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.

Clara Eunice Barker, Vampire

AP_Constitution_19AmendmentThe early 20th century was a tumultuous time — it was a collision of old and new technologies and it was also a period of great civil unrest. The role of women in the new millennium had yet to be defined and in 1919, when this story takes place, women in the U.S. were one year away from celebrating the Nineteenth Amendment which gave them the right to vote. Legally women were becoming the equal of men, socially they were still considered by many to be chattel.

During a time when a woman was unlikely to make her own living, let alone a fortune of her own, it is no wonder that the wife and the mistress of a wealthy man would square off in court to battle over money and property.

On March 2, 1919 the Los Angeles Times reported that Mrs. Grace Munro, wife of wealthy zinc manufacturer Charles W.S. Munro filed a “love suit” (alienation of affection) in the amount of $50,000 (equivalent to $673K in current dollars) against Miss Clara Eunice Barker, Charles’ mistress of five years.

Mrs. Munro’s suit alleged that her twenty-three year marriage to Charles had been a happy one until Clara entered their lives. Grace was so angry with Charles that she had even accused him of a statutory offense against Clara — a charge that would subsequently be dismissed at Grace’s request.

munro and daughterCops showed up on the doorstep of the home that Charles and Clara shared in Glendale and arrested him. Glendale society was shocked to discover that Clara and Charles were not actually cousins, which was how they’d introduced themselves. No one in Glendale had even aware that Charles had a wife and three daughters in Trenton, NJ.

Police wanted to speak with Clara too, but she couldn’t be found and Charles was silent as to her whereabouts — in fact he wasn’t talking at all except to flatly deny his wife’s charges.

Clara had fled to Salt Lake City, Utah as soon as she’d gotten word that Grace had filed a suit against her, but Grace had tracked her down and confronted her in a hotel lobby. Clara said that Grace had walked up to her and exclaimed: “So you are the vampire”.

theda bara

The original Vampire — Theda Bara

Grace wasn’t accusing Clara of being a blood sucking member of the undead — she was using the term to imply that Clara was a seductress, a femme fatale, a vamp(ire) of the type made famous by actress Theda Bara in the 1915 film A FOOL THERE WAS.

The Glendale home in which Clara and Charles had been living was in Clara’s name, and she wanted to keep it, along with the furnishings, an automobile, and any other trinkets that the zinc man had bestowed upon her. She decided to file her own suit.

clara eunice barker

Clara told reporters:

“I am fighting for my honor as well as my legal rights. I have been cruelly mistreated and imposed upon by the man in whom I had implicit faith, and I intend to test the justice of the courts.”

Barker had alleged that there was a conspiracy against her in which the suddenly reconciled Munros, and a few of their friends, had sought to deprive her of her property. In all, Clara demanded damages of $51,500 (equivalent to $693K in current dollars), of which $17,500 was for the Glendale property, $6000 for the furniture, $3000 for the car, and $25,000 for damage suffered by reason of the conspiracy and threats that she asserted where made against her.

According to Clara while she was staying in Salt Lake City she had not only been called a vampire, but she had been plagued by mysterious telephone calls, loud knocks on her bedroom door after midnight, and attempts by strangers to “force their acquaintance on her.” All of these incidents, Clara said, were part of a plan to harass and frighten her.

Grace Munro intended to fight the conspiracy charge and to vigorously pursue her $50K alienation suit against Clara. Grace said:

“I said she (Clara) is a vampire, and she is.”

Grace had claimed that she and Charles had been happily married for years before Clara entered their lives, but Grace had lied. Prior to his affair with Clara, Charles had been involved with his stenographer, Miss May Pierson, with whom he’d taken an auto trip. Apparently Grace had been aware of the liaison because she’d known the location of May’s apartment and had turned up on the doorstep with questions for the landlady. It seemed that Charles Munro had long possessed a wandering eye.

If Angelenos had been anticipating a lurid trial they were not going to be disappointed. Wife vs. Mistress was going to be a battle royal.

NEXT TIME: A vampire’s love letters and the wages of sin in Part 2 of Clara Eunice Barker, Vampire.