Cataloger Uncovers Scandal: “It was Unrequited Love”

Like the other catalogers here at AAS, part of my job as the Graphic Arts cataloger is to figure out the artists, sitters, publishers and others who contributed to the works in the collection. So when I catalogued a large color lithograph view of Portland, Oregon from 1891, I noticed that the copyright holders were not listed in our catalog. And although I usually check the Library of Congress’s authority file to see if the firm is established, I went right to Google. When I found nothing solid there, I went to the newspapers. For the record, they are already established at LC, but it did prove an interesting distraction from cataloging. And it turns out the lithograph had a Worcester connection.

The Map of Portland, Oregon

The Map of Portland, Oregon

The view of Portland was copyrighted by the firm of Clohessy & Stengele (i.e. Strengele). So I checked the names America’s Historical Newspapers database (a wonderful research tool containing full-text searchable, digital versions of many of the newspapers at AAS). I searched for Stengele and Clohessy in any paper and any publishing date. The first result that came up was from the September 17, 1894 issue of the Morning Olympian. The headline read:

Portland’s tragedy. A murder and suicide of prominent people. It was unrequited love. A civil engineer shoots a woman.

John W. Strengele was a thirty-something well known civil engineer from a wealthy family in Chicago, who had moved to Portland about 1889. He had been dating a woman, Mrs. Mabel Colvin of Worcester. Yes, Mrs. Pretty scandalous I thought. According to the first news report on September 17th, 1894, Mr. Strengele and Mrs. Colvin had been dating for some time and had decided to be married, once she obtained a divorce from her husband in Worcester. Even more insight into this tragedy was given in the reprint of Strengele’s suicide note addressed to his business parter:

Portland Hotel, September 16, 1894. My dear Clohessy: Could anyone overlook the fact that I am mad? I have done a lot of worrying, and you can now see why I am not well and why I do not eat and sleep as I used to. You know we were to be married as soon as Mabel got her divorce, and you know of our intimacy for the past year or more. I found to my sorrow after watching her that I was not the only man in the case. We had a row once before, but then I was not as positive as now, and we made up. You have proved the only friend I have ever had. I hope you will never make such a d— f— of yourself as I have made of myself. I cannot stand life any longer, although I have been fairly successful all along. There is enough money in my pocket to pay for burial, etc. I am not particular how I am put away. Mabel is the only woman I really love. I cannot live without her, and if you knew how I have been treated of late you would not blame me.

It is almost impossible for me to write I am so nervous. I realize what I am about to do perfectly, and I cannot for the life of me check myself. This desire to kill her and then myself came over me a few days ago. I cannot live any longer. Best wishes. Jack.

According to more newspaper reports from Portland and Worcester, Mabel Forehand Colvin was the daughter of Sullivan Colvin, owner of the Forehand Arms Company in Worcester. Mabel had married another prominent Worcesterite, Mr. C. Henry Colvin, a bookkeeper at the Colvin Iron Foundry, sometime around 1885. According to some reports, Mabel was an alcoholic and moved to Portland about 1892 to flee her unhappy marriage. Other reports stated that Mr. Colvin was at fault and had verbally abused and abandoned his wife. She left and moved in with her cousins, the Jewetts, on Yamhill Street in Portland. Her brother Charles also lived in Portland. Soon after, Mabel met and fell for John Strengele, a prominent civil engineer. They later became engaged and Mabel had filed for divorce just days before her death. In some reports, and in the suicide note, it seemed Mabel had cooled on the relationship and was seen with other men, which obviously upset Strengele. The account in Worcester’s Daily Spy of September 18, gives the gruesome account of exactly what happened on Sunday, September 16, 1894:

Detail of the area where the murder occurred

Detail of the area where the murder occurred

Sunday Mrs. Colvin attended church as usual and taught her class at the Unitarian Church. After Sunday school she took a walk with her brother, Chas. E. Forehand, who recently went to Oregon. After enjoying an hour’s pleasant chat with her brother, Mrs. Colvin boarded a streetcar to go to her home at 472 Yamhill Street [near Thirteenth Street], where she lived with her cousin, C.F. Jewett. From the car to Mr. Jewett’s house, the distance is not above 200 feet, and, after alighting from the car the unfortunate woman started to walk toward the home she was never destined to reach.

Stanegels [sic] was lying in wait for his victim. He rushed to her side, caught her by the arm and spoke excitedly and hurriedly. A man who stood on the opposite side of the street saw Stanegels and heard the excited tones of his voice but could not distinguish his words. Mrs. Colvin exclaimed sharply ‘Let go of me. I do not care to be molested by you; I will not go with you.’

These were the last words she ever uttered, for Stanegels pulled out a revolver and fired. Mrs. Colvin fell to the ground with a moan and the crazed murderer, while the woman was lying prostrate on the street with the blood streaming from the wound caused by the first bullet crashing through the brain of Mrs. Colvin, the bullet entering the left temple and passing out through the right ear. Stanegels then looked closely at his victim, apparently to make sure that he had accomplished his murderous purpose, placed the pistol muzzle to his own right temple and sent a bullet through his own head, literally blowing out his brains. He fell dead to the ground within five feet of his victim.

Images of the deceased from the 9/17/1894 issue of the Morning Oregonian

Images of the deceased from the 9/17/1894 issue of the Morning Oregonian

Once Mabel’s Portland family learned of the murder, they sent the following telegram to her father, Sullivan Forehand, who had never heard of Mr. Strengele (Sullivan and his wife had visited her months before her death, and the vacation had been written about in the local paper):

Mabel accidentally killed. Will be prepared suitably for shipment. Details by mail. Wire me instructions.

Mabel was shipped back to Worcester, given a proper funeral, and is buried at the Rural Cemetery on Grove Street in Worcester. Her brother, Frederic, had a relationship with the American Antiquarian Society and donated and sold several manuscript collections to us in the 1920s. So, even though I should have checked the authority file first, I’m glad I didn’t, since establishing authorities is rarely as interesting as this story was. I’m just upset I didn’t get to include this information in their file!

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