The Heinous Crimes of Cordelia Botkin

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

Heather Monroe
7 min readNov 12, 2019
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.



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•