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In a divorce case packed with strange characters, outrageous charges and far-fetched explanations was the recollection of the 1917 theft of Mrs. Helen Stokes' jewelry. This burglary, which occurred aboard a train bound from Chicago to New York, had unusual significance for W. E. D. Stokes, who, in one of several scenarios suggested as an explanation for the crime, was the person who masterminded it – because he wanted to prove his wife had received jewelry from other men.

New York Evening Telegram, November 4, 1917
A case containing jewels valued at many thousands of dollars, belonging to Mrs. W. E. D. Stokes, wife of the proprietor of the Ansonia Hotel, was stolen from a locked suitcase while she was on the way to New York from Chicago on a Lake Shore train.

Mrs. Stokes told the police the gems were in a brown-covered case, about ten inches long, three inches high and seven inches wide, which she placed in one of her suitcases, in her stateroom aboard the train. The last she saw of the collection was in the morning of October 31. She learned of the loss in the afternoon. The lock of the suitcase had not been smashed, and Mrs. Stokes believes that a thief possessing a key stole the gems.

Mrs. Stokes said nearly her entire jewel collection was in the casket, nearly forty pieces in all. Among them were a string of diamonds, diamond pins and rings, a valuable pearl ring and several heirlooms. Two fifty dollar bills and several bond coupons also were in the box.

Mrs. Stokes had been travelling in the West nearly a year and was returning to the city, accompanied by her mother, Mrs. A. S. Miller, of Denver, Col., whom she had been visiting; her two children and a nurse. Mrs. Stokes preferred not to estimate the value of her collection, but said she had spent many years in selecting it and that it was worth many thousands of dollars.

In view of what happened over the next several years, it's easy to interpret Mrs. Stokes' statement that the thief must have possessed a key to her suitcase as an accusation her husband was connected with the burglary. It certainly was suspicious that W. E. D. Stokes would work closely with the lawyer who defended the porter later accused of the theft. And why did Stokes insist so strongly he hadn't given his wife any of the jewels that were stolen? One answer was that in 1917 he was plotting his divorce action and was trying to find out if his wife had been given jewels by any of her alleged lovers.

New York Evening Telegram, November 4, 1917
Mrs. W. E. D. Stokes, wife of the New York hotel man, has gone home with all her jewelry that had been recovered from a porter here on Sunday. It was about $12,000 worth of the $50,000 worth she had lost on a sleeping car between New York and Albany last October.

The jewels here were recovered through the assistance of a pawnbroker who realized that the gems offered for pawn must have been stolen. The pawnbroker bargained with the applicant for as much as he could take, and immediately notified the police.

Police insisted the pawnbroker should not suffer because of his honesty, though Mrs. Stokes legally was not compelled to pay him the money he advanced.

Mrs. Stokes was willing to be just, but two New York detectives who came here with her protested that she didn’t have to pay. She waited over in town on Thursday night to get advice from her husband in New York.

Yesterday she left town for New York with all the jewels recovered here. The police say the pawnbroker was reimbursed but say they don’t know who advanced the money. It is said the Pullman company settled the pawnbroker’s claim.

The New York detectives took the porter to New York with them. He is charged with grand larceny. He was arrested by detectives Hearn and Roche here on a description the morning after the pawnbroker tipped off the police.

The theft case dragged on through one hung jury and several court postponements. Lurking in the background was W. E. D. Stokes, who believed he could somehow use the stolen jewels to smear his wife's reputation in his divorce action underway in another courtroom.

New York Tribune, March 25, 1921
Judge Alfred J. Talley, in the Court of General Sessions yesterday, set April 4 as the date for trial of Henry Williams, a negro Pullman porter, of 162 Pine Street, Buffalo, who is under indictment charged with the theft in November, 1917, of jewels valued at $30,000 from Mrs. W. E. D. Stokes.

Williams was tried two years ago, but the jury disagreed. Bernard J. Sandler, counsel for Williams, told the court yesterday that the case had been on the calendar 31 times since the disagreement.

