Fear and loathing
and sex and death, Buffalo-style
By Elizabeth Licata

Murder has been a popular human activity throughout documented time, and Buffalo has seen its share of it, from the early lawlessness of the inner harbor’s “infected district” to more recent tragedies involving gangs and drugs.

There are, however, murders so notorious that they rise above the statistics for a given decade. From 1900 to the present, only a few Buffalo slayings really stand out as truly sensational. First, of course, is the assassination of President William McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz, which made Buffalo one of only three American cities where a sitting president has been murdered. That act, which brought the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 to a humiliating finale, has been well-documented and won’t be retold here. But at least two murders of private citizens in Buffalo are so strange, complex, and fascinating that they have inspired both scholarly study and fictional recreations.

Lila Jimerson pled guilty from her
hospital beds and then recanted.
Clothilde Marchand:
done in by witchcraft, jealousy, and a philandering husband

This lurid case, characterized by accusations of black magic, immorality, and bigotry, was front page news here and abroad throughout 1930–31. Henri Marchand was a talented French sculptor, who, having studied under Rodin, became a specialist in dioramas and precision wax modeling, and came to Buffalo in 1925 to make models for the Buffalo Museum of Science, then the Society of Natural Sciences. The current Science Museum building was under construction. His wife Clothilde (nee Druault), also an artist, and five children came with him. Marchand, two of his sons, and one of his daughters were all working at the Science Museum in 1930 when the murder took place.

This incriminating letter, supposedly written by Lila Jimerson to Nancy Bowen, was likely a forgery.
Image courtesy of the Courier Express archives.
Henri Marchand worked closely with the Senecas in the course of his work, studying the flora and fauna of the Cattaraugus reservation, where he occasionally stayed in a cottage with his wife. Clothilde Marchand gathered wild mushrooms and made her own sketches of the countryside. At some point during his work with the Senecas, Henri became intimate friends with a young Seneca/Cayuga woman, Lila Jimerson, who modeled for him. He was later to testify that it was a “professional necessity” to “make love” to his Native American models because it was the only way they would pose nude for him—so he could accurately depict their physical characteristics. Marchand was fifty-three and Jimerson was thirty-six.

Henri Marchand remarried afterwards to an 18 year-old
On March 6, 1930, Marchand’s youngest son Henri came home from school to their house at 576 Riley Street to find his mother sprawled across their first floor landing. He ran to the nearby Science Museum, bringing home his father and two brothers. At first it was thought that Clothilde had died from falling down the stairs, but the medical examiner soon found bloody gashes, the odor of chloroform, and signs of a furious struggle on the body of the tiny Frenchwoman. The police were brought in and after close questioning of Henri Marchand and an associate who boarded with him, were soon on the trail of Lila Jimerson and a sixty-eight-year-old woman who turned out to be her friend and possible accomplice, Nancy Bowen.

First Jimerson was arrested, and then she named Bowen, who had retained Clothilde’s earpieces to her glasses and pieces of her bloodstained clothing. Jimerson had traveled from the reservation with Bowen, visiting Henri at the museum and getting him to take her for an early afternoon ride while Bowen was busy attacking Clothilde. It came out later that Jimerson had convinced Bowen that Clothilde Marchand was a “white witch” who might have used her powers to kill Bowen’s recently deceased husband. (Clothilde’s habits of gathering and eating mushrooms—“strange hellish vegetables”—may have been cited as clear evidence that she practiced dark arts.)

Nancy Bowen on her way back to the
Cattaraugus reservation.
Image courtesy of the Courier-Express archives.
In some ways, this was a fairly clear-cut case. Bowen, at least, had admitted some part in it, and there was a decent amount of evidence. But a combination of factors made it clear that there was more than one victim. There were two trials. Lila Jimerson collapsed during her first trial, which was declared a mistrial. Then, she pled guilty to second degree murder from her hospital bed, but retracted the plea soon afterwards. The first trial had been scheduled in record time, after the Buffalo police had made themselves thoroughly objectionable on the reservation, tearing apart private homes in their search for Bowen’s hammer, which they never found. Clarence Darrow was brought in to help make sure Jimerson got a fair trial, but he ended up not taking the case.

Marchand admitted on the stand that he had had more affairs than he could remember, dismissing Jimerson as a minor incident among them, while District Attorney Guy Moore actually referred to Jimerson as a “filthy Indian.” As reported by the Courier-Express:

Image courtesy of the
Courier-Express archives.
During the course of his two-hour philippic he raked Lila, her attorneys, and all her witnesses with an enfilading fire of invective that included “filthy … miserable and contemptible.”

Seneca and Cayuga elders objected strongly to the language and worked strenuously to support Jimerson, who hired a different attorney for her second trial and further implicated Henri Marchand, who was by this time remarried to an eighteen-year-old girl and living in a country home near Albany. Jimerson denied everything except the affair with Marchand, and claimed that the artist had himself tried to hire other Iroquois to kill his wife. Anthropologist Arthur C. Parker testified that the instruments used to kill Clothilde were the kind used to expel evil spirits in accordance with Iroquois belief. Oddly, the evidence that witchcraft was being sincerely practiced may had led to the eventual outcome of the case, particularly as regards Nancy Bowen, whose testimony in the Seneca language had to be translated throughout the trial. Jimerson’s steadfast denials, the lack of documentation of her orders to Bowen, and Marchand’s callous faithlessness did much to weaken the case against the two Native women.

