The purpose of this project is to celebrate Samuel L. Clemens' life in Redding, Connecticut by documenting and showcasing his time here in multiple formats both online and offline. Your donations & site sponsorships will help me dedicate more time to these projects and allow me to get them online sooner.

Friday, September 12

The Burglary at Stormfield, September 18, 1908

Thursday, September 18th is the 100th Anniversary of the Burglary at Stormfield.

Danbury Evening News, Friday, September 18th, 1908:
"Crooks carry off Humorist's Silverware. Caught while fleeing by train. One jumps from car while other uses revolver."

The Following Account of the Burglary comes from a July 19th, 1958 edition of the Redding Times. It is entitled "Sheriff Banks Apprehends a Burglar". This version differs slightly from the burglars own account so be sure to check out that link following this story.

The Burglary

A little past midnight on September 18th two burglars (Charles Hoffman & Henry Williams) entered Twain's Redding house via a window in the kitchen that had been left unfastened. In the process of locating and carrying out a table filled with silverware they awakened Twain's secretary Isabel Lyon. Miss Lyon hearing the commotion downstairs, ran to the stairs, and upon seeing the intermittent flashing of lights below she awakened Claude Beuchotte (Twain's butler) and a house guest (Will Wark).

A search of the house was made and it was found that an English serving table that stood in the dining room was missing. Following a trail of discarted plateware, a short distance from the terrace the serving table was found, the drawer broken and its silverware gone.

The Hunt Begins

Harry Lounsbury, who lived on Diamond Hill Road, was awakened and informed of the burglary. Mr. Lounsbury phoned Deputy Sheriff George Banks and the hunt for Twain's burglars began. By the aid of lanterns the grounds outside the windows of the dining room were examined and a number of footprints with peculiar patterns were found. One of the prints was made with a rubber heel, the other was that of a long pointed shoe. Next the footprints were followed down the roadway leading to Twain's villa, and along the country roads leading to the Simpaug crossing of the N.Y.N.H. and Hartford Railroad. At that point the tracks left the highway and went in the direction of Bethel.

The Search Party Splits Up

Deputy Sheriff Banks left the search party and returned to Redding for the purpose of preventing the burglar's possible escape by train via West Redding station.

Mr. Lounsbury and Claude Beuchotte followed the footprints toward Bethel, which led them to the Bethel train depot, they arrived about 5:50AM. Feeling certain that the burglars would attempt to escape by train they boarded a southbound train from Danbury at approximately 6:01AM.

High Drama on the 6:01 out of Bethel

Searching the train they found two men in the smoking car whose appearance seemed suspicious. The men were seated separately, one behind the other. Mr. Lounsbury engaged one of them in conversation and noticed that his shoes had rubber heels.

At West Redding station Deputy Sheriff Banks boarded the train and was alerted of Lounsbury's suspicions. Banks accosted the man in question and asked to see the heels of his shoes. Muttering some thing unintelligible the man raced from his seat and jumped from the train, which by this time had left the station. Banks turned immediately to the second man and a fierce struggle ensued. The other passengers in the car, of whom there were seven or eight, looked on in amazement as they had no knowledge of what occurred the night before.

The burglar, finding himself no match for the strength of the Deputy Sheriff, drew his revolver and began firing at him. Train Conductor, John Dyas, entered the smoking car as the struggle was in progress and pulled the signal cord which stopped the train at a point just south of the little stream that runs beside the tracks. The passengers then came to Banks' aid, one of them clubbing the burglar over the head which stunned him and allowed Banks to get the better of him. Four shots in all were fired.

The Satchel is Found

Following the struggle, Harry Lounsbury searched for and found a *satchel beneath the seat occupied by one of the burglars. The satchel was filled with the silverware stolen from Mr. Clemens' residence. [*According to a letter in John Cooley's Mark Twain's Aquarium dated September 30th, 1908- Clemens writes Dorothy Sturges that "Mr. Lounsbury has just this minute been in, with a 'find'. It is the stolen plated ware. The burglars hid it behind a rock almost in front of that farm house which he says you called beautiful...The finding was an accident & happened early this morning."]

The Second Burglar Captured

Several men who were standing on the platform at West Redding station and witnessed the first burglar jump from the train followed him to Brookside Park (behind present day West Redding Post Office building). There they prevented him from escaping and alerted Banks of his location (under a bridge) and he was arrested without resistance.

Somebody Call the Doctor!

