A Forgotten Murder-Suicide Attempt

Bill, Becky, baby Tim, and Lloyd Doyle

My Great Grandmother Bertha Ida ‘Becky’ (Treffeisen) (Massey) Doyle was a quiet, small-framed woman that I remember coming to holidays and major family events. Here you can see her holding me at just two weeks old, a four-generation photo.

I’ve learned a lot about Becky’s life over the years, by interviewing her several times, asking questions, and asking family members about her. However, I am shocked that something as major as an attempt on her life would not have been mentioned. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, as she probably wanted to forget that it had ever happened.

When she was a teenager, Becky had worked as a nanny for the children of the rich and influential Howard Butcher, Jr. family of Philadelphia. Mr. Butcher was a banker, broker, financier, and a member of the Philadelphia and New York Stock Exchanges.

Becky and one of the Butcher children

Becky and one of the Butcher children

Becky and two of the Butcher children

While researching my Great Grandmother, I decided to do a bit of research on this family as well, on the off chance that I might learn something of my family. I had downloaded several PDF files, and had just about finished reviewing them. While clearing off my computer’s desktop, I almost tossed the last PDF file in the trash, but decided to open it to see what it might contain. WOW! I was not prepared for what it revealed.

According to the newspaper article, and the others that I subsequently found, Becky had been working for the Butchers along with a Japanese man named Torao Nomura, who was employed as the butler. He had come to America to earn some money for the family he had hoped to start with his fiancé Komito, but shortly after arriving, he learned that she had committed suicide. Also, he had sustained head injuries during a break-in of the Butcher residence during the summer of 1908, and had been experiencing painful headaches ever since.

Becky sympathized with Nomura and tried to befriend him, even inviting him to her family’s home in Philadelphia for Christmas Dinner in 1908.  Becky said “he evidently mistook my sympathy for love. I turned away his advances as gently as possible, but he persisted in paying me attentions.”

On January 5, 1909, while the Butchers were away for the night in Philadelphia, Nomura approached Becky and asked her if she could love him. She said no, and then Nomura stated that he was going to kill himself. Becky, frightened, asked if he was going to hurt her. He said no, but then pulled out a gun. She ran down the hall and into the bedroom with the four sleeping children. I can imagine Becky wanting to get to the room and lock the door in order to protect the children. Nomura followed her and jumped over the bed, coming face-to-face with her. He shot her in the mouth, and then quietly left the room. She ran out of the house to get help, hearing gunshots as she reached the front door. As she got to the front gate, Mr. and Mrs. Butcher, just arriving home, found her bleeding profusely from her mouth.

Mr. Butcher checked for the gunman and found him dying on his bed. He called the police, and took Becky up the hill to a drug store until a Dr. arrived with a car and took her to the hospital, while Mrs. Butcher no doubt comforted her frightened children. Nomura died, but thankfully Becky had just a few teeth missing and a bullet lodged in the roof of her mouth, but it was not life threatening. It’s frightening to think that if she had died, I would not be here to write this.

The articles state that after Nomura had been injured by the intruders the previous summer, they had obtained medical assistance for him, and I’m sure that after this event, the Butchers took very good care of Becky. After all, not only had Becky been a trusted nanny to their children, but three of her sisters and her mother had all at one time worked for the family.

Note how many different ways that Becky’s surname was spelled in the various newspaper articles: Treszeron, Treserson, Treseron, Trieffesen, and Trieffiessen. Not one of them got the spelling correct, so there was little chance that I would have found these articles if I had just searched for her name. It was only when I searched for the Butcher family that this was uncovered.

Hints:

  • Research associates of your family – you never know what you might uncover.
  • Don’t believe everything in print – note the story differences in the following articles. There are spelling differences, story differences, and in one, Becky is supposedly killed.

JAP BUTLER SHOOTS MAID; KILLS SELF

Philadelphia, Jan. 5. – Taormina Namoro, Japanese butler in the house of Howard Butcher, a prominent broker living at Ardmore, in a fit of jealousy this morning, shot a housemaid and killed himself.

- Denver Post, January 5, 1909


ONE OF TOGO’S MEN FIGURES IN PATHETIC LOVE TRAGEDY

Japanese Marine’s Affection For an American Girl Leads to Attempted Murder and Suicide.

