July 5, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The circumstances surrounding the attempt on J.P. Morgan’s life became more confusing as the identify of the shooter also came to be questioned:

CHARGE OF MURDER MAY BE ADDED TO MISDEEDS OF HOLT
Man Who Shot Morgan Believed To Be Eric Muenster Wanted For Murder
CHARGED WITH POISONING WIFE WITH ARSENIC
Holt Denies He Is Wanted – Relatives Not Sure of Identity

The paper reported the police as using what we now call “enhanced interrogation:”

At the county jail in Mineola Police commissioner Woods and Captain Tunney of the “anarchist squad” of the New York police were still sweating Holt today. They are not yet satisfied that he did not have an accomplice in his attack upon Morgan as well as in the bomb planting at the capitol. They also quizzed Holt as to reports that he is really Professor Erich Muenster, formerly of Chicago and Harvard universities, who fled after being charged with murder after his wife died of arsenic poisoning. The officers, however, have as yet been unable to verify these reports and the prisoner insists that his real name is Holt.

It would turn out that Holt was in fact one Eric Muenter. He was responsible for the bombing of the Senate wing of the capitol, of attempting to sabotage a ship carrying munitions to Britain and the attempt on the life of J.P. Morgan, all of this following his having murdered his wife in 1905. Here is is an account of his life as reported by the Harvard Crimson in 1942:

Muenter, Once German Teacher Here, Killed Wife, Shot Morgan, Sabotaged in World War 1

Aside from the short-lived flurry attending the quiet arrest of Karl Lange, Harvard so far in this war has produced no excitement like that caused by former German instructor Eric Muenter, who tried to stop World War 1 single-handed. The sensational career of this misguided patriot included poisoning his wife, shooting J.P. Morgan, trying to blow up the Capitol, and plotting to destroy giant munitions transports at sea.

Muenten, in 1906, was living the quiet life of a German instructor here. In best murder fiction tradition, he was harmless on the surface. He affected a scholarly stoop and a Van Dyke, and wore dingy, patched suits.

Poisoned His Wife

But this timid soul slowly killed his wife with arsenic, for reasons unknown, and skipped town when the police started to investigate the death. With his beard shaved, he looked very much like Goebbels, and very little like Muenter. He settled in Texas, took a college degree and the name “Frank Holt” and worked his way up the academic ladder till he was a professor of German at Cornell.

Then the war in Europe came, Muenter hated the slaughter, and developed a fixation that it would all end if our munitions manufacturers, like J.P. Morgan, would stop exporting to all Allies. Letters and arguments did not good, so Muenter decided on July 3, 1915 that action was necessary.

Sets Bomb In Senate

Buying a large amount of high explosives, he fashioned on ingenious time bomb whose action depended on acid eating through a cork, and took a train to Washington. His story was that he wanted only to wake the American people up to the damage which explosives like these were doing abroad. At any rate, after wandering unmolested through the empty Senate chambers with the
bomb in his arms, he set it down in the reception room where it would hurt no body. Then he went outside, waited for the explosion, and hopped a train out of town as soon as he heard the blast.

The explosion ripped the room apart and blew a watchman off his seat in a far end of the building. The story rated a tiny box on the front page of the New York Times, which attributed it vaguely to “gasses”.

Meanwhile, Muenter was on his way to Glen Cove, L.I. where Morgan lived. His plan was to hold Mrs. Morgan and her children captive till Morgan agreed to stop shipping munitions abroad. He forced his way in, but J.P. rushed at him, and Muenter shot him down. Servants subdued Muenter.

Morgan Recovered

The first three pages of the next morning’s Times were given over to the sensational bombing and shooting story. Morgan’s wounds were not serious and he soon recovered, while all New York churches sent up prayers for him.
But while Muenter was Captured, he was not through. The whole nation was on edge when police uncovered his plot, to blow up several munitions ships then at sea. But while no bombs were found on these vessels, the “Minnehaha” caught fire on the day designated by “Holt” and had to race madly for the nearest port to keep its cargo of cordite and high explosives from going sky-high.

Holt is Muenter

Back in the United States, meanwhile, colleagues had identified “Holt” as Muenter, the former Harvard professor. The newspapers had a field day with Morgan, the Capital, Harvard and Murder all in one story.

Muenter, exposed, tried to kill himself by cutting an artery with a metal strip ripped from an eraser cap. When this failed, he climbed a latticework of prison bars and dived head first to the concrete floor, dashing his skull to pieces.

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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