Wanda Stopa - Brilliant, Beautiful and Tragic

Wanda Stopa arrives by a train from Detroit to Chicago.  At the station she gets into a cab, a dilapidated Cadillac.  The cab driver was elderly and could barely see the street numbers in Palos Park, a Chicago suburb.  He stopped and asked Harriet Scoffield who was in her yard where the Smith house was.  Harriet told him and then went to the Post Office where her daughter worked to tell her. 

At the Post Office she saw Henry Manning the Smith’s caretaker and told him that they were having company.  Knowing that Genevieve was home alone and sick he hurried back to the house.  When the taxi stopped outside of the Smith Household, Wanda leaped out of the taxi wearing a blue suit and carrying a blue purse. She asked the taxi driver to wait saying she would only be a few minutes, and that she had a train to catch. 

She arrived at the Smith home at 8:30 in the morning.  Wanda knocked on the door and rattled the doorknob.  

Vieva was in bed with the flu.  She was expecting a girl friend to come sit with her while she was ill, so she got up and answered the door.  

Wanda Stopa was there and wanted to see her husband, Kenley.  Vieva told her that he was at the office.  Wanda followed Vieva into the house and asked her why Kenley was not home.  Then she asked how the Smiths believed that she was going to take care of herself without Kenley’s money, and Vieva told her that she was an attorney and needed to work.  Wanda said that she was too sick to work and that if Kenley didn’t take care of her, he would be dead or blinded. 

The gardener, Mr. Manning, came in then to check on Vieva and told Wanda she needed to leave since Vieva had the flu.  As Mr. Manning tried to shove her out the door, there was an explosion and a flash of fire.  Vieva jumped out the window and heard another shot and saw Mr. Manning fall to the floor.  Vieva ran to the next-door neighbors and called the police and her husband at the office.

Wanda Stopa's family

Wanda Stopa's Backstory

The Stopa family came to Chicago from Poland before the Panama exhibition in San Francisco.  Mr. Stopa was a modeler, and he took them to the exhibition where he had modeled some of the buildings.  He was considered one of the best clay modelers and had exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute.  The family had always been well to do.  Mrs. Stopa was the daughter of Polish nobility and lost their land to the Russians during an uprising. 

Wanda Stopa was a quiet studious girl.  She never went to dances or parties without her mother or one of her brothers.  Wanda graduated from High School at the age of 17, she was top of her class.  In 1920 Wanda was a student at John Marshall College of Law.  While she was in law school the Stopa family went for a two-year trip to Poland, but Wanda stayed behind.   She moved to a girls’ club on the North side of Chicago and that’s when the trouble started. 

She met people in the “Bohemian Community”.  Artists and authors who didn’t believe in the standards that Wanda had been taught. 

Then she met Ted Jaworski at the home of one of her friends.  Ted Glasko as he was known, was a suave Russian who called himself a Count.  Within a week they went to guess where?  That’s right Crowne Point, Indiana and were married.  This was just a few months after her graduation.

The marriage was not a success.  Henry her brother said, “Ted always had a peculiar power over her – a sort of hypnotic influence.  She would declare that she hated him, could not endure him, and was going to leave him.  But as soon as he came into her presence, all her resistance was gone, and she did whatever he said.  Many’s the time she’s come home to us, declaring she was done with him, and then he’d come and get her.”

Ted introduced Wanda to radical magazines and taught her new ways of conduct necessary for self-expression.  Later, according to the Stopas, he introduced her to morphine, which she thought was fun.  It turns out that Ted got his money from marrying a girl in New York and her father had paid Ted $10,000, which is around $150,000 today, to annul the wedding. He used this money to set himself up as a Count. 

Y Kenley Smith
Wanda Stopa

Wanda Stopa meets Y. Kenley Smith

In 1922, Wanda went to a Studio party and met a middle-aged prosperous advertising executive, Y. Kenley Smith.  Kenley was described by his friends as a “Romantic Humanitarian”.  He had no discernible talent and liked to encourage and help struggling artists and authors.  Kenley took an immediate interest in Wanda, telling his friends that she was the brainiest girl he had ever met.  Wanda fell immediately in love with Kenley.

Unfortunately, Kenley was already married to Genevieve, a famous symphony pianist.  As Wanda told her mother, this didn’t matter as marriage was only a “scrap of paper”.  Kenley and Wanda discussed philosophy, art and literature.  Wanda told Kenley that she had always wanted to be an author. 

