Saturday, September 5, 2015

Oh, Bennie!

Benjamin Franklin Appleton was born on the third of November, probably in 1890. The records found give a variety of years. Bennie himself most often gave the date of his birth as 3 November 1892. He was the youngest of seven children, and the only son of Thomas and Emma Barney Appleton.

When Bennie was 15 years old, he started working in the post office at Christopher, PA. The postmaster was a relative. On the 3rd of October 1906, Bennie was arrested on the charge of “opening registered letters and taking money from them.” The arrest was made by a US Marshall at the insistence of the postal inspector. Bennie was held pending a hearing.

Bennie’s case came to trial in Feb 1907 and the verdict came down on the 28th: “Not Guilty.” Judge Archibald ruled that the woman, who claimed $5 had been taken from a letter addressed to her, could not prove that there had actually been $25 in the envelope, since the only proof of that amount was a statement in the letter made by the person who sent it. Bennie was acquitted.

On 20 July 1909, at age 18, Bennie was married to Matilda Fitcher, but she used the alias “Mabel Jones.” There is no explanation for the alias. Maybe she just preferred to be called Mabel Jones. The 1910 census shows that Bennie and Mabel were living with his parents and his siblings. Pennsylvania law stated that both men and women must be 21 to marry. Bennie and Mabel were both under age, so their parents must have given permission for the marriage. However, it appears that both Bennie and Mabel fudged on their ages. The 1910 Census taken in April, 10 months after their marriage, shows that Bennie, at that time, was 17 and Mabel was 16. 

Or maybe they were just really bad at math.

The marriage of Bennie and Mabel didn’t last long. On the 3rd of November 1914, the newspaper reported that Benjamin Appleton had gotten a divorce in Delaware from Mabel Jones. The grounds were “desertion.” 

Poor Bennie.

The following week, however, Bennie, now age 24, married Edna Sorber, 23. One month later, on 10 Dec 1914, Bennie was in big trouble. He was arrested on the charge of forgery. His story was that his mother had died five weeks earlier, and he’d been married just six weeks. Besides that, he was unemployed. He told the court that he had been working for a local undertaker, but was laid off and needed money. He forged four checks, and on each of the checks he signed the name of a prominent businessman. The total amount of the forged checks added up to $70. Adjusted for inflation, it would be the equivalent of about $1656 today.

The next day, 14 Dec 1914, Bennie plead guilty to forgery.

Poor Edna, his bride of six weeks, was hysterical. She asked the Court to be lenient. The judge asked the police to furnish him with Bennie’s record. The police told the judge that all they knew was that he had trouble with his wife and that they had lived together until he got the divorce in Delaware.

On 13 Feb 1915, the day of Bennie’s sentencing, the judge asked Bennie how long he had been in Delaware. Bennie told him four months, which did not meet the residency requirements. Turns out Bennie had not gotten a divorce in Delaware at all. He admitted he had deceived the Court. 

Forgery and Bigamy!

Judge Strauss threw the book at Bennie. He was sentenced to a term of not less than 2 or more than 5 years in the Eastern State Penitentiary, a new state of the art maximum security prison in Philadelphia.

Edna immediately filed for divorce.

Some people just never learn. Bennie was out on parole after serving a two-year sentence. But in Sep 1917, he was back before Magistrate Masterson on three separate charges of forgery. He was on his way back to the Eastern State Penitentiary. He was paroled again in 1919, but by December he was wanted again for forgery, the theft of a horse, and various other crimes.

Unfortunately, the newspaper accounts end in 1922. However, that’s not the end of the story.

In 1925, Bennie married wife number 3, Catherine. In 1927, Bennie was working as a janitor in Hartford, Ct. Bennie and Catherine had three children: Margaret, who was born in Pennsylvania, Ben Jr., who was born in Massachusetts, and Doris, who was born in New Jersey. They are all listed in the 1940 census. At that time the family was living in New York City.

They moved around a lot.

By 1942, however, Bennie was no longer with his family. He was living in Hartford, Ct. Bennie registered for the WWII draft, and from that we can get a description of what he looked like: he was white, height 5’4″, weight 125 lbs., blue eyes, and blonde hair.

Two years later, the City Directory shows that Bennie was boarding in the home of a Mrs. Ada Vandling in Hartford while he worked for the NY, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. Later, Ada Vandling would be known as Ada Appleton, apparently married to Bennie. She passed away in 1958.

Bennie spent the rest of his life in Hartford and in retirement he worked as a watchman. After a long and very interesting life, he died on 6 Jan 1979 at the age of 88 years.

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