Scandal, Murder & Mystery
Jerothmul Barnaby was a 19th century millionaire who made his fortune selling clothing in Providence. An eccentric and unpredictable man, legend has it he would race his horses recklessly down Broadway, where he lived at Barnaby's Castle*, 299 Broadway Street, and would throw clothing off the roof of his store. In 1885, Jerothmul built the Conrad Building on Westminster Street as a wedding present to his daughter Maud, following her nuptials to Montana businessman John Howard Conrad. After his wife Josephine, a stunning blonde socialite, became partially paralyzed in her mid-thirties and deemed easily manipulated, Jerothmul changed his will to leave his estate in trust to his three daughters, giving Josephine only a $2,500 a year allowance. Following Barnaby’s death from vertigo in 1889, Josephine fell under the spell of her physician Dr. Thomas Thatcher Graves, who convinced her to contest her husband's will, which she successfully did, and leave him a healthy sum in her will.
While visiting a friend in Denver in 1891, she received a package that arrived on March 31st, addressed to “Mrs. J. B. Barnaby, care of E.S. Worrell, Jr., 1525 Arapahoe Street, Denver, Colorado." The package contained a bottle of whiskey, and the message "Wish you a happy New Year. Please accept this fine old whiskey from your friend in the woods." While they prepared a couple hot toddies, the ladies speculated who could have sent the mysterious gift. Josephine’s first thought was Mr. Bennett, since he was a “friend in the woods” but was confused by the “Happy New Year” greeting as it was April. Regardless, they raised their glasses and toasted “Happy days. Here’s to that naughty boy in the woods.”
What happened next was sworn to in court documents by several witnesses. Mrs. Worrell drank the whole glassful in one quick shot, while Josephine sipped hers slowly. Within five minutes Mrs. Worrell began to feel an intense internal burning followed by a great pain that led to rapid vomiting. She swore she was poisoned but the others laughed and said that since Josephine was fine, she couldn’t have been. However, within a few hours, Josephine began to feel sick as well. At this point doctors were called to the house. Both women were in agony but around 2am Mrs. Worrell’s nausea began to subside while Josephine grew steadily worse. For the next two days, Josephine drifted in and out of consciousness whispering “sick, very sick” & “I’ll hunt down who did this…don’t think Ed Bennett sent it….maybe Sallie Hanley – my secretary – she hated me… Dr. Graves will know what to do….”
On Saturday, Edward Worrell, Jr. sent a telegram to Dr. Graves and Josephine’s daughter, Mabel Conrad, in Helena, Montana: “MRS. BARNABY DANGEROUSLY ILL. COME IF YOU WISH TO SEE HER ALIVE.”
Josephine died the next day, April 19th, 1891. The cause was poisoning from arsenic.
What followed was a sensational story in its time and on the front page of American newspapers for over a year. It was the first ever murder committed by mail and resulted in the longest trial in the history of the United States (up until then) – almost six weeks.
After the trial and many suspects, Dr. Graves was eventually arrested and convicted of America’s first murder-by-mail. He committed suicide in prison in 1893 while awaiting an appeal. To this day, there is broad speculation as to whether or not Dr. Graves actually committed the murder...
Sources: A revolting transaction," by Barnaby Conrad 1983; Dr. T. Thatcher Graves and The Rhode Island Mail Order Murder, New England Historical Society.