ARDMORE, Pa., Jan. 6. – The always dismal story of love between members of different races figured as the background of tragedy here last night in which a Japanese butler shot and wounded a young white woman who repulsed his love, and then took his own life.

The dead man was Torao Nomura, and is said to have been a scion of a distinguished family in Japan. He was a veteran of the war between Russia and Japan, and participated in the famous Battle of the straits of Tushima, in which Admiral Togo destroyed the fleet of Rojestvensky. He held a master mariner’s license and spoke several languages.

The wounded girl is met Miss Bertha Trieffiessen, aged 18 years, of West Philadelphia. Both were employed in the home of Howard Butcher, of the banking firm of Rhodes, Sinkler & Butcher, of Philadelphia. The Japanese was Butler, and Miss Trieffiessen governess to the four children of the Butchers.

Tried to Kill Her.

Mr. and Mrs. Butcher spent last evening in Philadelphia, and returning to their residence around 11 o’clock, found the girl near the Gateway, blood gushing from her mouth. Though scarcely able to speak by reason of her injury, she managed to make known that the butler had attempted to kill her and had probably ended his own life. She had taken flight to sound an alarm, forgetting for the nonce her own sufferings.

Mr. Butcher hurried to the room of the butler. He found Nomura prostrate on his bed, bleeding from a number of wounds in the head. A 35-calibre pistol lay by his side. Mr. Butcher immediately telephoned to the police and then, half-led, half-carried the wounded girl up Ardmore avenue to King’s drug store, where she was cared for until Dr. George I. MacLeod, of Valley Road, arrived with his automobile and carried her to the Bryn Mawr Hospital. There it was found that the bullet fired at her by the Japanese had knocked out several of her teeth and lodged in the roof of her mouth, but without inflicting serious injury.

In the meantime Officer Samuel Greer been appraised of the shooting and had reached the Butcher residence, where he found the wounded Japanese expiring. He died before a doctor could arrive.

A telegram addressed to the Japanese Mission, New York, was found, conveying unmistakable evidence that the dead was premeditated. It read: “Died unnatural death at 10 P.M. Nomura.”

A note to Mr. Butcher requested that the message be forwarded.

The first explanation of the tragedy came this morning, when the injured girl made a statement to Coroner King. She said that while they were alone in the house with the children, the butler had asked whether she could not love him. When she replied in the negative he threatened to shoot himself. The girl asked whether he intended to harm her, and he replied that he did not.

A moment later, however, there was a gleam of a pistol. Affrighted, the girl dashed through the hallway and into the children’s room, the Butler following. He leaped across the bed of the sleeping children, coming face to face with the frantic young woman. There was a shot, the bullet entering her mouth.

After firing at the girl, Nomura walked out and went to his own room, while the wounded girl ran down the stairs and out of the house. As she reached the front door she heard several pistol shots.

Came Here After War.

There is something of pathos in the story of the Japanese. It is said that after the war with Russia he came to America to try to make a fortune for his sweetheart in Japan, but soon after his arrival in this country he learned that the girl had committed suicide.

Although the police and coroner believe that jealousy was the motive for the act of Nomura, physicians say that temporary insanity, the result of an injury received last summer, was probably the cause. Nomura was known along the Main Line as an athlete, and as a master of jiu-jitsu.

Last summer several tramps invaded the home of the Butchers in the absence of the family. Nomura picked two of them up with the jiu-jitsu hold and threw them with great violence to the floor.

Realizing that his two companions have been worsted, a third tramp picked up a base ball bat and smashed the little Jap across the head with it. He was unconscious for 10 hours and for several weeks was in a highly nervous condition.

According to the girl’s statement, Nomura had been in love with her for some time. She says that he had talked to her of his unfortunate love affair in Japan and she sympathized with him.

“He evidently mistook my sympathy for love,” said the girl. “I turned away his advances as gently as possible, but he persisted in paying me attentions.

“On Christmas Day he took dinner with me at my mother’s home. After dinner, during a conversation, he asked me what American girls did when a man fell in love with them. I told him that sometimes they married the man and sometimes they jilted him.

“After this he appeared rather q[uiet] but I paid no attention to that. [After] Christmas he did not speak to love until last night.”

