Clara Eunice Barker, Vampire: Conclusion

clara eunice barker_cropMrs. Grace Munro, wife of Charles W.S. Munro, an eastern zinc magnate, had filed a lost-love (alienation of affection) suit against her husband’s young paramour, Clara Eunice Barker.

love notes Grace hoped to win $50,000 in the suit, but Clara had a trump card to play; a bundle of love notes written to her by none other than Charles Munro. Clara had hidden the letters in the attic of the Glendale home she had shared with Charles while they were pretending to be cousins for the benefit of Glendale society. The bundle was an unpleasant surprise for Charles who had been under the impression that all of his letters and Clara’s had been destroyed. Clearly neither Clara nor Charles had fully grasped the truth of the old maxim, never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to have read in open court.

The lawsuit was about to get steamy, and Angelenos must have been anticipating a knock-down, drag-out fight between Munro’s wife and mistress. I know I would have been happy to wait in a queue for a seat at the trial.

Clara Barker took the stand and according to the L.A. Times she testified to: “bare the sordid romance that she says ruined her young life”. She told the court how she and Charles Munro had met.

“I met him at the corner of Montgomery and Front streets, Trenton (New Jersey). I was working in a Trenton pottery and was on my way to the post office to mail letters for the potter. A big automobile nearly struck me. The driver stopped the car and asked me if I was hurt. When I told him no, he kindly offered to drive me home, after ascertaining where I lived. He said it was on his way.”

According to Clara, Charles persuaded her to get into his car.

“He asked me where I was employed, my house address and telephone number. He did not enter the house.”

Clara testified that after their initial meeting Charles phoned her every day and he finally invited her out for dinner. He said that his name was Darrell Huntington Stewart and that he lived at Wayne Junction, PA.

For three weeks the couple dined at the same restaurant nearly every night until Darrell proposed to Clara.

Clara was won over by the generosity and sweetness of her suitor. She’d been swept her off her feet.

As lovers will do, Charles sent two photos of himself to Clara and he had inscribed them on the backs:

“With all my love to my future wife, Clara Eunice Barker. Your own, Darrell.”

Soon after sending Clara the photos he asked her to accompany him on a business trip to New York, and she agreed to go.

Clara was given her own room which led her to believe that Charles’ intentions were honorable. They were not.

Late in the afternoon on the first day of their trip Charles came to Clara’s room. Clara testified that:

“He told me there was no harm in his being there, as we were soon to be married. Whatever happened was all right; it would make no difference; we would be married within a week. I believed him.”

A few weeks after the trip Clara at last became suspicious of Charles. He’d made no move to set a wedding date, and she said that he always seemed to be in Trenton; he never phoned from Philadelphia where he supposedly lived.

The clue to Charles’ true identity came accidently when she overheard some men say:

“There is only one man in Trenton who owns a brown automobile of a certain make, and that man is Munro.”

Knowing that her lover, the mysterious Darrell, drove a car matching the description of Munro’s she decided to do a bit of sleuthing.

Clara phoned the zinc works and asked for Charles Munro — when he answered the phone she recognized his voice as belonging to her fiancee, Darrell.

Clara testified:

“I was horrified. I asked him how he could have done such a thing. He said he fell in love with me the first time we met. He said before he met me he was preparing to run away with another girl, May Pierson, who was his stenographer…now that he had met me, he would not run away with her. He would get a divorce. He said he had a miserable life.”

After his identity had been revealed, Charles cajoled, sweet talked, and threatened Clara in an effort to keep her — and Clara stayed.

Early in her relationship with Charles, in January of 1915, Clara had received a telephone call from Grace Munro. Grace said that Charles was “a liar and a hypocrite”. Mrs. Munro knew her husband well.  Although, given Charles’ behavior, Clara had every reason to believe that Grace was telling her the truth, she would not give him up.

Charles must have had some uncomfortable moments after his wife and mistress spoke to one another on the telephone. It would have served him right if they’d joined forces and fleeced him for every cent. Sadly, they continued to fight over him instead. To keep the two women apart Charles had warned Clara to steer clear of his wife whom he characterized as a terrible person. He told Clara that Grace was likely to hurl acid into her face!

Charles continued to string Clara along with promises of marriage. The pair moved around finally arriving in Southern California where, masquerading as cousins, they started a new life in Glendale. But Clara grew tired of waiting for Charles to make good on his promises to divorce his wife, and in a fit of despair she swallowed poison — though not a fatal dose.

Charles had written many dozens of letters to Clara, and in each one he declared his undying love for her. But even Charles began to realize that Clara might not wait for him indefinitely:

“I know, darling, you are not made of stone, and that you cannot wait very long, and I am pushing everything to the limit so we can soon be together.”

