How to get away with murder (and get rich doing it)

The Strange but True Story of William Darling Shepherd and McClintock's Millions

William D. Shepherd, from a 1925 courtroom drawing

On Christmas Eve of 1924, while the city of Chicago festooned itself in blue tinsel and silver bells and harried shoppers elbowed their way through department store crowds in search of last minute gifts, an entirely different scene was taking place at Oakwood Cemetery. The workmen, instead of singing Christmas carols and enjoying the warm glow of a fireplace lined with stockings, were busily engaged in cutting through the cement vault containing the heavy bronze casket which held the body of a young man named William Nelson McClintock.

McClintock had died three weeks earlier at the tender age of twenty-one, while his fiancee, a pretty, young school teacher named Isabelle Pope, waited with a marriage license. The "Millionaire Orphan", as McClintock was known, was pronounced dead by Coroner Oscar Wolff, who issued a death certificate stating that the young millionaire died from typhoid fever. He had bequeathed nearly all his estate, valued at approximately 2 million dollars, to a lawyer and chemist named William Shepherd, who had served as McClintock's legal guardian during McClintock's mysterious childhood. However, when the authorities learned of the fabled "Curse of McClintock's Millions", they suspected that the orphan millionaire's death may have been the result of foul play.

The Origins of the Curse

The story of the McClintock curse goes back to the 19th century, to a great mansion in England, which housed an amazing collection of art and priceless antiques. Oral tradition held that these riches had come in from the sea on ships from China, Africa and other exotic locales. These objets d'art were the property of a nobleman, and passed into the widow's hands after the nobleman's demise. The widow later married a country squire, William Hickling.

Hickling, however, was not a member of British nobility. That the wealthy widow had married a "commoner" caused a great sensation and, as a result, the couple packed their wealth and sailed to America, eventually settling in Ottawa, Illinois. The marriage didn't last long, unfortunately; Mrs. Hickling died shortly after settling with her new husband in Illinois. William Hickling, the country squire turned millionaire, married a seamstress named Sarah Gensler.

This, too, proved to be a short marriage. William Hickling died shortly after the ceremony and Sarah Gensler, largely because of her newfound wealth, established herself in Chicago society. Ms. Gensler eventually hired a personal secretary, William McClintock, who had come from LeMars, Iowa. In time, he became her husband. Once again death reared its ugly head and claimed the life of Sarah Gensler McClintock.

In 1902, William McClintock married a Miss Emma Nelson of Topeka, Kansas. Together they raised one son, William Nelson McClintock. This marks the first time in the history of the estate in which a blood heir existed-- an heir who would someday inherit a treasure trove of priceless art and antiques with origins on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

When "Billy" McClintock was still a young boy, death came knocking again; William McClintock was killed in an automobile accident. Sickened with grief, Emma died shortly thereafter, leaving Billy an orphan at the age of five. A five-year-old millionaire orphan, to be precise. Mr. and Mrs. William Darling Shepherd, relatives to the deceased, were named Billy's legal guardians.

Years went by and Billy McClintock came of age, falling deeply in love with Isabelle Pope, a school teacher from Wilmetto, Illinois. They were to be married, but then Billy fell ill. As the young woman waited with a marriage license at the door of Billy's sickroom, death entered the picture once again. William Nelson McClintock, the boy millionaire, was dead at the age of twenty-one, his death presumably the result of typhoid fever. Not long afterward, the McClintock's family physician, Oscar Olson, was found dead.

Isabelle Pope

A Fiendish Plot?

It is April of 1925. More than four months have passed since the body of Billy McClintock was exhumed and  re-examined for clues that could point to a possible murder. We now find one William D. Shepherd charged with the murder of his foster child, the "Millionaire Orphan" William Nelson McClintock.

To newspaper reporters, the trial of William Shepherd was a gift from the gods. It was like something snatched from a dime store mystery novel. Who better to kill the orphan millionaire than his legal guardian? After all, once Billy and Isabelle tied the knot, the McClintock fortune would be forever out of reach to William Darling Shepherd and his wife. And the fact that Shepherd was a chemist was just too damn perfect-- like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, it fit the coroner's opinion that Billy McClintock's room has been planted with typhoid germs.

The indictment against Shepherd followed in the wake of an astounding revelation, that Emma McClintock-- the orphan's mother-- died as a result of mercury poisoning. According to Coroner Wolff, who examined the corpse more than sixteen years after its burial, Emma's body contained enough mercury to kill two fully grown men. In his report, Wolff speculated that the poison had been administered between ten and fifteen days prior to her demise.

McClintock, the "Orphan Millionaire"

The corpse of Dr. Oscar Olson was also exhumed, and it was remembered that Oscar's brother, Harry, was the same municipal court judge who originally ordered the exhumation of Billy McClintock's corpse. It was also remembered that the last person to see Oscar Olson alive was William Darling Shepherd; Olson had died just a few hours after a visit from Shepherd. The coroner's inquest also uncovered many other interesting facts:

-That Shepherd was observed administering a drink to Emma McClintock before she died.

-That Shepherd had once had a partner in the drug store business in Salina, Kansas. That partner, too, died under mysterious circumstances.

-That Oscar Olson's corpse also revealed toxic amounts of mercury.

-That Shepherd had offered to buy typhoid germs from a man named Charles Faiman for $100,000. Faiman operated a school of science in Chicago.

-That the man who brought to cursed fortune from England to America, William Hickling, also died under mysterious circumstances.

This last bit of information was provided by an assistant state's attorney from Chicago, who revealed that a man named Anton Kircher claimed to have been a nurse in the Hickling home in the late 1870s. Kircher asserted that Hickling must have been around seventy-five at the time, and was sick and bed-ridden. Hickling had several angry discussions with his wife Sarah, the former seamstress, because Sarah had changed her husband's will in her own favor.

According to Kircher, Sarah told Hickling that she knew a man who could cure him of his chronic illness. Sarah called this doctor to the house, and the doctor gave Hickling some pills. Three days later he was dead, and the former seamstress was on her way to becoming a member of Chicago's upper crust.

The Trail of the Century

The murder trial of William Darling Shepherd began on May 18, 1925, in Chicago, with Judge Thomas J. Lynch presiding. The verdict would hinge on the testimony of Charles Faiman, who claimed that Shepherd offered him $100,000 for typhoid germs, along with instructions on how to propagate them. As anticipated, Faiman took the witness stand and testified that he gave Shepherd three test tubes filled with typhoid baccilli.
On June 27, William Darling Shepherd was found not guilty in the murder of William Nelson McClintock. As a result of the verdict, it was announced that the prosecution would not charge Shepherd with murder in the mercury poisoning death of Emma McClintock. "The verdict of not guilty is the only one the jury could have given honestly because the state did not present sufficient evidence," stated one of the jurors.

Cleared of all charges, Shepherd immediately turned his attention to the McClintock Millions. The contest over the estate began in probate court on July 1, 1925, with Shepherd pitted against ten McClintock relatives and Isabelle Pope, who claimed that Shepherd had, by fraud, prevented her from becoming the legal spouse of the Millionaire Orphan.

As fate would have it, William Darling Shepherd was awarded the McClintock fortune, although, to avoid future litigation, he settled with Miss Pope and agreed to share with her $355,000.

That's right. The man who, in all probability, committed four murders-- of Billy McClintock's mother, a former business partner, the McClintock family physician, and his own foster child-- walked away from justice with a vast fortune in his pocket.

And they say crime doesn't pay.