(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge:
“I Killed Him”·
On September 21, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas, while attempting to serve divorce papers to Harvey E. Albrecht at his home, Reno County Deputy Sheriff Martin Jolliffe found a man’s body inside on the floor. Mary Adella Albrecht, Harvey’s wife, was waiting outside before picking up some of her personal belongings, unaware of the deputy’s discovery.
Cora Brown’s unofficial communication network was impeccable. Uninvited, she arrived at the death scene prior to the first city police officer.
Her personal contacts at the Bell Telephone System’s central switching office were highly efficient. Cora had worked as an operator for a decade until the November 1926 election. Then, Fay, her husband, was elected to be the new Reno County Sheriff.
Whenever a male sheriff took office—and only men had held the job—it was expected that his wife would become the new matron and cook of the county jail. Cora had willingly agreed to the new full-time position. She supported her husband and was a vital part of the team.
Because Hutchinson had not yet modernized its telephone system to dial phones, Cora was able to learn of the found body at Mary Albrecht’s house on Avenue A, west, due to an overheard, not-so-private, telephone conversation. Immediately after Deputy Sheriff Jolliffe called the police department to request a city officer respond to investigate the death, Cora’s phone rang with the breaking news.
Cora had to reach Mary, fast, but she took the time to call Fay’s office at the temporary courthouse. He was out, not available. She considered calling Mary’s minister, Reverend Luckett. Finally, Cora called her sister, Occie Phares Hamilton, who was her back-up cook, instead of putting all the responsibility on Jailer Jess Blanpied and some jail trustees.
When Cora arrived at the Harvey and Mary Albrecht house, she saw Mary standing in the shade, holding a red rose from a nearby bush. Cora prepared herself. She knew that a man was dead in Mary’s house, and like Martin, she figured the odds were pretty good it was Harvey.
“Cora, what’s wrong? Has anything happened to the girls?” asked Mary, walking towards Cora.
“They’re fine,” said Cora, “but, I’m not sure about Harvey.”
“Have you found him?” asked Mary. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know for sure, yet,” said Cora. “Let me speak to Deputy Jolliffe first.”
“But he’s inside the house . . .” said Mary.
“Let me talk to him first,” said Cora, as she walked towards the door. “Have a seat on the porch. I’ll be right back.”
Mary wasn’t being allowed into her own house and she wasn’t being told what was transpiring. She moved to her porch and sat down on the swing chair. Worried, she stood up, paced, and looked in the window, but the curtains were closed.
In quick succession, two automobiles arrived on the street near the house. A city detective with Chief of Police George Duckworth, and Sheriff Fay Brown in the county’s new Studebaker. In the last week, Fay had become Mary’s friend. She and her two girls, Pearl, 15, and Jewel, 18, were staying at the sheriff’s residence for their own safety while they waited on a decision about the divorce Mary had filed.
Mary was confused about the police response and her anxiety was increasing. She feared the worst, and she didn’t like being excluded from her own house, especially having information about her husband, withheld.
“Fay,” said Mary, as she walked toward the sheriff.
“I’m sorry,” said Fay.
“Sorry about what?” asked Mary, looking for clues about Harvey’s well-being or fate.
“Oh . . .” said Fay.
Without speaking, Chief Duckworth opened the front door, and bumped into Cora Brown on her way out. Then, he disappeared into the house.
“Cora,” said Fay, “what are you doing here? Who’s at the jail?”
“I’m here for Mary,” she answered. “Occie’s covering for me.”
“Is Harvey dead?” asked Mary, not sure whether to look at Cora or Fay.
“They think it’s him,” said Cora, as she walked to Mary and held out her hands.
“They think it’s him?” said Mary. “Let me go inside and I’ll tell them. I have a right to see my own husband.”
Fay said, “If it’s Harvey, I’m sorry for your loss. But let’s be sure first. I’ll go check on the status of the investigation, and be right back.”
“Tell them I want to see my husband,” said Mary. “I want to see Harvey.”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” said Fay.
As Fay vanished, Mary turned to Cora and said, “Why can’t I see him?”
“They think the man is Harvey, but they want to be sure,” said Cora. “Harvey left a note. He said he was killing himself.”
“Are they sure he’s dead?” asked Mary. “Have you seen him?”
“Yes, the man’s dead,” said Cora.
“Did he shoot himself?” asked Mary. “With his shotgun?”
“Poison,” said Cora. “I’m sorry.”
“I want to see him,” repeated Mary.
Fay read the suicide note:
“Good bye. I will not spend the rest of my life in the penitentiary. I am going home. Here is the deed, fire insurance policy and my money. The pass book, you have.
Bury me in my black clothes. The home is yours, goodbye.
Your loving husband,
Mary and Cora heard a car door close. They looked towards the street, and saw a man walking towards them.
Mary finally began sobbing. As the man got closer, Mary said, “Reverend Luckett, they think Harvey’s dead.”
“Yes, they asked me to identify him,” replied the minister, “but I’m here for you.”
“I killed him,” said Mary.
“No, my dear, he left a suicide note,” said the minister.
“I killed my husband,” said Mary.
“Mary,” added Cora, “Harvey made the decision to kill himself. You made the decision to protect yourself and your girls. This is not your fault.”
“Did he say why he did it?” asked Mary. “Was it because of the divorce? I want to see him now, and I want to read the note.”
Mary Adella Albrecht stood up and walked to the door. As she grabbed the door knob and turned it, she said, “I’ll identify my own husband. No one knows him better than me.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.