An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Ninety-Two

Above, Main Plaza with Bexar County Courthouse on right

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Ninety-One

Hedda Burgemeister, January 1918

The clapping as she made her way to the witness stand this morning surprised her.

She wonders how the spectators feel now. Now that Mr. Campbell ripped the covers off completely, revealing every detail of her life.

Question after question after question. He touched so many nerves, she scarcely managed to contain her sobs. And he is on her side.

How can anything remain for the District Attorney to ask? She cannot endure much more.

Mr. McAskill approaches her like a shark circling his next meal. “You said Otto Koehler telephoned you about some papers. What papers?”

No beating around the bush with the first dagger he hurls at her. “He gave me two notes before he left for Europe.”

“What were the dates of those notes?”

“I think May of 1914.”

“The exact dates, Miss Burgemeister. Tell the court the exact dates.”

“I cannot recall.”

“Why did Otto Koehler give you these notes?”

“He told me he wanted to provide for my welfare in case anything untoward were to happen to him.”

“Those notes. Did you try to collect those notes?”

“No.”

“You tried to collect those notes while Mister Koehler was still alive, didn’t you?”

“Well, yes.” Her voice is trembling. She cannot keep her thoughts straight. “I might have tried when I wanted to travel to Europe to find him. To make sure he was safe.”

“Did he give you other notes?”

“No, sir. Well, he did give me a check for $2,500.”

“Did you ever try to cash it?”

“Yes. I went to the Frost Bank. Mister Frost said he would not cash it because he didn’t know me. I would need to have someone he knew vouch for my identity. There was a jeweler nearby who had repaired a brooch for me. He identified me to Mister Frost’s satisfaction.”

“Did you ever try to cash the notes at the Frost Bank?”

“No, sir.” Is that the right answer? She cannot think clearly. “I did go to the West Texas Bank. I believe that’s the correct name of the bank. Mister McCaleb told me the notes were perfectly good but that he didn’t feel comfortable authorizing payment until Mister Koehler returned from Germany.”

“So you testified Mister Koehler supported you with $125 every month for groceries and anything you needed. Did he ever present you with any other large sums?”

“Yes, for that earlier trip to Europe. The one I spoke about when Mister Campbell questioned me. The one when we traveled aboard separate ships. He gave me a check for $2,000 to cover the trip, hotel bills, food, railroad fare.”

“When Otto Koehler died, how much money did you have in your bank account?”

“I had close to $5,000.”

“And you managed to save that large sum out of your living allowance from Mister Koehler?”

“Yes, sir. I am frugal. And I was employed as a nurse sometimes when Mister Koehler was out of town.”

“Your relations with Mister Koehler, when did they begin?”

“After Emmy, Miss Dumpke, was married in St. Louis.”

“Didn’t you feel you were betraying your close friendship with Missus Daschel?”

“Emmy had moved on. I did what my heart told me.”

“So the man who at one point said he wanted to marry you grew restless. You said someone was interfering in your relationship, coming between you and him. What proof did you have of that?”

“Please, please, sir. Do not ask me that question. I don’t want to reveal her name in public. But I’ll tell you if I must.”

“No, no. There’s no need for that. You hired a private detective, George Shoaf, to shadow Mister Koehler. Why did you feel it necessary to do that? Was it to see if he was being faithful to you?”

Hedda looks for guidance from her attorneys. “Must I tell?”

Mr. Chamber nods. “Go ahead and answer the question.”

“He came to my house one evening. He looked terrified. He acted like a madman. He ran around the parlor, throwing his arms up in the air. He was crying, ‘I am lost. I am lost.’ He said something like, ‘If he gives me away, he goes up to.’ He said his life was over. He would go to Galveston so his death would seem an accident. So that’s why I hired Mister Shoaf. I wanted the detective to watch Mister Koehler. To protect him from himself. To prevent him from committing suicide.”

“Did you tell this detective the reason?”

“Yes. I told him that Mister Koehler was in love with Missus Daschel. Since the woman he loved had married, he planned to commit suicide.”

“So Mister Koehler loved Missus Daschel, yet you hired a detective because you loved him and wanted to protect him?”

“I realized I had loved him for a long time. I tried to keep my love down deep inside, but it kept growing and growing. I sensed he was drawn to me as well.”

“And what did Missus Daschel think of this situation?”

“She said she felt sorry for me.”

“Now. Back to the notes. When did he give them to you?”

Mr. Campbell’s questions followed such a logical, almost chronological, order, but Mr. McAskill keeps skipping around. She never knows where the next dart will land. She already told him she does not know the exact date. What does he want from her?

“He gave me one for $10,000,” she blurts out, “but I tore it up because I was angry about his attitude when he gave it to me. He was so brusque. I think he must have had some trouble at the brewery that day.”

