Thursday, April 21, 2011

Standford* + Stanford* (for Stanford* or Standford*)

Who killed Jane Lathrop Stanford, the wife of Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University, in 1905? This is one murder mystery that may never be solved, according to the 2003 book by Robert Cutler, The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford. Was it heart failure (the official explanation, according to her husband's successor, David Starr Jordan, despite the coroner's ruling it a death by poisoning)? Was it suicide (another faintly plausible, if rather unlikely, explanation)? Or was it, perhaps, murder most foul?! Stanford had been feuding with Jordan (author of The Story of a Good Woman: Jane Lathrop Stanford, essentially a memorial address for Founder's Day in 1912) and had even been considering firing him. Another suspect was her personal secretary (and the author of Mrs. Leland Stanford: An Intimate Account), one Bertha Berner, who stood to inherit a sizable sum and was the only person present at the two different poisonings that preceded Stanford's death. We uncovered 26 cases of today's typo in OhioLINK (with only one "sic" to indicate that the misprint was on the original) and over 300 in WorldCat. Another look at this steamy topic—for those of you who can't stand the suspense—is Dorothea Buckingham's Poisoned Palms: The Murder of Mrs. Jane Lathrop Stanford.

(Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford in 1850, from Days of a Man, the autobiography of David Starr Jordan, published in 1922, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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