Friday, October 4, 2013

A History of Tragedy -- No. 211 West 22nd Street

In 1883 No. 211 West 22nd Street was no longer a private home.  It was, as described by The New York Times, “a respectable furnished room [sic] house.”  Built around the time of the Civil War, it was one of six speculative row houses intended for the financially-comfortable merchant class.

The houses were built as three pairs of mirror-image residences in the up-to-date Anglo-Italianate style.  In place of the tall brownstone stoops that marked the Greek Revival townhouses of the 1840s and 50s, a short flight of four steps let to the entrances over shallow basements.  Just two bays wide, the brownstone-clad houses marked their territories by quoins that ran up the sides.  Three stories of planar stone sat upon a rusticated base where extremely handsome carved enframements with foliate keystones surrounded the double doors.

Now Mrs. G. R. Williamson ran the boarding house and on May 23 she accepted Horace B. Shepard and his wife, Kitty, as boarders.   Shepard was employed by Herring & Co. at No. 251 Broadway as a traveling salesman.  The only son of the Rev. P. L. Shepard of Saybrook, Connecticut, he had for a while taught at his father’s military school, the Seabury Institute.

Although Mrs. Williamson had quiet misgivings (she later admitted “They did not act as married people do), she rented them “a well furnished room.”  The couple kept to themselves.  While Shepard was at work, Kitty mostly stayed in her room.  Mrs. Williamson noted that they took all their meals at restaurants.

Oddly enough, Shepard never mentioned his marriage to his co-workers.   A member of Herring & Co. said of him on July 30, 1883, “He was as gentle as a schoolgirl…He kept the petty cash and his accounts were correct.  He had not spoken of his marriage, and no one knew that he had an attachment, serious or otherwise, for any woman.”

As it turned out, Mr. and Mrs. Shepard had never bothered with the formality of marriage.  Kitty was in fact Mrs. Kate Voullaire whose husband had died a few years earlier.  She had four children--a daughter and three sons; Belmont, aged 29 and a “commercial traveler;” Alphonse, a 23-year old employed at O’Neill’s Dry Goods only about a block from No. 211 West 22nd Street; and little 8-year old Paul.  All the children, as well as Alphonse's new wife, lived in an apartment on the fourth floor of No. 117 West 15th Street.

Horace Shepard and Kitty Voullaire had met about a year and a half earlier and her grown sons were “bitterly opposed to their mother’s conduct,” as reported in The New York Times.   The newspaper described the 42-year old woman as “a buxom brunette, with luxuriant black hair.”  Trouble came for the pair when Shepard’s parents arrived in New York City in June.

When Rev. Shepard arrived at the boarding house to visit his son one afternoon, Mrs. Williamson noted that he “did not remain long with him.”  A day or two later his mother appeared.  Horace managed to prevent his parents from meeting Kitty—she most likely stayed in the flat with her children, as she sometimes did.  Mrs. Shepard stayed overnight in a room in the West 22nd Street house and his landlady noticed that “neither visit appeared to be a pleasant one to Horace.”

Although Horace kept his family in the dark about his liaison, his mother had suspicions.  The Times later mentioned that “it was certain that neither the Rev. Mr. Shepard nor his wife ever saw Kittie, and that, while [the minister] had never heard of her, Mrs. Shepard knew enough of her to be anxious.”

Horace Shepard’s personal guilt grew to the point of madness.  Believing that his mother had shared her suspicions with his father, Shepard penned a letter on July 20 that read:

The Rev. P. L. Shepard, Saybrook, Conn.:

My Dear Mother and Father:  Kitty and I were secretly married.  There will be nothing revealed of the ceremony.  We have been very happy together in life, but we will be happier in death, which seems too pleasant.  Our last wish and request is that we may rest together.  With all our love and devotion we are your affectionate son and daughter,

Kitty and Horace Shepard.

It is doubtful that the decision to be “happier in death” was made in conjunction with Kitty.   Although he wrote the letter on the 20th, he took no immediate action.  His co-workers noted that he “had been disturbed in mind for the past month, and he was reprimanded for having his work behind.”   On Thursday, July 26 he asked for some time off “on the plea that he had private business to attend to.”  He knew that the following week his father was coming back to New York City on business.

