The Lost Stradivarius
by Arthur Train
IN the year 1885 Jean Bott, a native
of Hesse Cassel, Germany, emigrated with his wife Matilda to
this country, bringing with him a celebrated violin known as
"The Duke of Cambridge Stradivarius," which he had
purchased in 1873 for about three thousand thalers--a sum
representing practically the savings of a lifetime. Bott had
been leader of a small orchestra in Saxe Meiningen as early
as 1860, and was well advanced in years before he determined
to seek his fortune in America. His wife was an elderly
woman and they had no offspring.
"This violin, my husband and myself made
up the family--I loved it like a child," she testified
at the trial.
So also did Bott, the old musician, love his
instrument, and no hand but his own was ever permitted to
lift it from its case or dust its darkly-glowing surface.
Whatever may have been its owner's genius, he
prospered little in the new world, and, although he labored
conscientiously at his profession, the year 1894 found him
still giving lessons upon the violin to only half a dozen
pupils, and living in two rooms at 355 West Thirty-first
Street. But Bott, having the soul of a true musician, cared
but little for money and was happy enough so long as he
could smoke his old meerschaum pipe and draw the bow across
the cherished violin held lovingly to his cheek. Then hard
times came a-knocking at the door. The meagre account in the
savings-bank grew smaller and smaller. The landlord, the
doctor and the grocer had to be paid. One night Bott laid
down his pipe and, taking his wife's wrinkled hand in his,
"Matilda, there is nothing else--we must
sell our violin!"
"Even so!" she answered, turning
away her face that her husband might not see the tears.
"As God wills."
The next day "The Duke of Cambridge
Stradivarius" was offered for sale by Victor S.
Flechter, a friend of Bott's, who was a dealer in musical
instruments at 23 Union Square. It so happened that
Nicolini, the husband of Adelina Patti, was ambitious to own
a genuine Stradivarius, and had been looking for one for a
long time, and, although be was but an indifferent player,
he had, in default of skill to perform, the money to buy.
The matter was easily adjusted by Flechter, and Nicolini
drew his check for the sum specified, which, properly
certified, was tendered to Bott. But Bott had never seen a
certified check and was unaccustomed to the ways of
"If I part with my violin I must have
real money--money that I can feel--money that I can count.
It was that kind of money that I paid for my violin,"
said he doggedly.
Nicolini, in a rage, believing himself
insulted, tore the check to bits and declared the
transaction at an end.
Now the price agreed upon for the violin had
been forty-five hundred dollars, of which Flechter was to
receive five hundred dollars as his commission, and when,
through old Professor Bott's stubbornness, the sale fell
through, the dealer was naturally very angry. Out of this
incident grew the case against Flechter.
The old musician was accustomed to leave his
treasured instrument in the lowest drawer of his bureau at
the boarding-house. He always removed it before his pupils
arrived and never put it back until their departure, thus
insuring the secrecy of its hiding-place, and only his wife,
his sister-in-law, Mollenhauer, a friend, and Klopton, a
prospective purchaser, knew where it lay.
On the morning of March 31, 1894, not long
after the Nicolini incident, Bott gave a single lesson to a
pupil at the boarding-house, and after his midday meal set
out with his wife for Hoboken to visit a friend. The violin
was left in its customary place. It was dark when they
returned, and after throwing off his coat and lighting the
gas the old man hastened to make sure that his precious
violin was safe. When he pulled out the drawer it was empty.
The Stradivarius was gone, with its leather case, its two
bows and its wooden box.
Half distracted the musician and his wife
searched everywhere in the room, in closets, under beds,
even behind the curtains, before they could bring themselves
to admit that the violin had in fact disappeared.
Frantically Bott called for Ellen, the servant girl. Yes,
there had been a caller--a young man with dark hair and a
small, dark mustache--at about five o'clock. He had waited
about half an hour and then had said that he guessed he
would go. She had not noticed that he took anything away
with him. In his despair the old man turned to his old
friend Flechter, and the next day the dealer came to express
his sympathy. He urged Bott to notify the police of the
theft, but the old man was prostrated with grief, and it was
the wife who, with Ellen Chancy, finally accompanied
Flechter to Police Headquarters. The police had no idea who
had taken the old fellow's fiddle, and did not particularly
care anyway. Later they cared a good deal.
Bott now began an endless and almost hopeless
search for his beloved instrument, visiting every place
where violins were sold, every pawnshop and second-hand
store again and again until the proprietors began to think
the old man must be crazy. Sometimes Flechter went with him.
