Walkabout: Brokers, Lawyers and Larceny at 88 Decatur Street, Part Two

88-94 Decatur st. D.Edgar at trial, 1897, NY Herald

David Edgar Anthony was in college at Syracuse University when he decided he wanted to be known as “D. Edgar Anthony.” He was a local boy, his parents had moved to Syracuse from New York City, where David Anthony Senior had been a successful and prosperous dealer in hats and furs. D. Edgar’s announcement to his fellow students came as no surprise to those who knew him, and it didn’t endear him to them any more than the rest of his personality did. D. Edgar was not well liked. “That man Anthony was one of the cheekiest fellows I ever knew,” one of his former classmates would tell the Syracuse Daily Standard. “There was brass enough in his makeup to make a Krupps cannon. He was just the man to get on in the world, for nothing would dismay him and he was as cold blooded as a lizard.”

The former student was talking about D. Edgar’s decision to dump his wife of many years, and the mother of his only child, and take up with a much younger and wealthier heiress. Last time we read about the Anthony family, and how the married D. Edgar had fallen in love with an heiress who had a back story like a Dickens novel. Young and beautiful Jeanette Ballou was the daughter of millionaire Wells Ballou. She was born as a result of a secret marriage between Wells and one of his servants. The story can be found in Part One, here. The background helps explain what came later.

To make a long story short, our lovebirds are successful in both getting Miss Ballou out of jail, getting a separation and divorce from Ida Anthony, and marrying in their own secret ceremony. The new Jeanette Ballou Anthony was pregnant, and also fighting for an inheritance from her grandfather, one the Ballou family did not want her to have. She needed a good lawyer, so she called upon D. Edgar Anthony. He was the relentless lawyer Jeanette needed to handle the family. He won the case.

The new family moved to 88 Decatur Street, a fine apartment in the upscale neighborhood of Stuyvesant Heights. But D. Edgar soon had his own problems. He was working as a receiver for the National Mutual Insurance Company. His expertise was in wills, estates and trusts. It was his job to move money into client’s accounts, and manage trusts. Unfortunately, he got creative, and when asked to move several amounts of money around in 1894, managed to skim some off the top and deposit the funds into a separate account, writing personal checks from that account. He got caught a year later, and ended up in the notorious Tombs prison in lower Manhattan.

The Grand Jury indicted him on several counts of grand larceny, but he was able to post an $8,000 bail, and was released until trial. Needless to say he got sacked by the insurance company. The District Attorney in the case was a man with the wonderfully theatric name of Rufus W. Peckham. He too was a legal pit bull, and nothing aggrieved him more than felonious lawyers. He vowed to get a conviction in a case that was not only being talked about in all of the Brooklyn and Manhattan papers, but was showing up upstate in all the papers there. Poor D. Edgar’s family must have been in tears.

When the case came to trial in 1897, D. Edgar had three other attorneys, plus himself, to defend him. The papers called Jeanette “the fifth counsellor.” She was there every day, sitting at the lawyer’s table, whispering advice to her husband and the other lawyers. His other lawyers included a man named Robert J. Haire who was known for celebrity trials. He was also known to be very good. But in spite of the legal team, and some theatrics that angered the judge on several occasions, D. Edgar was found guilty.

He was ordered to pay back the over $6,000 he had “borrowed” from the insurance company. He couldn’t do it. The judge found him in contempt of court and sent him to the Ludlow Street Jail in Manhattan. This was the same jail Jeanette had languished in several years earlier when she had been arrested for breaking up the Anthony marriage. But instead of a few days, D. Edgar would be behind bars for 18 months. Jeanette came to visit him every day. He was finally released early in 1898, threatened with disbarment.

It was time for D. Edgar to pay it forward. Robert J. Haire, his lawyer from his own trial, was in danger of being disbarred himself. Haire’s career was on the line for allegedly trying to settle a case after the defendant had been found guilty. He was said to have made an arrangement with friends of the defendant to offer the complainant a monetary settlement. It was a case of conflicting stories and not much proof, and once again, D. Edgar, who was apparently a fine lawyer in court for everyone except himself, got an acquittal.

