#47 Emile Voegtlin

Emil Thomas Voegtlin (1860-1909) — Boarding room and hotel thief

From Byrnes’ text:

DESCRIPTION. Twenty-six years old in 1886. Born in United States. Single. Scenic artist by trade. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight, 155 pounds. Brown hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion. Wears black mustache and side-whiskers. Has a very genteel appearance.

RECORD. Voegtlin, who branched out lately as a boarding-house and hotel thief, is the son of very respectable people in New York City. That he is a professional there is no doubt. He is a clever man, and his picture is well worth having, as he is not very well known outside of New York. He was arrested in New York City on April 23, 1882, for stealing jewelry at No. 7 Fifth Avenue, where he was boarding. On account of his family judgment was suspended, after he had pleaded guilty and promised to reform.

He was arrested again in New York City on December 12, 1883, charged by a Mrs. Josephine G. Valentine, a guest of the Irving House, corner Twelfth Street and Broadway, with stealing from her room there a diamond-studded locket and other jewelry. The scoundrel almost implicated an innocent girl, whom he was keeping company with, by giving her some of the stolen jewelry. Voegtlin was convicted of grand larceny in Part I of the Court of General Sessions, and sentenced to five years in State prison on January 8, 1884. Immediately after his sentence he was taken to Part II of the same court, and sentenced to one year on the old suspended sentence, making six years in all. His imprisonment will expire, if he earns his commutation, on March 7, 1888. Voegtlin’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1884.

In order to appreciate the crimes of Emil Voegtlin, consider the dynamics of the Voegtlin family.

In the years before motion pictures, the grand masters of the visual performing arts were the costume designers, set designers, and scenic artists. The premiere scenic artist working in America from the 1850s through the 1880s was Swiss-born William A. Voegtlin. Voegtlin often received headline billing equal to (and sometimes exceeding) the main actors of a production. He was sometimes hired to paint the interiors of opera houses and theaters, in addition to pieces used in specific productions. His works, combined with lighting effects, were masterpieces of deception, creating dramatic panoramic landscapes within the confines of a small stage.

In 1857, William Voegtlin married Bertha Fleischman in the town of Peru, Illinois. Over the next twenty-five years, they had nine children–but only two survived to adulthood: Emil, born in 1860; and Arthur, born in 1862.

By 1881, the family made their headquarters in a prosperous New York City boarding house. William was often on the road, but the young men sometimes joined him as assistants, and both learned their father’s craft.

In early 1882, Bertha, now 42, formed a relationship with a wealthy, married New York businessman, Carl Voegel. At about the same time as Bertha was beginning this affair, Arthur (19) played a cruel prank on Emil. Arthur arranged for the New York Dramatic Mirror print a notice that Emil (21) was engaged to a popular new actress, a beauty named Emma Carson. The notice forced the young actress to protest that it was not true. The Dramatic Mirror retracted the story.

A month later, in April 1882, Emil was arrested for perpetrating a series of thefts that had occurred in the boarding house. He plead guilty, and confessed that he had spent the proceeds of his robberies “in dissipation.” Thanks to the entreaties of his parents, his sentencing was suspended.

Later that autumn, Bertha ran away with Carl Voegel to San Francisco. They presented themselves as “Mr. and Mrs. Voegel,” though both were still legally married to others. In November, 1882, Bertha filed papers for divorce from William A. Voegtlin, claiming that he was cruel and intemperate. William A. Voegtlin visited California in March of 1883, working for theaters there. He was served with the divorce papers. In April, he filed a cross-suit accusing Bertha of adultery.

Emil Voegtlin spent the summer of 1883 at a Hudson Valley resort in Tarrytown, New York. He romanced a young teen girl, Julia Regna, and by summer’s end gave both her and others in town the impression that their engagement was imminent. Then he left abruptly.

Meanwhile, Bertha and her new man, Carl Voegel, went on a tour of Europe. However, at some point they split up. Bertha arrived back in New York alone and asked William to provide her with support. He agreed, providing that she lived with son Arthur. The arrangement lasted only a few weeks before Bertha tired of the treatment she received. She fled New York again–supposedly going to Mexico–and later sent William a letter indicating the divorce had gone through.

Emil, after fleeing Tarrytown, had returned to the family’s new rooms at the Irving House hotel. He began romancing a young, teen-aged Macy’s employee, Nellie Haight. Soon he was giving her jewelry, and once again it was assumed they would soon announce an engagement. However, it was discovered that Emil had stolen the pieces of jewelry from other hotel residents. He was tried and found guilty; combined with his earlier suspended sentence, he was sent to Sing Sing for a six-year sentence.

Meanwhile, Emil’s father William returned to California. Believing himself divorced, William began cohabiting with a young Los Angeles fashion designer,  Lizzie M. Richey. They were married in May, 1884. However, within a few months, Lizzie discovered letters written to William from his first wife Bertha, and consequently started bigamy proceedings against her husband. William countered with accusations that Lizzie was blackmailing him. Their dispute ran on for a year, until they agreed to separate.

William A. Voegtlin continued his career as a scenic artist until he died while working on a job in Boston, Massachusetts in May 1892. Where first wife Bertha went to after 1883 is unknown.

Emil was released from Sing Sing in 1888, whereupon he resumed his career as a scenic artist. He was arrested for larceny while traveling on a job in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He was sentenced to three years at the State Penitentiary in Jackson, Michigan.

After his release from Jackson, Emil once again pursued the vocation of scenic artist. Both he and his brother went on to have successful careers, although Arthur was much more in demand. Arthur Voegtlin designed many of the facades and interiors at Luna Park, the foremost amusement park of the early twentieth-century; and later moved to Hollywood, where his son had a career as an actor and director. Emil worked exclusively for the scenic artist firm responsible for productions at the New York Hippodrome. He spent his last ten years married to Katherine Foley.

Emil’s larcenous and romantic misadventures ended with his father’s death.

 

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