The Heinous Crimes of Cordelia Botkin

A woman, scorned by her lover, commits America’s first murder by mail

Heather Monroe

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Cordelia Bodkin, San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco, California
24 Mar 1904, Thu • Page 9

Cordelia Adelaide Botkin, née Brown, was born around1854 in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1872, Cordelia married a man named Welcome Botkin and the couple had one son together, Beverly. They made their home in Stockton, California, where Welcome worked as a grain broker. The couple became estranged. In 1895, Cordelia met John Preston Dunning. Although she was nearly a decade older than him, John was smitten with the 41-year-old married woman.

Although John developed an infatuation with Cordelia, he was married to Mary Elizabeth Penington-Dunning, and they had a baby daughter, Elizabeth. The married couple lived at 2529 California Street, in San Francisco. Mary’s parents were Congressman John Brown and Rebecca Rowan Penington of Dover, Delaware.

The Affair

Cordelia thought very highly of herself, despite her frumpy appearance and advancing age. She bragged about being photographed in over 100 poses, her favorite pose being with her hands behind her head, and elbows out — very haughty for Victorian America. If there was anyone she loved better than herself, it was surely John Dunning.

The San Francisco Call
San Francisco, California
28 Aug 1898, Sun • Page 16

Cordelia met John while he was biking in Golden State Park. John was a better alcoholic and gambler than a husband. He served as AP Bureau Chief in San Francisco. Unfortunately, John lost his job when his employer caught him embezzling over $4000 to pay his gambling debts.

Cordelia and John carried out a torrid affair for three years. When John’s wife got wind of the relationship in 1896, she would not turn a blind eye. Mary, a deeply religious woman with a respectable upbringing, didn’t care to spend her days keeping her husband on the straight and narrow. She took their daughter, Elizabeth, and went right home to Dover.

Cordelia lived at the Victoria Hotel. John rented a room there also, to easier facilitate their clandestine affair. At some point, John mentioned to his mistress that his wife loved chocolate, and she had a friend in the city…

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Heather Monroe

Welcome readers! Heather Monroe is a genealogist and writer who resides in California with her partner and their nine children. •True Crime• History• Memoir•