In Our Waters The Cinderella of Bell Island
The front door was locked. He knocked again. His wife looked at the windows. All of the shades were drawn. Kenneth Stanley Todd rapped again on the wooden door. The knock would have woken the dead but not on that day. Kenneth was concerned but not particularly alarmed. His father, though retired, remained involved in various business transactions and he may have been called away to attend to business. He was supposed to have met his son and daughter-in-law the previous evening at his other home in New Haven. When he failed to arrive, Kenneth and his wife motored to his summer home to see if everything was okay. Kenneth threw his hands up in the air. Putting his hat back on, he escorted his wife to their car and the sedan rumbled away heading to the mainland. In the rearview mirror, he saw his father’s summer home, the twenty-two room mansion of Mr. Arthur Todd, on the small island of Bell Island.
Mr. Arthur Todd has been born Mr. Arthur Sherman. At an early age he was adopted by Mr. John Todd, a man of considerable wealth, who upon his death bequeathed to his foster son a trust of a quarter of a million dollars and a mansion on Bell Island. Mr. Todd grew up to be considered a “shrewd” and highly successful businessman. Married three times, he had fathered three children. In 1928, one of his sons died leaving one son, Kenneth Stanley Todd and a daughter, Ms. Ethel Hames Merritt. There were several grandchildren. Deciding to retire, he sold off his limekiln, located in Redding, Connecticut. In the winters he would frequently travel to Bell Island and spend time in his summer mansion. During the summer months, he would relegate his living to his private quarters in the converted hay barn on the property and rent the mansion. Todd, an eccentric to his neighbors on Bell Island, had some odd “habits” including one time walking barefoot to Danbury, thirty-two miles away, executing handsprings on his front lawn, and carrying large amounts of cash on his person. While his neighbors referred to him as the “septuagenarian hermit” as he did not have any friends on the little island, short of one neighbor Mr. Emil Knorr, it was known he had other plans for friendship of a feminine kind. After the death of his third wife, despite his efforts, finding feminine companionship remained as elusive to him as he appeared reclusive to everyone else.
Todd’s son and daughter-in-law returned to their home and as they walked into the foyer the telephone rang. Todd immediately retired to the study to take the call. Judge Jonathan B. Stanford was inquiring as to the whereabouts of Todd’s father. Mr. Todd, the judge informed him, had not arrived at a meeting that morning in Danbury regarding the accounting and administration of his trust fund. Mr. Todd thanked Judge Stanford for the call and hung the phone on the cradle. He informed his wife that he would be immediately returning to Bell Island.
Where Arthur Todd’s body was found.
A dusty cloud stirred around the rear wheels of the sedan as he pulled the car into the driveway of the mansion. Swinging open the door, he leapt up the front steps and again knocked heavily on the door. There was still no response. He summoned the neighbor and they immediately called the authorities. When the uniformed officers arrived and after Todd offered an explanation of his concerns, the men broke down the front door of the mansion. The men called out for the elder Todd. There was no response. The men did though make an odd discovery.
In the living room, six chairs were pulled neatly around a small table. A deck of playing cards was stacked and ready for a game. Four glasses were next to two bottles of whiskey. One of the bottles contained only a wisp of its former contents. The other bottle remained full and untouched. The bottles stood as if silent sentinels of a small drinking soiree. Despite the four glasses, it appeared that only two had been toasted. But as the junior Todd and the police officers continued to inspect the home, the initial question of where Mr. Todd was remained unanswered. The questions would continue to mount.
A full inspection of the mansion was completed. Mr. Todd’s overnight bag, prepared with clothing and his pistol for his intended trip to his home in New Haven the previous night, was found untouched. The local authorities summoned the state troopers. A search of the grounds of the mansion and nearby terra firma was required. With additional manpower, the officers along with Mr. Todd, began searching the grounds and surrounding area. They would soon make some interesting discoveries.
As the early spring morning sun began to cast its light on the little island., The officers came across a battered felt hat. It was quickly identified as the hat of the elder Todd. Around the hat was a twisted mixture of footprints. One of the sets of footprints was the deep imprint of a man’s shoe. The other was the imprint of a pair of a woman’s high heels. Following the trail of shadowed imprints in the soft earth, they led the officers over a circuitous route through undergrowth and shrubbery. Something was spotted on the ground. The officer picked it up carefully. It was a wallet. It was identified, like the battered felt hat, as belonging to Mr. Todd. According to his son, the elder Todd always carried several thousand dollars in his wallet. The money was missing. The officers continued to follow the footprints. Suddenly, the water of the Long Island Sound lapped louder and louder. They had reached the edge of the property - a cliff jutting out over the water twelve feet below. Peering over the cliff, the answer to the whereabouts of Mr. Todd was finally answered.