- Wilkes-Barre Times, January 6, 1909


JAP SHOOTS NURSE AND KILLS HIMSELF

Main-Line Butler, Insane From Old Wound and Unrequited Love, Commits Double Crime

Special to The Inquirer.

Torao Nomura

TORAO NOMURA

ARDMORE, Pa., Jan. 5. – Upon her refusal to reciprocate his affection and thereby filled the place made vacant by the death of affianced bride in Japan, Torao Nomura, 22 years old, a Japanese butler in the family of Howard Butcher, of 122 Ardmore avenue, last night seriously wounded Bertha Triffesen, an 18-year-old governess, and then fired five bullets into his brain. He died half an hour later. The bullet intended to kill the girl entered her mouth and inflicted a painful injury, but she is expected to recover by physicians at the Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Nomura is thought to have become insane through grief for his dead sweetheart and the effects of a blow on the head received while battling with burglars in his employer’s residence.

Miss Trieffesen, it is reported, accepted the Butler’s attentions in a joking way for some time, thinking his remarks simply pleasantries between fellow employees.

When she realized that Namora was in earnest she began to repulse him.

Last night, the injured girl told Coroner King, while Mr. and Mrs. Butcher were in this city, he approached the governess in the hall and made a final attempt to win her affection.

Jumped over the bed

When she refused to listen to his suit, he threatened to shoot himself. The girl asked whether he intended to harm her, and he is said to have replied that he did not.

There was a sudden gleam of a pistol. The girl dashed through the hallway and into the children’s room, the butler following. Across the bed of the sleeping children he leaped, coming face-to-face with the young woman. There was a shot, the bullet entering her mouth. Nomura then went to his own room and as she fled downstairs Miss Trieffeson heard the repeated reports of the gun as the butler carried out his threat to end his own existence.

When Mr. Butcher and his wife return to their home about 10:30 they met the wounded girl as she rushed from the house. Blood was streaming from her mouth and she was able to give only a hazy account of what had occurred.

Telegram told of death

Mr. Butcher and his wife ran up to the room occupied by the butler. They found him unconscious. The revolver was on the bed alongside his outstretched hand. Dr. McCloud and Greer, a policeman, were summoned. Before the physician arrived Nomura expired.

Search of the Jap’s room resulted in the finding of three letters written by Nomura prior to the shooting. One of them was addressed to H. Asai, Y. M. C. A., 105 East Fifty-fourth street, New York; another to the Japanese consul at Washington, D.C., and a telegram also addressed “H. Asai.”

In the letter to Asai the writer asked that the recipient come on to Philadelphia at once, as he had died on unnatural death and that everything had been crossing him. The letter to the consul at Washington contained these words written in the Japanese language: “I am dead.”

Injured by Burglar

Coroner King, after an inquiry this morning, decided that an inquest was unnecessary. Nomura is thought to have been made insane by a blow on the head received while struggling to repulse burglars who entered the Butcher residence last summer.

The Butcher family was away for the summer vacation, and the house was in charge of Nomura. One evening he found thieves in the pantry. An expert in jiu-jitsu, he tackled the two invaders, and hurled both from the house. But in the mixup he had been dealt a blow over the head with a club. Repeatedly thereafter he complained of a pain in the head. His grief over the death of his sweetheart seemed to have been further accentuated. For him Mr. Butcher secured treatment by Dr. William J. Dugan, assistant neurologist at the Jefferson College, and his condition seemed improved.

Komito

KOMITO

Grieved Over Sweetheart’s Death

Nomura had been in the service of Mr. Butcher for several years and was well liked. He was studious and was a private pupil of an instructor of the Ardmore High School.

His brother is an officer on a Japanese man-of-war, and his family is said to be one of the foremost in Tokio. One of the prettiest of the fair ones of the Flowery Kingdom was little Komito, his sweetheart, daughter of a Japanese educator, and which match the parents had made in keeping with the Oriental custom. Nomura felt that he could not provide for a wife and decided to come to America to seek a fortune.

His intended bride, melancholy because of her betrothed’s absence, died soon after his departure. He was much affected by her death and this fact is thought to have contributed to the mental condition which caused last night’s tragedy.

