- Historic Sites
Larcenous Mrs. Cody Vs. Pious Miss Gould
June 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 4
Judge Melville E. Brown, whose allegations at the first trial had proved so awkward to Mrs. Cody’s case, again made the long trip east from Laramie to repeat his testimony at the second trial (though the Goulds ungenerously knocked down his emolument from five hundred dollars to four hundred). But this time his star billing was dimmed by new revelations that could not be explained away, even by the skillful Messrs. Dugan and Van Derzee. The new evidence was a smudged little packet of letters Mrs. Cody had written to an old Denver crony of hers named Mrs. Beebe. The contents of the letters would, to use one of Mrs. Cody’s own favorite expressions, “throw her higher than a kite.” It was Mrs. Beebe who, on the promise of a handsome share in the loot, had financed the original research and development of Mrs. Pierce’s paternity. Even after Mrs. Cody had realized that Mrs. Angell’s claim for dower rights was doomed, she continued to nurse Mrs. Beebe’s greedy hopes by reporting in glowing terms on the progress of her investigation. In one letter Mrs. Cody’s technique for obtaining suitable evidence was cynically revealed: ”… one person who told me he knew nothing,” she confided, ”… when he received f 100 … knew more than I did.”
Mr. Van Derzee did his best to minimize the importance of the Beebe letters. “She wrote a great many letters to people all over the country,” he said as cheerfully as he could. “She is a great letter writer.” But Mrs. Cody’s propensity for writing letters had finally come home to roost. Her pose of being the innocent pawn of a sinister conspiracy was shattered, and the effectiveness of the other testimony against her was greatly enhanced. Although it never came out at the trial who the tall lady in black and the gentleman with the gold-headed cane had been—if in fact they had existed at all —it was clearly established that Mrs. Cody was busily involved in other aspects of the plot. It was she who had obtained a false baptismal certificate for Mrs. Pierce, and it was also shown that she had browbeaten Mrs. Angell into giving her a half interest in the mythical dower rights.
When the case went to the jury, the prosecution was confident of a speedy verdict. But eight hours dragged by in mounting anxiety for Miss Gould and her entourage, to say nothing of the district attorney and his staff. In the jury room another stubborn trio was holding out. The first ballot was eight to three for conviction, with one undecided. Only after six more ballots was the jury able to bring in a verdict of guilty, tempered with a strong recommendation of mercy. The nudging hint that Mr. Delaney had injected into his opening remarks for the state about judicial discretion may have spared Albany a continued affliction of Mrs. Cody.
Before pronouncing sentence Judge Gregory asked Mrs. Cody if she had anything to say. “Yes,” she replied. “I am innocent.”
“Mrs. Cody,” said the judge, “the evidence has convinced me that you are guilty beyond question, yet I feel that, in view of the jury’s unanimous recommendation to mercy and the popular sentiment which favors it, I am justified in following their suggestion and suspending sentence. … You are free to go.”
The attorneys for both sides congratulated each other, and everyone seemed pleased with the outcome—with one notable exception. Helen Gould was so incensed by Judge Gregory’s judicial bow to popular sentiment that she promptly expressed her displeasure in a curt and imperious statement to the press. “In the interests of truth,” it read, “Miss Gould desires to contradict emphatically the assertion that she either suggested or approved suspending the sentence in Mrs. Cody’s case.”
The irrational shift in public sympathy from the noble Miss Gould to an obviously malicious and reprehensible old scalawag is a classic example of the ill effects that may follow upon an overindulgence in virtue. Miss Gould’s overwhelming display of sterling qualities, seemingly unmitigated by the slightest flaw, when combined with the capricious tendency of ordinary mortals to side with the underdog, was too much for the public conscience to bear. The New York Tribune , nevertheless, did not desert Miss Gould in the face of popular sentiment. In a glowing editorial it paid tribute to her heroic persistence in bringing Mrs. Cody to justice. “She has vindicated the honor of her parents,” said the Tribune , “and made every honest man and woman in all the land far more secure against the attack of one of the most insidious and detestable of crimes.”
In retrospect, and from a less sanctimonious pedestal, however, it would seem more likely that the eventual decline in this ghoulish form of blackmail was due, in good part at least, to the gradual acceptance of more realistic moral standards. Those doting daughters “whose heart-strings will break” at the prospect of having paternal sexual escapades exposed vanished with the chaperon and the “family entrance” to the corner saloon.
Before boarding a train for Denver, Mrs. Cody vowed to live out her remaining years quietly and peaceably. But she was never able to suppress her interest in the Goulds, and in April, 1905, she popped up in the news again. “The Gould case is not yet settled,” she told reporters in Denver. “The next act will be played in New York within a few months’ time.” The wheels of her devious old mind were spinning a new web.