The Murder of Dr. Burdell


Mrs. Burdell-Cunningham

Mrs. Cunningham As A Housekeeper

THE noted premises, 31 Bond Street, in this city, were occupied by Dr. Harvey Burdell. He was a dentist, lived in good style, and was reputed to be a man of wealth, and a gentleman. He had a housekeeper in the person of Mrs. Cunningham, to whose
character and position he was no stranger. He had  known her from her youth. She was reputed to be clever, and to have talents. She was poor, with no visible means of support, and with grown-up daughters on her hands. She kept house for Dr. Burdell, and
entertained such company as she chose to receive. She lived in luxury, and passed her summers among the gay and fashionable at Newport and Saratoga. One morning the murdered form of Dr. Burdell was found lying upon the carpet in his office, weltering in
his blood. The family who occupied the upper part of the house were absent Men of political distinction had rooms over Dr. Burdels' apartments. They came in at eleven o'clock at night, and all was still. There was no noise or outcry; no struggle heard during the night. All eyes turned in search of the murderer. The public voice cried for justice. Every ear was alive to the slightest suggestion, every foot quick to chase the most improbable rumor. Men and women were put on trial for their lives. Nothing was proved against them. The perpetrator of the bloody deed may never be known till he stands at the bar of God.

Mrs. Cunningham As A Widow

When it was known that Dr. Burdell was dead, his housekeeper proclaimed herself his widow. She fell on his mangled body, and shouted out her grief in paroxysms of woe. She clothed herself in deep mourning, and took the name of her husband. She was tried for the murder of Dr. Burdell, and acquitted. She went from  the Tombs to the house of Dr. Burdell, and repaired it and furnished it in great style. She went before the surrogate with her claims as a widow. Had he decided the case on the evidence before him he must have granted her suit. While the matter was on trial, a trap was laid for her by the district attorney and others, into which she fell. All hope of a favorable decision in her case was dashed to the ground. She was indicted by the grand jury, incarcerated in the Tombs, bail denied her, in obedience to popular clamor and public indignation, although the crime for which she  was indicted was clearly a bailable one.

Her Marriage

On her trial before the surrogate, the confusion, want of self-possession, and contradictory statements of the officiating clergyman left the surrogate no alternative but to reject his testimony. The statement of the daughter that she was present at the wedding, availed nothing. Yet, if human testimony can be relied on, and any marriage can be proved, it is very certain that Dr. Burdell was married to Mrs. Cunningham. The officiating clergyman was Rev. Mr. Marvin, then settled over the Bleecker Street Reformed Dutch Church. Outside of the court-room his testimony is clear, consistent, and positive. He expresses himself as positive that he married the parties as that he is married himself. The circumstances connected with the marriage were such as to make it morally impossible that he could have been deceived. Dr. Burdell visited Mr. Marvin's house in Hudson Street, one pleasant afternoon, and made arrangements for the proposed marriage. It was a clear, bright day, and the sun was shining in the parlors. Dr. Burdell stated his wishes, told where he resided, what his business was, what his purposes were, and informed him that as soon as his business would permit, after his marriage, he intended to travel in Europe. He made quite a visit. At the appointed time, the same party, accompanied by Mrs. Cunningham, came to his house, and was married. One of the daughters accompanied her mother. The
marriage was not hurried, and the parties remained some time in conversation. A few days after the marriage, Dr. Burdell called for a certificate. He remained some time in easy general conversation. He examined the certificate carefully, and pointed out some errors in it, which were corrected. He leisurely departed, carrying the certificate with him. The same person who made the arrangement for the marriage, and was married at the time agreed upon, and who subsequently called for the certificate and carried it away, was known to be the very person who was murdered in Bond Street, and who was carried to his burial as Dr. Harvey
Burdell. Just before the marriage testified to by Mr. Marvin, Dr. Burdell visited Saratoga with Mrs. Cunningham, and took rooms at Congress Hall. A daughter of Mrs. Cunningham was at the Seminary kept by Rev. Dr. Beecher. The next morning after the arrival, Dr. Burdell and Mrs. Cunningham visited the Seminary, and had an interview with Dr. Beecher. Up to this time Dr. Burdell had paid the board and tuition bills of the young lady. He now stated to Dr. Beecher that he had come up to make arrangements for the expenses of the young lady during his absence from the country, as he expected soon to sail for Europe. He made arrangements for Dr. Beecher to draw on New York for the monthly and quarterly payments as they should become due. He stated that his absence from the country would make no difference with the regular payment of the bills. Mrs. Cunningham was in the room while these arrangements were being made. Turning towards Mrs. Cunningham, Dr. Beecher jocosely said, " I presume you do not intend to go to Europe alone." Dr. Burdell replied by a loud laugh, a shrugging of the shoulders, and other indications, that he intended to take the lady with him. Mrs. Cunningham was silent, but smiled, and blushed an assent. These facts did not come out on the trial.

Her Daughters

While in prison, Mrs. Cunningham was confined in a small, narrow cell, which was full of bugs, fleas, and vermin, and which was lighted by a hole in the wall for a window. Three persons could scarcely remain in the cell at one time. She seemed to be about thirty years of age ; stout, but well formed, very tasty in her dress, hair raven black, eyes sharp and sparkling, handsome features, complexion pale, and her whole contour attractive and handsome. Crowded into this narrow cell were her two daughters. Their devotion to their mother was remarkable. They shut themselves out from society, and passed every day in the close and
heated cell. In prison and out they worked for their own and their mother's support. Handsome, and polished in their manners, every one spoke-well of them for their quiet and modest deportment The jailer  never flung open the gates of the prison so early in the morning that he did not find these daughters outside waiting for admission. When the iron doors closed on their mother at night, the officers had to use force to put them on the pavement, over which they trod to find some friendly shelter for the night, only to return at early dawn and renew their toil in the society of their mother. There are millionaires in New York who would give half their fortune to receive from their children such assurances of filial affection.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Murder of Dr. Burdell
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


 BIBLIOGRAPHY: Sunshine and Shadow In New York By Matthew Hale Smith: Hartford: J.B. Burr and Company 1869
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