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The times dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) 1903-1914, May 10, 1914, Image 52

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85038615/1914-05-10/ed-1/seq-52/

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Two Nights a Coffin trap H
A Grand Guignol "Thriller"
in Real Life, This Unusual
and Uncomfortable Stratagem
by Which a Rich Swedish
Merchant Secured Divorce
from the Wife Who
Loved Another
Mrs. Karl Peterson, the Divorced Wife.
IT is not often that real life supplies tlio
peculiar sort of plot required in the
hnir-r.iising plays which liave made the
Theatre Grand Guignol, of Paris, famous
the world over. Yet a divorce case just
tried in Stockholm, Sweden, presented
evidence that shows a faithless wife and
her male accomplice to have figured in
scenes that could hardly he improved
upon at the Grand Guignol, where the es
sential stage "props" are coffins and
shrouds, bottles or vitriol and knives drip
ping with staye blood.
It is unfortunately true that wives are
occasionally faithless in actual life, as
well as upon the stage. And the same
applies' to husbands. Divorce court rec
ords revc;il many ingenious ruses where
by wives and husbands have secured evi
dence of the faithlessness of their wed
ded partners; but this appears to be the
first instanco of a husband accomplishing
such a feat T)y having himself pronounced
dead and placed in a coffin ready for
burial.
That is the feat that was successfully
performed by Karl Petersen, a well-to-do
citizen of the Swedish capital. Upon evi
dence thus obtained the court granted
him a divorce from the handsome woman
to whom he had been married barely a
year.
Owing to her beauty and many charm
ing accomplishments, Mrs. Petersen's for
mer suitors and admirers were not alto
gether discouraged by the fact of her
marriage to one of the wealthiest mer
chants of Stockholm. Several of them be
came frequent guests at the Petersen
home. One in particular?a certain dash
ing young society man named Swen Egs
trom?shortly became a recognized fam
ily friend of the type that, in this country
and England, is called "tame cat."
Several months ago Petersen became
suspicious that Egstrom was exceeding
his duties as bundle-carrier and general
utility man about the house. In fact., he
more than half believed that the bond
between his charming bride and Egstrom
was of a nature that was reflecting upon
his own honor. Petersen vainly en
deavored to prove or disprove his sus
picions, and then resolved upon spinning
the strangest web in which an erring
wife ever was entangled.
He feigned illness and made that an
excuse to go to his country house for a
lew days' re^t away from the business
and social whirl of the metropolis. He
was accompanied only by two or three
old and confidential servants.
The day after his arrival in the coun
try, Petersen took to his bed and quietly
summoned his confidential physician, to
whom he stated his suspicions and out
lined the details of his-'plap." The phy
sician's sympathies were with the hus
band.
"Kor a beginning." said Petersen, "I
want you to telegraph to my wife, 6aying
that ] am dying."
"T will do that. Villingly." said the
physician "And 1 will manage to make
you appear as dead as you are supposed
to be, when the time rorai-s. But I can't
see my way clear to signing any death
certificate."
"How long can you defer your official
Report of ni.v death?" inquired Petersen.
j"Will forty-eight hours he long enough?"
"Ample," said Petersen. "1 have rea
son to believe that within twenty-four
hours after you have pronounced me
?lead rov wife's paroxysms of grief will
have subsided sufficiently to allow her to
give me all the evidence 1 need." '
The physician sent the telegram in the
afternoon, and a few hours later received
Mrs. Petersen's answer that she would
take the f? rt train and reach her hus
bands bedside <>u the ne.\t afternoon.
Petersen's "illness" had an alarming
change for the worse at midnight. At
dawn the physician announced to the sor
rowing servant? that their master had
passed away. The butler alone was In the
conspiracy, for reasons that will become
obvious. Hut he was naturally melancholy
and. therefore, needed to add merely n
touch more of solemnity to his features.
Petersen being of spare build and en
tirely without color in face or hands. It
was a simple matter for the physician to
add the corpse-like chill and rigidity that
would deceive any ordinary beholder. He
n!.<.o undertook the "s.-tting" of a scene in
th?* library that would give the suspected
wife every opportunity to betray herself.
A handsome burial casket had'heen timed
to arrive before noon. This was placed
on trestles in the library within a yard
or two of a desk, on which was a tele
phone.
