“The evidence is entirely devoid of any fact that would justify accusing any man or woman”
Joseph Elwell began his working life as a hardware salesman before his talent for bridge made him rich and famous. His book Elwell on Bridge was the definitive work on the game. He was regarded as a handsome catch, with a fine head of dark hair and sparkling teeth. On 26 May 1900 he married Helen Derby but, as he became more successful, he began to womanize and his wife left him. On 10 June 1920, 47-year-old Elwell went to the Ritz Hotel in New York to eat dinner with friends and then his party went to watch the Midnight Frolic show at the New Amsterdam Roof Theatre. By 2.30am the next day Elwell was on his way home alone in a taxi. He stopped to buy the Morning Telegraph newspaper and when he got home made several phone calls, the last at 6.09am.
At 8.35am Elwell’s Swedish housekeeper Marie Larsen arrived to begin work and in an armchair in the living room saw a bald, toothless old man in red silk pyjamas dying from a .45-calibre bullet wound to the head. It turned out that the man was not a stranger but Elwell who kept his youthful appearance by wearing wigs (he owned 40) and false teeth, and through regular trips to the plastic surgeon. Mrs Larsen ran into the street to summon help. Elwell was admitted to Flower Hospital on East 64th Street at 9.19am and died within the hour, without regaining consciousness.
In Elwell’s four-storey brownstone mansion was a collection of lingerie and a detailed list of more than 50 women, dubbed by the press the “Love List”. The senior detectives in the New York Police Department took charge of the case and interviewed Elwell’s entire harem of women but no action was taken against any of them. No fingerprints were found in the house apart from those of Elwell and Mrs Larsen. Money and jewellery were still in Elwell’s house, ruling out robbery as a motive for the murder.
244 West 70th Street, New York City, USA
8.35am Friday 11 June 1920
Police believed that the killer was probably a man, it being thought that the .45 too heavy a gun for a woman to handle. The murder weapon and the killer were never found. District Attorney Edward Swann said, “The evidence is entirely devoid of any fact that would justify accusing any man or woman.”