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Roland Molineux Trials: 1899

Molineux Is Tried For Adams' Murder

Defendant: Roland Burnham Molineux
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: George Gordon Battle and Bartow Weeks; Second trial: Frank C. Black Chief Prosecutor: James W. Osborne, both trials
Judge: First trial: John Goff; Second trial: John Lambert
Place:New York, New York
Dates of Trials: First trial: November 14, 1899-February 11, 1900; Second trial: October 1902
Verdicts: First trial: Guilty, overturned on appeal; Second trial: Not guilty
Sentence: First trial: Death by electrocution, overturned on appeal

SIGNIFICANCE: Roland Molineux's acquittal was the result of the New York courts enforcing more stringent limitations on the admissibility of evidence in criminal cases, which provided increased protection for the rights of defendants.

Roland Molineux was born into a distinguished family which had become rich in the chemical dye business. Molineux's father had been a Union general in the Civil War, and Molineux was raised in the upper crust of New York society. Molineux was a handsome, muscular man who had developed a reputation as a playboy and as a snob by the time he was 30.

Molineux was extremely vain about his athletic prowess, and he belonged to the Knickerbocker Athletic Club, whose membership came exclusively from wealthy and old-line New York families. He was such a snob that he repeatedly went to the club's management to demand that people he considered socially inferior be expelled. In 1898 he also began to compete with one Henry Barnet for the affections of a young and beautiful woman named Blanche Cheeseborough.

In November, Barnet received a package in the mail containing some over-the-counter stomach medicine produced by a well-known drug company. He assumed that it was a free sample, but when he took some, he became violently sick and later died. Less than two weeks after Barner's death, Molineux married Blanche Cheeseborough. Despite the suspicious circumstances, there were no charges against Molineux. Then, in December 1898, Molineux had a confrontation with Harry Cornish, the Knickerbocker Athletic Club's athletic director. Cornish beat Molineux in a weight-lifting competition, and in a fit of pique, Molineux demanded that the club expel Cornish. The management refused.

In late December, Cornish received a bottle containing a popular liquid headache medicine. He gave it to his aunt, Katharine Adams, who took some on December 28 and died after a bout of violent convulsions. This time, the authorities and the club performed a thorough investigation and discovered that the bottle contained cyanide, which had killed Adams. The police uncovered some letters to various drug companies, written by the murderer to obtain medicines and poisons, which bore Barnet's and Cornish's forged signatures. The handwriting was very similar to Molineux's, and so the police charged Molineux with murder.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917