The forged cheque raised suspicions
Millionaire businessman William Marsh Rice was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on 14 March 1816. He moved to Texas and made a fortune in cotton trading and land and railroad investments. He married twice but had no children and, by 1896, was living with his second wife in a mansion at Dunellen, New Jersey. She died in July of that year and he moved to New York but was shocked to find her will, made in Texas, left half of all their joint property to her relatives. He decided not to put the will into probate and in 1897 hired Charles F. Jones as his secretary and aide to help him. On 23 September 1900, William Rice was found dead in bed.
The year before New York City lawyer Albert T. Patrick had met Jones and persuaded him to join him in a nefarious act to defraud Rice. Patrick would write a letter in which Mr Rice would acknowledge his Texan home as his main residence thus validating his wife’s will and Jones would arrange for him to sign it.
Then, in June 1899, Patrick suggested Jones make up a new will in which half the estate was left to Patrick. Then greed got the better of Patrick. On 24 September, Jones wrote a $25,000 cheque on which Patrick forged Mr Rice’s signature. Unfortunately, Jones had written “Abert T. Patrick” instead of “Albert T. Patrick” and it was queried by a bank clerk. The clerk telephoned Jones who assured him everything was fine but the clerk insisted on speaking to Mr Rice and was told the old man was dead. Mr Rice had been quickly cremated at Patrick’s instruction but the forged cheque raised suspicions and on 4 October 1900 Patrick and Jones were arrested. Patrick had persuaded Jones to administer chloroform to Rice while he slept.
Madison Avenue, New York City, USA
Sunday 23 September 1900
Jones turned state’s evidence against Patrick. The two men were in adjoining cells and Patrick persuaded Jones that it would be best if he committed suicide and amazingly Jones did cut his own throat but survived. Patrick was tried before Judge John William Goff on 22 January 1902 and he represented himself. On 26 March 1902 he was found guilty and sentenced to death in the electric chair but launched several appeals. In 1906 his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Six years later, on 28 November 1912, he was pardoned and returned to the south to practise law. He died at Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1940.