If Charles’ love talk didn’t work its magic on Clara, perhaps threats would. He wrote to her about a dream he’d had:

“I told you if you were not true, I would kill you. But I changed my mind as I wanted to see you suffer. I woke with the most awful yell, and was laughing. But, oh, what a laugh.”

After a trial lasting nine days, the jury of eleven men and one woman prepared to deliberate. It took them fewer than six hours to find Clara “not guilty of the love theft”.

girl cleared of guilt

Surprisingly, the battle of Wife vs. Mistress had not ended with the verdict — a new trial was granted because a judge determined that the judgment in favor of Clara was against the weight of the evidence.

Revitalized by the opportunity for a new fight, and another chance at $50,000, Grace Munro declared that Clara was a vampire who had enticed Charles away from his marriage. Grace obviously intended to drive a financial, if not an actual, stake through the heart of her dollar

Grace was victorious in the second trial, but instead of the $50k she’d asked for, the judge awarded her one measly dollar! The judge assessed $1000 damages against Clara, making the total award $1001.

The judge obviously disapproved of both Charles and Clara. He said:

“The tie that bound Mr. Munro and Miss Barker was low and degraded.”

price of sinLow and degraded she may have been, but Clara was successful in her lawsuit and recovered the “love nest” in Glendale in addition to furniture, bonds, and other gifts given to her by Charles.

The Munro’s attorneys felt Clara didn’t deserve a penny. They said that her hands were not clean, and that the property given her was the “price of her sin”. Sounds like they would have sewn a scarlet letter to her dress if they had been allowed to.

Judge Wood didn’t entirely disagree with the statement, but seemed to feel that sin is a matter of degree:

“If I distinguish between the two, she is the lesser sinner.”

And to the lesser sinner, go the spoils.

11 thoughts on “Clara Eunice Barker, Vampire: Conclusion

  1. Can a judge overrule a jury like this judge did? She was found not guilty and he says no, too much evidence against her and we’re gonna have a do over! I’ve never heard of such a thing.

    • I was stunned — and I’m going to have to look into how it was managed. I just don’t get it. It’s possible I missed some
      subtle legality while looking into this story.

      • Can a judge overrule a jury like this judge did? She was found not guilty and he says no, too much evidence against her and we’re gonna have a do over! I’ve never heard of such a thing.

        I just thought it kinda odd that the judge didn’t like the outcome and wanted another go at it. If you find something, please let us know. Maybe it’s a California thing.

        • It’s troublesome to be sure. I don’t know how the judge was able to get away with it — sounds crackpot to me, but as you said
          maybe it was a California thing back in the day.

    • Mark — thank you so much for the information on overturning a jury ruling! How fascinating that you’re related to Clara — she does seem to have had a flair for the histrionic. The acting lessons may have been money well spent. Best, Joan

  2. Ok, so posting the URL link didn’t work correctly. Simply do a Google search for:

    can a judge overrule a jury

    And you’ll find a lot of information. – Mark

  3. Thank you for sharing your adventures in the lost LA history. They\’re much appreciated… Boy, I am having fun!!!

    Through your historical insightfulness, I find myself nodding in approval repeatedly… but not this time… I\’m afraid you were a bit unfair with Mrs Munro!

    1919 is a long way from a woman being nothing more than the property of their husbands/fathers or/and the delivers of sin… but as you elegantly put in the beginning of this story… we were not quite there yet!

    I don\’t know anything about Mrs Grace Munro\’s background (nor I care to). For example, if she was catholic, there were more chances that hell would freeze over than she to divorce him. Even in the upbeat LA society, if she divorced him she\’d be seen as a pariah (whatever creed she might have followed)… We tend to look up for strong and intelligent women like Mrs Aggie, and forget that most of us are neither that bright or that brave! Remember that at the time (and many years after!) the measure of a woman success was her husband… try to image what happen if you divorce one that was by all accounts successful!?! You\’d be making a travesty of the laws of the land! You\’d be as good as the little tart that\’s trying to steal your husband… no more salvation-army-tea-parties (or whatever those were called) for you… NO, Sir! In contrast, divorcing the old hag was an option for filthy rich husbands! Maybe that\’s why this less-than-Victorian-wife decided to go on offensive mode and target the vampire\’s pocket (where it hurts the most)!…
    I believe that the judges involved got this better than all of us… and with the laws available at the time… made the weirdest of deliberations! I do agree that the most striking feature in this story is the \’legal wrapper\’ that binds this love triangle (lack of a better word)… Thank you!!! Never get tired of sharing!!!

    • Pat,

      You’ve made some powerful points and you have got me rethinking my assessment of
      Mrs. Munro. When writing about her I failed to remove my 21st Century glasses. Thank
      you for reminding me that context is crucial!



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