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account" from Mrs. King of $250 per week and fortified with a written contract by which he was to receive one-half of what might be secured by Mrs. King thereunder.
The theory of the contestants, supported by an abundance of testimony and documentary evidence from among Means's papers, was that Mrs. King was the victim of his deceits, and that Means's investigation was for a far different purpose. Seeing in Mrs. King a wealthy woman easily imposed upon, within a few months Means had greatly profited by settling questionable claims which had been advanced by him in her behalf. This business having ended, he concocted a weird tale of a lost will of her dead husband by which she was the principal beneficiary. This will, he told her, was discovered in the vaults of the Northern Trust Company through a confidential employee of that bank who was in Means's power. Great secrecy must be observed in the matter, lest this will be lost and this informant get into trouble!
Simultaneously with his “investigation,” Means assumed the role of business agent for Mrs. King, and with that assumption of office came the dissipation of her fortune. Her securities were converted into cash. Means suddenly became affluent, taking an expensive apartment, adjoining that of Mrs. King and Mrs. Melvin in New York City. Large checks upon Mrs. King's bank accounts were paid to Means. Checks in payment of the income from Mrs. King's trust fund were endorsed and cashed by Means, and others entered his wife's bank account. In explanation of these transactions, Means related a tale of speculations on Mrs. King's behalf in smuggling rubber into Germany in conjunction with unnamed and unknown German agents. Finally, her funds gone, a trust fund of $135,000 that Mrs. King had created for her aged mother was revoked by the most palpable trickery. Its proceeds were deposited to Means's own account, largely to be dissipated in cotton speculations of Means and his father-in-law, in which Means said Mrs. King was a partner.
So it went. Within two short years after Mrs. King came under his domination her entire fortune had disappeared. Means himself testified, "I cannot say definitely whether Mrs. King had at the time of her death any money to the credit of any of her bank accounts. My recollection is that she did not."
Likewise, it was contended that the scheme for the final production of a later will was a gradual development. At first, as has been said, it appears that Means's story of his discovery of the will was a pretext created for the purpose of mulcting Mrs. King. Then developed the idea of actually producing such a will. As a part of this scheme, the signature of Byron L. Smith was placed thereon as a witness, in the expectation that the Northern Trust Company and Mr. Smith's sons, as the officers thereof, would prefer to make a settlement, even though they knew the instrument was spurious, rather than be threatened with the publicity of litigation which would necessarily reflect upon Mr. Smith's integrity. In such hopes Means was disappointed.
In passing, attention is directed to the fact that the signature of Byron L. Smith on the disputed document was one of the strongest circumstances establishing its spuriousness. It is improbable, if such a will had been executed as was described by Mrs. Melvin, that Mr. King would have affronted his lifelong and intimate friend, without rhyme or reason, by asking him to attest a document which named as its co-executor another trust company, instead of the Northern Trust Company, in which Mr. King had been a stockholder from its inception. And it is more unbelievable that, having witnessed a will that left Mr. King's estate to his widow, Mr. Smith would have participated in the probate of the earlier will, or permitted his trust company to enter into the duties of trustee thereunder, or erected the home for old men, or paid over to it the large sums of money involved, all the time knowing that a later will might arise at any moment to expose his perfidy. What purpose could he have had in view? The only possible benefit was that of a commission for his trust company amounting to less than $5,000 per year for acting as trustee under the probated will. Nevertheless, it was sought to create the belief that Mr. Smith was such a fool, as well as such a rogue.
The evidence introduced by the respondents developed the final production of the will. According to his testimony and that of Mrs. Melvin, Means told Mrs. King, when he first showed her the will he claimed to have discovered, that he must "investigate.” And investigate he did. From the correspondence and documents which were found in his New York apartment and introduced in evidence he "investigated" for the better part of two years. With his brother, his brother's wife, his brother's father-in-law and his own fatherin-law all on Mrs. King's payroll, he "investigated" diligently with a two-fold purpose: First, to find facts and circumstances upon which to base a story of the execution of a later will; and secondly, to find a date, within the necessary limits of time, when Mr. King, Mrs. King, Dr. Melvin, Mrs. Melvin and Byron L. Smith could all be located in Chicago at the same time. The latter task was difficult, because not only were Mr. and Mrs. King traveling the greater part of the time, but Dr. Melvin, too, had interests which took him out of the city. Furthermore, the period of time within which the will could be dated was restricted. It must be as shortly before King's death as possible; otherwise there was, among other possibilities, the danger of too many persons with whom Mr. King might have come in contact whose conversations with him would disprove such happening. Also, it must be dated before King was confined in his last illnes, else the nurse and doctor who attended him could disprove the execution.
Finally he hit upon October 9th as a satisfactory date. The nurse and doctor were not called until the 11th or 12th. Mr. and Mrs. King and Mrs. Melvin were certainly there-records of purchases made by them showed that. Dr. Melvin could not be definitely located there at that time—as Means's memoranda expressly stated—but neither could he be located elsewhere. From a newspaper clipping, it appeared that Mr. Smith was in Chicago certainly within a day or two thereafter. Therefore, in the Probate Court, Mrs. Melvin testified that Mr. Smith was called in to witness the instrument within a day or two after it was executed and witnessed by Dr. Melvin and herself. She was the first witness in that hearing. Thereafter, Mr. Smith's widow showed from her diary that Mr. Smith was absent from the city continuously from September until ten days or so after October 9th. So in the Circuit Court Mrs. Melvin testified that it was ten days after that date when Mr. Smith signed it as a witness. She was merely mistaken in her testimony
a in the Probate Court!
