Charles Twigg and
Murder or Suicide?
by Jo Beynon for Cumberland Times 1996
File transcribed & contributed for use in the MDGenWeb Project by Doris Goldsborough, with the permission of Jo Beynon.
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Jo Beynon, a retired tourism and public relations director, is the Editor of the column THIS 'n' THAT, in the Cumberland, Maryland Times- News which appears every Thursday. She related a true story regarding CHARLES TWIGG and GRACE ELOSSER, and has given permission to place her story on this website
(Part I - October 3, l996)
WEDDING PLANS GIVE WAY TO MURDER
The column headed, "Was death a suicide or murder?" sparked a phone call from John (Jack) Robb Sr. and his wife, Ida Mae.
Mr. and Mrs. Robb are now retired, but I am certain that many credit Jack as one of the finest attorneys in Cumberland. I'm equally certain that many Allegany High School alumni credit Ida Mae for the solid education received from her many years of teaching there.
The Robbs loaned me their copy of "The American Weekly" dated 1950. This weekly newspaper insert enjoyed the greatest circulation in the world as it was part of the Sunday newspapers across the country, including the Cumberland Sunday Times-News.
As I scanned the tabloid size insert, I stopped cold when I read "The Case of the Skeptical Prosecutor" by George Vedder Jones. The skeptical prosecutor was David A. Robb, uncle of John (Jack) Robb Sr. The year was 1911 and State's Attorney Robb had another death mystery on his hands.
The wedding of Charles Twigg and Grace Elosser was to take place on New Year's Day, 1911, at the bride's home in Cumberland. An elaborate church wedding had been planned.
The groom-to-be, Charles Twigg, was a wealthy young fruit grower from Keyser, W.Va. He came to Cumberland the day before the wedding and purchased railroad tickets for a Florida honeymoon. He also bought a new suit and picked up the wedding ring,which he had ordered previously.
After shopping, he called Grace to ask if they could meet and discuss a few last-minute plans. "Come on over," she said. "But you mustn't stay long. I have a hairdresser's appointment."
About 2 p.m. Grace's mother met him at the door and ushered him into the parlor where Grace was waiting. She watched the couple kiss in greeting and seat themselves on a sofa. Then she closed the door.
Half an hour later she wanted something from the parlor and she knocked on the door. There was no response, and she thought that the couple must have left the parlor via a door into the kitchen. Mrs. Elosser opened the door and stared in horror at what she saw.
Her daughter and Charles Twigg were still seated on the sofa, but their heads had dropped back and their eyes were wide open and staring. Mother screamed, ran outside, and yelled, "Help! Call a doctor."
Neighbors carried Grace into her bedroom and Dr. Foard went there immediately. He was unable to revive the girl and he announced that her death appeared to be from taking poison.
"Well," Mrs. Elosser sobbed, "Then he murdered her. Charlie murdered my poor Grace!" About that time, her husband, Louis Elosser, who was a prosperous grocer, arrived home and called the police. Then he asked about Charles Twigg.
His wife said,"He's in the parlor. He killed himself, too." Dr. Foard was astonished to hear that there was another victim. Twigg was then carried to another bedroom where they pronounced him dead and said that he, too, had been poisoned.
State's Attorney David A. Robb and Cumberland's Police Chief Harry Irvine arrived a short time later. Chief Irvine directed everyone but the family to leave and he authorized the removal of the bodies for an immediate autopsy.
State's Attorney Robb was a highly conscientious and capable public official and he spoke first to Louis Elosser, who said, "I simply can't understand. They were both in love and tomorrow would have been the happiest day of their lives. Charlie wouldn't have killed her and then himself. Someone else must have poisoned them."
Sorry, folks, you know the old saying, "To be continued next week!"
[Lucky for us, next week has already happenned. You can scroll down for Part II.]
