In the late summer of 1889, a scandal rocked New York society. Details were contradictory, but the eventual gist was that New York State Assemblyman Robert Ray Hamilton (great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton) had been seeing Miss Eva Steele — aka Eva Parsons, aka Eva Brill, aka Eva Mann — for two years when, in 1888, she told him she was expecting. After months in seclusion, she introduced him to his daughter, and Hamilton did the honorable thing and married her.
Eight months later she was charged with attempted murder of the baby’s nurse.
The story tumbled out. Eva Steele was really an “adventuress” named Eva Mann, as it appears she was already married to Joshua Mann. She’d carried on with both men for years, then convinced Robert Ray Hamilton that she was carrying his child.
To carry out her ruse, she apparently purchased a child, who died. So she bought another, who also died. She bought a third, but that baby didn’t look enough like the first one, so she sent him back. She then bought a fourth child, and passed this off as her’s and Hamilton’s.
She supported Joshua Mann with her “pin money” of $6,000/year, a full third of her husband’s income. In August of 1889, after just eight months of marriage, Hamilton tried to cut some of her pin money. The couple quarreled, and the child’s nurse intervened. Eva Hamilton fired the nurse, who then got drunk and came back to tell Hamilton the truth about Eva and Mann.
A fistfight broke out between the two women, and Eva was apparently badly beaten. Eva then snatched up a dagger and stabbed the nurse in the abdomen.
Eva was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Before the trial the story about the baby (babies) came out, and her husband abandoned his defense of her. The nurse survived, so the charge became Aggravated Assault and Battery. Eva pled self-defense, but ended up convicted, with a maximum sentence of ten years. Given the fight, however, the judge sentenced her to two. The verdict was unpopular, partly thanks to the coverage of The New York World — Nellie Bly’s newspaper.
The following year, Hamilton was in process of annulling his marriage to his incarcerated wife when he mysteriously drowned in Snake River in Wyoming. This led to long legal court fights with Eva, who used the fact that the annulment had never been completed to extract a settlement of $10,000 from the Hamilton family just to make her go away.
By this time Eva had been released early from prison. She took to the stage, re-enacting her story for people’s entertainment. Her victim, the nurse, took up life in a freak show, displaying her scar from Eva’s dagger for money.
Meanwhile the Hamilton family disavowed the memory of Robert Ray, even to the point of opposing a memorial fountain in the district he had ably represented before his fall from grace. They wanted to erase him as if he had never existed. All because he had loved “not wisely, but too well.”
The strangest part of this whole story by far is this line from the New York Times article quoting the annulment complaint:
In the complaint, which is verified by Mr. Hamilton, it is stated that the marriage of Robert Ray Hamilton to Evangeline L. Steele was performed by the Rev. Edson W. Burr of Paterson, N.J., on Jan 7, 1889.
A Hamilton got into a scandal over a woman, and it was a Burr that married them. Truth is far stranger than fiction.
In researching my next Nellie Bly novel, I’ve done a deep dive into this scandal. Here is the first of several articles unfolding this salacious tale from long ago.
The New York World — Tuesday, August 27, 1889
FALSE TO HER MARRIAGE VOWS, MRS. R.R. HAMILTON, STABS HER CHILD’S NURSE.
SHE IS DETECTED IN A LIASON.
A Terrible Social Tragedy in an Atlantic City Cottage.
Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Under Arrest — An Adroit Thief Enters the Room of the Tragedy and Carries Off $2,000 Worth of Diamonds — Story of a Marriage with a Disreputable Woman — The Nurse Hopelessly Cut.
[Special to The World]
Atlantic City, N.J., Aug. 26. — As the guests were seating themselves about the dining tables at the fashionable Noll cottage, on Tennessee avenue, at noon to-day, the cries of a woman and the smashing of furniture on the second floor threw them into a panic and attracted a large crowd of excited men and women about the building. The noise came from the private apartments of a couple known in the house as Mr. and Mrs. Robert R. Hamilton, of New York City. A waiter hurried upstairs and, kicking in the door, discovered a fine-looking middle-aged man struggling desperately, in the centre of the apartments, to overpower a wild-eyed blonde woman, who was striking out in all directions with a blood-stained dagger. Another woman lay upon the floor of the handsomely furnished room in a pool of blood; and on a bed near by the crowed a six months’ old infant, much diverted by the excitement.