At 9:00 on the morning of June 30, with the Rev. Shepard in the city, boarders in the West 22nd Street house were alarmed by the report of two pistol shots in quick succession.   Mrs. Williamson sent for Officer Thomas Clarke of the 16th Precinct, who forced open the door of Shepard’s room.  Horace and Kitty were dead.

“Both Shepard and the woman were in their night robes and partly covered by the bed-clothes,” reported The Times.  “It was evident that Shepard had killed the woman while she slept, and had then shot himself in the right side of the head, as he had shot his victim.”

While witnesses said that Kitty’s features were “tranquil;” Horace “wore an expression of agony.”  The newspaper was explicit in the gruesome details.  “He appeared to have shot himself sitting up in bed, and he fell on his pillow, so that the back of his head slid toward the south side of the bed, and the blood from his wound trickled from the pillow to the floor and formed a pool on the carpet.  The revolver fell between him and the woman and lay near his right hand, the index finger of which was slightly blackened by ignited powder.”

A few hours later Rev. Shepard appeared at the offices of Herring & Co. to see his son.  “He staggered when he heard of his son’s death and the murder of the woman, and went straightway to No. 211 West Twenty-second-street,” reported The New York Times.  “The bodies had been removed and were barely a block away, but after making a few inquiries, he stopped dazed and broken-hearted, declining to look at his son’s body on the plea that the sight would be a shock that he could not bear.”

At the inquest on August 3, Rev. Shepard insisted that the suicide note had not been written by his son and insinuated murder.  The New-York Tribune said “He described his son as most dutiful until three years ago.  He was timid and girlish by nature, and was the favorite of every person who met him.  He did not think that his son would be associated with any woman who was not his wife, for he had ‘a righteous hatred of immorality.’”  The minister believed his son “was duped into believing he was married without his being actually so.  He did not think his son had sufficient courage to commit a deed of violence.”

The coroner and the jury disagreed.  The powder marks on his hands and the positions of the bodies pointed to murder-suicide.

Howard Shepard’s last request was not granted.  He and Kitty were buried miles apart—he in Connecticut and she in New York State.
Hefty mid-Victorian newels anchor the cast iron railings.

The owner of No. 211 at the time was Sarah Meyers who owned several investment properties in Manhattan, including several on upper Broadway which she had architect E. T. Hatch renovate in 1885.

Renovations were slower to come to No. 211 West 22nd Street and in 1907 the house was still lit and heated by gas.  On February 19 of that year Mrs. Annie Young and Gertrude Looman took a furnished room here, apparently sharing the single room to save expenses.  Only a day later, just before midnight, their bodies were discovered lying side by side in the bed.  The women had been fatally overcome by gas escaping from a radiator.

Less tragic was the incident that occurred to Archibald Wagner and his wife on October 6, 1909.  The couple traveled from rural Adams, New York to enjoy the Hudson-Fulton Celebration and were staying with friends at No. 211.  That morning Wagner and his wife left the house to mail a letter.  After purchasing a stamp at the drug store at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 22nd Street, Wagner ran into a young boy.

“Where can I mail this letter, sonny?” he asked the mischievous boy.  

The youth recognized that Archibald Wagner was no city slicker and pointed him to a fire alarm box on a utility pole.  “Put it in that red box on the post.”

The boy dodged around the corner to watch the developments.

“Mr. Wagner tinkered with the fire-alarm box while his wife waited,” reported The Times, and finally he got it open.  He followed the instructions to pull down the hook, but he couldn’t see the place for the letter.  While he was thinking the matter over a great clatter of hoofs sounded and two fire engines and a truck pulled up to the curb.”

Chief Turpenny, realizing it was a false alarm, called the police.  Before the tourists, who were bitterly pleading their innocence, arrived at the station house Chief Turpenny “guessed it was all a mistake after all” and had the policemen let the couple go.

The Chief admonished the cops, however, “You’d better get after the fresh kid who put up the job on the old man.”

The boarding house got more unwanted publicity on May 19, 1923.  Thirty-one-year old boarder Charles Hughes had already served previous terms in jail for shoplifting.  Now he stood before a judge after admitting the theft of a silver fruit dish priced at $22 from Bloomingdale’s Department Store on East 59th Street on May 5.   Although the value of the item was not exceedingly great—about $250 today—his record resulted in a stiff sentence.  He received “an indeterminate sentence of from six months to three years in the penitentiary,” reported The New York Times.