Once, the two travelled all the way over to New Jersey, but
the scent proved to be a false one. Bott grew thinner and
older week by week, almost day by day. When the professor
did not feel equal to going outdoors Mrs. Bott went for him,
and on these occasions often called at Flechter's store to
report progress, ask his advice and secure his
One day during one of these visits in the
July following the loss of the violin Flechter handed Mrs.
Bott a sheet of paper, saying:
"I have written something down here. If
you have that printed and put a reward to it you will get
your violin back."
The wording, partly printed and partly
written in script, ran as follows:
VIOLIN LOST. $500
No questions asked for return
of instrument taken from residence of Jean Bott March 31,
1894, 355 W. 31st St. Absolute safety and secrecy
guaranteed. Victor S. Flechter, No. 21 Union Square, violin
maker and dealer.
Mrs. Bott thanked him and took the notice
away with her, but its publication had no result. The old
professor began to fail, he no longer had an instrument upon
which to teach his pupils, and those he could avail himself
of seemed harsh and discordant. He had no appetite, and even
found no solace in his pipe. Almost penniless they were
forced to give up their lodgings and move to Hoboken. Mrs.
Bott still kept up the search, but the professor could no
longer tramp the streets looking for his violin. He sat
silent in his room, slowly, surely, dying of a broken heart.
In course of time some one advised Mrs. Bott
to lay her case before the District Attorney, and
accordingly, during the summer, she visited the Criminal
Courts Building and told her story to Colonel Allen, one of
the assistants, who became greatly interested. The
overwrought old woman had begun to suspect everybody, and
even to accuse her husband's friend, Flechter, of a lack of
any real interest. She thought he ought to be able to find
the violin if he really made the effort. Allen began to take
notice. The sleuth in him pricked up its ears. Why, sure,
certainly, Flechter was the one man who knew what Bott's
violin was really worth--the one man who could sell it to
advantage--and he had been done out of five hundred dollars
by the old musician's stupidity. Allen thought he'd take a
look into the thing. Now, there lived in the same
boarding-house with Allen a friend of his named Harry P.
Durden, and to Durden Allen recounted the story of the lost
violin and voiced his suspicions of Flechter. Durden entered
enthusiastically into the case, volunteering to play the
part of an amateur detective. Accordingly Durden,
accompanied by a Central Office man named Baird, visited
Flechter's place of business and the two represented
themselves as connoisseurs in violins and anxious to procure
a genuine Strad. for a certain Mr. Wright in St. Paul.
Flechter expressed entire confidence in his ability to
procure one, and did almost succeed in purchasing for them
the so-called "Jupiter Strad."
All this took time, and at last, on April
28th, 1895, poor old Bott died in his boarding-house in
Hoboken. After the funeral the widow settled up her affairs,
changing her boarding place temporarily, and, having no ties
in this country, determined to return to end her days in the
Fatherland. On May 21st she wrote to Flechter, who had lost
all track of her, that her husband had died, that she had
moved to 306 River Street, Hoboken, and that she thought
seriously of going back to Germany. Two days later Flechter
wrote the following letter to the Central Office man, who
had given his name as Southan, an employe of the alleged Mr.
SOUTHAN, care of H. P. Durden.
Dear Sir: Write to inform you that I
have a genuine Strad. to offer you and would like to see you
at your earliest convenience.
Very respectfully yours,
When Allen saw this letter it seemed to him
absolutely to confirm his suspicions. Now that the only
person in the world who had been authoritatively able to
identify the "Duke of Cambridge" Stradivarius was
dead Flechter was offering one for sale.
Then occurred the strangest thing of all. On
May 28th, five days after Flechter's letter to Southan, Mrs.
Bott received the following extraordinary epistle. Like the
notice given her by Flechter in his office, it was partly
written in printed capitals and partly in script.
May 28, 1895.
BOTT, 306 River Street, Hoboken, N. J.
Dear Madam: I wish to inform you that
the violin taken from your house some time ago will be
returned if you are willing to abide by agreements that will
be made between you and I later on. It was my intention
first to dispose of it, but on account of its great value
and the danger it would place me in by offering for sale
being a violin maker and dealer and not being able to sell
with safety for such a large sum of money I concluded to
wait. I have now thought the matter over and come to the
conclusion that a little money is better than none and if
you are anxious for the return of the violin and willing to
pay a sum of money, small compared with the value of the
violin, I think we can make a deal. You can put a personal
in the New York Sun saying I am willing to give a sum of
money for the return of the violin. No questions asked. Mrs.
