Date: April 5, 1885
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Cause of Death: Poisoning
Accused: Hugh Mottram Brooks (alias Walter H. Lennox Maxwell, MD)
|Hugh Brooks, alias Walter Maxwell|
The two men became fast friends as they crossed the Atlantic, in fact correspondence found later —described as “not fit for publication”—indicated that they had begun a homosexual relationship. They had planned to travel together to Auckland, New Zealand, but Preller had calls to make in North America first. Maxwell stayed in Boston while Preller went to Montreal; they agreed to meet in St. Louis a few weeks later.
Maxwell arrived in St. Louis on March 30, checked into the Southern Hotel and was assigned to room 144. Preller arrived on April 3, and though he checked into a room of his own, it was well known that both men were sleeping in room 144. Hotel employees observed that Preller displayed a considerable amount of money mostly in $100 bills. Maxwell appeared to be broke.
|The Southern Hotel, St. Louis, MO|
“If a man committed murder in this country and had $600 could he beat the case?”The next day Maxwell went to Hickman’s barber shop and had his beard shaved off. He then went to a trunk dealer, Frederick Beiger, and purchased a canvas trunk and two trunk straps. Later that day he paid his hotel bill and disappeared, leaving behind several trunks. It was presumed that Preller would return for them, so the trunks were left undisturbed.
Six days later a peculiar odor was noticed in the room and on April 14 the stench became unbearable. The odor was emanating from a zinc trunk that was bound by ropes and the straps purchased at Beiger’s. The trunk was opened and inside was the body of a man, naked but for a pair of white drawers with “H. M. Brooks” on the waistband. His mustache had been cut off with scissors and a cross was cut, skin deep, in his breast. Also in the trunk was a paper placard with the inscription:
“So perish all traitors to the great cause.”The writing style matched Maxwell’s signature on the hotel register. St. Louis police believed the placard was a deliberate attempt to give the misleading impression that the murder was a political assassination.
Among the belongings that Maxwell left behind the police found several prescription blanks from Fernon’s drug store in St. Louis. Mr. Fernon told detectives that he knew Maxwell and that at 2:00 PM on April 5 he sold him four ounces of chloroform and at 4:00 another two ounces. An autopsy was performed on the body and it was determined that Preller had died from chloroform poisoning.
A letter among Preller’s belongings confirmed what others at the hotel had heard; that the two men had planned to travel together to New Zealand. Police suspected that Maxwell would now be making the journey alone and checking at the train depot they ascertained that a man fitting Maxwell’s description had purchased a ticket to San Francisco, giving the name of “H. M. Brooks.”
St. Louis police telegraphed San Francisco Captain of Detectives I. W. Lees who began a search for Maxwell. A man fitting Maxwell’s description had checked into the Palace Hotel under the name T. C. D’Auguier of Paris. The clerk said that he had a strong French accent. A man named Robbins, who checked in around the same time, recalled talking to D’Auguier on the train. Speaking with a strong French accent D’Auguier told him he was a French brigadier. As it happened, Robbins spoke fluent French and began addressing D’Auguier in his native language. D’Auguier was forced to admit that he did not speak French, but continued to use the accent for the rest of the trip.
This and other evidence convinced Lees that D’Auguier was the man that was wanted in St. Louis. He also determined that D’Auguier had booked passage on the City of Sydney, a steamer bound for Auckland, New Zealand.
St. Louis Police Chief Harrigan sent a cablegram to the U. S. Consul in Auckland. The cost for a cablegram to New Zealand was $3.34 a word and the message was 155 words for a total cost of $517.70—an enormous sum in 1885. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported at the time that the message was:
“the most expensive police message ever sent from a telegraph office in the United States.”Maxwell was taken into custody when the City of Sydney arrived in Auckland.
|Det. James Tracey|
Trial: May 1886
“on account of his meanness to fix him.”Brooks told McCollough that Preller had complained of a “private disease” that Brooks said he could cure. He injected Preller with a large amount of morphine to render him unconscious then tied a cloth about his face and kept it saturated with chloroform until Preller was dead.
The defense challenged the admissibility of this evidence but their objection was overruled.
On May 26, Brooks took the stand and testified in his own defense. He claimed that the Sunday after he arrived in St. Louis, Preller complained that he was unwell. From the symptoms, Brooks concluded that he was suffering from a stricture that he could cure by inserting a catheter in the urethra. Preller agreed to the operation and Brooks administered chloroform as an anesthetic. Though unconscious, Preller began to wince as though in pain during the procedure. Brooks administered more chloroform and Preller’s breathing became labored and despite Brooks’s efforts at resuscitation Preller died. Brooks fled out of fear that his story would not be believed.
On May 30, Preller’s body was exhumed and examined again to determine if there was any truth to Brooks’s story. An autopsy determined that Preller did not have a stricture and had not been treated with a catheter.
On the night of June 4, the case was submitted to the jury and on the following morning they returned a verdict of guilty.
Verdict: Guilty of murder
|Four Courts, St. Louis, MO|
In jail Brooks had converted to Catholicism and was burred Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis's main Catholic cemetery, in a plot purchased by his father. Preller was buried in an unmarked grave in the neighboring Bellefontaine Cemetery.