The police officers made their way down to the rocky beach. Lying on the rocks was the body of Mr. Arthur Todd. While the mystery of his disappearance had been solved, the circumstances of how he ended up on the rocks, his lifeless body being lapped by the languid waters of the Long Island Sound, remained unknown.
While the police began to inspect the body, it appeared that he had been roughed up. The smell of alcohol was pungent. An impressive diamond ring was still lodged on one of his cold fingers and his expensive gold watch was found in the pocket of his jacket. While the officers cordoned off the scene for others to arrive and inspect, other officers maintained their hunt for the trail of footprints. The female high heel prints continued fifty feet further along the eddying waters before stopping. The faint tracks of an automobile’s tires were found. Then the trail went cold.
The investigators pondered what had Mr. Todd been doing the days leading up to his mysterious death. What details would the coroner be able to discover? Why would Mr. Todd indicate he was returning to his home in New Haven when instead he was making plans to host a game of cards and drinks on Bell Island? Investigators began outlining the man’s final days to try and piece together and try to identify who knew the final moments of his life. News of the wealthy businessman’s death resonated throughout the region and then nationally as details of his untimely and possibly nefarious end emerged in black inked columns of the newspapers.
The investigators, led by county Detective William Kearns and Lieutenant Leo Carroll, by Adam M. Grohman The Cinderella of Bell Island In Our Waters Where Arthur Todd’s body was found. began calling on members of the family for information. In addition, they informed the press that they were on the hunt for a woman who wore a size five and a half, B shoe. The other footprints, they confirmed, were identified as belonging to the deceased. While the flatfoots and gumshoes began their canvassing of the region for information, the Medical Examiner, William McMahon, indicated that Mr. Todd died as a result of drowning. Foul play though had not yet been ruled out as a determining factor in the death.
It was learned that Mr. Todd had returned from New York City by bus two days before his untimely death. He had engaged in a conversation with a woman on the bus. Both, the driver informed the investigators, had gotten off the bus in Norwalk.1 On a previous trip, an unknown man asked the bus driver for directions to the upper part of Bell Island. The section inquired about, the driver later learned, was where Mr. Todd’s mansion was located. Were the observations by chance or clues?
Then authorities learned that between the bus trip to Norwalk, Mr. Todd had taken a train to New York City where he had completed a deal worth five thousand dollars in the sale of unregistered stocks and bonds. Upon further investigation, the sale of the stocks and bonds revealed Mr. Todd’s alleged connection with an illicit alcohol operation that he had financed to establish a Norwalk-New Haven alcohol ring during the era of Prohibition. Before leaving New York City, he informed his son that he would meet him the next evening, Thursday. Upon his return to Norwalk on Thursday morning, he was witnessed purchasing ginger ale and alcohol. He passed by a police officer on traffic detail and slapped his chest commenting, “Never felt better in my life!” To a taxi-cab driver after his lunch, he remarked, “This Spring weather is getting into my blood.” After stopping off at a bank and not being able to locate the person he was looking for, he left the bank and, according to bank employees, got into a car occupied by three men. Who the three men were was not known. At some point, he returned to his mansion on Bell Island. United States Postman Andrew J. Soltes reported to the authorities that on Thursday afternoon, he had seen two men on the porch of the mansion speaking with Mr. Todd. The postman was too far away to hear the conversation and he was unable to identify them. Later that night, it was also confirmed that Mr. Todd had dined with his neighbor Emil Knorr and as he was leaving commented that he was expecting company that night. The more information that came forward, the more bizarre and muddied the investigation became.
On April 20th, investigators spoke with members of the Todd family including Kenneth Stanley Todd and his young bride, a “slim Italian girl with a Mona Lisa smile” Anna Gaudio Todd. They also questioned Ethel Hames Merritt, his daughter and her husband, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. Little information was ascertained from their several hours of questioning. All of them had solid alibis.
The theory of dinner and death or a “murder party” was dispelled by the investigators when two employees in a New Haven food store came forward and signed affidavits indicating that they had seen the elder Todd in their establishment at noon on Friday…hours after Mr. Todd’s son had reported his father missing to the police. Despite the inconsistency, Lieutenant Carroll explained that he and his team were still on the hunt for the woman in the high heels. “We need only one central clue to connect up the scattered pieces of this jig-saw puzzle that doesn’t quite fit.”