J. Bott. When I see your personal in the Sun I will let you
know how the exchange can be made.
This letter appeared to be written in a
somewhat similar hand to that which penned the offer of the
reward, which, according to Mrs. Bott, was Flechter's. By
this time the widow and Allen were in close communication.
The "Cave Dweller" letter, could it be shown to be
in Flechter's penmanship, seemed to fix the crime on the
Flechter's store is two flights up and looks
out into Union Square. Before the window hangs a large
gilded fiddle and the walls are decorated with pictures of
famous musicians. In the rear is a safe where the more
valuable instruments are kept; in the front sits Flechter
himself, a stoutish man of middle height, with white hair
and mustache. But on June 23, 1895, Flechter was out when
Durden and Baird called, and only his clerk and office-boy
were on hand. Durden wished, he said, to see the genuine
Strad. about which Mr. Flechter had written him. The boy
went to the safe and brought back a violin in a red silk
bag. Inside was inscribed:
"Antonius Stradivarius Cremonis fecit
Anno Domini 1725."
The figures 17 were printed and the 25
written in ink. Durden examined it for some fifteen minutes
and noted certain markings upon it.
On June 26th they called again, found
Flechter in and asked to see the violin. This time the
dealer took it himself from the safe, and, at their request,
carried it to 22 Gramercy Park, where Durden said he desired
some experts to pass upon its genuineness. On the way over
Flechter guaranteed it to be a genuine Strad., and said it
belonged to a retired merchant named Rossman, who would
expect to get four thousand dollars for it. He himself would
want five hundred dollars, and Durden should have five
hundred dollars, so that they must not take less than five
Once at Allen's boarding-house Flechter
played upon the violin for Durden and the supposed Southan,
and then the former asked to be allowed to take the
instrument to a rear room and show it to a friend. Here Mrs.
Bott, positively identified the violin as that of her
husband, clasping it to her bosom like a long-lost child.
This was enough for Durden, who gave the instrument back to
Flechter and caused his arrest as he was passing out of the
front gate. The insulted dealer stormed and raged, but the
Car of Juggernaut had started upon its course, and that
night Flechter was lodged in the city prison. Next morning
he was brought before Magistrate Flammer in the Jefferson
Market Police Court and the violin was taken out of its
case, which the police had sealed. At this, the first
hearing in this extraordinary case, Mrs. Bott, of course,
identified the violin positively as "The Duke of
Cambridge," and several other persons testified that,
in substance, it was Bott's celebrated violin. But for the
defendant a number of violin makers swore that it was not
the Bott violin at all, and more--that it was not even a
Stradivarius One of them, John J. Eller, to whom it will be
necessary to revert later, made oath that the violin was
his, stolen from him and brought to Flechter by the
thief. On this testimony the magistrate naturally decided
that the identity of the instrument had not been established
and ordered that Flechter be discharged and the violin
returned to him. Ordinarily that would have been the end of
the case, but Allen had his own private views as to the
guilt of the dealer and on August 28th the Grand Jury filed
an indictment against Flechter accusing him of feloniously
receiving stolen property--the violin--knowing it to have
Great was Flechter's anger and chagrin, but
he promptly gave bail and employed the ablest counsel he
Now began the second act of this tragedy of
errors. The case was called for trial with the People's
interests in the hands of James W. Osborne, just advancing
into the limelight as a resourceful and relentless
prosecutor. I say the People's case but perhaps
Allen's case would be a more fitting title. For the
defense Arthur W. Palmer held the fort, directing his fire
upon Osborne and losing no advantage inadvertently given
him. The noise of the conflict filled the court house and
drowned the uproar on Broadway. Nightly and each morning the
daily press gave columns to the proceedings. Every time the
judge coughed the important fact was given due prominence.
And every gibe of counsel carried behind it its insignia of
recognition--"[Laughter.]" It was one
of those first great battles in which the professional value
of compressed air as an explosive force and small pica type
as projectiles was demonstrated. It was a combat of wind and
lead--an endurance contest during which the jury slept
fitfully for three long weeks.
Two things, the prosecution claimed, proved
Flechter's guilt: first, the fact that the violin found in
his possession was "The Duke of Cambridge";
second, that the "Cave-Dweller" letter was in the
same handwriting as Flechter's notice of reward.
