I will start with the Englishman arriving at the crime scene, demanding entrance to retrieve a large trunk belonging to him. The boarding house is in chaos, neighbors, police, the coroner, the maid, two bodies, one dead, one still alive, and a gun on the floor.
I'm curious about several things: first, who is the Englishman, just another boarder? Or a person of interest? Suspiciously coincidental timing. Then, there's the trunk he wants to take away with him. What does it contain? Innocent knick-knacks, extra clothes, souvenirs and gifts perhaps to bring back to his sister and elderly mother, or half-forgotten fiancee back in England? Does it contain books he reads slowly while travelling on trains and ships, chapters marked by love notes from another man's wife, he didn't intend for it to happen. She just was so blonde and young and lonely and he was far from his usual routine of work and family. Perhaps he had purchased a small painting from her husband, so as not to arouse suspicion. That would be carefully wrapped, maybe in muslin or heavy brown butcher paper, carefully folded and tied with cord. Preserved. Delicate.
Maybe there were photos he had taken of her or photos of the two of them together, circumspect but forbidden. Anyone looking at the photographs would see the feelings flittering between them---his face flushed, her eyes soft and happy; happier than she'd been in years. Maybe a little lipstick, her fingers brushing unseen lint off his lapel. Intimacy captured in black and white, yet somehow the blush of love showing.
Or perhaps there were just photos of New York landmarks, simple street scenes, pigeons in flight, images devoid of emotion yet heavy with the ache of having been there at that spot together. The outside of a dark restaurant. An alleyway. Nothing remarkable.
But he would have to destroy them, just as she had been. Alive one minute, gone the next. His views on the afterlife were vague, or like a lot of things in his relatively young life, he preferred not to dwell on them. Had it been a sin? And if it was, would she suffer more now for it or would he? In the soup of confusing sadness, fear, and anger, he wanted to shift the blame away from himself, away from her. The husband, older, more experienced in life, should have known how to handle the situation with decorum and grace. Yet, the Englishman felt an odd twinge of guilt blaming a crippled man whose wife he had happened to fall in love with and she with him. In such a short time and definitely not on purpose and in the husband's own house.
Already he was justifying his innocence. The husband was an artist, not a proper profession for a gentleman, plus he'd lost his ability to perform in many other ways, after an early stroke. But that was hardly the Englishman's fault. It wasn't her fault either. Looking at his reflection in the window as the constable talked, he rather liked what he saw. He was handsome and dressed well, walked tall. His face hadn't even begun to wrinkle, except around his eyes, when he laughed. She liked that. But she was dead. Her husband shot her, or that was one ripple of the rumors. Stella, gone. First lighting up his sky, then fading like a falling star in the dark night.
(based on two oil paintings, found on junk day, signed W. Hafner)
Artist Kills Wife, Is Wounded Himself, January 6, 1912, NYTimes archives
phone conversation with last living relative, a children's book author
NY Historical Society