The Japanese Consul in Philadelphia is expected to take charge of the body of young Nomura, which was removed to an undertaking establishment in Ardmore.

Miss Trieffesen is a daughter of Mrs. Brown, who lives in the vicinity of sixty-fifth and Vine streets, Philadelphia. Her sister Emma is a maid in the family of another well-known resident of Ardmore.

- Philadelphia Inquirer, January 6, 1909


JAPANESE BUTLER A SUICIDE.

First Tried to Kill a Maid Who Refused to Marry Him.

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 5. – Nomro, a Japanese Butler, attempted to murder a maid and then shot himself to death last night at the home of Howard Butcher, Jr., a member of a Philadelphia brokerage firm, who lives at Bryn Mawr, a suburb. Mr. and Mrs. Butcher returned home after midnight and found their two small children, badly frightened, huddled in a room. Bertha Treserson, the maid, a rather pretty white girl of about 20 years, was missing.

A search of the house resulted in the finding of the body of the Japanese servant on a bed in his own room. There were two bullet wounds in the breast, and near him was found a note written in Japanese.

Neighbors were aroused and the missing girl was found in a drugstore unconscious. Her front teeth had been knocked out by a bullet. Removed to the Bryn Mawr Hospital the girl was revived. She told the police that the butler had asked her to marry him. Upon her refusal he pursued her to the room where the Butcher children were sleeping and shot her in the mouth. He then went to his own room and shot himself.

A telegram written in English addressed “Secretary Asi, New York,” was also found in the room of the Japanese. It reads: “Died unnatural death 10 o’clock. NOMRO.”

- The New York Times, January 6, 1909


Tragedy in Pennsylvania Household.

Philadelphia, Jan. 5. – A Japanese butler employed at the home of Howard Butcher, Jr., in Bryn Mawr, near here, last night shot Bertha Treszeron, a pretty white maid in the household, wounding her in the mouth. He then shot and killed himself. The girl says the Japanese shot her upon her refusal to marry him.

- Charlotte Observer, January 6, 1909


JAP SHOOTS NURSE MAID.
Butler, Rejected in Love, Turns Weapon on Girl, Then Kills Himself.

SPECIAL TO THE PLAIN DEALER.

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 5. – An attempt to murder a nurse maid was made last night by a Japanese servant, who afterward shot himself, at the home of Howard Butcher, Jr., member of a Philadelphia brokerage firm, who resides at Bryn Mawr, a suburb.

Mr. and Mrs. Butcher had been visiting and when they returned home after midnight, Bertha Treseron, the maid, a white girl of about twenty years was missing.

A quick search of the house resulted in the finding of the body of the Japanese servant in his own room. There were two bullet wounds in the breast.

Neighbors were aroused and the missing girl was found in a drugstore unconscious.

The girl was later revived and the police learned that the butler had asked her to marry him. Upon her refusal he pursued her to the bedroom where the Butcher children were sleeping and shot her in the mouth. He then went to his room and shot himself.

- Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), January 6, 1909


Butler Shoots Maid and Suicides.

Philadelphia, PA., Jan. 5. – a Japanese butler employed at the home of Howard Butcher, Jr., in Bryn Mawr, near here, last night Shot Bertha Treserson, a white maid in the house, wounding her in the mouth. He then shot and killed himself. The girl says the Japanese shot her upon refusal to marry him.

- Times Picayune, January 6, 1909


Principals in a Recent Tragedy.
Komito and Nomura
Upper picture shows Komito, daughter of a professor in the Tokyo university, who was to marry Torao Nomura, a young Japanese, who was a butler in the family of an Ardmore, Penn. banker. A few months ago, Komito committed suicide. Since then Torao has been acting strangely and last week he shot and killed a nursemaid in the bankers family and then killed himself.

- Ann Arbor News, January 11, 1909

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2 Responses to A Forgotten Murder-Suicide Attempt

  1. Celia Lewis says:

    Wonderful and amazing story of Becky! It is a bit odd that she didn’t mention this to you, isn’t it?! And I love the 4-generation photo of you men with Becky, and the other photos of Becky when quite young (very pretty young woman). Hope your family was suitably impressed with the ‘thin thread’ of their existence!! Congratulations on your Blogging!

  2. A truly amazing story!!

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