The Parties to the Tragedy.
The man was cool and resolute. He was Mr. “Hamilton.” The desperate, hysterical woman was his wife and the infant was their only child. The wounded woman, who lay writhing in agony on the carpet, suffering from a horrible knife-thrust in her abdomen, from which the intestines protruded, was Mary Donnelly, a New York nurse who has been with the child since its birth. She is hopelessly wounded, though alive at midnight to-night.
A Wicked Woman’s Curse.
A jealous quarrel led up to the awful tragedy. Joshua Mann, of №111 West Fifteenth street, New York, an old lover of Mrs. Hamilton, had been following her all Summer wherever she and her husband travelled. Mr. Hamilton did not know the man, did not suspect that the lover’s mother was the keeper of a disreputable house in New York, and that Mann’s relations with his wife had been of the most intimate character. He ahs been seen driving with her, they have been known to stop at road-houses together to get drinks, and last night the wife and her lover met in a beer garden, where they passed some time together.
They Are Discovered.
Mr. Hamilton was ignorant of the liaison, but yesterday he met Mann face to face and recognized his as a countenance he had seen in every city and fashionable resort visited since his marriage. He had the man watched under the impression that he was a thief following his movements to steal Mrs. Hamilton’s jewels. Last night the realities of his position dawned upon him. Mr. Mann had grafted a neat pair of horns upon the husband’s head; he completely possessed the wife’s love. Mr. Hamilton passed a sleepless night, but said nothing. This forenoon, the wife and mother announced that she was going to New York for a visit, to return in a few days. It was then that the husband’s indignation overcame him, and, grasping the woman by the shoulder, he said:
“You are my wife, and you remain here. Let ‘Josh’ Mann take care of himself.”
After Adultery, Murder.
The name of her lover pronounced by her husband astounded Mrs. Hamilton. She became madly, viciously desperate. She ran to a bureau, snatched up a Mexican dagger and made a lunge at her husband. He grappled with her and pushed over a chair. The nurse, Mary Donnelly, hearing the noise, rushed into the room. The wife no sooner saw her than she dashed at her with the dagger raised, and hissed these words from between her gnashing teeth:
“You she devil. You are the cause of this. You have exposed me. You’ll never talk about me again.” (She) plunged the weapon into the poor girl’s abdomen, and felled her to the floor.
Mr. Hamilton and his wife are both in custody, and the excitement in this city to-night over the affair is intense.
An Honored Name.
The only Robert Ray Hamilton known to New Yorkers is he who was for eight years a member of the New York Legislature from the Murray Hill district, New York City, is a son of Gen. Schuyler Hamilton, one of the leaders of New York’s 400; a grandson of John C. Hamilton, author of a “Life of Alexander Hamilton,” and a great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury under Washington, who was killed in the duel with Aaron Burr. He is a member of the New York Bar, the possessor of an income of $18,000 a year, and was, until a few years ago, a prominent figure in society in the metropolis.
The story of his courtship and marriage is as romantic as the story of to-day’s tragedy is thrilling.
Hamilton is about thirty-seven years of age, and his wife about ten years younger, and a hopeless victim of the morphine habit. About two years ago they were clandestinely married in New York. Six months ago he took his wife to Southern California with the intention of locating permanently. Mary Donnelly, the nurse, accompanied them. He returned disgusted and stopped at Atlantic City two weeks ago. Here Mrs. Hamilton’s display of diamonds and magnificent costumes at once created a sensation, and the movements of the couple were noted with interest.
David Blixt is an author, actor, and fight director based in Chicago, where he’s allowed to co-exist with an awesome woman and a pair of really cool kids. His new book, WHAT GIRLS ARE GOOD FOR: A Novel of Nellie Bly, is available now on Amazon Kindle and print. Follow David on Twitter @David_Blixt, on Facebook here, and on his website at www.davidblixt.com. Sign up for David’s Mailing List here and get free books and more!