Clarence Darrow
Clarence Darrow

Emma Simpson’s Trial begins.  Attending with her attorney Clarence Darrow, yes THAT Clarence Darrow. Attired in a fetching plain white linen frock, white pumps and a sable sailor, Emma appeared for the first day in Judge George Kersten’s court to undergo the ordeal of a trial before a jury of twelve men selected from a group of 200 prospective jurors called. 

For the first day of court, Emma Simpson, wore a white suit, the whitest of shoes, and a black patterned veil in Judge Kersten’s courtroom.  The first witness was Elmer’s mother, Mrs. Anna Simpson.  Elmer had been living with his mother since his separation from Emma.  Mrs. Simpson’s testimony wasn’t much; she had kissed him goodbye in the morning, visited him in the hospital the next day and purchased a coffin the following day. 

Our friend Bertha Fischer then testified that Emma had a “look of hatred” as she pulled the trigger. 

Gus Villvock the bailiff added that she stated, “I hope he dies”. 

Another bailiff William Curran was charged with taking Emma down to the jail stated that she said, “You needn’t hold my wrist so tightly, I won’t try to get away”.  Emma also told him in the elevator, “You couldn’t get justice done in these courts.  Elmer had been lying about me.” 

Each time a witness was asked to point out the woman who had shot Elmer, Emma covered her eyes.  When the coroner James Simonds testified, Anna Simpson cried and Emma kept her eyes shielded and was very still. 

Clarence Darrow, attorney for the defense in Emma Simpson’s trial, stated that his defense was that Emma was only insane on the subject of her husband.  His cross examination included asking each eye witness the color of her face and the look in her eyes and whether or not they were wild. 

Several of Emma’s friends and neighbors testified at the trial.  Harry McCormick testified that Elmer used Emma as a “financial convenience” and that she had been insane for nearly two years.  Mr. McCormick was a co-worker of Emma at Chicago Surface Lines.  He stated “For five or six years she was worried over the troubles between herself and her husband.  After the divorce proceedings started her hair began to turn gray, her face haggard and she was unable to concentrate on the business matters with which she had previously been familiar.  For several months she haunted my office asking my aid.  After her divorce case started she became insane over the subject of her domestic life.  I often found her in her office , her hair disheveled, her eyes staring, using violent language.  I saw many of the letters written by Elmer Simpson to his wife.   It was apparent that he was using her as a means for money purposes only.  His letters were substantiated by the story she often told me that he regarded her only as a financial convenience for himself.  It was because of this attitude that I advised her to obtain a divorce.” 

Assistant State’s attorney Murphy asked Samuel Frielander, Emma’s divorce attorney, to identify the revolver used by Emma.  “Take it away!” screamed Emma, leaping to her feet and pointing at the gun.  After standing for a few seconds staring pointedly at the gun she fell back into her chair in a faint.  Court was adjourned for an hour while medical aid was called to revive her. 

Eighteen witnesses for the defense were called.  Neighbors testified that Emma was a hardworking, faithful wife that had nursed Elmer back to health from tuberculosis. 

Malcolm Webster, former husband of Jean Webster takes the stand.  On the stand Malcolm a pale, small, determined looking man, graphically described how he once grabbed his wife by the hair and flung her clear across the room when he found her in the company of Elmer.  He ended his testimony by stating his belief that Emma was mentally unbalanced because of the troubles with Elmer. 

John M. Roach

John M Roach, Emma’s uncle was the next to take the stand.  He testified that Emma was an excellent stenographer and secretary.  His testimony continued, “About five or six years ago, Mrs. Simpson told me her husband had gone into court and obtained a divorce from her without her knowledge.  She was an entirely changed person in every way from then on.  She seemed to want to be left alone and wanted no one to see her.  She cried and wept continuously after that.  She said a woman who did no wrong seemed to have no chance whatever in the courts, but a man who did everything wrong could drag her from one court to another.  Finally, she blew up entirely, is the best way that I can express it.  There was as much difference in her then and before her trouble as night and day.” 

Mr. Roach then said that he advised his niece to get a divorce as she was going insane on the subject.  She told her uncle that she did not believe in divorce.  She also told him that Elmer had threatened to kill her over the telephone, and she told her uncle where she had hidden some papers in case anything happened to her.  He ended his testimony by telling the court that her father CT Spackman had died in the Elgin Insane Asylum.  

Five physicians, Dr. H. I. Davis, Dr. William Stearns, Dr. Archibald Church, Dr. William Krohn, and Dr. Harold Moyer testified.  Dr. Moyer testified it was his belief that Emma suffered from manic depression, making her insane at the time of the shooting.  Dr. Church testified ” egregious egotism and lack of self-control which suggested insanity”.  Clarence Darrow then called rebuttal witnesses. 

Attorney Francis Callahan, a witness testified that he believed that Emma was insane. Elmer Simpson’s attorney, Israel Pearlman testified that Emma was “absolutely sane”. 

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