The physician took upon himself the
duties of undertaker. Aided by the un
deceived butler, he prepared Petersen's
corpse-like body for burial and placed u
in the casket. The coffin's cover wa.? in
two part". The lower two-thirds was
t ere wed down, the upper part being left
throwu V'cic-k on its lunges, so
that sorrowing relatives inigbt
view the features of the dead
merchant.
These preparations were com
plete some time before the ar
rival of Mrs. Petersen. She ar
rived from the railway station
iii an automobile?escorted by
the faithful Kgstrom. The phy
sician met them at the door.
"My poor, dear husband!"
said the wife. , "Do tell me that
he is better."
A housemaid, visible In the
hall, threw her apron over her
face and burst into tears.
"Calm yourself," said the physician.
"Your poor husband suffered very lit
tle"
"Oh, he's dead! My darling husband
is dead!" exclaimed Mrs. Petersen.
The grief of the housemaid told all.
Egstrom, the family friend, quietly ef
. faced himself, for the time being. The
physician conducted the sorrowing wife
into the library. He received her faint
ing form in his arms?for one glanoe at
the white face in the coffin assured her
that fainting was now in order. Then he
carried her to her room and delivered
her over to the ministrations of "the sin
cerely sorrowing housemaid.
Mrs. Petersen was too much overcome
to appear at dinner. The physician found
it convenient to remain for the night. It
gave him secret pleasure to dine with
Ugstrom and listen to that gentleman's
mournful acknowledgment of the late
Petersen's innumerable graces of mind
and heart
Mrs. Petersen did not leave her room
that night. Kgstrotn retired early to the
chamber allotted to him.
The butler busied himself in the kit
chen behind closed doors preparing a
nourishing broth that could be safely
taken by a dead man without bringing
any tint of life to his cheeks.
The physician watched beside the cof
fin. Toward midnight he was awakened
by a loud' yawn. For a moment, con
fused by drowsiness, he was startled at
the sight of Petersen sitting up in his
coffin and drumming Impatiently on Its
lit! with his lingers.
"Did she come?" asked Petersen, who,
in the interests of Hie conspiracy, had
lain all this time unconscious under the
influence of a drug.
"She came," said the physician. "When
she gazed on your dead face she fainted
?as I was there ready to catch her. We
took her to her room, and she hasn't left
it since. Egstrom was with her, of
course."
"Did the fellow stay?" asked the
"corpse," eagerly.
"lie did. We dined together and he
recalled all your excellent Qualities.''
"Good." said the corpse. "Now kindly
tell Ole^en to bring me that bowl of broth.
I'm famished?and it's my only dead
man's chance to eat."
Sitting up in his coffin, with the folded
lid for n table, Petersen consumed his
broth with evident relish.
"How about a bit of steak?" he inquired.
The physician promptly vetoed solid
food and advanced with his hypodermic
needle.
"Not yet." pleaded the corpse. "In fact,
I won't need any more of your dope.
There won't be any more attention paid to
me?not till 1 play my little joker."
"If you fall asleep naturally you may
snore," warned the physician.
"Naturally I won't fall asleep," said the
corpse. "From now on this is a wide
awake job."
"Nothing can happen for six or eight
hours yet," observed the doctor. ' You'd
better get some sleep while you can."
But Peterseu was restless in his narrow
quarters, and to get out to stretch his legs
and to get back in again would disarrange
the coffin's upholstery. So he suggested
a game of cribbage.
"I'll play you for the amount of your
bill," he said with a grim smile.
"Which bill? Doctor or undertaker?"
"Both, in their natural order," Petersen
came bark at the facetious physician.
So the doctor brought cards and crib
bage board, placed them on the folded cof
fin lid. and the game began. Tiie corpse
'?pegged" rapidly away from his opponent,
winning three straight games.
"That settles the doctor's bill," he said.
"Reach into that box on the desk and give
me a cigar."
They lighted cigars and proceeded with
the other half of the contest?best two out
of three. As the coming dawn rorealed
itself through the window the doctor
threw down his cards, beaten.
"And that disposes of the undertaker's
bill," remarked the corpse with much sat
isfaction.
Right here Olesen, the butler, entered
noiselessly and whispered:
"Mr. Egstrom is up, ready for break
fast. Mrs. Petersen has ordered her
breakfast in her room, sir."
The corpse bobbed down into Its coffin,
white hands folded across his breast. The
doctor threw himself into an easy chair,
puffing furiously on a fresh cigar to ac
count for the unfunereal atmosphere of
the room.
