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Trina Hannenberg and the Rev. Cornelius C. Densel were page one news from November 1920 until January 1921, at least in New Jersey and New York newspapers. What they did was incredibly silly, but also cruel to family members (particularly his) and to a church congregation. But what they did also was surprisingly common at the time; that is, they "eloped," even though he was married ... with eight children and three grandchildren. My guess is this kind of behavior was on the increase because automobiles and trains provided a fast, easy escape. I'm also assuming Rev. Densel took his young "bride" to Buffalo because of nearby Niagara Falls, then a very popular honeymoon destination.

Rev. Densel was, according to one newspaper, 48 years old; another had him listed perhaps more accurately as 55. Everyone agreed Trina Hannenberg was 26. It seemed more titillating to identify her as a choir girl, though the relationship seems to have started not at the First Netherlands Church of Passaic, N. J., but at Rev. Densel's home where the girl briefly was employed as a maid when she was 19.

The minister didn't find his wife attractive anymore. At least one reporter who covered the case didn't think Trina Hannenberg was particularly attractive either, though most newspapers, as they almost always did where scandal was concerned, described the young woman as "pretty." Certainly Rev. Densel thought she was.

In any event, the minister was smitten, the inexpierenced girl was overwhelmed. According to Hannenberg, the minister made the first move while she was a maid. It was taken as a mistake, so she quit the job and for a long while she and the minister tried to avoid each other.

Not surprisingly – given the era in which this occurred – people seemed more understanding of the minister, than the woman he had seduced. It seems the worst kind of double standard especially when men were given much more responsibility than women. Yet men were – correctly, I know – regarded as slaves to their carnal desires, while women – though protected and prevented from having equal rights – were regarded, in this one instance, at least, as being more worldly. Even Rev. Densel, who specialized in the tearful mea culpa, tried to blame Trina Hennenberg for somehow bewitching him, as though she was the devil who made him do it.

Two newspaper stories tell the tale, one written by a woman, the other by a man. Surprisingly, it's the male reporter who is more sensitive to Trina's feelings (though his description of the ministder's wife is a bit harsh). Note how a subhead on the woman's story says "Girl Refuses to Take Blame," even though the minister seemed much more in denial.

And as Jack Webb used to do in his "Dragnet" radio and TV series, we'll save the outcome of this case until the very end.

New York Evening Telegram

Pastor Densel May Face Trial by Mann Law
By WILLIAM SLAVENS McNUTT
United News Staff Correspondent
PASSAIC, N.J., Jan. 6 – The voice of the law has spoken to the Rev. Corneliu Densel, who recentrly returned to his wife and eight children after an illicit honeymoon of several weeks with a girl who was a member of his church choir and had once been a servant in his home.

The voice reminded the Rev. Mr. Densel that there was a certain power, aside from his conscience, his God, his wife and the members of his church, with which it would be necessary for him to deal before he could erase the memory of his transgression from his mind of pick up the thread of his life where he broke it off when he left the white-haired, toil-worn old woman who had borne him eight children.

That power is the law of the United States, which contains a provision commonly known as “the Mann act,” having to do with “white slavers” who accompany and pay the way of women from one state to another “for immoral purposes.”

Lived in “Wedlock”
According to the statement made by young Trina Hannenberg in her suit for damages, the Rev. Densel promised to marry her, took her to Buffalo, N.Y., and lived with her as her husband, assuring her that they were man and wife in the sight of God and promising to marry her according to law as soon as he got his divorce from the mother of his eight children.

Trina Hannenberg says that at the end of a fervent honeymoon period in Buffalo, the Rev. Densel brought her back to New York City, where he told her he had enjoyed his outing very much, but that their love was a mistake, after all, and that the best thing for her to do would be to run along home and be a good little girl. The minister had no money for further philandering and no chance of getting a divorce.