(Part II - October 10, l996)
PROSECUTOR HAS WINE POISONING DOUBTS
This is Part II of the 1911 mysterious death of the beautiful Cumberland couple and the skeptical prosecutor who refused to let the case drop!
When State's Attorney David Robb and Police Chief Irvine spoke with Mrs. Elosser, she told them that there had been nothing in the victims' hands or nearby to indicate the source of the poison. She also said that when Twigg arrived, she and her two other daughters, May Elosser and Mrs. Carrie See, had been busy elsewhere in the house.
Mrs. Carrie See, Grace's sister, told them that Charles Twigg had met Grace and May Elosser the previous summer at a county fair. He had been attracted to May, the younger and prettier of the two. But, after several visits to the Elosser house, however,he had changed his mind and begun to court Grace.
Carrie said that May was a high-strung, emotional girl. "I think she loved Charlie, too, and she was terribly broken up over losing him to Grace. She stopped speaking to Grace. But I can't believe that she'd have poisoned them."
May was summoned by the attorney and chief. She said she was dressing, after taking a bath, when she heard her mother scream. She said she was not in the parlor at all and that she had no reason to go there. When asked,"You were still jealous of your sister, weren't you?" Her defiant answer was,"Perhaps I was and perhaps not, but I wouldn't have poisoned them, not for anything."
Irvine said, "If we find poison in the house, I'd be strongly inclined to suspect her. She apparently had a motive......jealousy."
Coroner Beall reported, "We've just found traces of hydrocyanic acid in the stomach of both victims. Also, Twigg was chewing gum when he died. If that gum had contained cyanide and he had kissed the girl, it might possibly account for their deaths. It's being analyzed now."
State's Attorney Robb talked by telephone to one of Charles Twigg's brothers in Keyser. Robb was convinced that the intended groom did not have a motive. Also, the poisoned gum theory was exploded when the coroner reported that no cyanide had been found in the chewing gum.
All kinds of stories were reported, including that of an 8-year old who said he had looked into the parlor window. Coroner Beall said that the poison could have been administered in wine, even though there was no specific indication that they had drunk wine.
Police Chief Irvine was convinced that May Elosser, who was jealous of her sister's coming happiness, may have procured the wine and poison. "When Twigg came to the house, she entered the parlor unseen by her mother and sister, and offered the wine as a peace offering. They drank because they did not want to offend her."
That theory and motive was not good enough for the skeptical state's attorney. He said, "If we can get proof that she purchased the poison, I might agree with that theory. But there are still two elements which don't quite fit." Foard was genuinely surprised when he learned that Twigg was dead. Dr. Foard examined Twigg in a bedroom, and he had not entered the parlor.
Robb said,"No,Idon't think we're ready to make an arrest yet." And, so, dear readers, you'll have to wait until next Thursday to find out the twist to this mystery.
(Part III - October 17, 1996)
MYSTERY COMES TO SURPRISE ENDING
This is the final episode of the mysterious death of Grace Elosser and Charles Twigg, a Cumberland couple who were to be married on New Year's Day, 19ll.
Well, State's A ttorney Robb felt he did not have enough motive or evidence to make an arrest for the deaths of the two young people. It does seem strange that at 2 p.m. when Charles Twigg arrived to spend a few minutes with his bride-to-be, that just about 30 minutes later, both were found dead, still sitting on the sofa in the parlor.
On Jan. 5, 19ll, when the coroner's jury convened, May Elosser, told her story in a straightforward manner. She admitted that she had been jealous of her sister, but she insisted that she had bought no wine and no poison.
The physicians again stated that in the victims stomachs had been found hydrocyanic acid apparently produced by a cyanide preparation given to the couple in a liquid.
The coroner's jury returned a verdict of death by poison in a manner unknown. The Elosser family was relieved, but many people in Cumberland still believed that May was guilty. In West Virginia, the Twigg family offered a reward and insisted that May had bought no wine and no poison.