But these precautions proved unneces
sary. The Petersen ^country house being
isolated, there were no callerB. Mrs. Pet
ersen and Egstrom went out for a drive
immediately after breakfast. Mrs. Peter
sen was sure that the doctor would make
all arrangements. She was "too overcome
to be of any use." She and her "kind
escort" probably would not return until
evening.
The corpse spent a long day between
unsatisfying cat napB and bowls of most
inadequate broth. Egstrom and Mrs.
Petersen returned barely in time for din
ner, after which they retired to their re
spective rooms. The physician agreed
with the corpse that it might excite sus
picions if he remained any longer. So he
departed immediately after dinner.
"Good Lord!" sighed the corpse. "An
other night of it."
Rut he stuck to his resolution not to
risk anything by getting out of his cof
fin. During this long second night the
butler was his victim at cribbage. At
dawn the poor butler was as nearly dead
from lack of sleep as the corpse looked?
once more serenely stretched out in his
coffin awaiting developments.
Those developments came early?Imme
diately after breakfast, which Mrs. Peter
sen and Egstrom took together in the
small breakfast room adjoining the library.
Petersen could hear their cheerful conver
sation.
"Petersen sat up in his coffin. Mrs. Petersen and Egstrom, not two yards away, were
clasped in each other's arms."
After breakfast the.unsuspecting couple
entered the library, carefully closing the
door after them. They barely glanced at
the coffin, never once looking inside,
where Petersen lay with a most undeath
like flush of exasperation on his counte
nance.
Mrs. Petersen went directly to the tele
phone. Petersen heard her calling up one
of his most intimate business associates.
In tones that were so cheerful as to be
almost gay she announced the joyous fact
of her husband's death.
"The will leaves everything to me, you
know," telephoned Mrs. Petersen. "I shall
be rich?and you know what that means,
naughty boy!"
Petersen could hardly restrain himself.
It was lucky he did, for now he heard the
voice of Egstrom tenderly rebuking Mrs.
Petersen for holding out false hopes to the
"fool at tlie other end of the wire."
"La, la! Let me have my little joke
with the old reprobate." said Mrs. Peter
sen. "You know, Duckie, that I love no
one but you, and never have."
"You darling!"
These two words wero uttered In the
voice of Egstrom.
Petersen sat up in his coffin. Mrs.
Petersen nud Egstrom, not two yards
away, were damped in each other's arms.
At that instant the butler entered. The
exposure was complete, witness included.
"Caught!" thundered the corpse, with
bony finger pointed at the deceitful
couple.
Mrs. Petersen, beholding the fearsome
spectacle of her departed husband sitting
up in his coffin and so justly denouncing
her, fainted in dead earnest.
Egstrom was so scared that he let her
/all to the floor. Then he ran from the
room and clashed, hatless, from the house.
Petersen crawled out of the coffin.
Aided by the butler, he carried Mrs. Peter
sen to her room and sent for a physician?1
Tor truly she needed one.
When Petersen had regaled himself wlthi
a bath and a large steak with plenty o?
fried potatoes, he went back to the city
and started divoree proceedings.
The trial, which promptly freed Peter
sen, created a sensation. Kgsttom nearly
collapsed on the witness stand. He Is
eaid to be traveling abroad for his health.
The divorced Mrs. Petersen Is living in
strict retirement.
it Is reported that the shock of that
"Grand Guignol" scene showing her de
parted husband sitting up in his coffin tci
accuse her has transformed her from a
beauty into a nerve-racked old woman.
Our New Gun That Can Shoot 400 Mexicans a Minute-and Never Get Hot
HE machine sun is the most
deadly weapon ever invented.
* The United States Army pos
sesses the most deadly of nil ma
chine puns. It is called the Benet
Mercier gun.
The Renet-Mercier pun is capable
of killing 400 m<*n a minute. It
would kill 400.. Mexicans a minute
if they got in the way. The Mexi
cans also have some machine guns
hut they are of a very inferior type
to the American, and those half
civil l/.ed people are not capable of
keeping the tnorhanlam in good run
ning order as a bright, ingenious
American soldier would do.
A machine gun iB a device that
fires riflo bullets continuously and
automatically. All the soldipr has
to do is to pull a string or press a
lever and then the bullets fly out.
The man in control ran play the
stream of "biillt?t8 over a field just as
you scatter the jots of a watering
can over the garden. It is impos
sible for any man to remain alive
in an open space over which a ma
chine gun is playing its death rain.