Of course the latter proposition carried with
it the necessity of proving in the first place that the
notice itself was in Flechter's penmanship. Flechter through
his counsel said it wasn't, and that he had never told Mrs
Bott that it was. He claimed that his brother-in-law, John
D. Abraham, had written it. Mrs. Bott, he alleged, was an
old lady and was mistaken in her testimony when she swore
that he had said, "I have written down something."
He had not said so. Mr. Abraham corroborated him. He had
written it himself sitting in an armchair, all but the words
"355 West Thirty-first Street," which had been put
in by a certain Mr. Jopling who had been present. Mr.
Jopling swore that that was so, too. But, on
cross-examination, it developed that Mr. Abraham had been
practicing making copies of the notice at the suggestion of
the lawyer for the defense, and, when Mr. Jopling took the
stand, he was called upon to explain an affidavit made by
him for Assistant District Attorney Allen, in which he
affirmed that he did not know who wrote the words
"355 West Thirty-first Street." His explanation
did not explain, and, anyhow, there did not seem to be any
particular reason why Abraham and Jopling should have
written Flechter's notice for him. Besides, even if Flechter
did not write it and Abraham did. it would still
remain almost as bad for Flechter if it was shown that
"Cave Dweller" was his own brother-in-law.
But Mrs. Bott was a woman who appealed
strongly to a jury's sympathies, and she was clear that
Flechter had said that he had written the notice. Moreover,
she recalled that the date had first been written May
and that Flechter had erased it and inserted March in
its place. A microscopic examination revealed the fact that
such an erasure had been made. When the smoke cleared the
credibility of the defense appeared badly damaged. But the
precise point was of little importance, after all. The great
question was: the identity of CAVE
DWELLER. On this point a number of
witnesses testified from a general knowledge of Flechter's
handwriting that the "Cave Dweller" letter was
his, and three well-known handwriting "experts"
(Dr. Persifor Frazer, Mr. Daniel T. Ames and Mr. David
Carvalho) swore that, in their opinion, the same hand had
written it that had penned the notice.
It is not unlikely that Flechter's fear of a
conviction led him to invite testimony in his behalf which
would not bear the test of careful scrutiny. Many an
innocent man has paid the penalty for uncommitted crime
because he has sought to bolster up his defense with
doubtful evidence without the incubus of which he would have
Naturally the chief point against Flechter,
if it could be established, was his actual possession of the
Bott Stradivarius when he was arrested. Upon this
proposition Mrs. Bott was absolutely positive beyond the
possibility of error. So were eight other witnesses for the
prosecution. Then the defense produced a violin alleged to
be the same one exhibited in the police court and brought by
Flechter to Durden's house, and asked Mrs. Bott and her
witnesses what they thought of it. Mrs. Bott could not
identify it, but she swore no less positively that it was an
entirely different violin from the one which she
had seen before the magistrate. Then Osborne hurled his bomb
over his enemy's parapet and cried loudly that a monstrous
wicked fraud had been perpetrated to thwart Justice--that
the defense had "faked" another violin and were
now trying to foist the bogus thing in evidence to deceive
the Court. Ten witnesses for the prosecution now
swore that the violin so produced was not the one
which Flechter had tried to sell Durden. Of course it would
have been comparatively easy to "fake" a violin,
just as Osborne claimed, and the case sheds some light upon
the possibilities of the "old violin" industry.
The star witness for the prosecution to prove
that the instrument produced in the police court was the
Bott violin was August M. Gemunder, and his testimony upon
the trial before Recorder Goff is worthy of careful
examination, since the jury considered it of great
importance in reaching a verdict, even requesting that it
should be re-read to them some hours after retiring to
deliberate. Gemunder testified, in substance, that he
belonged to a family which had been making violins for three
generations and had himself been making them for twenty
years, that he was familiar with Bott's Stradivarius, having
seen it three times, and that he firmly believed a large
part of the violin produced before the magistrate
was the missing Bott--certainly the back and
scroll. Moreover, he was able to describe the markings of
the Bott violin even to the label inside it. It should be
mentioned, however, that in the magistrate's court he had
been called only to describe the Bott violin and
not to identify the one produced as the Bott
itself. He further swore that the violin now offered by the
defense on the trial was not the one in evidence before the
magistrate, but was one which he had sold some years before
to one Charles Palm.