The youngster who had previously told a story about peering through the parlor window, also testified and discrepancies were found in his answers that indicated that his story was a youthful fabrication.
Now, State's Attorney Robb was not convinced and he was far from ready to let the case drop. He believed that if May Elosser was innocent, he had the sworn duty to see that she did not live under suspicion of being a murderer. He spent hours thinking about the case. amd asked himself many "what if" type of questions.
He returned to the Elosser house and carefully examined the parlor,where he noticed a slight crack in the isinglass of a door on the parlor stove. He also noticed that when the doors and windows of the room were closed there was very little air circulation. He then had several kittens placed in the parlor all night. The following morning they were dead.
The bodies were exhumed and experts were brought from Washington and Baltimore who conducted tests of the dried blood. They reported a large admixture of carbon monoxide and that death was from the swiftly - paralyzing gas.
Other experts told Robb that traces of hydrocyanic acid in diluted form were sometimes present in the human stomach, introduced through the eating of certain foods.
If you're asking why no one found the accumulation of the defective flue gas, remember that Mrs. Elosser had left the parlor door open when she ran screaming. The gas had apparently dissipated by the time neighbors reached the room.
On Feb. 13, 1911, Robb made known the results of his investigation and added, "The facts do not justify the belief that any particular person caused the deaths."
Some people in Cumberland did not accept the carbon monoxide theory, but later in the winter of 1913, neighbors found two women who were then living in the Elosser house unconscious from carbon monoxide in the parlor. They threw open windows and called a doctor, and the women's lives were saved.
At last, State's Attorney David Robb's persistent efforts were rewarded. May Elosser's innocence was completely established.
There was a note at the end of the story, "The American Weekly included the story because of the element of suspense and tension, plus diligent work by the prosecutor,which followed the deaths of the two persons in- volved."
David Robb died in 1937. He was the uncle of Attorney John (Jack) Robb Sr, and the great-uncle of Attorney John Robb, Jr.
After the story of the Twigg-Elosser tragedy was written by Jo Beynon in the Cumberland Times-News, in her column of November 21, 1996 more information was brought to light, as follows:
"TRAGEDY, OLD QUILTS, QUESTIONS
Today's column will deal with a "little of this" and a "little of that." First, let's start with updates on some of the previous columns.
Concerning the story about the sudden death of Grace Elosser and her fiance Charles Twigg,I heard from Dixie Kyle of Flintstone who said that her father used to talk about the sad happening. He always said that in all probability the death of the two young people from carbon monoxide was the first time that death was attributed to the deadly gas. Dixie's dad said that when Attorney Robb closed the case, newspaper and radio reporters from all over the eastern seaboard came to Cumberland.
Dolores Brooks also was very interested in the Elosser story. Dolores related that Mae Elosser (sister to the deceased) continued to live in Cumberland in the house that is now 14 West First Street. Dolores said Mae owned three houses in that vicinity and as a matter of fact, she later purchased one of the houses that Mae had owned."
Notes from Doris:
For those of you who are wondering where West First Street is located: it is located in South Cumberland. The area mentioned is near the present Scarpelli Funeral Home on Virginia Avenue. When this story was in the paper, I read it to my mother (the former Zeta Hasenbuhler of Penn. Avenue) and she also recalled hearing about this tragedy.
I cannot place who this Charles Twigg was. There are several Charles Twiggs listed in the Twigg Family Book of Western Maryland with no information but birthdates........could be, but I doubt it if any of them are this Charles.
Perhaps SOMEONE may know where he fits in.
Grace Elosser (Mary Grace) is listed in the Rose Hill Cemetery Book as having been 27 years of age, buried l2/31/19ll, funeral director: Louis Stein, Area HE-85, Lot 25, pg. ref. 57. (She is also listed as being buried 12/31/1910 by L. Stein, area 85, Lot 25, pg. 56.) I feel there must be an error in the listing as, according to the news story, she died 12/31/1910, the day before New Years 1911.