“Evidently you don’t care for money. How many other $10,000 notes have you torn up?”

“None. But the size didn’t matter. If it had read $100,000, I would’ve had the same reaction.”

“But yet, Miss Burgemeister, you picked that note back up pasted it together, didn’t you?”

“Yes. He was so angry with me that I picked it up and pasted it together in front of him.”

“The other note. When did he give you that one?”

“He gave me the first one a few days before.”

“How many notes did you ask him to give to you?”

“None. I never asked him for a single note. Nor for any money.”

“Back to the conversation you referenced when questioned by Mister Campbell. What exactly did you say when you asked Otto Koehler why he wanted to kill you?”

“I asked him, ‘Why do you want to do away with me?’ He shouted, ‘Because you are sick. You’re crazy.’”

“Several witnesses have testified that two guns were picked up at your house by the police. Where did they come from?”

“A friend of Mister Koehler’s, an insurance man, Mister Pandolfo, gave me a pistol for protection and made sure I knew how to use it while on a hunting trip. I kept that in the dining room. The other, a small automatic, Mister Koehler gave to me and insisted I keep in my dresser in case someone broke into the house at night.”

“The shooting. Walk us through exactly how that happened.”

“Missus Daschel heard his angry words and my scream as he started choking me. She screamed my name, and he dropped his grip. I ran for the pistol. I feared he had turned his anger on Missus Daschel.”

Her voice quivers uncontrollably as she struggles to continue. “I thought he had her. When I reentered the room, I saw instead he had the little pistol in his hand. He raised it toward me. I fired.”

“You said you believed Missus Daschel…”

“Please. Oh, please, Mister McAskill,” she pleads, sobbing. “Have mercy.”

“Certainly, Madame. I’m willing to adjourn to allow you to rest. You may return to your seat.” She feels faint as she starts to rise. Mr. McAskill rushes forward to assist her.

“Court is adjourned until nine o’clock tomorrow morning,” pronounces Judge Anderson.

~     ~     ~

“Isn’t it a fact that you shot Mister Koehler again while he was lying on the floor dead?”

“I don’t remember what happened then.”

“Didn’t you shoot again as neighbors began to arrive, when you heard footsteps on the porch?”

“I’m unsure what occurred next. I only had one thought thundering through my head. I wanted to die with him.”

“You had no trouble hitting your target, Otto Koehler, but the bullet you say you fired at yourself missed completely. Is that correct?”

“Yes. I must have flinched.”

“So you grabbed an ordinary table knife to try to slit your wrist. Did you really think that would work?”

“I was desperate to end my life. That was all that was at hand.”

“Miss Burgemeister, had you determined to kill Otto Koehler and yourself before he even arrived at your house?”

“No, sir. Absolutely not.”

“Did you send for Otto Koehler so you could kill him?”

“Oh, my God, no! No, sir.”

“The attorney, Missus Ramer, is finally in the courtroom. She prepared a codicil for your will when you met with her in the Gibbs Building, did she not?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you ask her to meet you at seven o’clock that evening?”

“No, sir.”

“Did you inform Missus Ramer that you had a business transaction with Mister Koehler?”

“No, sir. I was careful to never mention his name to her at all during our conversation.”

“Did you tell Missus Ramer you would telephone her at the Bismarck Café that night?”

“No, sir.”

“Did you request Missus Daschel or anyone else to telephone her?”

“No, sir. I gave no one such instructions.”

“Did you tell Missus Ramer about going over to the house on Santa Rosa Avenue where Otto Koehler originally proposed to meet you?”

“No, sir.”

“Did you tell her that Mister Koehler demanded you turn over every scrap of paper you had that bore his name?”

“No, sir.”

Mr. McAskill turns to the judge. “Your honor, that will be all.”

Mr. Campbell stands for rebuttal. “Miss Burgemeister, why isn’t Missus Daschel present in this courtroom?”

“I can’t find Emmy, Missus Daschel. I last saw her in New York. After I told her I was making arrangements to return to San Antonio to clear my name, she and her husband vanished. I sought for them but found their apartment empty. Thinking perhaps they moved back to St. Louis, I requested for Mister Watson and Mister Chambers to make every effort to locate her. Their investigators failed to find her.”

Addressing the court, Mr. Campbell says, “Your honor, as for the notes referenced repeatedly by Mister McAskill, they have been settled in full. Miss Burgemeister has no further claim against the Koehler estate.”

Hedda wishes she had said that.

Footnotes

Most of Hedda’s testimony is drawn directly from the accounts recorded in San Antonio’s newspapers. The Author skipped over her lengthy questioning by Tom Campbell because readers already have waded through ninety chapters seeking the motive for Hedda to fire her pistol at Otto Koehler.

Continue to Chapter Ninety-Three

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