The defense, on the other hand, called among
its witnesses John P. Frederick, a violin maker, who
testified that he was familiar with the Bott Strad. and had
seen it in 1873 at Bott's house, Grenecher Castle, in
Germany; that he had repaired it in this country in 1885;
that the instrument in court was not a Strad. nor even a
good imitation of one, and, of course, was not the
"Duke of Cambridge," but that it was the
identical instrument produced before the magistrate, and one
which he recognized as having been sent him for repair by
Charles Palm in 1885.
Thus both sides agreed that the fiddle now
offered in evidence was a bogus Strad. once belonging to a
man named Palm, the only element of conflict being as to
whether or not the violin which Flechter had offered for
sale was the Palm instrument, or, in fact, Bott's famous
"Duke of Cambridge."
All this technical testimony about violins
and violin structure naturally bored the jury almost to
extinction, and even the bitter personal encounters of
counsel did not serve to relieve the dreariness of the
trial. One oasis of humor in this desert of dry evidence
gave them passing refreshment, when a picturesque witness
for the defense, an instrument maker named Franz Bruckner,
from South Germany, having been asked if the violin shown
him was a Strad., replied, with a grunt of disgust:
"Ach Himmel, nein!" Being then invited to describe
all the characteristics of genuine Stradivarius workmanship,
he tore his hair and, with an expression of utter
hopelessness upon his wrinkled face, exclaimed despairingly
to the interpreter:
"Doctor, if I gave you lessons in this
every day for three weeks you would know no more than you do
now!"--an answer which was probably true, and equally
so of the jury who were shouldered with the almost
impossible task of determining from this mass of conflicting
opinion just where the truth really lay.
The chief witness for the defense was John J.
Eller, who testified that he had been a musician for thirty
years and a collector of violins; that the violin in court
was the same one produced before the magistrate, and was not
Bott's, but his own; that he had first seen it in
the possession of Charles Palm in 1886 in his house in
Eighth Street and St. Mark's Place, New York City, had
borrowed it from Palm and played on it for two months in
Seabright, and had finally purchased it from Palm in 1891,
and continued to play in concerts upon it, until having been
loaned by him to a music teacher named Perotti, in
Twenty-third Street, it was stolen by the latter and sold to
It appeared that Eller had at once brought
suit against Flechter for the possession of the instrument,
which suit, he asserted, he was still pressing in the
courts, and he now declared that the violin was in exactly
the same condition in every respect as when produced in the
police court, although it had been changed in some respects
since it had been stolen. It had originally been made of
baked wood by one Dedier Nicholas (an instrument maker of
the first half of the nineteenth century), and stamped with
the maker's name, but this inscription was now covered by a
Stradivarius label. Eller scornfully pointed out that no
Strad. had ever been made of baked wood, and showed the jury
certain pegs used by no other maker than Nicholas, and
certain marks worn upon the instrument by his, the witness',
own playing. He also exhibited the check with which he had
paid for it.
In support of this evidence Charles Palm
himself was called by the defense and identified the violin
as one which he had bought some twelve years before for
fifteen or twenty dollars and later sold to Eller. Upon the
question of the identity of the instrument then lying before
the jury this evidence was conclusive, but, of course, it
did not satisfy the jury as to whether Flechter had tried to
sell the Palm violin or Bott's violin to Durden.
Unfortunately Eller's evidence threw a side light on the
defence without which the trial might well have resulted in
Eller had sworn that he was still vigorously
endeavoring to get the Palm violin back from Flechter. As
contradicting him in this respect, and as tending to show
that the suit had not only been compromised but that he and
Flechter were engaged in trying to put off the Palm violin
as a genuine Stradivarius and share the profit of the fraud,
the prosecution introduced the following letter from the
witness to his lawyer:
March 23, 1896.
Dear Counsellor: Received your letter
just now. I have been expecting Mr. Flechter's lawyer would
settle with you; he gave nine hundred dollars for the violin
and Mr. Meyer arranged with myself for the half, four
hundred and fifty dollars, which he proposed himself and
have been expecting a settlement on their part long ago. I
have assisted Mr. Palmer, his able lawyer, with the best of
my ability, and have covered Mr. Flechter's shortcomings of
faking the violin to a Strad.
Metropolitan Opera Co., Chicago, Ill.
