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In 1906 W. E. D. Stokes' apartment hotel, the Ansonia, was only two years old. At that point it may have been the most important thing in Stokes' life. Obviously, he didn't want any bad publicity. But Stokes was a strange man who had soft spots for unlikely people who attracted unwanted attention.

One such person was Albert "Al" Adams, former boss of the biggest "policy" – or "numbers" – racket in New York City. Adams' illegal games made him very rich and for years he stayed out of trouble by paying off the right policemen. His luck ran out in 1901 and two years later – after spending part of his prison sentence in cushy style at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel – Adams was sent to Sing Sing. That's where he met Stokes, who was visiting another inmate, labor leader Sam Parks. Stokes had done business with Parks and thought he deserved to be pardoned. Adams introduced himself to Stokes and made a case for his release.

Despite what Stokes says in the following story, I've found nothing to indicate he had any influence in Adams' release from prison several months later. Once free, Adams moved into the Ansonia, apparently a reformed man, who gave up illegal gambling for a form of gambling that is legal, but just as dangerous – playing the stock market. Whether it was market losses or declining health, Adams apparently lost his will to live, and on October 1, 1906 provided the Ansonia with the kind of publicity Stokes dreaded. However, it was a risk Stokes had taken by befriending a man with a criminal past, lots of enemies and very few friends.

New Yok Times, October 2, 1906
Standing before a mirror in his apartment on the fifteenth floor of the Ansonia apartment hotel, “Al” Adams, known as the “Policy King,” committed suicide yesterday morning by shooting himself. Members of his family and those in the apartment house who knew him ascribed ill-health and worry over financial losses as reasons for the deed, but there are those who believe that the lonely life he had led recently had much to do with the suicide.

All his life Adams had been an early riser. On Sunday night he left a call at the office for 6:45 o’clock. When the telephone girl rang his bell at that hour yesterday morning he responded, and there was nothing in the tone of his voice to indicate unusual agitation. Shortly afterward Earnest Miller, a colored bell boy, who frequently aided Adams to dress, went to the apartment and knocked on the door. Receiving no answer, he returned downstairs and questioned the telephone girl, after which he obtained a pass key and entered the apartment.

The suite in which Adams lived consisted of three rooms – a sitting room, a study and a bedroom. When Miller entered the latter room he saw the body of the “Policy King” lying across a chair. There was a bullet hole in either temple, and the man was dead. On the floor beside the chair lay a .44 calibre Colt’s revolver, new, and with one chamber empty.

W. E. D. Stokes, manager of the hotel, was at once notified. Dr. Julius Thornley, the house physician, went immediately to Adams’s apartment. Mr. Stokes notified Coroner [Julius] Harburger by telephone. Dr. Thornley ventured the opinion after a superficial examination that Adams had been dead some time.

Hand Steady and Aim True
It was evident from the appearance of the room that Adams had gone about the final act of his life with calmness. The blind in the bedroom had been raised so that there was plenty of light. Adams had stood directly in front of a long mirror and had placed the muzzle of the revolver to his right temple. His aim was perfect, and his hand must have been steady, for the bullet passed straight through the brain, coming out at the left temple. The bullet was found imbedded in the wall of a little private hall, having passed through the bedroom door. As he died Adam’s body had falled to the left aross the chair, and the revolver had dropped to the floor.

Police Capt. Burfiend of the West Sixty-eighth Street Station assigned Detectives Bresner and Cook on the case. When the contents of the room were gone through it was found that all the dead man’s jewelry, diamond cuff buttons, pins, and watch were where he had evidently left them the night before. The detectives found $185 in cash in his wallet, some IOU’s and papers relative to his Wall Street interests. There were evidences that Adams had started to dress before killing himself.

Mrs. Adams and her sons, who had been living at 339 West Eighty-fifth Street, were notified, and visited the hotel soon after the Coroner arrived. All were deeply affected, as they had come to the hotel believing that the husband and father was seriously ill, but they had not been informed that he was dead. Coroner Harburger gave permission for the removal of the body, and it was taken to an undertaking establishment during the morning.

Charles F. Bauerdoff, a lawyer of 111 Broadway, who said he was Adams’s executor, called at the Ansonia shortly after the news of the suicide had been made public. He said that Adams had been suffering from diabetes and that he had expected to go to Mexico shortly, partly on business and partly for his health. In his opinion the suicide was not due to his financial losses, as Adams had sustained several losses before and was still a very wealthy man at the time of his death.

W. E. D. Stokes, who had known Adams ever since the latter was in Sing Sing Prison, was inclined to believe that the money losses and the fact that the newspapers dealt rather harshly with him were responsible for the deed.

Sunk Vast Sum in Sage & Co.
“He told me,” said Mr. Stokes, “that he had a great number of securities that he could not realize on, and that he had lent to his eldest son, who was with Sage & Co., $2,000,000. He said also that he had $40,000 out on IOU’s and that he had lent another $40,000 to a trust company and had lost fully $20,000 in Union Pacific besides. I think that the hounding he received at the hands of the newspapers had a great deal to do with his suicide. I know he felt it deeply.”

