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True Crime in 1831, Part 3 - The Web is Spun

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

Here is the third installment of my true crime series.


The Chapmans, their children and students stood in the parlor and examined the twenty-one year old Lino. He was a small man, a few inches over 5 feet tall, with dark, handsome features. He had thin lips, a long straight nose, penetrating black eyes and curly black hair. When he talked, it was a blend of Spanish and English and he used his hands to help express himself.


After it was decided that he could spend the night, the family, the students, and Lino sat down to dinner. They talked about local and national happenings before finally asking the visitor about his story. He wasted no time spinning his fantastic tale of lies.


His father was the governor of California and owned many silver and gold mines in Mexico. Since he was the only son and, therefore, heir to his legacy, his family decided to send him to Europe for his education and refinement. He sailed with a trunkful of money, about thirty thousand dollars, and a companion who was a friend of the family to look after him. While they were in Paris, his companion abruptly died in a church during prayer. He was now alone in a strange city where he did not know the language. He was so upset that he suffered a fit of madness, something, he explained to his audience, from which he sometimes suffered. Afraid of anyone who might want to pray on this wealthy young man, he exchanged his expensive clothing for that of a plain workman.


This was a mistake, he said, for soon people who claimed to be the police, arrived at the rooms he had rented and proceeded to confiscate the deceased man's trunks. Lino pleaded with them, insisting they were his trunks. But the men refused to believe him since he was dressed like a servant. This, Lino, told them, was how he came to lose all of his clothes, jewelry and money.


Fortunately, he found someone who pitied the poor soul and lent him money to book passage to Boston where a friend lived who could render assistance. However, upon his arrival in Boston, he was informed that his friend and left the city and gone to Philadelphia. So Lino travelled to Philadelphia in search of his friend, but he was nowhere to be found.


But there was hope! Tomorrow he would go and visit Joseph Bonaparte, who lived across the river in New Jersey. He was a friend of his father's. There was also a friend of his, Senor Casanova, who owed him money, who was staying at Bonaparte's. Surely, between the two of them, one of them would be able to help poor Lino.


Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844)

Joseph Bonaparte was the older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, who made him King of Naples and later King of Spain. After the fall of his brother, Joseph fled to America in 1815, using false papers and take much of his wealth with him. He initially lived in New York and Philadelphia before moving to an estate called "Point Breeze" in Bordentown, New Jersey. Joseph also created a private park at Point Breeze. He laid out several miles of roads, bridged streams, created an artificial lake, built docks and landings, and installed an array of statuary. He was well known in the area and entertained the leading politicians and intellectuals of the period. Being social climbers, the Chapmans knew this and were undoubtedly impressed that an acquaintance of Bonaparte's was in their midst.


That night Lino was shown to an upstairs bedroom. He slept well in the featherbed and was well rested when he awoke in the morning. However, he made no effort to leave and travel to Bonaparte's. To help prepare him for a visit to such a prominent individual, Lucretia gave him access to his husband's wardrobe.


The next day, Lino and Lucretia set off for Point Breeze, accompanied by Ben Ash, an older student who would drive the carriage. On the way, Lino continued to discuss what good friends Bonaparte and his father were, as well as what fine gentleman his Casanova was. Lucretia had heard stories about the former king and his splendid residence and was eager to have the opportunity to meet him and see his estate.


Of course, this was a total ruse. Lino had no friend named Casanova at Bonaparte's or anywhere else. He was, however, aware of Bonaparte's reputation as a benevolent and charitable man. He hoped the former king would be easy prey.


They finally reached the massive estate around midafternoon. As the carriage pulled up to the mansion, a servant greeted them. Immediately, Lino set to work. He inquired after his friend, Casanova, a gentleman from Spain who was staying with His Royal Highness. The servant replied that no such person was in residence at the moment, although a couple of Spanish visitors had come and gone a few days ago. Lino proposed that maybe they could then have an audience with Count Bonaparte. The servant shook his head and told them that he was already engaged with other company and would be for several more hours.


This worked to Lino's advantage. They could not wait for Bonaparte to become available since it would be very late by the time they returned home. So, even though he would leave empty-handed, he had succeeded in furthering his story without being exposed. He then moved on to another scheme. On return trip, Lino lamented that he wish he could stay and learn English and that he would be most fortunate to have Lucretia as his teacher.


When Lucretia approached William with the idea of Lino becoming a student, William first thought was about who would pay for this education. Lino assured them that his father, the governor of California, would gladly provide the money for that and any other expenses. The proposed amount was $2,000 per year (equivalent to almost $60,000 today) for his instruction. William was certainly satisfied with that amount. All Lino asked was that William write to his father. William wrote the letter and mailed it to "His Excellency, the Governor of the Province of California, Don Antonio Mara Esposimina." William encouraged Lino to send a letter of his own, to which Lino agreed, but only on the condition that William write it, due to his own poor handwriting, and could he sign it for him as well? Naturally, this was a ploy to get William's signature so that he may forge it at a later time. It was finally agreed that Lino would write a letter in Spanish, a language William did not know, and then William would sign it as well. Lucretia also wrote a letter to a Dona Maria de Calme Mirones in Mexico City, believing that to be Lino's mother. Once the letters were finished, Lino would take them to the Mexican consul in Philadelphia so that they could be sent via diplomatic courier to the American consul in Vera Cruz and then forwarded on to their destinations.


In her letter to Lino's "mother", dated 16 May 1831 (less than a week after his arrival), Lucretia wrote that "kind Providence has directed your son to my house, (which I wish may be HIS HOME, ...) I am happy to inform you that it will be the pleasure of my husband and myself to treat your son as our own child, while he remains in our house, and I sincerely hope he will not soon leave us, as myself and family are already much attached to him....His manners are so mild and engaging, that he wins the affections of every one in our house, even our youngest child (a little boy three years old) is delighted to remain by him while taking our meals at the table....Your son talks of spending three years in my house, which I hope he will do; and if he does, you may rest assured, Madam, that parental attentions shall be extended to him by myself and husband."


Ellen Shaw, the Chapman's housekeeper who was the first one to encounter Lino, tried to warn Lucretia, telling her that he was a Spaniard, and nobody knows what he might do. Lucretia replied that he was a dear young man. Ellen then told her Lino did not look like a man that had much, to which Lucretia said nothing. She was falling under Lino's spell.

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