That same year, the family was still living on Decatur Street when Jeanette made the acquaintance of a woman from Battle Creek, Mich., who had moved to Montague Street in the Heights. Miss Laura Johnson did not have any contacts here, and was in need of advice and friendship. She struck up a friendship with Jeanette Anthony, and told her that she had a check she needed to cash, and had money in the bank in Michigan, and needed to transfer it to Brooklyn. Jeanette invited her to the home, and D. Edgar told Miss Johnson he could help her out. He had an account at the Mechanical Bank, and would deposit her check, and give her the money. She gave him a check for $223.66.

Miss Johnson also retained him to get back some disputed money from a sanitarium in Michigan where she had been working. While he was working on that, he gave her small amounts of money from her initial check, about $45 worth. He told her he was charging her $50 in order to get back her money from the dispute. But later, when she asked for the balance of the money, he told her that the check had been lost. He also dropped his work on the sanitarium case. She went to the authorities and D. Edgar was arrested once again.

At trial in October of 1898, D. Anthony was told that the bank in Michigan and Mechanics Bank in Brooklyn both agreed that the check had been presented and paid out. It was not “lost.” Anthony then claimed that the check had been a payment for services rendered. The fact that the action against the Battle Creek Sanitarium had been dropped was irrelevant, as he understood it, the check was his, and that he had discussed this with Miss Johnson, and she had agreed. His wife also corroborated his testimony. Unfortunately, the jury did not agree, they found him guilty of second degree larceny. He was back in jail.

It was now 1899, not a good year for D. Edgar Anthony. His was sentenced to five years in Sing Sing prison for embezzling funds from Laura Johnson. He was also removed from the bar, losing his license to practice law. At sentencing, his attorney, Robert Haire, asked that the verdict be set aside. The judge denied the motion. D. Edgar then asked the judge to delay the sentence until his wife could say goodbye. She wasn’t in the court, as she was trying to gather more evidence that might persuade the judge to overturn the verdict. The judge said there was an entire trial held to do just that, and that had been the place for new evidence, not now. If his wife wasn’t there now, then she could visit him in prison. D. Edgar was led away to do hard labor in one of New York’s most notorious prisons.

Generally, this would be where the story ends, because after people disappear from public view, the press forgets about them, and they are never heard of again. But D. Edgar Anthony was different. The New York press forgot about him, but he was not gone forever. I don’t think he served those five years in Sing Sing. I think the case was, in fact overturned, because D. Edgar and Jeanette Anthony had an entire new life after New York.

The Anthonys moved to Washington, D.C., where D. Edgar re-invented himself. He now went by his full name, David Edgar Anthony, and he somehow was reinstated into the bar. He ended up a well-respected lawyer, journalist and poet. He told everyone he had gone to Harvard, then Albany Law School, graduating the latter in 1876. He also was said to have been a staff officer in the 8th Regiment of the New York National Guard, and had been succeeded by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. He was also an avid yachtsman and sportsman. When he died in 1919, he had been a member of the Washington bar for over 20 years.

This might not have even been the same man. Could it be a case of another David Edgar Anthony? Not unless both of them were married to Jeanette. D. Edgar’s obituary stated that he left his loving widow, Jeanette Ballou Anthony, a son named Robert Perry, who was fighting in World War I, and a daughter and grandchild. That daughter would have been his child by his first wife, Ida. It appears that J. Edgar really did have more brass than a Krupps cannon.

Well, the apartment house back on Decatur Street had a vacant apartment when the Anthonys left for Washington. In 1902, a young lawyer named Benjamin F. Chadsey lived here with his wife. He’s our next miscreant, another attorney accused of misappropriation of other people’s money. There must have been something in the water at 88 Decatur. He also had a lovely wife who stood by him, even though trying to find Mr. Chadsey would take the police all the way to San Francisco. His story will be told next time. GMAP

(Illustration: D. Edgar, attorney and wife in court during his trial. New York Herald, 1897)

88 Decatur is on the right. Photo: Christopher D. Brazee for LPC.

88 Decatur is on the right. Photo: Christopher D. Brazee for LPC.

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