Mr. Stokes said further that when he visited Sing Sing Prison to see Sam Parks, the labor leader, whose pardon he was interested in obtaining, he met Adams, and the “policy king” asked him to try and have him pardoned also.

“He asked me to use what influence I had with the Governor to get him out. He said: “My being here is an awful disgrace to my family, and I can’t stand it much longer. If I don’t get out pretty soon I shall die.”

Mr. Stokes said Adams promised to reform, and Mr. Stokes on the strength of this, obtained the prisoner’s release in advance of the time arranged.

Adams had been living at the Ansonia ever since his release from prison. His life and family lived but a few blocks further north, on Eighty-fifth Street. Occasionally the boys would call on their father, but Mrs. Adams has not been seen at the hotel for a year. Adams, so it was learned at the hotel, had very few visitors, living a rather lonely life in spite of his large interests. He always went to bed early, and Manager Hostetter of the hotel said Adams did not drink.

Adams had four sons and two daughters. The sons are Albert J. Jr., Louis, Walter and Lawrence. The daughters were Mrs. Evelyn Napoleon and Miss Ida. Mrs. Napoleon married her present husband in Newport some months ago.

Started Life as a Brakeman
“Al” Adams was a Rhode Island Yankee, and came to this city thirty-five years ago. At that time he was 27 years old and a brakeman on the New Haven Road. He was poor. The gambling instinct was strong in him, and he fell in with Zachariah Simmons, the inventor of the policy game, and under Simmons’s tutelage learned the business that was to get him his title of “policy king.”

Adams soon led the band of policy dealers who were doing business in this city, but, unlike the game Simmons played, his was unfair, and it is said that there was never a drawing until Adams had scrutinized every betting sheet and knew exactly what numbers would mean the smallest lost to him. And these numbers generally won. It wasn’t a gambler’s game, for Adams took no chance. His fortune was made out of nickels won unfairly from the poor.

On Dec. 14, 1901, a raid made unexpectedly in West Thirty-third Street resulted in evidence being obtained against the “policy king." His trial and conviction followed and he went to Sing Sing for more than a year.

A Skinflint, but Loves His Family
Adams was known as a skinflint and was once called “the meanest man in New York.” His one saving grace, so his acquaintances said, was his love for his family. He would not spend 5 cents for a drink or a cigar, but the members of his family could have anything they wanted.

He worried unceasingly because his daughters did not make friends at the seminaries they attended and because his sons were not allowed to enter college societies. He thought his wealth should have obtained for him and his family social recognition, no matter by what miserable means he had obtained it.

In the end his family frequently disagreed with him on his manner of living, and one son threatened to shoot him at one time. His financial losses were heavy, he had never made any real friends, his health was exceedingly bad, and his life was a lonely one.

What Adams’s Wall Street interests are worth is a question. He owns real estate valued at not less than $1,500,000, and his son says his Guanajuato gold mine in Mexico is, in his estimation, worth fully $5,000,000. A conservative estimate of his total wealth is $7,000,000.

What happened next is something out of a 1930s detective movie, the ones where our hero assembles suspects and reconstructs a crime before exposing the murderer in the voila! manner of a magician performing a trick. Someone thought Adams didn't commit suicide, and that someone was the New York City coroner, who predicted the killer would be exposed and arrested at his inquest.

And, so, ladies and gentlemen, the murderer is ...
Here we have a coroner who thinks he's Quincy, Columbo and Perry Mason rolled into one crime-solving superstar. He sets his sights on W. E. D. Stokes, whose defense is built around an absurd elitism that will be displayed even more offensively in his 1916 book, “The Right to be Well Born: Horse Breeding in its Relation to Eugenics.” But this time around Stokes is simply ridiculous, and if this confrontation weren't triggered by a tragedy in the Adams family, the whole thing, like so many episodes in Stokes life, would be hilarious.

[NOTE: There is a reference to the Rogers brothers, a vaudeville act that featured two real-life brothers who went at each other the way Stokes and the coroner did that day in 1906, only the Rogers brothers, of course, were intentionally funny .]

New York Times, October 10, 1906
“The Coroner’s office is the most important in the whole City Government,” said Coroner Julius Harburger in the Criminal Courts Building yesterday before the inquest into the death of “Al” Adams, “the Policy King,” began. He said it to W. E. D. Stokes, owner of the Ansonia, where Adams shot himself. Mr. Stokes said several things to the Coroner, and the Corner replied in kind.

Most persons regarded yesterday’s inquest as a mere formality to officially record the suicide of the “Policy King” in his apartments at the Hotel Ansonia. Not so the Coroner. He declared a horrible murder had been committed, and he went downtown to show the police, the world, and the jury at the inquest not only that murder was done, but that the murderer himself was to be revealed among the witnesses who would take the stand.

