded $200,000 or he would release Fisk’s letters to Josie to the press. Fisk refused, though he desperately wanted the letters back. The refinery matter went to arbitration and Stokes surrendering his stock for $15,000 in addition to the money he had already stolen. As part of the settlement Fisk’s attorney took custody of the letters.
$15,000 did not last Ned Stokes very long. He sued Fisk for $200,000 in refinery profits he claimed he was owed. He also requested the letters back, declaring they would prove his claim. The Fisk/Mansfield letters were now the talk of the town. The press speculated that they were not merely love letters but contained evidence of Fisk’s shady business practices. Fisk’s friends, who knew the letters would do no more damage than had already been done, tried to persuade him to publish the letters himself and defuse Stokes’s threats. Fisk came close to agreeing but refused, not wanting his soul splashed across the daily newspaper.
The judge dismissed Stokes’s claim and stated that the status of the letters had already been decided. After the verdict Stokes was drowning his sorrows at Delmonico’s when he heard the follow-up news—Fisk was now charging Stokes and Mansfield with blackmail. It was more than Ned Stokes could stand, he went looking for Fisk. He learned that Fisk was on his way to the Grand Central Hotel. He knew that Fisk always entered by the ladies entrance, so Stokes went in first and waited on the second floor landing. When he heard Fisk climbing the stairs Stokes started down saying:
“Now I’ve got you.”