Little more than a year after the murder, both women were freed and back on the reservation. Jimerson was found innocent. Bowen was found guilty, but given a sentence of time served.

Henri Marchand died in 1951 at the age of 73. His models can still be seen at the Museum of Science. Lila Jimerson, despite her weak lungs, lived until 1972. Clothilde Marchand’s paintings were exhibited only once, in a 1930 memorial tribute. According to daughter Henriette: “She was a true artist who never had a chance.”

The Burdick home on Ashland, near Bryant,
which contained the “rich den” where the
gruesome discovery was made.
Edwin Burdick:
Elmwood orgies
have a deadly result

In 1903, Delaware Avenue was known, just as it is now, for stately mansions where the wealthy industrialists of Buffalo resided (except in 1903 they still resided there). Just to the west, however, the Elmwood district was more of a playground for the young married set. According to newspaper reports, the well-to-do professionals of the district were “fast-living, sex-ridden aristocrats,” who engaged in “strange orgies” and drank champagne treated with aphrodisiacs.

Edwin Burdick’s home at 101 Ashland was among the most tastefully appointed of any in the Elmwood district. (We’re pretty sure it wasn’t called the Elmwood Village then.) Here’s a description from the Buffalo Courier:

Images courtesy of the Courier-Express archives.
It is about eight feet wide by ten feet long. … On the floor of the room is a profusion of Turkish rugs, only partly covering the highly polished oak floor. The ceiling and walls are decorated to comport with the general color scheme of the room. Figured burlap covers the walls and the ceiling was decorated with a drapery of gold-flecked cloth, clustered around the chandelier … A fine library table with numerous drawers fills the west side of the room and on the south wall is a mahogany bookcase about five feet in height. The wall decorations include Oriental swords and other relics, conspicuous among the pictures being colored ballet dancers and fanciful designs.

On Friday morning, February 27, 1903, the forty-year-old owner of this “rich den” was found lying on his sofa with his head bashed in. Wrapped in a rug, he was in his nightshirt, and blood was found on his bare legs as well. Although his mother-in-law Maria Hull and his three children were in the house, Mrs. Alicia Burdick, his thirty-something wife, was out of town, in Atlantic City. Burdick had filed for divorce some months prior, and it was fairly well-known among friends and neighbors that Mrs. Burdick for some time had been associating with a family friend, local attorney Arthur Pennell. Burdick was a successful businessman who owned part of the thriving Buffalo Envelope Company on South Division.

Images courtesy of the Courier-Express archives.
There were several oddities about the circumstances of the murder that were never resolved. Although most reports say that Burdick was beaten with one of his own golf clubs, blood was not found on any of the clubs stored in the corner of the room. Great significance was attached to the fact that a plate of cheese and crackers as well as a cocktail shaker were found on the table. Apparently such a snack was anathema to Burdick—too plebian, maybe. (The cocktail shaker contained cocktails.) A long strand of what was thought to be woman’s hair was also found on the body, and this was never positively identified, though several of Burdick’s women friends and possible lovers were interviewed. A good C.S.I. team would have made short work of all of this; as it was, columns and columns of front page ink was devoted to the Burdick case for days, but the Buffalo police had to admit at the end of every speculative article that—in spite of all the clues—they were clueless.

This map of the Burdick murder speculates
on a possible suspect.
Image courtesy of the Courier Express archives.
The most fascinating aspects of this essentially unsolved case had to do with the high society angle. Both Burdick and his wife’s lover, Arthur Pennell, belonged to the Red Jacket golf club and were good friends until the affair began; after that, their encounters there were usually marked by raised voices and threats. On his part, Burdick was suspected of consorting with other society women, including a Mrs. Warren of Cleveland, and a Mrs. Paine of Elmwood Ave. Glamour shots of these women regularly appeared in the paper, as the (non)progress of the case was documented. It also came out that Mrs. Burdick and Pennell had taken trips to Niagara Falls in Pennell’s electric carriage and had trysted in the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The Elmwood Dance Club, though run out of a church, was frequently mentioned as a place where these young-to-middle-aged bon vivants would gather for dissolute purposes.

The case was never solved, but it was closed. Arthur Pennell saw to that when, less than two weeks after Burdick’s body had been found, he drove himself and his wife over the edge of an East Side quarry in his electric carriage.

You can read about the Burdick murder in two out-of-print book-length accounts: Lawrence Russell’s Buffalo Mystery (1976) and a somewhat sleazy version published in True magazine in the 1940s.

A very interesting discussion of the Marchand murder appears in a scholarly work, Spellbound: Women and Witchcraft in America, edited by Elizabeth Reis.

Elizabeth Licata is editor of
Buffalo Spree. Other sources for this story include the Buffalo Courier, the Buffalo Times, the Buffalo Evening News, and the Buffalo Courier-Express. Special thanks to the staff of the Erie County Library’s Grovesnor Room at the Central Branch and to Cynthia Van Ness of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society library.


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