The only imperfection in the ab
A Single Clip
of 30 Cartridges
Fired by the New
Guns in Less Than
Five Seconds.
solute dcadllness of the machine
gun was its liability to jam occa
sionally. That has been almost en
tirely overcome In the Benet-Mer
cler gun.
This gun -weighs only twenty-nine
sounds and needs no tripod like
the older machine guns. In an
emergency It might be rested on the
shoulder of one man and fired by
another. But under ordinary cir
cumstances the soldier who fires It
lies on his stomach ,on the ground,
holding the breech, while the muz
zle is upheld at the requisite eleva
tion by a pair of steel prongs.
Only two men are needed to
operate this marvellous weapon. One
aims it and pulls the trigger, while
the other replaces the spent clips ol
cartridges with fresh ones as fast
as they are used up. Two addi
tional men are required, however,
for bringing supplies of I he car
tridge-clips, cach one of which con
tains rifle cartridges with conical
bullets.
Theoretically, the gun is capable of
firing fiOO bullets a minute?that is
to say. at Ihe rate of ten a second.
Tn actual practice, however, it can
discharge only 100 per minute, be
cause some time is lost in replacing
the spent clips with fresh ones. But
?100 per minute means 24,000 man
k.'llng projectiles per hour?at which
rale the enlire population of greater
New York uiight. theoretically speak
ing. be wiped out by a single Benef
it e roller in a bailie over eight days of
twenty-four hours each.
The Benet-Mercler is ?n auto
matic gun. It is gas-operated. The
gas from each powder charge, fol
lowing tho bullet as it goes through
the barrel, passes through a hole,
in the bottom of the barrel Into the
chamber beneath the latter. Its ex
pansion in the chamber presses back
a piston with a coiled spring, the
recoil of which eicrts Ihe emntv cart
How One Man Can Manipulate the New Deadly Arm.
ridge case, feeds in a new cartridge,
ami fires il. Thus Hie process re
peating itself with almost ineonoeiv
able rapidity, tlio bullets are dis
charged in a continuous stream like
water from a hosp.
Nothing to compare ?with the Benet
Mercier lias been known up to the
present time. Vet the War Depart
ment does not consider it. beyond
improvement. As a matter of faet,
the perfect machine gun has not
yet been developed. All such weapons
give trouble now and then with
"jiims," due to stoppages of the me
chanism. Such jams my be caused
by heat caused by the enormous ac
tivity of the mechanism, by dirt, ac
cumulated from the tiring, by break
age of parts, duo to rapidity tire. or.
in other instances, to irregularities
in the cartridges. Once in a while
it. happens that the primer drop?
Ollt nf !1 rartplHlm inln *V>"
clogging the latter. These troubles
have either been eliminated or re
duced to a minimum In the Benet
Mercler gun. A sandstorm has been
known lo put a machine rlTle out
of commission temporally.
It is ingeniously cooled by the cir
culation of air around the barrel.
A machine gun is of necessity a
very ? complex pieoe of mechanism.
For portability, it must be made light
in weight, yet it lias to operate under
the most trying imaginable conditions,
enduring enormously high pressure
from the powder charges.
lSvcn now a competitive test is go
ing on at tilt* (iovernment arsenal
at Springfield, to see if any gun
can provo itself better Ihnn tlie Benet
Alercier. In tills conpetltion are en
tered two machine rifles from Eng
land, one from Denmark and two
from the United Stales. Our own
War Department would rather have
a foreign Run If it is superior fo
an American gun. We want the best
possible weapon. The Benet-Mercier
is made by a French company, though
Hcnet, one of the inventors, is an
American. Our government has se
cured the right lo mnnufaieture it at
Springfield; and the Colt Company,
at Hartford, is equipped for turning
it out.
Strange, 1 bought it may seem. the.
regular army of the I'nited States;
possesses no machine gun companies,'
simply for (he reason that they have]
not been authorized by Congress as
yet. With every regiment of infantry
or cavalry in the service, however,
is a so-called '.'machine gun platoon,'
consisting of twenty men detailed
from different companies. Each pla
toon comprises two "sections." Each
section has one mule, carrying ono
machine gun and 1,'JOO rounds of am
munition; also two additional mules.
Copyright, 1014, by the Star Company. Great Britain Rllsiits Ilcsorved.

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