September, 1905, two years after the fire, a case
made it to probate court, brought by
Thomas Cantwell against his brother in law, Patrick
Cantwell accused O'Donnell of having sent one of his
sons to pilfer a key from Ella's purse in the hours
immediately after the Iroquois fire (while the purse
was held at the morgue or in the coroner's office --
reports varied). According to Thomas, Patrick
then went to the bank and removed documents from a
safety deposit box shared by Ella and Louise.
bank manager was supposed to restrict box access to
a court-appointed administrator to whom was given a
password with which to identify himself. The
box was marked so as to alert bank personnel of
special access restrictions.
Cantwell claimed that the bank manager intentionally
looked the other way for a short time, thereby
granting O'Donnell unsupervised access to the box.
Patrick said Cantwell's accusation was fabricated
but admitted that he had gone to the bank and
attempted to access the box. He claimed the
bank prevented him from doing so because he did not
know the password. If he testified as to his
reason for trying to access the box, it was not
reported in the newspaper.
bank claimed no knowledge of the situation but
admitted that the manager who had been on duty at that
time had been fired for drunkenness a year after the
suspected box pilfering.
Newspapers did not report whether the dismissed bank manager,
or another bank employee, testified as to whether O'Donnell had
unsupervised access to the box.
January, 1906, the judge ruled that since there was no proof the will or
promissory notes existed, O'Donnell could not be
missing promissory notes were written from Patrick O'Donnell
to Ella Cantwell for $9,000 (or $18,000 -- reports
varied) and Ella's will reportedly left $20,000 in
unidentified property to one of Ella and Louise's
sisters who was described as "poor."
Patrick was guilty of removing documents from the
box, he might have grabbed Ella's will to be on the
safe side, in case it made specific reference to the promissory
notes. O'Donnell was said to be a millionaire,
but $18,000 in 1904 would be nearly a half million
dollars today, thus a tempting sum.
seems possible that Thomas and Patrick may have had
a combative relationship prior to the deaths of
their wives, perhaps a by product of their mutual
past involvement in the brewing industry. If
so, without the sisters to keep the animosity in
check, conflict might have been inevitable.
the other hand, Cantwell and O'Donnell might have
concocted the deposit box caper as a mutually
beneficial solution. Cantwell's son, a
celebrated defense attorney, was certainly capable of
helping to craft a scheme that minimized the chance
of prosecution. The disappearance of the
will and promissory notes meant that Cantwell did
not have to cough up $20,000 from Ella's estate to
give the sister, and O'Donnell didn't have to pay
the $18,000 in promissory notes.
was unable to learn how Ella Cantwell came to have
such a large sum to loan her brother in law.
One guess is that it was an inheritance from their parents. As the oldest daughter, Ella
might have been charged with management of their
estate and might have viewed the loan to O'Donnell
as an investment. Were that the case,
bequeathing the promissory notes to her sister would
constitute final distribution of their parents
Pilfering the safety deposit box was obviously
anticipated by one of Ella and Louise's sisters from
Springfield, name unknown. She made the effort of
informing the bank that the box should only be
opened by a court-appointed agent, and followed
through to establish that restriction. She might or might not have
been the same sister who was slated to receive the
$20K inheritance from Ella, thus explaining hyper
vigilance in protecting Ella's will. At
the very least, the sister's actions demonstrate
that Ella and/or Louise told her about the box and
something of its contents, and something led the
sister to believe that someone with a key to the box
would try to misappropriate those contents.
She was right.