Lieutenant Martin Lengyal of the Norwalk Police Department was then able to dispel the rumors of the mystery woman on the bus when he informed the press that she had been identified as a member of the Bell Island community. The bus driver explained that he heard the woman say, when seeing Mr. Todd, “Are you here already?” The woman, her identity not fully explained in news reports, had inquired as to his arrival so early in the summer season. Lt. Lengyal and the other investigators were confident that the bus driver had mistakenly utilized information in the newspaper reports to obfuscate what was nothing more than a courteous exchange between two residents of the small community. To further dispel rumors, the identity of the two men seen by the postal employee was determined. They were both employees of a local furniture store. They had never set foot in the house.
On April 30th, 1934, two weeks after the death of Mr. Arthur Todd, the inquest and investigation into his demise was officially closed. The investigators announced that they had not found any evidence to prove the theorythat Mr. Todd had been murdered. According to the news reports, the police “believe he took his own life after carefully setting up circumstantial evidence indicating he had been murdered, his motive being to insure payment on a life insurance policy for $7500 which had taken out in favor of his son Kenneth.” In addition, Coroner John J. Phelan explained that he accepted the medical examiner’s findings of drowning. He further commented that “the investigators hope that by continued efforts on their part in pursing every available pertinent or suggestive indication or clue tending to show activity or criminality on the part of any person or persons in connect with such death, they may able to promptly bring such person or persons to justice, providing the deceased came to his death at the hands of any third person or persons…in view of the foregoing,” he continued, “I am hopeful that the endeavors of the investigators will be successful in clearing up the apparent mystery surrounding the death of deceased.” The investigation was closed and the estate and trust fund of Mr. Arthur Todd was summarily provided to his family as per the tenets of his last will and testament.
Though the investigation has been closed, an air of mystery still surrounds the case. If Mr. Todd had faked his own death, where had his alleged thousands of dollars gone? Why would a man worth a substantial amount of money take his own life to ensure that one of his sons would benefit from a small insurance payment of only seventy-five hundred dollars? The mansion on Bell Island alone was estimated to be worth over one hundred thousand dollars. His trust was still viable and in addition to his twenty-two room mansion and its property on Bell Island, he also maintained a residence in New Haven. Was he involved in an illegal alcohol- running ring? Was the meeting in New York City to square up old debts, a precursor to an unrequited business partner who did not want to have to pay out to one of his financiers? Who was the woman…or man…wearing the size five and a half B shoe that had traipsed about with him up to the edge of the cliff and then dashed to a nearby waiting automobile? And if it was a bonafide suicide, from a skeptical writer’s perspective after sifting through slivers of evidence nearly eighty-years old, why would the old man, so full of alleged vigor and confirmed financial security, go to such lengths to stage his own murder?
The circumstances of Mr. Arthur Todd’s demise will most likely remain one of the many unsolved mysteries of the region. Ultimately, the one missing clue so wanted by the authorities still holds the largest fascination in the minds of those who have learned of the case. Who was wearing the high heels on that fateful night? Who was the Cinderella of Bell Island? The only person who knew her identity took that last piece of information with him as he fell, mere seconds in the darkness of the night, from a desolate cliff to his death in the rocky shallows of the Long Island Sound, in our waters.
1 Some news reports referred to the theory of “Cherchez la femme.” The sexist phrase translated from the French indicating that a woman is often the cause or catalyst for a problem was coined in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Mohicans of Paris.
About the Author
Adam M. Grohman is a researcher, author, and chief diver of the Underwater Historical Research Society based on Long Island, New York. Grohman, in addition to his monthly columns in Long Island Boating World, is the author of a host of research publications including Hackney’s – The History of the World Famous Seafood Restaurant, American Anarchist – the Strange Case of Gessler Rosseau and the Disappearance of
the Naronic, Presidential Plunge – Theodore Roosevelt, the Plunger Submarine, and the United States Navy, Claimed by the Sea – Long Island Shipwrecks, Runner Aground –The Story of the William T. Bell, Non Liquet –The Bayville Submarine Mystery, and two novellas. For more information about this article, the various research projects of the UHRS, to schedule an upcoming lecture, to request a listing of sources utilized in this article, and to order any of his books, please email him at email@example.com