In the indictment Williams is charged with stealing the jewels from a stateroom occupied by Mrs. Stokes on a train from Buffalo and New York. At that time Mrs. Stokes was traveling with her mother and children from Denver.

Mr. Sandler told the court that counsel for the complainant had asked him to refrain from asking Mrs. Stokes certain questions. He told the court that he had refused to make the stipulation because he had received information to be used to attack the credibility of the complainant should she take the stand.

The court at this point asked Mr. Sandler if he were discussing the matter of charges against the woman. Counsel replied in the affirmative.

“I am trying to ascertain what a woman’s social position has to do with her credibility,” said Judge Talley.

“Mr. W. E. D. Stokes,” said Mr. Sandler, “has furnished information concerning the ownership of the jewels. He is prepared to testify that they were not gifts from him.”

“I will not permit the Stokes divorce issue to be tried out here,” said Judge Talley. “I will not dismiss the indictment pending the outcome of the divorce action, but I will urge the District Attorney to try the case as soon as the divorce action has been settled.”

On April 19, Mrs. Emma Miller, mother of Helen Ellwood Stokes, was a witness for her daughter in the divorce case. Most of her testimony was in reply to questions about her daughter's relationship with Hal Billig, a cousin and, at this time, one of the corespondents in Stokes' complaint.

Mrs. Miller denied all of the allegations that had been made about her daughter and Billig, but was asked about the jewelry that had been stolen in 1917.

“I gave my daughter most of the valuable pieces of jewelry she had," said Mrs. Miller. "Mr. Stokes gave her very few. Some of the pieces she bought herself. Forty pieces were stolen from her. Seven of them were found in the pocket of a waiter on a dining car in Buffalo. His name is Williams. We are trying to convict him, but Mr. Stokes is paying for his defense. It is my belief that Mr. Stokes has the jewelry.”

Under cross-examination the next day by Francis L. Wellman, attorney for W. E. D. Stokes, Mrs. Miller was asked to explain a diamond necklace that belonged to her daughter. She said she gave Helen the diamond necklace she lost to offset the gift of a home in Denver to her other daughter, Beatrice, but she refused to tell what she paid for the necklace. Mrs. Miller said other jewels were given Mrs. Stokes by the wife of Senator Funk of Illinois.

The point of the questioning was to show Mrs. Stokes could not have purchased the diamond necklace herself, and that it must have been a gift from another man. Mrs. Miller, on the other hand, while not exceptionally wealthy, very likely could have afforded the necklace, her second husband, Arthur S. Miller, having become known as Denver's "Apartment King."

In September, 1921, it looked as though the Stokes vs. Stokes divorce case was done. He lost, and her goal was a legal separation. This may have been mercenary on her point. Her husband was 69 and she was about half his age.

But through a legal technicality, the decision in the first case was not binding. Mr. and Mrs. Stokes had to battle it out in court one more time. It was inevitable that the matter of the stolen jewelry would be heard again.

New York Evening Telegram , October 23, 1923
Henry Williams, one-time Pullman car porter, arrested and tried for stealing jewelry from Mrs. Helen Ellwood Stokes, and who is now spending the rest of his life in the Pittsburgh penitentiary on a charge of murder, today entered the rehearing of the Stokes divorce trial before Supreme Court Justice Jeremiah T. Mahoney.

Williams, according to Bernard H. Sandler, attorney for the porter during the theft trial, received a letter from Stokes, in which the millionaire is alleged to have stated that he understood from a “gentleman” that Williams could give him a lot of evidence that would help him in his divorce suit against his wife.

“If you help me out in my case,” the letter is said to have read, “I’ll see what I can do for you in yours.”

Mr. Sandler was called by Samuel Untermyer, chief counsel for Mrs. Stokes.


This was another instance of W. E. D. Stokes being hoisted by his own petard. His efforts to smear his wife's reputation through her stolen jewelry instead would up smearing his own.
 
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