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On the surface, the Erich Muenter who moved to Nashville five years later was a different man. He had lived for a while in Mexico, working in Mexico City as a bookkeeper for a mining company. It was there he began using the name Frank Holt, and after a couple of years, felt safe enough to cross back into Texas. Under his new name, he studied at Polytechnic College in Fort Worth — in essence, "re-earning" his way back into academia.
During this time, he began dating the daughter of a prominent Dallas minister, the Rev. O. F. Sensabaugh. Her name was Leona, a name, oddly enough, only one letter different from the wife he was wanted for killing back in Cambridge.
They were married in 1910. The next year, "Frank Holt" and Leona Sensabaugh Holt moved to Nashville.
The archives of Vanderbilt University contain the yellowing and brittle class schedule for the 1911-12 school year, showing that Frank Holt was on the faculty as an instructor in Romance languages. He would have taught in a classroom in College Hall, as the school's iconic Kirkland Hall was known then.
The Nashville City Directory for 1912 shows Holt, whose occupation is listed as a teacher at Vanderbilt, living in the house at 719 17th Ave. S. Amazingly, that house still stands, as blandly adept as its former tenant at concealing its past. That address is now designated 19 Music Square West, and the walls that housed the fugitive killer now stand among some of the best known names on Music Row.
Sony Music Publishing is across the street, ASCAP and the T.J. Martell Foundation are in the same block. Somehow this obscure building has stood for more than a century.
What was likely a reasonably elegant turn-of-the-20th-century duplex has been extended at the rear and had a wraparound deck added. The porch — a vital part of any house in pre-air-conditioning Nashville — has been enclosed. Most startling of all, the entire structure has been covered with bright red faux-barn siding. The rooms that once housed Muenter are now the home of several businesses, including Hair Haven, Only One Tailoring, Banner Music, Powerspin Records and the Tennessee Respite Coalition.
Though the structure has changed, it's hard not to wonder whether 100 years ago Muenter lay awake inside these walls, listening to the clack of the streetcars one block over and the train whistles echoing over the Gulch from downtown. Maybe he thought about the wife he had killed back in Cambridge, and the children he had abandoned, and the whirlwind of movement and lies he had crafted since. Or maybe, in the ticking away of those midnight hours, he envisioned the cataclysm to come.
Possibly as a means of eluding the murder warrant, Muenter was always moving from job to job. Before his time at Vanderbilt, he had taught at both the Polytechnic College in Texas and the University of Oklahoma. What led to Muenter's leaving Nashville late in the spring of 1912 is not clear. But Vanderbilt became another in a growing list of Muenter's former employers.
Later he moved to Emory and Henry in Virginia, and Cornell in upstate New York. In the three years after he left Nashville, he and Leona had two children, just as he and Leone had. It was as if he were constructing a parallel life to the one he had left behind.
But after his arrival at Cornell, Muenter's madness flared again. As news of World War I filled the newspapers, he became enraged that his adopted country, the United States, was not siding with the country of his birth, Germany.
Following his pattern as an academic nomad, he told Leona that after the 1915 school year he planned to take a new teaching position back in Dallas at Southern Methodist University. He sent Leona and the children back to set up housekeeping while he wrapped up his business dealings at Cornell. But business at Cornell was not really on his mind.
Instead, he went to New Jersey and bought two revolvers.
The man now called Frank Holt began to enact his plan. Under another assumed name, Patton, he rented a house near Syosset, N. Y. Using yet another assumed name, Hendricks, he made a purchase that even a century ago should have raised eyebrows: 120 pounds of dynamite.
A pair of desperate acts lay ahead that would write his name in infamy, if not history. As Muenter entered what would be the last two weeks of his life, the deranged instructor decided to teach the world a lesson.
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