WARNING: This is a saga, an extremey long and involved yet fascinating story. I have tried my best to knit together its multitude of strands in a coherent way, and apologise if readers find it all just a little too tangled. To help, here is a brief summary of the main characters:
Mary Virginia Alexander (1897-1938): A once famous Texas-born social climber and gold digger. Adventurer and author of the 1930 novel Dagger. She was married to racketeer and murderer John Marcus, millionaiure artist Huntley Chapin, and for 11 years pretended to be married to millionaire businessman Bror Dahlberg.
Huntley Chapin (1905-1989): Scion of a rich Buffalo utilities family. He was Mary’s second legitimate husband. His millionaire grandfather, Charles Russell Huntley, worked for Remington when the first typewriter was made. He was married to Myrtice McLaughlin, Mary Alexander, Eulalia Miller and Salome “Sally” Taylor.
Bror Gustav Henrie Dahlberg (1881-1954): Swedish-born founder and head of the Celotex company, falsely thought to have been Mary Alexander’s second husband. Mary committed bigamy when she “married” Dahlberg in 1921. He later legitimately married Gilda Krieger.
John Marcus (1882-1930?): Notorious Ohio racketeer, bootlegger and killer. He was Mary’s first legitimate husband, and wasn't divorced from her until 1922. He was brutally murdered in Hamilton, Ohio. He was also married to Margie Hensley. There is a question mark over his date of death, because no one knows for certain when that was.
And so the sordid story begins …
When, on April 12, 1935, wealthy Buffalo artist Huntley Chapin filed suit in the Mexico Federal District for divorce from his wife of exactly 17 months - adventurer, author and socialite Mary Virginia Alexander - all he really wanted was his Remington portable typewriter back. Huntley had a particular sense of consanguinity with his Remington. The enormous wealth of his benefactor, his maternal grandfather Charles Russell Huntley, had been seeded in 1873 with writing machines, in his home county of Herkimer, New York, where Charles R. Huntley joined the company of E. Remington & Son as a clerk. He was there for the launch of the Sholes & Glidden and the subsequent first Remington typewriter.
Adding considerably to Huntley Chapin’s concerns in Mexico City in 1935, his wife Mary, as well as taking his Remington typewriter, had threatened to have Huntley shot by gangsters – and, as Huntley was only too well aware, she had been inimate with hoodlums. As a teenager, Mary Alexander had married one of the most notorious racketeers and bootleggers in American history, the evil Russian-born John “Jew” Marcus (1882-1931), mentor of “The Bourbon King” George Remus.
As with Chapin, Mary’s marriage to Marcus ended in a divorce court - but in the case of the earlier union, it was the husband who ended it, in Cincinnati in 1922, a year after Mary had "married" millionaire businessman, Celotex company founder and president Bror Dahlberg. Marcus probably didn't enter Mary's mind again until the morning of Wednesday, February 4, 1931, when she read the screaming newspaper headlines that Marcus was dead. The previous afternoon, Lorenzo Miller, of Dayton Street, Hamilton, Ohio, looking for somewhere to rent, walked over to Line Road, 1½ miles from the Middleton Pike, to have another look at an abandoned Butler County Lumber Company house. This time Miller, with his wife and four friends, hoped to gain access to a secret, unlit basement, which had not long earlier housed an illegal still. Inside, near the back wall, they stumbled over Marcus’s long dead body, badly decomposed but still well dressed in a tailored suit, silk underwear and socks. Marcus was trussed up with picture wire, which sort of spoiled the look of the expensive clothing. Miller struck a match and saw a bullet hole near Marcus’s right temple (another was later found in the back of his head). A stream of dried blood led to a drain in the next room. Marcus’s ruthless rival Cincinnati bootlegger Robert “Foxy Bob” Zwick was initially suspected, but later it was believed the gun used had belonged to yet another Cincinnati crook, Larry Coates, who was in turn rubbed out on Wooster Pike on July 28. Nobody was ever charged with murdering Marcus.
Mary’s second legal marriage was to Huntley “Hunt” Chapin. Huntley was born on June 20, 1905, in Buffalo, Erie, New York, the son of Robert Wheeler Chapin and his wife Mary (née Huntley). He grew up at 549 Linwood Avenue, a elm tree-lined promenade of grand homes in a variety of architectural styles, where people strolled to see and be seen. The Chapins had three live-in servants. Huntley’s father was the proprietor of a mill feed company, but the real money came from Huntley’s maternal grandfather, Charles Russell Huntley (1853-1926), a banking magnate and president of Buffalo General Electric at the time of his death. Charles R. Huntley and his bosom buddy, Charles Albert Coffin, first president of GE (a merger of Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston) were regarded as being among the pioneers of American electricity, and died within weeks of one another.
