02 Apr 2024


Lost Capitol Hill: The Two Exhumations of John Sanford, pt 2

Last week, we looked at the first exhumation of GPO watchman John Sanford, and the preliminary examination of the body.

The real question, as to whether he had been poisoned or not, was to be determined by the chemist of the District, who was given a hermetically sealed glass jar with the stomach and intestines. In the meantime, Sanford’s body was re-interred.

Not long afterwards, Sanford’s first wife, Rosa Stockholm Close Sanford, appeared in Washington, and things got even more complicated, as she (and Richardson) pointed out that his new will was completely nonsensical, as it referred to property in Syracuse that he did not posses. Furthermore, he had far less money than he claimed.

The press also had a field day with the ––entirely unrelated fact–– that Rose Sanford’s daughter from her first marriage, Ada Stockholm, was a member of the cast of The Black Crook, which today is known for being arguably the first musical, but at the time was infamous for its large cast of scantily-clad young women.

Nor was the analysis of the stomach contents easily done, as the D.C. health office did not have the appropriate apparatus to conduct the proper tests. It was decided that the chemist Dr. Emil de Schweinitz of the Department of Agriculture would be in charge of this important task.

Finally on October 22, all was ready. With Mrs. Rose Sanford in town, and ready to attend the inquest, Sanford’s body was disinterred again and brought to the funeral home.

The location of the Sanford’s many interments and exhumations. Sadly, no stone marks the spot. (RSP)

The inquest turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Marion Dorset, a chemist under de Schweinitz at the Department of Agriculture, who had done the analysis, stated that Sanford’s body was indeed riddled with arsenic, but there were none of the burns in his stomach that arsenic poisoning would have caused. The arsenic was left over from the embalming process. Further tests for any other poisons had turned up negative. The coroner’s jury quickly came to a conclusion that the cause of death was, indeed, natural.

This did not answer the question of who would inherit Sanford’s estate, but it seemed pretty clear that he had never divorced Rosa. She, in turn, had been properly divorced from her previous husband so there was no doubt that the marriage to Crupper was null and void. Furthermore, his estate was far smaller than it had first appeared ––one estimate was that it consisted of only $97–– making any fight over it even more pointless.

Nonetheless, there continued to be some back and forth between the two Mrs. Sanfords, though the newspapers quickly lost interest in the subject. Who finally received his estate remains unknown.

John M. Sanford has lain undisturbed in Congressional Cemetery since his third and last interment shortly after the inquest. Alas, not even a stone marks his final resting place, though he should have one: According to government records, one was supplied by the Vermont Marble Company of Proctor, Vermont, but was either never placed or disappeared in the intervening 130 years.

Florida Crupper, for her part, is buried in Glenwood cemetery. She died in 1926, having spent the last years of her life in a home for the blind.

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