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.

Wednesday, September 16

September 18th, 1908: 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 New York Times, September 19, 1908:

Captured After a Pistol Fight on a Train in Which Prisoner and Officer Are Shot.

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 discarded plateware, the serving table was found a short distance from the terrace, the drawer broken and its silverware gone.

Burglar Henry Williams would later describe the burglary in his book entitled: IN THE CLUTCH OF CIRCUMSTANCE, My Own Story by a Burglar; D. Appleton & Co., 1922 pp. 168-182:

"It was September 16, 1908, when I called on my partner (Charles Hoffman) and put the Mark Twain house proposition up to him. Like myself, he was "broke." We were in the same boat. The Mark Twain house possibilities lured him as powerfully as they did me. The following afternoon we boarded a train out of New York for Redding, Connecticut, where "Stormfield" stood.

Arriving at "Stormfield," we found the house lights still burning brightly. The family had not yet retired. In order to give the occupants time to go to sleep, we picked out a secluded place behind some bushes and indulged in a quiet smoke during a period of watching and waiting.

It was getting well on toward midnight when one by one the lights were extinguished and the house was enshrouded in complete darkness except for one dim light upstairs. Experience told us that this was nothing unusual. My partner went on a tour of inspection around the house. He returned presently with the word that the coast was clear and that one of the kitchen windows had been left partly open. I helped my partner to climb in through it; and he then went and opened the big French double doors leading out from the dining room on the great veranda. I entered by the front door, like a gentleman.

By the rays of our flashlights, we first made a careful inspection of the dining room. The heavy, old-fashioned, oak sideboard near the door leading into the hall commanded our attention. We knew that it contained the family silver, which it was our object to secure first, as usual. We tried to open the drawers of the sideboard, but found them locked. To break them open would make a noise, of course, and disturb the family if done inside the house. We did not wish to be guilty of such carelessness, so we took hold of the sideboard and carried it out of the house and some five hundred feet down the road. There we broke the locks of the drawers and emptied their contents into a black bag which we had brought for the purpose. Then we went back into the house to see what else we could find.

Before proceeding, it is necessary to mention a brass bowl which had stood as an ornament on top of the sideboard, and which played such an important and fatal part on that night. Since a brass bowl was of no value to us I took it and placed it noiselessly on the dining-room floor - without my partner's knowledge, however. This was my second mistake on that night. When we entered the dining room the second time, my partner, walking rather carelessly, stumbled and fell heavily over that brass bowl.

In the stillness of the night it seemed to me as if an earthquake had suddenly struck the house. Such a noise that rolling brass thing made! With every nerve tense, we silently watched and waited for the result.

Presently a woman, dressed in bathrobe and slippers, appeared at the head of the stairs. Then a soft clear voice called: "Hello!" It was Miss Lyons, Mark Twain's social secretary, as we afterwards learned, who, awakened by the noise, had courageously come to investigate. A moment we hesitated. Then we turned and silently and swiftly left the house.

Running down the road, we picked up our bag with the silver, and continued running till we arrived at the foot of the hill. There we slackened speed and started to walk back in the direction of Bethel, some seven miles away."

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 Wark 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.

Burglar Henry Williams describes the struggle, and the outcome:

"My partner having successfully "flown the coop," the entire posse turned upon me. An automatic pistol was shoved in front of my face and I was commanded to surrender. In stead of obeying the command, I pulled out my own revolver and began to blaze away at the ceiling of the car to cause a panic if possible. I did not want to kill any one; and they did not want to shoot me. The sheriff, from behind me, seized me by the right wrist and tried to twist my gun out of my hand. The others now attacked me, and a free-for-all fight ensued. Showers of blows fell upon me from all sides. Then I was struck several times on the head with a blackjack and, partly conscious, sank to the floor still grappling with the sheriff. In the furious struggle for possession of the revolver, which I still gripped securely, it went off. I became unconscious.

When I came to myself, I was lying hand cuffed out on the tracks, with my captors standing over me. I felt a heavy stream of blood pouring down over my face from wounds in my head. A sickening sense of despair came over me. I was in for it again; and all my dreams of marriage and of happiness in a home of my own were blown to shreds."

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 where they would remain for three months before being transported back to Danbury for trial. It was the first time in fifty years that the Supreme Court had sat in that particular Connecticut town. Williams was sentenced to a term of 9 years at Connecticut State Prison at Wethersfield, Charles Hoffman was sentenced to a term of 4 years Wethersfield.

The Silverware is Found

Harry Lounsbury searched for and found the satchel filled with the silverware stolen from Mr. Clemens' residence hidden behind a rock down the road on September 30th. This information comes via a letter to one of Twain's Angelfish. The letter in John Cooley's book Mark Twain's Aquarium is 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."

Twain pokes fun at the Burglars

While dedicating the little chapel/library which he had founded for the residents of the town of Redding in October of 1908, Twain took occasion to make characteristic fun of the affair as follows:

"I am going to help build this library with contributions - from my visitors. Every male guest who comes to my house will have to con tribute a dollar or go away without his baggage. If those burglars who broke into my house recently had done that, they would have been happier now; or if they had broken into this library, they might have read a few good books and led a better life. Now they are in jail, and if they keep on they will go to Congress. When a person starts down hill, you can never tell where he is going to stop. I am sorry for those burglars. They got nothing that they wanted, and scared away most of my servants. Now we are putting in a burglar alarm instead of a dog. Some advised the dog, but it costs even more to entertain a dog than a burglar. I am having the ground electrified, so that for a mile around any one who puts foot across the line will set off an alarm that will be heard in Europe."

Anniversary of Burglary marked by Clemens in 1909 via his Guestbook:

September 18th: Anniversary. A year ago the burglars broke into the house at midnight. They were condemned to terms of 4 and 9 years. Persons of their sort had been plying this trade in the house for a long time, but we were not aware of it. This 18th close all relations with them. [The word "this" is underlined]

Who Were the Stormfield Burglars?

This was a question asked on the Mark Twain Forum and it was answered beautifully by Barbara Schmidt, I'm posting it here so more people have access to it:

According to contemporary news reports of the Stormfield burglary, the two prisoners were named Charles Hoffman and Henry Williams. They were sentenced to time in Connecticut State Prison at Wethersfield.

The 1910 census for Connecticut shows two prisoners by the names of Charles Hoffman and Henry Williams at Wethersfield.

Charles Hoffman is described in the censuses as a white, 29-year-old male, married 4 years, born in New Jersey, mother and father both born in Germany.

Henry Williams is described as a white, male, twenty-two years old, single, born in Connecticut, father born in Ireland, mother born in New York.

Both prisoners are employed in production labor in a shoe factory.

View Barbara's website: for a wealth of information on Mark Twain, including newspaper articles in relation to this burglary.

Are there other Twain-related dates of interest in September??


September 21st, 1909:
The Concert held at Stormfield to aid the village library building fund.

It started at 3pm.

Concert Team:

Ossip Gabrilowitsch
David Bispham
Clara Clemens
Mark Twain

+525 other guests

Coley Taylor recalled the concert in his article Our Neighbor Mark Twain:

"We heard music in the distance, a piano and two voices, Miss Clara's and that of David Bispham, then a star of the Metropolitan Opera. (The pianist was Ossip Gabrilowitsch, famous as soloist and as orchestra director, later director of the Detroit Symphony, and the future husband of Miss Clara.)"

September 25th:
Announcement!! (Clara's Wedding was announced after or shortly after the Concert)

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