One of the last things decided upon, as a result of Means's investigation, was the date of the will. This was shown by Means's own data, from which it appeared that it had not been settled upon as late as the fall of 1916. A typewritten memorandum, dated October 20, 1916, produced from his files, bore, in chronological order, what were called "important dates," from that of the execution of the probated will, July 6, 1901, down to September, 1915, when Mrs. King moved to her apartment in New York. But from that list the most important date of all—that of the alleged will, October 9, 1905—was omitted. As late as October, 1916, then, a satisfactory date had not been finally fixed.
It also appeared that the will which was produced was not the only instrument of the kind that Means had in his possession. The instrument which was filed in the Probate Court, and earlier brought by Means to the Northern Trust Company, was in itself a most
unusual document. Its appearance alone was sufficient to arouse suspicion of its genuineness. It was written on a single sheet of paper, without watermark, of unusual size, and unevenly trimmed on its edges. The body of it, including the day of the month, was typewritten over the entire sheet, without margins. The typewriting, according to the expert witnesses, was a carbon copy impression, every character being carefully and painstakingly over-written in lead pencil, a process involving hours of most careful work under a magnifying glass. The characters were out of alignment, apparently written on a machine which was badly out of order, but deliberately put in that condition, according to experts. From this over-writing of the typewritten characters of the instrument and their consequent distortion, it was impossible to determine whether the typewriter upon which it had been written was manufactured before or after 1905, although it was determined that an Underwood machine had been used. Furthermore, the document was exceedingly creased, giving a superficial appearance of age.
That Means had in his possession, at various times, an instrument other than the one in evidence was shown from the testimony of a New York attorney whom Means had consulted with reference to the requirements of Illinois in the attestation of a will. Similar evidence came from Means's Chicago stenographer who had made copies from an original King will, and from John R. Rathborn, editor of the Providence Journal, to whom Means showed a “King will” when having it photographed in the office of that newspaper. From the descriptions of the instrument that these witnesses gave, it appeared that they had been shown a will differing from the one filed in the Probate Court. The instrument they saw had no such folding as characterized the one in evidence, and the stenographer said it was an original impression she had copied and not a carbon. The will Rathborn saw apparently did not have the name of Byron L. Smith on it.
As has been said, it was probable that Means first concocted the story of a lost will to beguile himself into Mrs. King's employment. And until the end she was a victim of his deceits. From the testimony of a number of witnesses, including her mother, it ap peared that she never saw the “discovered" will, even down to the time of her death.
Furthermore, at the last, after the will had been presented to and repudiated by the Northern Trust Company, Means was having difficulty in keeping Mrs. King under his control. She was in North Carolina, accompanied by Means's wife and father-in-law and Mrs. Melvin. From the correspondence that passed between them and Means, Mrs. King was referred to as “Aying the track” and “rocking the boat.” To placate her, mystery was created by petty trickery and deception, to which Mrs. Melvin and the others were parties. Means was playing a desperate game, and truth he told in writing his brother, “I am in the midst of the fight of my life," and "I am staking my life on the success of the proposition I am working on.”
Space forbids further reference to the many other circumstances appearing from the record belying the genuineness of the contested document, or to all of the dramatic incidents of the trials. There was the itinerant typist with the shady past, who told of typewriting the will on a sheet of paper that King tore off the back of a document, using a rickety old machine that King brought with him to her boarding house. Testifying by deposition, she was subjected to a merciless cross-examination, which finally led to her downfall when she let slip the statement that she had made "loads" of erasures. When asked to point them all out on the photograph from which she was testifying, she started with the first line, where shadows in the photograph trapped her into identifying them as erasures. Pressed further when she wanted to recant, she finally wound up by erasing not only whole words and lines, but also the whole final paragraph. Expert witnesses could find not more than three erasures in the entire instrument, one of these being so minute that the proponent's own expert could not discover it. Needless to say, her tale of typewriting was somewhat discredited.
Then there was a Mrs. Dewey, whose correspondence with an aged Lothario came to light fifteen years later to confuse and confound her. According to her story, King borrowed from her the typewriter on which the will was written by the typist above referred to. Upon its return, he showed her the typewritten but unexecuted will and she even remembered seeing the entire date already typewritten. King told her to say nothing about it, but consumed with curiosity she called on Mrs. King a few days later, and was again shown the will, which was now completely executed. After Mr. King's death, she again met Mrs. King, who told her the will had been destroyed.
But truth will out. When questioned on cross-examination as to the whereabouts of a letter she said she had received from Mrs. King, it had been lost when furniture that she had stored was sold for storage charges by the “Reliable Storage Company.” And "reliable" it was! A day or two after her testimony appeared in the newspapers, the Northern Trust Company received an anonymous