From this letter it was fairly inferable
that although the defendant might be innocent of the
precise crime with which he was charged, he was,
nevertheless, upon his own evidence, guilty of having
"faked" a cheap Nicholas violin into a Strad., and
of having offered it for sale for the exorbitant price of
five thousand dollars. This luckless piece of evidence
undoubtedly influenced the jury to convict him.
It will be recalled that ten witnesses for
the prosecution had sworn that the violin offered in
evidence at the trial was not the one produced in
the police court, as against the defendant's five who
asserted that it was.
The testimony was all highly technical and
confusing, and the jury probably relied more upon their
general impressions of the credibility of the witnesses than
upon anything else. It is likely that most of the testimony,
on both sides, in regard to the identity of the violin was
honestly given, for the question was one upon which a
genuine divergence of opinion was easily possible.
Eller's letter from Chicago so affected the
jury that they disregarded his testimony and reverted to
that of August Gemunder, to whose evidence attention has
already been called, and who swore that it was "The
Duke of Cambridge" which Flechter had tried to sell to
Durden. Alas for the fallibility of even the most honest of
The case was ably argued by both sides, and
every phase of this curious tangle of evidence given its due
consideration. The defense very properly laid stress upon
the fact that it would have been a ridiculous performance
for Flechter to write the "Cave Dweller" letter
and state therein that he was "a violin dealer or
maker," thus pointing, unmistakably, to himself, and to
further state that for one in his position to dispose of it
would be difficult and dangerous. The only explanation for
the "Cave Dweller" letter which they could offer,
however, was that some one interested in procuring
Flechter's downfall had caused it to be sent for that
purpose. This might either be a business rival or some one
connected with the prosecution.
While Palmer was summing up for the defense
he noticed Assistant District Attorney Allen smiling and
dramatically turning upon him, he shouted: "This is no
laughing matter, Colonel Allen. It is a very serious matter
whether this man is to be allowed to-night to go home and
kiss his little ones, or whether he is to be cast into jail
because you used your brains to concoct a theory against
Another consideration, which seemed deserving
of weight, was that if Flechter did steal "The Duke of
Cambridge" it would have been a piece of incredible
folly and carelessness upon his part to leave it in such an
exposed place as the safe of his store, where it could be
found by the police or shown by the office-boy to any one
Yet the positive identification of August
Gemunder and the fatal disclosures of Eller, coupled with
the vehement insistence of the prosecution, led the jury to
resolve what doubt they had in the case against the
prisoner, and, after deliberating eight or ten hours and
being out all night, they returned a verdict of guilty.
Flechter broke down and declared bitterly that he was the
victim of a conspiracy upon the part of his enemies,
assisted by a too credulous prosecuting attorney. Everybody
admitted that it was an extraordinary case, but the press
was consistent in its clamor against Flechter, and opinion
generally was that he had been rightly convicted. On May
22nd he was sentenced to the penitentiary for twelve months,
but, after being incarcerated in the Tombs for three weeks,
he secured a certificate of reasonable doubt and a stay
until his conviction could be reviewed on appeal. Then he
gave bail and was released. But he had been in jail!
Flechter will never forget that! And, for the time being at
least, his reputation was gone, his family disgraced, and
his business ruined.
A calm reading of the record of the trial
suggests that the case abounded in doubts more or less
reasonable, and that the Court might well have taken it from
the jury on that account. But a printed page of questions
and answers carries with it no more than a suggestion of the
value of testimony the real significance of which lies in
the manner in which it is given, the tone of the voice and
the flash of the eye.
Once again Flechter sat at his desk in the
window behind the great gilded fiddle. To him, as to its
owner, the great Stradivarius had brought only sorrow. But
for him the world had no pity. Surely the strains of this
wonderful instrument must have had a "dying fall"
even when played by the loving hand of old Jean Bott.
At last, after several years, in 1899, the
case came up in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Flechter had been led to believe that his conviction would
undoubtedly be reversed and a new trial ordered, which would
be tantamount to an acquittal, for it was hardly likely in
such an event that a second trial would be considered
advisable upon the same evidence. But to his great
disappointment his conviction was sustained by a divided
court, in which only two of the five justices voted for a
new trial. Again Fortune had averted her face. If only one
more judge had thought the evidence insufficient! The great
gilded fiddle seemed to Flechter an omen of misfortune. Once
more he gave bail, this time in five thousand dollars, and
was set at liberty pending his appeal to the highest court
in the State. Once more he took his seat in his office and
tried to carry on his business.
