The poisoning of Katherine Vaughn

In 1898, eighteen year old Albert Vaughn married twenty-two year old Katherine Walter. The couple had a son, Raymond, in 1901 but their marriage was anything but happy. Albert was known to see other women and then, according to him, his wife abused him out of jealousy.

Albert filed for divorce on April 26, 1904 claiming that Katherine had “struck him in the mouth” in 1901, called him vile names, and generally abused him. On May 3rd, Katherine filed an answer asking for alimony pending the hearing of the suit. She was granted four dollars per week and attorney fees. The couple separated with Albert who worked as a money clerk for Pacific Express Company in Newport, Ky, moving in with his parents on Linn street. Katherine and their son Raymond moved in with a sister on Thirteenth street before renting her own apartment.

Cincinnati Post, June 4, 1904

Katherine’s Death & Investigation

At just after one in the morning on June 5, 1904, Katherine’s niece heard her moaning in pain and ran to her room. Her niece, nine year old Eleanora Miller, regularly stayed the night. Eleanora alerted a neighbor to her aunt’s illness. The neighbor found Katherine convulsing in pain and sent for a doctor but she was dead by the time he arrived.

Eleanora was questioned as to what happened preceding Katherine’s death. She said that Katherine had made lemonade which they all drank. Albert arrived at the house and sat talking to Katherine and begging her to take him back. Interesting because he had been the one to file for divorce and was supposedly engaged to his side piece, confusingly also named Katherine so we’ll call her Katie. Katherine told him she would consider reconciling if he got rid of the other women.

Eleanora, listening to the exchange from the bedroom, then heard Albert say that the lemonade didn’t taste right and asked for water which Katherine went to get. After Albert left, Katherine laid down in bed and told Eleanora that she felt sick and then began to writhe and clutch violently at the bed sheets. Eleanora claimed that Katherine said Albert must have “put something in it,” in reference to her drink. The cups were collected by the police for analysis and one was reported as having the odor of a drug.

A post mortem was conducted but found no immediate cause of death. The stomach was removed and sent to a chemist for analysis. The symptoms indicated strychnine poisoning and by the request of the coroner Albert was arrested.

A quick aside on Strychnine

Strychnine is a colorless and bitter crystalline alkaloid that is highly toxic and is most often used as a pesticide. When it is ingested in large enough doses it causes muscular convulsions and eventually death through asphyxia. As little as 30 milligrams is enough to cause death and it can be consumed via inhalation, swallowing, or absorption through the eyes or mouth.

Muscle spasms can begin very quickly when the poison is inhaled or injected, as few as five minutes. If it is ingested it takes approximately fifteen minutes. If the dose is sufficiently high then death due to respiratory failure and brain death can happen within fifteen to thirty minutes.

Albert claimed that he had not visited his wife on Friday and had actually last seen her on Wednesday to pay his alimony. His alibi was that he’d been with his fiance, Katie, until about eleven at night and then went to Leonard’s saloon until just after one in the morning. He suggested that Katherine had committed suicide and claimed she had threatened to do so if he left her.

Katherine’s neighbor said she heard footsteps coming from the direction of Katherine’s room about 30 minutes before Eleanora summoned her. The neighbor also claimed that Katherine had gasped, “It’s all my husband’s fault,” before she died.

Albert eventually changed his story, stating he had been to see Katherine on Friday as he owed her additional alimony that he needed to drop off. He says the hand off was in the afternoon and he was gone hours before her death. Katie confirmed that he had been with her in the evening but couldn’t recall what time he left. Her brother who lives with her said that Albert had not been there at all the night Katherine was killed. It’s important when lying to provide an alibi that you convince her housemates to jump in on the scam.

At the time of his arrest, Albert had nine pink pellets which were thought to be the source of the poison. The pills were found in the tucked into the liner of his coat and wrapped in newspaper. It’s not clear if his goal was to hide them (if murder weapon, yes) or just to keep them safe (if for headaches or something, maybe).

Cincinnati Enquirer, July 3, 1904

On June 7th, the Enquirer reported that strychnine had been found in Katherine’s drinking cup and that Albert was charged with murder. Albert suggested Katherine had killed herself, a charge which was vehemently denied by her family. It was also revealed that Albert had threatened Katherine, a claim she was putting in her response to his suit for divorce. He was known to drive past her house, as many as twenty times a day, after they separated.

Detective’s were also able to pick apart Albert’s alibi. The barman at Leonard’s Saloon swore he had not been in the night Katherine died.

On June 14th, it was reported that the chemist had confirmed Strychnine and lemon had been found in Katherine’s stomach.

Because the drama never stops, on June 18th, the Cincinnati Post reported that Henry Vaughn, Albert’s father, attempted suicide by jumping into the river near Lawrenceburg, Ind. The man was stopped and gave the cause as despondency over the fate of his son.

The Trial

Albert was arraigned in police court on June 24, 1904 and bound over to the grand jury on a first degree murder charge. The Prosecutor requested that no marriage license be issued to Albert and Katie as he planned to call her as a witness. She couldn’t be compelled to testify against him if they were married.

On September 20, Albert entered a plea of Not Guilty.

On November 19, Albert’s mother and sister sat in the courtroom as the Jury was selected. His mother is quoted as saying, “I know Albert did not do it: he would not harm anybody or anything.”

While I couldn’t find a specific article giving details, Katie testified that she had spent the night of the murder with Albert. On November 23rd, Albert took the stand in his own defense. He was reportedly cool and collected on the stand. While up there, he claimed that two years prior he had had to wrestle a cup containing poison out of Katherine’s hands to keep her from killing herself. He also said that their marriage failed because she was seeing other men and that he’d specifically caught her with a man at Coney Island. He admitted to having a fiance but said it was only because he had filed for divorce and he considered himself to be single.

Testimony in Vaughn’s murder trial concluded on November 25, 1904. He was acquitted of all charges and released.

Vaughn Moves On

A year after his first wife’s murder, Albert married Katie Stein, the woman whose testimony was key in his acquittal. They were married at her house at 939 Barr Street on June 21, 1905. Interestingly, even the Cincinnati Post archive thought this garbage man was a waste of space and expunged his face from their archive.

Cincinnati Post June 3, 1905

The 1910 census shows that Katie had given birth to one child who was living but the only child at the home was Raymond. While it makes sense Katie would assume the role of mother, it seems odd for her to claim she’d given birth to Raymond.

Albert died in November of 1934 at the age of 56 of cardiac decompensation. At the time of his death, he was still married to Katie.

Raymond Vaughn died in November of 1976 at the age of 75.

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