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Secret of the White Rose

Secret Of The White Rose


Monday, October 22, 1906. 3 p.m.

Judge Hugo Jackson was on edge—and had been, ever since the trial began.

He was not alone. From the financial magnates of Wall Street to ordinary shop workers at Macy's, bond brokers at Banker's Trust to grocery clerks at Wehman's: everyone was unnerved by People vs. Drayson.

The difference, of course, was that Jackson was the presiding judge.

He felt nothing but revulsion for Drayson, who neither by word nor sign had shown any remorse for the lives he had taken. But this defendant would get a fair trial. It was the judge's sworn duty, after all. Not to mention the fact that he didn't want to give Drayson grounds for appeal.

Still, he remained unsettled.

Maybe it was Drayson himself—for it was disconcerting the way the defendant with the overgrown hair and beard sat mutely, staring at the judge day after day from behind thick wire-rimmed glasses. That sensation of being watched stayed with him for hours after he left the courtroom—though every time he turned to look behind him, no one was there. His wife would say he was growing dotty in his old age.

All around him, crowds of people anxious for the latest news grabbed their copies of the World, the Tribune and the Times straight out of newsboys' hands before the ink was dry. They would read the details of how the defense had rested. Jury deliberations would begin tomorrow, and Drayson's fate would be determined. Outraged by his crime, the public condemned the man as a monster and waited with trepidation for the guilty verdict that was sure to come. The verdict that must come if any justice was to be had in this world.

At least, that was how most people felt. But as the judge knew too well, there were others. Even Drayson had his supporters.

. . . . .

When the judge arrived at his staid red-brick townhouse at 3 Gramercy Park West nearly half an hour later, he found his mail neatly stacked in a pile on a silver tray atop the entry hall table. He shuffled through the letters, pausing at one.

Not again.

He tore it open and glanced at its contents. Instinctively, he reached to loosen his necktie, which seemed to have constricted around his neck. He took a deep breath to steady himself. Then, without a word to his wife, he stuffed the entire stack of letters into his overcoat pocket, grabbed the large iron key that always hung by his front door, and crossed the street to the locked wrought-iron gate leading to the park—for only owners of those homes opposite the park had access to the small private oasis at the foot of Lexington Avenue.

His hands trembled as he lifted the key and turned the lock.

Cursing his raw nerves, he shut the gate behind him, and for just a moment he felt he had closed out all worldly evils. This was his private Eden: a place of peace and beauty. He walked the length of the park, past nannies pushing prams and gentlemen reading newspapers on the benches that lined manicured walking paths.

Finally, he chose his favorite bench, one near the stone fountain at the western entrance. Its gurgling waters soothed his raw nerves, and he breathed more easily. His composure restored by the calm of the park, he brought himself to review the rest of his mail.

It had to be done. Eden had never been immune to the presence of evil.

This afternoon's delivery had brought even more hateful, threatening letters. The first two he opened were filled with angry accusations that he was too sympathetic towards Drayson. Yet another proclaimed Drayson to be a martyr to the cause and threatened the judge's life.

He sighed, knowing he would have to call in the police. Again.

Why did everyone attempt to influence him with regard to this trial?

Drayson was a self-declared anarchist, but that fact alone was not responsible for the way New York City's population was captivated by the events in his courtroom.

No, Al Drayson was different.

At precisely four o'clock on the third Saturday of June, he allegedly planted a dynamite bomb in a horse-drawn cab. His target had been none other than Andrew Carnegie, a wedding guest at the stately brick and stone townhouse at 115 East 47th Street. Yet from the outset, Drayson's plan was badly conceived. Carnegie was a poor target—for however angry Drayson may have been about the treatment of workers at Carnegie's U.S. Steel, the tycoon himself was now largely viewed as a philanthropist. He had vowed to give away his vast fortune before he died, and his endowments to Carnegie Hall and the Hero Fund suggested he was serious.

"I acted for the good working people." Since his arrest, Drayson had uttered those seven words and nothing more.

But five innocents had died when his bomb exploded: the wagon burst apart in a conflagration of fire, wood, and nails, causing glass windows to shatter and bricks to crumble. While a number of wedding guests suffered abrasions and cuts, Drayson's weapon wrought its most horrifying devastation on the street.

A dynamite bomb is an instrument of death both indiscriminate and savage; mere words cannot convey the carnage it creates. In just a moment's time, it transformed a pleasant June afternoon into a scene that more properly belonged on a battlefield, so great was the destruction of life and limb. The wagon's horse lay dead in the gutter, his hindquarters blown off by the blast; a woman was slumped against the townhouse stoop, both of her arms gone; and a man with seared flesh sprawled awkwardly on the sidewalk. Drayson had wanted to champion his cause by striking a blow to the capitalist system, but by killing innocent people with ordinary lives, he was forever damned in the court of public opinion.

Then, of course, there was the child.

The four-year-old boy had been walking home from church with his grandfather when the dynamite exploded. One of his shoes had been propelled onto a second floor window ledge by the force of the explosion. It was the only intact reminder of the boy, and its image—a solitary child's shoe, made of black leather and buttons, sitting forlorn on that ledge—served as a poignant reminder of what was lost that day. It circulated in all the major papers and entered the public consciousness in a way more graphic photographs never could, had they even been permitted to run.

And so Drayson, the man who wanted to be celebrated as a revolutionary, instead was reviled as the worst kind of common criminal: a child-killer.

For that reason, the spectacle outside the courthouse had for weeks been nothing short of a circus. Many wanted to see Al Drayson convicted, and they came every day—often carrying photographs of the victims. Some even carried newspaper clippings that pictured the child's shoe. And the anarchists came too, including the notorious Emma Goldman. Drayson had made mistakes, she argued, but the general goals of the anarchist movement remained sound. She succeeded in riling the crowds—sympathizers and detractors alike—with her incendiary speech.

The judge was being scrupulously careful in the Drayson matter, which only made the threatening letters that much harder to swallow. He was tired of the shenanigans that tested his courtroom authority, and the politicizing of this trial—by all sides—strained his patience.

The judge gathered his mail and returned home from the park, barely taking time to hang his overcoat before retreating to the library.

He reached for the telephone. He needed to make two calls.

The first was to a man he had known and trusted for years.

"I received another letter."

"Like the others?"


"Well, then. It is as we expected." The voice on the other end of the wire was tired.

"What should I do?" the judge asked.

"The same as before. Just decode the message and follow the instructions."

"This cannot continue," the judge said, his voice shaking. "We must figure out who learned our code. It's been years since—"


They were silent for some moments. Then the voice continued in calmer tones. "We'll figure out a way to stop it. But right now, just do as you're told."

There was no choice, so he would—for now.

He placed the black telephone ear-piece onto its candlestick base. Almost immediately, he picked it up again and gave the operator the number for New York City Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham. As he waited for the connection to be made, he resolved to be careful.

Prudent—and always careful.

© Stefanie Pintoff