Vieva Smith was interviewed by the press, after the murder.  Genevieve Smith was the wife of Y. Kenley Smith an advertising executive with John H. Dunham and Company.  Vieva had been acquainted with Wanda for 2 years.  Wanda was very friendly with Kenley and he was very friendly with her.  Both Smiths felt sorry for her because she was married to a man that she claimed abused her.  Kenley wanted to get her away from her husband who was very cruel to her and set her in a clean sane life. 

In the summer of 1923 Wanda visited the Smiths and told Vieva that she wanted her to divorce Kenley so that he could marry Wanda.  Vieva asked her if Kenley loved her and Wanda told her no, but that she could make him love her.  Then Wanda had hysterics.  Vieva asked her husband if he wanted her to divorce her and he said yes.  She then asked him if he wanted to marry Wanda and he said no. 

Kenley sent Wanda to New York in early 1924 because his doctor told him he couldn’t go on with his wife on one side and Wanda on the other side.  He gave what Vieva described as too much money and sent her to New York, with a monthly allowance of $150.00.  In New York, Wanda Stopa entered New York University to study journalism.  None of the papers would hire her, so she turned to short stories.  The short stories were all about sex and no one would buy them.  Finally, she sold a story to a detective magazine, and that was when Kenley stopped sending money.  Wanda called and threatened him, but as she had been threatening her for two years no one took it seriously. 

Wanda's Funeral

The end of Wanda's Story

Wanda returned to the train station, from the Smith’s home,  in the taxi that was waiting for her and returned to Detroit.  She checked into the Hotel Statler, as Mrs. Theodore Glascow. Wanda wrote a letter to her mother.  Included with the letter was $150, a 1,000-mark Polish bond, and an insurance policy for $200 with her mother as the beneficiary.  A hotel clerk noticed the name Stopa on the letter and alerted the management who followed her to her room.  Unfortunately, too late, Wanda had pulled a vial of cyanide from her purse and drank it.  She was still alive when the hotel authorities reached her, and she smiled at them and collapsed.  The beautiful, brainiest girl, youngest lawyer in Illinois was dead at 23.

When Kenley was told of the suicide he was not surprised.  He told Maurine Dallas Watkins that he had been certain that Wanda would show up at the inquest earlier in the day and shoot him and then herself. 

Two of her friends that were Chicago artists went to Detroit to accompany the body back to Chicago.  According to one of the artists, Charles Blessel, “The brainy young attorney inspired scores of artists and authors with her brilliant conversation and wit.” 

Although the District Attorney’s office sent flowers and sent a representative to the funeral, neither the Smiths nor Count Glasko, her husband attended.

Over 10,000 people crowded the streets of Little Poland to see Wanda’s casket carried from her mother’s home in a white hearse to the National Bohemian Cemetery where another 5,000 people had waited in the hot sun, up to five hours to see the burial.  Street venders showed up at each venue and had a lively business. 

Only close friends and family attended the funeral in the Stopa home which was led by a Baptist minister Rev. J. Frydyck, who preached the service in Polish.  Because Wanda had committed suicide the church would not allow the services to be held in church.

The dean of the Law School, Edward T. Lee spoke at the burial.  He spoke about her brilliance and drive and told the crowd that he had never had a student who had greater promise than Wanda Stopa. 

A child by the graveside started talking and Henry, Wanda’s brother slapped her.  The mother, Anna Konpke complained, and Wanda’s mother slapped Anna three times breaking her eyeglasses.  Anna stated that she had come to visit her son’s grave and had wandered over to see what was going on with all the people.  The security of the cemetery separated them from the Stopas.

Wanda’s story is a great tragedy of almost Shakespearian proportions.  She had it all, a beautiful, smart girl with a loving family.  But she wanted more.  Marriage wasn’t enough because she chose the wrong man after not really getting to know him.  Love was what she wanted, and she didn’t care if her love interest was married or not, so she chose Kenley Smith.  Kenley Smith, she admitted didn’t really love her and refused to leave his wife, also not a great choice.  There are several mental illnesses that are diagnosed for the first time in the early to mid-twenties and this was compounded by an addiction to morphine.  Unfortunately I think that if Wanda had lived today, she might have received the help she needed.  As it is, she didn’t and it was tragic.

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