The girl came back here to the home of her parents, to disgrace, public humiliation and expulsion from the church which had been so important an element in her life. Her parents were expelled from the church, presumably on the ground that they had not been sufficiently alert to prevent their daughter from tempting the pastor to his downfall. The Netherlands Reformed Church is apparently very strict in the matter of a young girl who is attractive to her minister and who permits herself to be persuaded by him that the intimacy he urges is a holy relationship, justified in the sight of God.

Lenient to Male Sinner
The church was much more lenient toward the middle-aged pastor who yielded to a great temptation and returned to confess his sin – which was already a matter of public knowledge – and, “purified by the fire of suffering,” as some of the church expressed it, resumed his place in the community, while the young girl who had been lied to and betrayed in the name of the Lord by her spiritual adviser for years was at home alone facing her parents and her bitter future.

Considering what the Rev. Densel had been getting away with, he was doing pretty well for himself until Trina Hannenberg decided that as long as she was to be the goat, she would do a little butting. She filed suit for damages and told, under oath, of her relations with the minister and how he had promised to marry her.

U.S. Law Takes Look
The law of the United States took a look at that statement and acted. The law appeared in Passaic Wednesday in the person of a Department of Justice agent and interviewed both Trina and the Rev. Densel. The Rev. Densel wept while talking to the Department of Justice agent. The Rev. Densel is an excellent weeper and so far his tears have stood him in good stead. It is not on record, however, that the Department of Justice agent was deeply affected by the minister’s emotion. An arrest is expected at any minute.

When the arrest is made and the case goes to trial the jury will face the following characters:

A large, imposing, rather handsome man with a Bryanesque character of manner and appearance who weeps and protests with all the facility of an overstrung, emotional woman.

A white-haired wife, aged and broken with childbearing and the care of a home.

A young Dutch girl who was brought up in a Dutch community here in Passaic, the center and soul of which has always been the church, presided over by the Rev. Densel.

Syracuse Journal

Hate Rules Choir Girl’s Heart as She Sues Densel for Breaking Love Faith

Trina Hannenberg: “He Said I Was His Wife”

PATERSON, N.J., Jan. 7 – A warrant charging the Rev. Cornelius C. Densel, former pastor of the First Netherlands Church of Passaic, with violation of the Mann act, was issued here today by Joseph A. Delaney, United States commissioner.

By WINIFRED VAN DUZER

PASSAIC, N.J., Jan. 7 – “He promised me love and happinss and faith that would last beyond the grave.

“He broke that faith in less than a month. Disgrace was mine, instead of honor, and he left me to bear it alone.

“I never want to see him again. I hate his memory!”

She clicked her even, little teeth on the words, scorning even her scorn. Yet in the big eyes of Trina Hannenberg flared a light, evidence perhaps of fire burning deep. For in all the colorless personality of the young woman I found nothing else yesterday which reasonably could have lured her middle-aged and ministorial lover, the Rev. Cornelius Densel, from his church, his wife, eight children and three grandchildren.

The former choir singer in the First Netherlands Church stood in the living room of her father’s modest, though comfortable home in Passaic, N.J., a street as yet undignified by sidewalks, when she flung out her bitter arraignment of the man of whom she how is asking $25,000 through the courts of breach of promise to wed.

Determined to Get Even
The report that Dominie Densel may be gathered in by the long arm of Uncle Sam, charged with violation of the Mann act in taking her to Buffalo on their “honeymoon” trip in November apparently afforded her little interest.

Nor did the rumor that Mrs. Densel, who forgave her husband when he returned Dec. 7, is contemplating an alienation suit for $50,000 draw forth more than a flicker of contempt.

What is filling the life of this girl, gossip-harried and walled around by defiance as it is, apparently is the determination to “get even.” For every raised eyebrow she has encountered since the night she crept to her father’s home under cover of darkness – the same night on which Dominie Densel made dramatic appeal to his church consistory for forgiveness – she would make him feel the ruthlessness of the woman whose lover has wearied.

Infinite bitterness distorted her face. She is 26, but looks years older. Starchily clad in a print house dress, she presented a look of angular, away-back middle-age, with her hair in a stiff puff round her forehead, and the curves which made her face attractive, when her picture was taken on the Buffalo trip, drawn to points.

