Vanderbilt v. Whitney 10/8 – 10/9/1934

For previous installments on the Vanderbilt custody trial, go to the TRIED blog page.

The second week of the Vanderbilt v. Whitney has begun. Judge Carew has decided that future sessions will be held in camera, privately heard by him, with the press excluded. Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt’s (“Morgan” herein) attorney implored the Judge to reopen the courtroom, since only Gertrude Whitney’s side of the case had yet been heard, to the prejudice of his client. The defamatory statements against Morgan were made in the glare of all possible publicity and he should be allowed to rehabilitate her reputation in the same glare. However, the Court declined and said his decision was “solely to shut off the scandalous public discussion of the testimony which might be recalled in later years to the child’s embarrassment.” Of course, closing the testimony only increased speculation, to Morgan’s detriment, and fanned the country’s rabid curiosity.

The press filled the time between trial days marveling at the size of Little Gloria’s fortune, which was $2,872,663 ($56,685,910.00 today) and increasing at a rate of $50,000.

Though the resumed hearing was to be closed, minutes of the case were going to be transcribed, for the benefit of the parties should the loser of the action take it to the Court of Appeal (which she ultimately did).

Morgan is waiting for her own witnesses to arrive in support of her bid to reclaim custody of her child. Her lawyer vows, “All those whose names have been besmirched in the testimony will testify. We have nothing to conceal, nothing to hide. Discharged servants will swear as their moods sway them.”

However, most of Morgan’s support team is still in Europe. Her brother and sister Thelma were still traveling to her side by boat, with Thelma promising, “I am going to see if I can help my sister in any way possible, for she needs me with her at a time like this and I will appear in court, if I am required.” But that will have to wait. Gertrude Whitney’s, the paternal aunt who is seeking custody of Little Gloria, witnesses are still testifying.

Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt’s twin sister Thelma Thaw

When he opened the new session of trial, Judge Carew warned attorneys and witnesses for both sides that they would be held in contempt of court if they divulged any of the testimony.

First on the stand was Stuart L. Craig, the physician that Gertrude Whitney retained to treat her niece. Prior to trial he submitted an affidavit saying he had treated Little Gloria for a tonsillectomy in 1932 and for hysteria on September 21, 1934, weeks before the trial began. An adult Gloria says that she was indeed anxious prior to the trial, because her nurse and maternal grandmother made her believe she would lose them forever if her mother regained custody. In retrospect, Little Gloria revered the memories of her grandmother and nurse until her own death in 2019, but realizes that they manipulated and brainwashed her.

It is impossible to accurately judge the character of Justice Carew 80 years after the trial, but I get the distinct impression that he relished being the center of attention. He took it upon himself to give the press trial updates, summarizing the testimony for them. The subject matter was too scandalous for the public to hear it themselves, but not to hear it from the judge.

Carew said that Dr. Craig stated that he operated on Little Gloria’s tonsils (tonsils, adenoids, sinus trouble and cervical glands) on June 8 and then, on June 15, she was taken to her mother’s apartment at the Sherry Netherland to recover. With disapproval, Dr. Craig reported that Morgan left and sailed away to Europe on June 24, after her daughter had been removed to the Whitney estate in Long Island. Craig said he continued to visit Little Gloria and, although she suffered from colds, she improved over the course of the year and her aunt’s care suited her. In fact, from the time of her surgery in 1932 until the custody fight arose in 1934, Little Gloria spent most of her time in her aunt’s home.

Then, on September 16, 1934, Little Gloria was spending a week at her mother’s townhouse. It was then that Nurse Keislich claimed that Little Gloria threatened to jump out of a window if she was forced to remain there. Indeed, the child approached a window to execute the task. In response, Keislich stole Little Gloria out of her mother’s house and took her to Gertrude Whitney. Dr. Craig was called to the Whitney home to treat Little Gloria.

He stated that the child was “hysterical and overwrought for fear her mother was going to take her back.” It was his belief that it would be best for Little Gloria to be in Whitney’s custody.

When the press swarmed Craig after his testimony, he replied, “I’ll be sent to jail, if I say anything.”

For her part, Morgan’s attorney later explained that Morgan only left her child at Whitney’s home because the doctor, Whitney’s doctor whom Morgan trusted at the time, assured her that it would be better for Little Gloria’s respiratory health to remain there. Morgan never voluntarily relinquished custody of her daughter and felt that in taking Little Gloria against her will, Whitney and Nurse Keislich had kidnapped the girl. Apparently, Morgan was not alone. New York’s acting district attorney said that he was watching the trial with interest and, should Whitney lose the case, he might consider bringing an action against her for kidnapping.

Following Dr. Craig, the maid, Maria Caillot returned to the stand for cross-examination. The Judge declined to describe what Caillot said regarding the lover’s kiss she witnessed between Morgan and Lady Milford-Haven, a cousin to King George. The judge opined that “to comment would be to interpret the evidence.”

Morgan’s attorney, Burkan, suggested that his cross-exam had been effective. He described himself as “delighted with today’s session. But I am under strict inhibitions to say anything about what went on inside.”

The Judge then countered that he is sure Nathan Burkan “feels he diluted somewhat” the maid’s damaging testimony and was “very good”, but concluded the maid stuck to her story that there was undue affection between Morgan and her friend, Lady Milford-Haven. The judge does not strike me as a completely neutral arbiter in this matter.

Burkan may have been “delighted” with his cross, but his client was not. While maid Maria was still on the stand, Morgan left the courtroom, accompanied by Burkan’s associates. With her head down, she walked to an adjacent courtroom and stayed there for 10 minutes. Although Burkan later denied that she had fainted, she looked sick and as if she’d been crying. Burkan told the press, “She is in bad shape. She is crushed.”

The first closed days of trial having ended, Morgan’s mother, Laura Morgan is scheduled to give testimony against her own daughter later in the week.

Leave a Reply