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July 2, 1915, was a Friday leading into the Fourth of July weekend. Nobody paid much attention that afternoon in Washington, D.C., as Muenter strolled into the U.S. Capitol. At that time, there were no restrictions on members of the public entering the Capitol building. The Senate was in recess, and there was little activity. Had anyone noticed him, they might have thought he walked a little more ... gingerly than the others.
Undetected, Muenter withdrew a package and fiddled with something: a timer, set to go off just before midnight. He slid the parcel under the Senate's telephone switchboard and fled. He dropped in the mail some crazy rambling letters to newspaper editors under still another assumed name — "R. Pearce" — saying something about a bombing and taking credit. Mission accomplished, he walked to nearby Union Station and bought a train ticket.
At 11:40 p.m., an explosion shook the U.S. Capitol. The blast destroyed the Senate reception room and blew open a door to the vice president's office. Satisfied with his handiwork, the bomber — having committed what we would today call an act of domestic terrorism — boarded the overnight train to New York. There was one more lesson to teach, and it required no less a figure than the richest man in America.
J. Pierpont Morgan Jr. had taken over the banking empire his late father built, centered upon the deep vaults of New York's Guaranty Trust. So powerful was the bank, in fact, and so extensive its holdings, that some accused Morgan of maneuvering America's entry into World War I against Germany as a means of protecting his fortune.
What couldn't be argued was Morgan's financial backing of Germany's enemies — especially Britain, among the beneficiaries of a staggering $500 million loan the banker supervised with a coalition of lenders. If an assassin wanted to make a symbolic strike at the war effort, not even President Woodrow Wilson made as fitting a target.
On the morning of July 3, 1915, Morgan was sitting down to breakfast with his wife, children and the British ambassador when a knock came at the door of his Long Island mansion. It was answered by Morgan's butler, a redoubtable man named Stanley Physick.
The man standing on Morgan's doorstep told Physick that his name was Thomas P. Lester, and that he had an urgent matter to discuss with Morgan. The butler took one look and tried to prevent him from entering the house, but "Lester" — Muenter — pulled out his two pistols and forced his way in.
Hearing the commotion and coming to investigate, Morgan sized up the situation. In what newspapers later described as a brave act to protect his family, he rushed directly at Muenter. The gunman fired four times. He struck Morgan twice, once in the leg and once in the abdomen or hip.
Despite his wounds, Morgan wrestled Muenter to the ground, where Physick conked the crazed language teacher on the head with a lump of coal. This stunned him long enough for his intended victims to tie him up and summon police. That's when someone noticed the remaining contents of Muenter's pockets: three sticks of dynamite.
The explosives were promptly doused in a bucket of water. Morgan received medical treatment for his wounds, and fully recovered. Muenter was taken into custody and had some explaining to do.
The police set about trying to piece together what on earth Muenter-Holt-Patton-Hendricks-Lester had been up to. They discovered he had likely been the author of the R. Pearce letters, inspected his dynamite and tied him to the bombing of the Capitol. Once the suspect's picture appeared in newspapers, people also started figuring out that the crazy Morgan-shooting-Capitol-bombing guy sure looked a lot like that Harvard teacher who had killed his wife and disappeared.
Leona Holt, who was home in Texas with two small children expecting the imminent arrival of her husband, did not take the news from New York well. In an interview with The New York Times the day after Muenter was captured, the shell-shocked woman said that her husband had "always been known as a law-abiding and law-respecting man. I am, therefore, sure that the great misfortune that has come to him is due solely to a nervous breakdown."
He was, she added, a devoted father to their two children.
But as police continued their investigation, Muenter's lies unraveled. He variously claimed that he had only wanted to scare Morgan, said another time that he wanted to kill him, and said another time — all within a few hours — that he was going to take the millionaire's wife and children hostage to force him to stop funding Allied war causes. He claimed to be a devoted pacifist, all evidence of bombing, gunplay and murder to the contrary.
He also claimed that some of the dynamite he had bought and was unaccounted for was going to be used to bomb Trans-Atlantic ships. A bomb indeed went off in a ship called the Minnehaha on July 9, 1915, but it's unclear whether Muenter had anything to do with the sabotage.
That's because Muenter never learned of that explosion at sea. On July 6, 1915, Muenter slipped out the unlocked door of his cell at the Mineola, N.Y., jail. He flung himself headfirst from a second-story platform and fell 20 feet to a concrete floor below, dying instantly. The man who wreaked havoc under a half-dozen adopted names died under the one he was born with.
His body was shipped back to Dallas, where a funeral was held on July 11, with Leona, her father and mother, and many friends of the Sensabaugh family in attendance, though apparently none of his former Nashville neighbors or colleagues. The Rev. J.P. Mussett of Fort Worth, described as a "close friend of the family and personal friend of Frank Holt," delivered the eulogy. The ceremony ended with a rendition of "Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me" hanging in the sweltering Texas afternoon.
He was laid to rest in Dallas' Grove Hill Cemetery under a headstone bearing the only name by which anyone there had ever known him: "Frank Holt." The man died, but the lie survived. That makes the stone on Erich Muenter's grave a perfect representation of the man buried beneath — unknowable to the end.
Miss you Trevino it's been 3yrs and it's still hard to believe love you nephew..
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