Her Lover No Adonis
But if Trina is not attractive, neither is her 55-year-old erstwhile lover. A giant of a man with jowls flowing over the low collar he affects and merging with a cascade of chins. Exaggerated features; breathily short of wind on a bit of exertion.

And a tendency to tears.

That he is said to have wept during the entire time of his examination by Department of Justice agents investigating the affair seemed to sooth slightly the spirit of the young woman, wooed by Biblical quotations running through dozens of letters and notes penned on fly leaves of psalm books.

The pastor, at about the same time, was again laying the blame for the stormy romance upon the girl. Assistant United States Attorney Kessler of Newark sent Joseph Holmes, an agent of the Department of Justice, to Passaic to investigate the case. Holmes talked to Dr. Densel and said the pastor admitted everything and denied nothing about his trip with the girl to Buffalo. He laid his head on a table, the agent said, and wept. “She led me into it,” he is alleged to have said.

She took up the tale of her romance from its beginning and told it with occasional dabs at her red and swollen eyelids. More often, however, her hands were occupied with twisiting starch from a corner of her apron.

“I went into his home as a maid when I was 19. My parents never let me go about much; I had no boy friends. I knew nothing of life and what it means.

“I had been there three months when he put his arms around me and kissed me. He said he loved me better than anyone or everything.

“Mrs. Densel soon found out. She said I must never tell. But she sent me home and I pretended to be homesick so I could stay. There had been nothing improper. He made it seem all right; he said it was God’s will that he should love me.”

Makes Her His Real Wife
Trina refused to say what had been her relationship with the dominie through the seven years following. He stopped her on the street last July, she said, and declared that he still loved her. She continued:

“He said, ‘You are my real wife; mine in the sight of God! My wife is only the mother of my children, but you are a magnificient wife!’

“I asked him where our witnesses were. He answered that he would take three names from the Bible and have them for witnesses. Then he bought me a wedding ring and had it engraved “C. D. to T. H., 1920.’ He told me that I’d be breaking God’s law if I took it off my finger.

“He opened an account in both our names in the Passaic Trust and Safe Deposit Company with $300. We began to meet regularly, sometimes on the street. He told me that when I wasn’t in church he couldn’t preach. When I doubted him, he quoted the Bible. He wrote beautiful letters, and I watched for the letter carrier and took them so my mother wouldn’t know.

“In November he told me he was getting a divorce. He said it would come about the twenty-sixth and we would be married the next day. He drew the money from the bank and we went to Buffalo.

“We stopped at the Hotel McLeod a few days; afterward at the Iroquois. We registered as Mr. and Mrs. Tensel. We then took a furnished room where we were known as Tensel. He worked for the Buffalo branch of W. C. Buckes and Company for whom he once sold stock in New York.

“On Nov. 25 I asked him for the divorce paper. He said it should be there with a mortgage for $3,000 which he expected from his son. On Dec. 7 he told me he would have to come east to see about them. We came together and stopped at the Hotel Athens, where his son came to see us with a former member of the consistory.

“They told me my father had said I could come home with love. He took the ring from me then and said I’d better go. I told him he’d said I was his wife in God’s sight and I’d never leave him.

“That was when he said he loved me as before, but we would have to wait.

“After a while I saw that he did not mean to see me again, and I felt like calling all the girls in the world to beware of bright promises. I would not marry him now; I do not want his name. But I want the world to know him as he is!”

The price of a pastor’s elopement with his former servant girl is still mounting. Suit will be filed today jointly by Marinus Hannenberg and his wife for $10,000 against the Rev. Cornelius Densel, charging “seduction and humiliation” of their daughter, Trina, it was announced. The parents, whose motion comes on top of a suit for $25,000 already filed by Trina, charges that they lost Trina’s services in the house.

Attorneys for Miss Hannenberg today gave out what they said was another letter written by the pastor to the girl.

It contained the following passages:

“Did you dream about me? I hope that you have already thrust your little nose into the roses and their sweet fragrance may be the interpretation of my feelings toward you.”