Huntley Chapin was educated first at The Fessenden School for the intellectually gifted in West Newton, Massachusetts, graduated from the Culver Military Academy, Indiana, in 1923, attended Princeton in 1924 and entered Yale in 1925, graduating in 1929. His mother divorced Robert Chaplin in 1920 and two years later married Elmore Charles Green, an executive of the Statler Hotel chain. When Charles R. Huntley died in 1926, Huntley Chapin became an heir to his vast fortune. His mother, by then Mary Green, was a major influence in Huntley Chapin’s life, so much so she was accused by Mary Alexander of coming between husband and wife in Mexico in 1935.
In 1930 Mary Alexander, under her then assumed name of Mary Dahlberg, had published her widely syndicated and popular novel Dagger, (“Alexandra ‘Dagger’ Marley, 16-year-old niece of a Texas rancher, rescues Blaine Howard, American free lance vagabond, from some Mexican insurgents.”). In March and April 1935, she was at daggers drawn with Mary Green and her son Huntley Chapin. On March 15, before bolting from Mexico City, Mary Alexander hired prominent lawyer Guillermo Obregon to sue Mary Green for $500,000 for causing an alienation of affections from her husband. Obregon also sought a court order sealing safety deposit boxes containing Huntley Chapin’s trust funds, of which $200,000 was due to be received by Huntley on June 20, 1935, his 30th birthday. Mary Alexander claimed $1 million of it belonged to her. Mary said, “I sacrificed a lot when I married Huntley Chapin. I have supported him ever since. He has never done a stroke of work in his life.” Huntley was already receiving $1000 a month from his trust fund.
Once Mary had left Mexico City, by train for Chicago, Huntley managed to persuade police to detain her in San Luis Potosí City, and she was forcibly returned under police guard to face charges of stealing her husband’s typewriter – and she literally fought the law. Mary Alexander was at the time on her way back to Chicago to sue for divorce, charging Chapin with cruelty. With Mary out of the way, and his typewriter recovered, Huntley Chapin went legitimately gold digging in Mexico while Walter Winchell reported across the nation that Mary had already set her sights on a 71-year-old unnamed Chicago “shoe man”- at least more legitimate occupation than bootlegger.
Mary Alexander had only two years previously divorced Bror Dahlberg, who, when in May 1934 was asked to fork out more alimony to her, claimed he’d never been legally married to Mary. He was right. Mary had not been divorced from Marcus until 1922. Mary and Marcus wed at Butte, Montana, on October 4, 1916, two weeks after Mary had turned 18, the then minimum age of consent. They were together for their second wedding anniversary when both were charged with loitering while staying at the Hotel Howard in Cincinnati on October 5, 1918. On November 10, 1921, a little more than five years after marrying Marcus, Mary “married” Dahlberg. (At the time of Marcus’s gruesome slaying, he had been with another wife, Margie Hensley, who disappeared and was presumed to have been drowned.)
Soon after Chapin and Dahlberg were married, by County Judge Culver Alvaro Green in the San Luis Valley, Colorado, village of Conejos on November 14, 1933, Chapin began to find out just how exciting having Mary as his wife would be. At 2.30pm on March 1, 1934, the couple walked into the Embassy Club in the heart of San Antonio’s business district, ordered sandwiches and beers, and were suddenly ambushed by bar owners Walter “Skinny” Baker and Frank Nixon. Baker shot Chapin twice in the left foot with a revolver while Nixon hit Chapin in the face with brass knuckles. Chapin and his new wife had stopped off in the Texas city on the way back to their home in Taos, New Mexico, from a business meeting in Chicago. Baker was charged with assault to murder and Nixon with assault with a prohibited weapon. When witnesses were threatened, it turned out Mary’s younger brother, Robert Silas Alexander (1902-55), an oil man, had had an interest in buying the bar, and that Baker and Nixon thought they were “protecting their turf”.