The seeming tradition of calamity continued when, around 5 a.m. on August 29, 1940, the building caught fire.  Milton Kassel, an employee of a nearby garage, noticed the fire as he was walking along the block.  He shouted to another passerby to pull a fire alarm while he ran into the house to arouse the occupants.

Back on the sidewalk, he noticed young Vera Logan climbing out of the fourth floor window and holding herself on the sill.  Kassel shouted that help was on the way, but the woman could not stand the heat and flames directly at her back.  “She pushed herself from the window ledge and fell to the stoop of the house just as the first fire apparatus arrived,” reported a newspaper the following day.

Other boarders, John and Mildred Simons, were hanging by their hands from the windows of the second floor and Kassel reached their feet and assisted them down.  Another woman, Cecelia Conrad, stood on a fourth floor window sill screaming for help.  Fireman Walter Hunt raised a ladder and brought her down, suffering face and hand burns in doing so.  Other roomers jumped from the second floor windows.  Lubomir Shiskedjeff, possibly fractured his skull and John Miller injured his left leg.

Although injured, all the occupants except Vera Logan, whom boarders said was 22 years old, survived.  The fall to the stoop was fatal to the woman who had just been married six months earlier.

Four days later Vera’s husband was found around 8:30 a.m. sitting on the ledge of the fourth-floor window where she had plunged to her death.  Wearing the uniform of a Regular Army private, he was first identified as Private Stanley Logan; but it was later revealed by Sergeant J. W. Patterson of Fort Wadsworth that he was 20-year old Stanley Joseph Karczewski who had deserted from Fort Benning, Georgia about a year earlier.

The couple was married using his assumed name and now the grief-ridden man threatened to toss himself from the burned-out building.   Unable to persuade him down, police sent for the priest of the nearby Church of St. Vincent de Paul when they noticed that the ex-soldier held rosary beads.   Hemmed in by police at both the front and rear of the building, Karczewski attempted to hang himself from a beam with an electric cord, but the charred timber broke under his weight.

While Rev Emanuel Gonzales distracted the man, Fireman Charles Sedera was lowered from the roof on a rope.   With a quick shove he pushed Karczewski back into the building where two policemen wrestled him into submission.   It was discovered that his wife was not 22-years old as thought.  Her sister, Mrs. Harold Hang, identified her as Veronica Honejko, only 15 years old, who had run away from home.

The following year Firefighter Sedera was awarded the Thomas F. Crimmins Medal and the Department Medal for his act of valor that day.

The 2009 renovation resulted in high-end apartments -- photo
In 1966 the house was divided into apartments, two per floor; and in 2009 another renovation created a triplex apartment in the basement through second floor, with one apartment on each floor above.  The property was purchased in 2011 for $3.85 million and a subsequent restoration brought the house back to a single family residence for the first time in nearly a century and a half.

Since the last years of the 20th century the house at No. 211, now once again a private home, enjoys happier days.

 photographs taken by the author


  1. Such tragedy for the shepard the ultimate insult...they didn't bury them close to each other.


  2. !!! I have been researching the Voullaire family and it's history for 10 years now. This is my family, this is my history the bulk of which I have learned in the past 6 years. Kitty, Ann Catharine Voullaire nee Watts, was my grt grt grt grandmother. Belmont Voullaire, her son, is my grt grt grandfather. Belmont buried his mother in Green-Wood, since she and Horace could not be proved to be married it was his duty as the eldest child and son to see to her final needs. Her existence had only caused harm, injury and pain to those around her, although I am grateful that she had children. I must tell you if Horace Shepard's mother knew even a hint of Kitty's history, she was right to be concerned if not out right scared for her delicate sensitive son.

    Thanks for doing this piece on this building. I stumbled on this quite by accident.

    A Voullaire Descendant. (email

  3. I forgot, Kate and Seymour Voullaire had 5 children; three daughters, Italia, Celeste, and Ann; and two sons, Belmont and Alphonse.

  4. Wow! What a backstory to such a genteel-looking building. One would suppose, passing by, that it had housed nothing but Victorian ladies sipping tea in the parlour. Tom, your posts are quite addictive!

    1. I'm so glad you're enjoying the histories. So many of the stories could so easily be lost to time.