When Deputy Sheriff Banks left the train it was found that he had been wounded in the leg by one of the bullets fired during the struggle. The bullet entered between his knee and his ankle making an ugly flesh wound. In addition, while handling the revolver taken from the burglar Banks accidently shot himself in the hand.

Banks and the prisoners arrived at Harry Lounsbury house at approximately 7:15AM and the prisoners were placed under armed guard in Lounsbury's front yard. The second burglar's head, face and clothing were smeared with blood and the Deputy Sheriff's wounds also bled freely. Local physician, Earnest H. Smith, was alerted of the situation and came down from Redding Center to attend to the wounds of both Deputy Sheriff Banks and the burglar.

The physician found that the wounds of neither man were serious.

Swift Justice

At 9:00AM the prisoners were escorted to Town Hall in Redding Center where they were arraigned before Justice John Nickerson and Grand Juror Henry Duncan.

Just before the court opened Mr. Clemens arrived at the Town House in a little open wagonette. Dressed in a white flannel suit and white fedora hat, he was accompanied by his Daughter Clara and his secretary Isabel Lyon. The ladies were attired in bright gowns and their costumes with that of Mr. Clemens, gave a touch of brightness to the otherwise gloomy scene.

When the prisoners were called before the Justice they took seats so near Mr. Clemens that they almost touched him. Hoffman was the first to be arraigned. He spoke with a foreign accent and his English was broken. He looked to be an Austrian but he declined to state his nationality. When Lloyd Blackman, who was one of the State's witnesses, testified that early Thursday evening Hoffman called at his house which is on the road from Redding Station to Mr. Clemens' place asking the way to Redding, the prisoner broke in with a remark that the statement wasn't true!

Hoffman declined at first to plead to the charge of burglary made by Grand Juror Duncan, and John B. Sanford was assigned by the court to act as his counsel. Hoffman, acting on the advice of Mr. Sanford, entered a plea of not guilty.

The other prisoner, Williams, also spoke in broken English and looked the part of a hardened criminal.

Deputy Sheriff Banks, Harry Lounsbury, Claude Beuchotte, and Miss Lyon testified to various facts in connection to the burglary. Justice Nickerson found probable cause in each case. Hoffman, who was accused of burglary only, was held on $1,000 bail and Williams, who was charged with burglary, assault, resisting arrest, and carrying concealed weapons, was held on $2,000 bond.

The prisoners were taken to the Bridgeport jail on the noon train.

Notice to the Next Burglars

There is nothing but plated ware in the house now and henceforth. You will find it in that brass thing in the dining room over in the corner by the basket of kittens. If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing. Do not make any noise, it disturbs the family. You will find rubbers in the front hall by that thing that has the umbrellas in it. Chiffonier I think they call it, a pegola, or something like that. Please close the door. -Yours truly, S.L. Clemens.

This notice was tacked up on the front door of Mark Twain's beautiful country home in Redding the day after the burglary and an unscrupulous reporter, who thought it too delightful a bit of humor to remain unpublished, carried it off.

View the Burglar's Version via the link below:

http://twainproject.blogspot.com/2008/03/stormfield-burglar-makes-his-confession.html

5 comments:

Kattarina said...

It was a pleasure reading "The Burglary at Stormfield". This is a "missing piece" to a story I've only heard verbally from my father, Earl Banks, grandson of Deputy Sheriff George Banks. This was always a favorite piece of family history along with the autographed picture from Mr. Twain to my great grandfather, "the best of compliments and thanks" for September 18, 1908.

Brent M. Colley said...

Kattarina,

I would love to see a digital photo of that!
Brent

Kattarina said...

Brent,

I'd be happy to scan the photo and send it your way.

Kattarina

ElonGrad97 said...

Harry Alley Lounsbury (H.A. Lounsbury) is my great-grandfather. Very interesting piece, thank you! I would love to know more about H.A. Lounsbury, as I am always scouring the internet for more information on his relationship with Mark Twain. Our infromation from my grandfather, Harry M. Lounsbury, is that he died in 1918 due to the flu epidemic at the age of 22. That was the year my grandfather was born. They never met.

Jackie Healy said...

Very interesting piece as is the companion piece in the burglar's own voice. Henry Williams was my grandfather. This story was told to us as children and we have all read his book written with my grandmother's help. My grandfather went on from this experience to become a prison reform activist, businessman, husband & father. He led a very colorful life. I believe Miss Clara Clemens showed my grandfather a kindness after his jail term and got him back on the right track in life.