NINE MONTHS into The Great War, 128 Americans were among
the 1,198 persons who drowned when the British liner Lusitania, on its way from
New York to Liverpool, was sunk by a German U-boat. The ship was carrying 173
tons of rifle ammunition and shells for the British and French war effort. The
United States, ostensibly neutral, underwent a severe case of the jitters.
Two months later, on the morning of Saturday, July 3, 1915, the financier
J.P. Morgan and his wife, Jane, were having a leisurely breakfast with the
British ambassador and his wife at Morgan's three-story brick mansion on their
60-acre East Island estate, at Glen Cove's Matinecock Point.
The front doorbell rang. Answering was the butler, Henry Physick,
impeccably dressed in a dark coat and gray striped trousers. At the door was a
slender, gaunt, 40-ish man wearing a loose-fitting dark gray suit with a slight
bulge in each jacket pocket.
"I want to see Mr. Morgan," he said, handing Physick a business card that
read "Summer Society Directory, Represented by Thomas C. Lester."
"What is your business with him?" asked Physick.
"I can't discuss that with you," replied the visitor. "I am an old friend
of Mr. Morgan's. He will see me."
Physick was suspicious. "You must tell me the business you have with him."
Instead of answering, the visitor withdrew a .38-cal. pistol from his left
pocket and a .32-cal. from his right, jamming them into Physick's body and
pushing him into the front hallway. Physick calmly led the visitor to the
library. Then, after backing out of the library, Physick turned and ran in the
direction of the breakfast room, shouting repeatedly, "Upstairs, Mr. Morgan!"
The butler then ran below to the servants' quarters to get aid.
Led by the 47-year-old Morgan, the entire breakfast party fled upstairs by
a rear staircase. They soon heard a shout that someone was heading up the front
stairway. Both Morgan and his wife hurried to the head of the stairs to
confront the intruder, who later gave his name as Frank Holt.
"Now, Mr. Morgan, I have got you," Holt said as he approached the second
floor landing. Quickly, Mrs. Morgan jumped forward and threw herself against
the gunman. The 220-pound Morgan immediately pushed his wife aside and jumped
at Holt. In the melee, two shots were fired from Holt's right-hand pistol, both
hitting Morgan in the groin. Morgan fell on top of Holt, wrestled away one gun
and pinned the second arm.
Now came the coup de gr�ce. Returning from the basement with the only
weapon he could find, a large chunk of coal, Physick plunked Holt on the right
temple and the gunman lay stunned. Only then did the servants notice that Holt
carried a stick of dynamite in his pocket, which they promptly thrust into a
bucket of water.
At 7 p.m. Morgan's doctors issued a bulletin: "A further examination of Mr.
Morgan's wounds shows that the bullets did not involve any vital organs. The
condition of the patient continues excellent."
Holt, who used more aliases than a secret agent, was a mystery man. As the
story unraveled in the next six days, the attempted assassination, if that's
what it was, took on many of the lurid elements of a story usually found in the
Police Gazette, rather than in The New York Times, where it was extensively
reported: spousal murder by poisoning, phony names, explosives-making, bombing
of the U.S. Capitol, and last, a grandly executed aerial suicide.
Arraigned before a Glen Cove justice of the peace, Holt identified himself
as 40 years old, born in Dallas, where his wife, Leona, and two children lived.
He had just received a PhD from Cornell University in Ithaca, was the
son-in-law of the Rev. O.F. Sensabaugh of the Methodist Episcopal Church in
Dallas, and was due to take a teaching job in the fall at Southern Methodist
University in Dallas.
In a written statement, Holt said he was not trying to murder Morgan, but
wanted him to use his influence to stop the financing of war loans to the
European allies and to have an embargo put on shipments of ammunition to them.
He had chosen Morgan because his bank was acting as the U.S. purchasing agent
for food and munitions being supplied to the Allied forces, even though the
United States was officially neutral in the war. In response to a reporter's
question, Holt said, "You seem to think my sympathies are pro-German. That is
not the case. I am merely against wholesale slaughter."
Later in the afternoon, Holt was taken to the county jail in Mineola.
That was Saturday, and Holt had been busy. The previous evening, at 11:23
p.m., an exploding bomb wrecked the Senate reception room at the U.S. Capitol,
although no one was injured. In his confession, Holt took responsibility for
Police learned that two weeks earlier, using the name "Mr. Patton," he had
rented a two-room bungalow in Central Park (the name of Bethpage until 1936),
where he had honed his bomb-making skills. On June 28, using the name "C.
Hendricks," he had received two cases containing 120 pounds of dynamite at the
Syosset railroad station, shipped from the Long Island City branch of the Aetna
But Holt could not, or would not, account for his whereabouts before 1909.
The reason, it was soon learned, was that he was not American-born Frank Holt
at all. He was German-born Erich Muenter, and he was wanted in Cambridge,
Mass., for poisoning an earlier, pregnant wife with arsenic in 1906. An
unidentified Chicago source told The Times that Muenter took his two children
and his dead wife's body to Chicago, where he left the children with his
mother- in-law and had the body cremated. He left town and hid out in Mexico,
where he worked as an accountant. He later reappeared in Texas as Frank Holt,
married again in 1910 and had three more children.
Now he was at the Nassau County Jail, under 24-hour guard because the
warden felt he was suicidal. About 10:30 p.m. on July 6, his guard, Jerry
Ryan, stepped out of Holt's cell for a moment and left the door open behind
him. Holt, who had feigned sleeping, quickly stepped outside the cell, climbed
up the bars to the top of the two-tiered cell block - about 15 feet - turned
and made a mortal dive head-first into the concrete floor.
A letter to his wife was found in Holt's cell. It ended: "All please pardon
me for all the heartaches I have brought you. Pray with me that the slaughter
will stop. My heart breaks. Good-bye."