“I hope to see you tomorrow morning in church. A little smile will be sufficient to indicate that everything is all right. Mind you, I’ll remember about that smile.

“I am very glad I axquainted your father with our secret. Now he can understand why you discard company company of young men and keep yourself in reserve.”

Attorney Joseph J. Weinberger said Densel’s written statement that he had acquainted the girl’s father with “their secret” was false and that it was “all a game on the poor girl.”

Note: Her attorney's statement obviously was an attempt to strengthen the Hannenberg lawsuits against Rev. Densel, but it was generally believed Trina's parents not only knew of her affair, but helped her pack the day she "eloped."

While awaiting his trial for violating the Mann Act, Rev. Densel found work at the Fordham Hospital in Passaic. Apparently that prompted a newspaper article – one I couldn't locate – that upset his wife. The article had nothing to do with his affair. It is explained in this short item from the New York Evening Telegram:

New York Evening Telegram

Runaway Pastor Defended by Wife
PASSAIC, N.J., July 16 – The Rev. Cornelius Densel, formerly of the Netherland Reformed Church here, who is accused of having abandoned his wife and children to elope with Trina Hannenberg, and who has recently been employed at Fordham Hospital, still retains the affection of his wife, who came to his defense when a newspaper was shown her, containing a statement that her husband had been employed as a cook at the hospital.

She denied that he had been employhed as a cook or that he had helped to make the hospital stock of liquor disappear quickly, as had been alleged.

“My husband never drinks,” said Mrs. Densel. “After he left Passaic, he sought employment at the hospital as a relief to his mind. It is not true that he was a cook, however. The flask seen on him, supposed to contain liquor, was just a bottle of cologne he used for his hair.

Mrs. Richard Densel, daughter-in-law of the deposed minister, said that he came home the other night after she had notified him that his wife was ill.


It wasn't until early April, 1922, that judgment was handed down regarding the Mann Act violation. In a way, it was a bit of a stretch to arrest Rev. Densel on this charge, but, then, all he received was a slap on the wrist.

As for the two lawsuits against him, well, the following article mentions one of them, but doesn't provide a figure or details of the house transaction that helped settle the matter. It merely says Rev. Densel sold his home, then in the next sentence says the minister is holding services in his home. Did he buy a second, cheaper home? Is he renting? Living with one of his grown children? Sorry, I found no answers:

New York Evening Telegram 1922

Former Pastor Fined $500
for Violating Mann Act

APRIL 4 – The Rev. Cornelius Densel, formerly pastor of the New Netherlands Reformed Church at Passaic, N. J., who ran away with Trina Hannenberg, pretty choir member, later returning penitent to his wife and home, in April, 1921, was today fined $500 for violation of the Mann act by Federal Judge Charles P. Lynch in Newark.

Densel and the Hannenberg girl left Passaic together on November 11, 1920 and spent most of the time until the following January at Buffalo. United States District Attorney Frederick M. Pearse advised leniency in the case, telling of the position of the defendant. He declared that certain important elements in the Mann act were lacking in this case, because the girl was of age, she used her own money to finance the trip, her mother helped her to pack for it and she was willing to go.

Pearse said that the minister has been working at manual labor since his return as an attendant at a hospital at Passaic. The criminal action was based, he said, on a civil suit for $10,000 brought by the girl’s parents. This suit, Pearse said, had been settled by the minister by selling his home. Densel is now holding services in his own home, Pearse said, and they are attended by several members of his former congregation.

In imposing the fine, Judge Lynch said that the Federal Court does not try to enforce the law of God, but only the laws of the United States. Inasmuch, however, as the case had been broadcast throughout the country, the Judge said, he would have to punish the minister, although he thought he had been punished enough. Densel paid the fine.

As for Trina Hannenger, I think it's a safe guess she wasn't sued by Mrs. Densel for alienation of affection. She must have led a very quiet life afterward, because after her 15 minutes of fame ended, she seems to have dropped out of sight, or at least off the Google radar.
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