But time had dragged on. People had forgotten
all about Flechter and the lost Stradivarius, and when his
conviction was affirmed little notice was taken of the fact.
It was generally assumed that having been sentenced he was
Then something happened which once more
dragged Flechter into the limelight. Editors rushed to their
files and dusted the cobwebs off the issues containing the
accounts of the trial. The sign of the gilded fiddle became
the daily centre of a throng of excited musicians, lawyers
and reporters. The lost Stradivarius--the great "Duke
of Cambridge"--the nemesis of Bott and of Flechter--was
found--by Flechter himself, as he claimed, on August 17,
1900. According to the dealer and his witnesses the amazing
discovery occurred in thiswise. A violin maker named Joseph
Farr, who at one time had worked for Flechter and had
testified in his behalf at the trial (to the effect that the
instrument produced in the police court was not
Bott's Stradivarius) saw by chance a very fine violin in the
possession of a family named Springer in Brooklyn, and
notified Flechter of the fact. The latter, who was always
ready to purchase choice violins, after vainly trying for a
long time to induce the Springers to bring it to New York,
called with Farr upon Mrs. Springer and asked to examine it.
To his utter astonishment she produced for his inspection
Bott's long-lost Stradivarius. Hardly able to control his
excitement Flechter immediately returned to New York and
reported the discovery to the police, who instantly began a
thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding its
The District Attorney's office and the
Detective Bureau were at first highly suspicious of this
opportune discovery on the part of a convicted felon of the
precise evidence necessary to clear him, but it was soon
demonstrated to their pretty general satisfaction that the
famous Stradivarius had in fact been pawned in the shop of
one Benjamin Fox on the very day and within an hour of the
theft, together with its case and two bows, for the
insignificant sum of four dollars. After the legal period of
redemption had expired it had been put up at auction and bid
in by the pawnbroker for a small advance over the sum for
which it had been pawned. It lay exposed for purchase on
Fox's shelf for some months, until, in December, 1895, a
tailor named James Dooly visited the shop to redeem a silver
watch. Being, at the same time, in funds, and able to
satisfy his taste as a virtuoso, he felt the need of and
bought a violin for ten dollars, but, Fox urging upon him
the desirability of getting a good one while he was about
it, was finally persuaded to purchase the Bott violin for
twenty dollars in its stead. Dooly took it home, played upon
it as the spirit moved, and whenever in need of ready money
brought it back to Fox as security, always redeeming it in
time to prevent its sale. One day, being at Mrs. Springer's,
where he was accustomed to purchase tailor trimmings, he
offered it to her for sale, and, as her son was taking
violin lessons, induced her to buy it for thirty dollars.
And in the house of the Springers it had quietly remained
ever since, while lawyers and prosecutors wrangled and
thundered and witnesses swore positively to the truth, the
whole truth and nothing but the truth, to prove that
Flechter stole the violin and tried to sell it to Durden.
On these facts, which did not seem to admit
of contradiction, Recorder Goff ordered an oral examination
of all the witnesses, the hearing of which, sandwiched in
between the current trials in his court, dragged along for
months, but which finally resulted in establishing to the
Court's satisfaction that the violin discovered in the
possession of the Springers was the genuine "Duke of
Cambridge," and that it could not have been in
Flechter's possession at the time he was arrested.
On July 7, 1902, eight years after Bott's
death and the arrest and indictment of Flechter for the
theft of the violin, a picturesque group assembled in the
General Sessions. There was Flechter and his lawyer, Mrs.
Springer and her son, the attorneys for the prosecution, and
lastly old Mrs. Bott. The seals of the case were broken and
the violin identified by the widow as that of her husband.
The Springers waived all claim to the violin, and the Court
dismissed the indictment against the defendant and ordered
the Stradivarius to be delivered to Mrs. Bott, with these
"Mrs. Bott, it affords very great
pleasure to the Court to give the violin to you. You have
suffered many years of sorrow and trouble in regard to
"Eight years," sighed the old lady,
clasping the violin in her arms.
"I wish you a great deal of pleasure in
its possession," continued the Recorder.
Thus ended, as a matter of record, the case
of The People against Flechter. For eight years the violin
dealer and his family had endured the agony of disgrace, he
had spent a fortune in his defense, and had nevertheless
been convicted of a crime of which he was at last proved
Yet, there are those who, when the case is
mentioned, shake their heads wisely, as if to say that the
whole story of the lost Stradivarius has never been told.