If Huntley Chapin hadn’t realised by that stage that marriage to Mary Alexander was going to be anything but smooth sailing, he was soon awakened to the realities. Even though Mary had left one millionaire for another, in May 1934 she charged “non-husband” Bror Dahlberg with contempt for court for being in arrears with alimony. He’d stopped payments once Mary married Chapin. Dahlberg, a very astute businessman if ever there was one, was determined not to cough up, telling Mary that since she’d married Chapin, she had no need for Dahlberg’s money. Mary countered that Chapin’s inherited millions were irrelevant, so Dahlberg “tossed a bombshell” into proceedings. That is, he told the court of Mary’s marriage to Marcus, which was still valid at the time Mary “married” Dahlberg. The hearings went into private chambers and instead of the $41,250 she had demanded, Mary emerged with a mere $2500. As Jess Stearn wrote about that lesser settlement in the New York Sunday News in January 1948, “You can draw what conclusions you like.” Stearn added of Mary, “Whatever else she was, she was interesting …”
Widely syndicated New York columnist Oscar Odd McIntyre certainly found her so, with repeated references to Mary’s many activities in the 1920s and 1930s. Walter Winchell also followed her movements closely, but far less admiringly. In September 1932 Winchell said she was “of Chicago divorce and jewel-theft renown”. Mary’s divorce proceedings against Huntley Chapin dragged on until 1938, by which time Mary had settled down in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while her husband remained in Mexico City with his Remington typewriter. After a short illness, Mary died on July 26, aged 39. Her lengthy obituary in the Chicago Daily Tribune gave no cause of death, surprising for someone still so young and so nationally famous. In Taos three days after Mary died, Huntley Chapin married for a third time, to “lush and lovely” Oregon-born Hollywood model Eulalia Catherine Miller (née Gilmer, 1903-82). The happy couple honeymooned in the Grand Canyon. This time, it seems, Chapin hadn’t got himself into such a deep turbulence.
In his two-page January 4, 1948, New York Sunday News article about Bror Dalhberg’s equally eventful marital life, journalist and author Jesse Stearn devoted almost as much space to Dahlberg’s ex, Mary Alexander – about whom Dahlberg refused to speak – as he did to Dahlberg’s then wife, the former Broadway musical comedy star Gilda Kreegan (real name Rebecca Gilda Krieger, 1904-). As well as using his own undoubted skills, Stearn (1914-2002) - later an associate editor for Newsweek, admirer of psychic Edgar Cayce and early promoter of yoga - was able to call on the experience and digging of Wyoming-born “Headline Happy” writer Florabel Muir (1889-1970), a reporter and paper columnist known for covering both Hollywood celebrities and underworld gangsters from the 1920s through to the 60s. Muir had started with the New York Daily News as a police reporter in 1927 and became its Los Angeles correspondent. Florabel was one tough lady: In 1949, during a shooting attempt on the life of mobster Mickey Cohen at Sherry's restaurant on the Sunset Strip, Muir was hit in the backside by a stray slug.
Stearn gave a rundown of some of the “highlights” of Mary Alexander’s life in the 1920s and early 30s. She had labelled Chicago society as “washtub aristrocrats” – something which offended the socialites deeply (society leader Harriet Townley Brown sued for $200,000 for defamation). Mary managed to pull off a coup, and cause a great deal of envy in the process, by having Princess Marie de Bourbon of Spain, second cousin of King Alfonso XIII, visit her in 1926. Mary hired the American Historical Society to trace her and Bror Dahlberg’s roots. Even though it linked her to William the Conqueror and Robert Bruce, her husband refused to pay the society’s fee of $1700, and it was forced to take him to court to recover its costs.
Huntley Chapin had his own troubles, quite apart from those caused by Mary. His 1931 divorce from his first wife, Myrtice McLaughlin Chapin (1903-39), had been messy, and there was a 15-month-old son, Huntley Jr (1929-2020) involved. Myrtice got a $100,000 settlement and she and her second husband, Willard Frederick Cummings, raised the child. But when Myrtice died in August 1939, Huntley fought for custody. He succeeded in December 1940 and took the boy back to Los Angeles with him. In mid-June 1948 Chapin married yet again, to Salome “Sally” Taylor (née Jamison, 1911-99), giving Huntley Jr two step-sisters. Bror Dahlberg’s second wife, Gilda Krieger, also had a fondness for litigation and the resulting splash headlines. In 1929 she pursued a pretend Hindu potentate (or a rich Bengal manganese and radium mine owner) calling himself Cambridge-educated Sir Eric Edward Dutt (real name, apparently, Chand) for $150,000 for slander over her morals and breach of promise to marry, as well as $100,000 from wealthy widow Theresa Rosenfeld for alienating the affections of Gilda’s former husband Bertram Victor Lichtie.