As the cynical and world-weary people we can be today in 2014, it doesn’t really surprise us when those who are entrusted with much, or are held up as paragons, fail spectacularly. Sadly, we see it almost every day. But 100 years ago, life was simpler. Back then, (and now, as well, to be honest), people expected certain criminal activities like thievery and dishonesty from the classes and groups they felt were beneath them. But they held the upper classes to a higher standard, one of dignity and success through hard work and privilege. Therefore, when one of their own was suspected of, or caught doing wrong, the stories fascinated the newspaper reporters and their editors, as well as the general public. The fall of a prominent lawyer, or a banker, was news for days.
We met Benjamin F. Chadsey last time, the scion of an important Albany area family, and an up and coming lawyer here in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 20th century. He lived here in Brooklyn with his wife at 88 Decatur Street, in an upscale apartment building in Stuyvesant Heights. Like another occupant of the same apartment house, J. Edgar Anthony, the topic of our first story from this building, young Chadsey was also an attorney who worked in estates, wills and trusts. Mr. Chadsey had a fine reputation in the law, and was a rising star in the world of Brooklyn Republican politics. Benjamin Chadsey, it was said, could persuade you to vote for anyone, and his silver tongue was put to use at political rallies all across the city. He was soon on a first name basis with some of New York’s most important Republican political figures.
Unfortunately, Chadsey was arrogant enough to think that he knew best in the matters of his clients, as well as the voters, and had been playing loose with some of his client’s money. He had been administering the estate of Daniel M. Collins, a wealthy Brooklyn Heights jeweler. The deceased Mr. Collins’ wife suspected that her brother-in-law and Chadsey had conspired to cheat her out of her inheritance, and that Chadsey had grossly overbilled her for services rendered. The widow retained another lawyer, and filed suit. A judge agreed, and had chastised Mr. Chadsey, and ordered him to pay back about $900 in overcharged fees. That may not seem like much in today’s money, but in 1902 it was around $20,000 worth, certainly enough for most of us to file suit. (more…)