intensifies both good and bad emotions,
strengthening bonds and deepening chasms in
relationships. For the husbands of the Kavanaugh sisters it would be the latter.
September 1905, two years after the fire, a case
made it to the 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.
to bank policy, the manager should have restricted box access to a
court-appointed administrator, who had a
password with which to identify himself. The
bank marked the box to alert bank personnel that
special access restrictions were in effect.
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 was fabricating in his
but admitted going to the bank and
attempting 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 admitted they had fired the on-duty manager for drunkenness a year
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 allegedly written by Patrick O'Donnell to Ella Cantwell for $9,000 (or $18,000 – reports
varied) and Ella's will reportedly bequeathed $20,000 in
unidentified property to a "poor" sister of Ella and Louise.
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. $18,000 in 1904 would be nearly a half-million
dollars today, thus a tempting sum for even a
wealthy man like O'Donnell.
seems possible 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 Ella and Louise to keep the men's 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 scenario 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 $18,000
to Ella's estate.
was unable to learn how Ella Cantwell came to have
such a large sum to loan her brother-in-law.
Ella and Louise's sister,
Emma Kavanaugh Riordan, heir to the $20k,
anticipated an attempt to pilfer the box and warned
the bank that it should only permit a
court-appointed agent to open it.