Just before the inquest started W. E. D. Stokes, the owner of the Ansonia, dashed into Coroner Harburger’s private office waving a paper in his hand. Then this ensued:

By this time the two men were so close together they looked like the Rogers brothers talking on the stage. Their chins almost rubbed each other. Coroner Acritelli said afterward that he was standing near “Julius” ready to uppercut Stokes if the latter tried to mix things up. Stokes is about three times as big as Harburger, and in anything but a word encounter would have been an easy victor. However, friends broke in and separated them, and all hands adjourned to the courtroom.

Murder, Says the Coroner
Coroner Harburger was still very red in the face when he arose to address the jury. Mr. Stokes meanwhile had hurriedly telephoned for his lawyer, W. M. K. Olcott. Mr. Olcott arrived a few minutes later and took his seat near his client. The Coroner’s address made the jurors prick up their ears.

“Gentlemen of the jury,” he said, “this is a clear case of murder. I will prove it to you. No one else thinks it is a murder, but I do, and I will show you here this morning that I am right. The man who did the deed will appear as a witness before you, and I expect him to be arrested before this inquest is finished.”

Capt. Burfiend of the West Sixty-eighth Street Station took the stand. He did not strengthen the murder theory much.

“Captain, when you arrived in the room did I not call your attention to the remarkable position in which the body was found, and did I not say that this was a pecuiliar suicide, if a suicide?” asked the Coroner.

“You did say you thought it a murder,” said the witness.

“Were you present this morning in my office when Mr. Stokes traduced and insulted me and did I not keep my temper as much as I could and was I not justified?”

“I was present.”

“Captain, is it not possible that another man might have slept in the same room with Mr. Adams and have killed him?”

“My investigations do not lead me to think anything of the kind.”

“Captain, there were nearly 1,000 checks in the room which I asked you to send me. I did not receive them. Where are they?”

“They were mostly old canceled checks, and I locked them in a truck and sent the keys to your office.”

“Not to me, personally?”

“No, to your office.”

“Captain, is it not possible that a thousand persons might think a man a suicide and that one man might prove it murder?”

“Yes, it is possible.”

“Do you remember any such case?”

“Yes.”

“And so do I,” said Coroner Harburger.

Servants in the Ansonia Hotel and the occupant of the room next to Mr. Adams all testified to what they had heard and seen, and none of their statements indicated a murder in the slightest degree. The only peculiar thing about the suicide was the fact that the man’s head was found in such a position that the blood dripped into a cuspidor. Dr. Thornley, the house physician, said that there was no question as to the cause of death.

Gives Mr. Stokes the "third degree"
When Mr. Stokes took the stand the Coroner put him through a form of the “third degree,” as he had promised him earlier he would do, but all his efforts were in vain. He tried to show that Mr. Stokes owed Adams a large sum of money, and in other ways sought to establish a motive for a crime. In every instance his attempts were baffled.

Finally, the Coroner gave it up, and in presenting the case to the jury for their decision he had to admit that “suicide” was the only verdict possible on the evidence. The jury promptly rendered such a verdict without even leaving their seats.

Then Mr. Olcott arose, and addressing Coroner Harburger, who looked a little surprised at the proceeding said:

“It seems to me, your Honor, that in view of the verdict just rendered, and the remarks made by you at the commencement of the inquest, in which you virtually insinuated that my client was a murderer, that you might well apologize to Mr. Stokes. You would thus show us your well-known fairness.

“Well,” replied the Coroner, “I wish you could have heard the horrible names this man called me, and he claims to be such a Puritan of Puritans, too. I must have time for reflection.”

After stroking his chin and scratching his head for a few minutes, Coroner Harburger continued:

“Some of those things he said to me in my private Coroner’s office were awful, but I suppose I must try to forget them, and so I will withdraw what I said a little while ago. I didn’t really mean anything wrong. But I think Mr. Stokes might say something about being sorry, too.”

“I am sorry for the remarks I made, your Honor,” Mr. Stokes at once said, “and I regret having acted in such a way toward a public official.”

“Mr. Stokes, let me shake your hand,” said the Coroner, almost falling over himself as he stretched over the desk to make things up with Mr. Stokes. The two men shook hands and both went out of the room laughing.

And it's Harburger, not Hamburger
A little later a reporter went to Coroner Harburger and asked him for the stenographer’s notes of the inquest. “I think we shall print two columns of this,” remarked the reporter.

“Fine! Fine!” replied the Coroner, rubbing his hands with delight. “Take the notes you want.”

“But, Mr. Harburger, you fare badly in this matter, and we shall have to ‘knock’ you in our story.”

“Oh, I don’t mind that as long as my name gets in. Help yourself, young man. Two columns, just think of it!”

Obviously, Julius Harburger was quite a character. While he proved to be a poor sleuth on this case, he was elected sheriff of New York County five years later.

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