October 21, 1909
"Hell hath no terror like a woman scorned." But for a jilted Chicago woman, the plot to obtain possession of the $300,000 estate of Adolph Huntemann, who died here in March, 1907, supposedly without heirs, might not have been uncovered.
Through a tip obtained from this woman, Grant I. Rosenzweig, attorney for the estate, worked up evidence which, when presented Tuesday to Mrs. Minnie A. Shepherd and her attorneys in Burlington, Ia., caused the woman to confess that she had concocted one of the cleverest frauds of the age.
Mr. Rosenzweig returned yesterday with the woman's affidavit, in which she admitted the fraud, and relinquished all claims to the estate. This he filed with the probate court.
Last March the court was ready to distribute the estate to the nieces and nephews of Huntemann in Germany, their identity having been established by birth, marriage and death records there.
Just one day before Judge J. G. Guinotte was to make the order Mrs. Minnie A Shepherd appeared and filed suits against the seven different pieces of property constituting the estate.
This stopped the distribution, and Mr. Rosenzweig was ordered by the court to take Mrs. Shepherd's deposition. The story of the attempted fraud, how it was planned, and how thwarted can better be told in Mr. Rosenzweig's own words.
"In her first deposition," he said, "Mrs. Shepherd claimed to be the daughter of Pauline Lipps, who was the daughter of Mary and Adolph Huntemann. While she alleged that Pauline was illegitimate, she claimed that a common law marriage later was contracted, making Pauline a legitimate child under the laws of Missouri. If this had been true Mrs. Shepherd would have been the sole heir, to the exclusion of all the German family.
"She claimed that on account of having been an abandoned child she could furnish few facts, but said she had certain letters written by Adolph Huntemann in which he recognized her as his grandchild, a fragment of a will in his handwriting in which she was so recognized, an old Bible inscribed in his hand to her as his grandchild and a number of similar documents.
At this point in the deposition Mrs. Shepherd named women in St. Louis, Chicago and elsewhere who, she said, had known Huntemann intimately and had been eye witnesses to certain events showing relationship of father and daughter between Huntemann and her mother.
"Judge Guinotte always is watchful of anything that looks out of place concerning estates in his court," said the narrator, "and with his approval I began a quiet investigation. I made investigations in Chicago, Des Moines, Burlington, Davenport and St. Louis and discovered a plot that had a branch in each one of these places involving women of lower classes and men of desperate character, a woman teacher and a man now in an Illinois penitentiary."
It appears that Mrs. Shepherd had employed attorneys of good standing, Holsteen & Hill in Burlington, and Boyle and Howell here. Her first step was to deceive them by pretending to advertise in the papers for the missing witnesses.
Her plot was so well arranged that each of the confederates answered the advertisements, wrote to the attorneys, giving her family history, and giving her the best of character. Each gave her a straight line of descent from Huntemann.
Everything was going well when Mrs. Shepherd made a secret trip to Chicago about the time a brother-in-law whom she and her husband had refused aid, was incarcerated in the Illinois penitentiary.
Just following this a woman in Chicago who had been jilted by one of the men in the case, gave the tip that certain information might be obtained in Davenport, Ia.
Following that up, affidavits were secured showing that Mrs. Shepherd was not an only child, but had five brothers and sisters living; that her mother has a twin sister and a brother living. It was found that her story was false, and that her grandmother, Mary, had been honorably married and was buried in Wilton, Ill.
"In addition," said Mr. Rosenzweig, "thirty or forty letters were secured which had been written by Mrs. Shepherd to her confederates giving dates, names and places which confederates were to confirm. Also letters which confederates were to copy in English and German and a fragment of the alleged will where the handwriting was to be identified.
"Confederates had obeyed her instructions, and identified all these fraudulent papers as genuine. An old Bible had been secured from a secondhand store and all names inserted in dim ink. All documents were yellow with age. I also had proof that Mrs. Shepherd's mother had died in 1903 and not in the early 80's."
After getting all of this together, Mr. Rosenzweig decided that the time had come to present it to Mrs. Shepherd and her attorneys in Burlington. He arrived there Tuesday and first laid the evidence before the lawyers who were reluctant to admit that their client could have hatched up such a clever plot.
"I went out and brought her to their office," continued Mr. Rosenzweig, "and there ensued a meeting which lasted six hours before the woman gave in. A woman of more brazen boldness and falsehood, backed by clever cunning I never expect to see. She denied authorship of the letters notwithstanding her attorneys had some of hers with which they were compared and she said that relatives who had made affidavits were unknown to her.
"She looked us straight in the eye, and almost convinced her attorneys that a mistake had been made. She asked for a day in which to think the matter over, but I asked her if her story would be believed against the contrary evidence of five brothers and sisters, two uncles and aunts, her stepfather, some of her confederates and all of her letters and documents plotting the fraud which I possessed.
"At this point she asked for a private conference with her attorneys and shortly they returned saying she admitted it all. Her statement in writing was taken before a notary in which she admitted that she was not descended from and bore no kinship or relationship in now way whatever to Huntemann.
"After seeing articles in the newspapers that Huntemann had left a $300,000 estate and no known heirs the plot was hatched with assistance of others. She thought she might as well be an heir as anyone else. What inspired her most was the fact that she had been successful six years before in a similar undertaking, she said. An Australian had died leaving an estate of $1,000. By means of affidavits and other documents she said she established the fact that she was an only child of the Australian."