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Edward Boeck story had many moving parts

Published January 02. 2010 09:00AM


As a dealer in precious gems, no one was better at his trade in the early 1900s than James Edward Boeck. Blessed with fine looks, courtly manners and a host of wealthy friends, he had little trouble obtaining thousands of dollars worth of gems from dealers with no other security than his word. He even negotiated the $100,000 sale of a diamond and pearl necklace to industrialist J. Pierpont Morgan.

The New York-based broker rose to the top of his profession quickly but his tumble from business stardom was just as abrupt. In 1907, Boeck took out between $30,000 and $50,000 worth of pearls and other gems from jewelers including Ludwig Nissen & Co. and E. W. Drayton of New York. He then fled to China. Police and detectives all over the world were on alert for the smooth-talking Boeck who reportedly spoke seven languages.

After venturing back to San Francisco and pawning some of the jewelry, he was arrested by Pinkerton detectives in 1908. He had evaded capture for 10 months.

On his arrest, Boeck boasted of being a connoisseur of Chinese porcelains, bronzes and antiques and that he had friendships with many royal personages, including Prince Pi Lun of China and Americans like J. P. Morgan.

After his arraignment, a judge ordered all stolen property, which was in the possession of pawnbrokers, to be produced.

With Boeck's capture making headlines around the country, newspapermen began digging into his past. They found that he was the son of Leopold Julian Boeck, who was of Russian-Polish heritage. His father served in the Hungarian Revolution and later worked as a diplomat. His son would inherit this persuasive trait, honing it in becoming a salesman of fine jewelry.

The elder Boeck came to America after he Civil War and became a professor of mathematics and engineering at the University of Virginia. His son, Edward, was born in Philadelphia and would later move to Tamaqua, where he married Mary Glassmire, the daughter of Capt. A. L. Glassmire, a Civil War veteran.

Part 2 of the Edward Boeck story begins after he pleaded guilty to all eight indictments for grand larceny and was sentenced to Sing Sing prison for seven years. After serving a little more than one year of his sentence, it was reported that he had been named an heir to a fortune left to him by his uncle, J. C. Loudenberry, who died on Jan. 12, 1910, in St. Paul, Minn.

Loundenberry had relocated to the Upper Midwest from Oswego, N.Y., in about 1898. He was a very private person and not even those who transacted business with him knew much about him. His one other close survivor was a sister, Elizabeth, but she was in an insane asylum in Binghampton, N.Y.

The story of Boeck's sudden windfall while in prison made headlines across the country. The Tamaqua Courier headline stated: "Convict J. Edward Boeck falls heir to a million dollars."

Boeck did not appear overly excited.

"What good is it to me?" he asked, reminding his interviewer that he still had four more years of prison time to serve.

The New York Times, however, said Boeck was thrilled.

"J. Edward Boeck was one of the happiest prisoners in Sing Sing yesterday in spite of the fact that he has served a little more than one year of a seven-year sentence for a jewelry swindle committed in 1907," it stated.

Jacob Marx, Boeck's lawyer, put the total value of the property at "several hundred thousand dollars." Marx said that when Loudenberry died, valuable securities were discovered among his effects. This was a surprise to his neighbors who thought him to be a miserly man, living in "squalid surroundings" for several years.

Marx said that Boeck had told him of his uncle and that when he was arrested Loudenberry was asked to furnish the $25,000 in bail to keep him out of jail before his trial.

This was revealed in a letter found in Loudenberry's possessions which was signed by Louisa C. Boeck, the convict's mother. It said: "Won't you go security for Eddie? Cash not required; only security. If you can't furnish all, will you furnish part? Have hope of winning if this could be arranged."

A second message stated: "For God's sake, send $25,000 to save Eddie's life! He is in jail charged with murder, and the money will save him"

On the back of this note, Loudenberry had written that he himself was in some danger and that he should not be worried. The message was dated April 18, 1908, a few weeks after he had been brought back from San Francisco where he was caught.

Loudenberry did not respond to the requests for bail money.

After learning of his windfall, creditors and relatives, including Boeck's wife, took steps to collect. Filing a petition were his wife Mary, whose address was then listed as Glenside, Pa., for $80,000, on a judgment obtained for moneys loaned the previous December in Philadelphia; Lenora J. C. Roeck of Glenside, for $475 for money loaned in 1907-08, and William H. McDaniels for $90 in 1908.

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