lyric4.jpg

This illustration depicts a London production of “The Sleeping Beauty and the Beast,” which played at the Lyric Theatre on the night of Feb. 2, 1907.

In the last chapter, Frances Martin's stormy relationship with an abusive boyfriend led to an abortion, and then to a second pregnancy a year later. Afraid that Spikes might not marry her as promised, she considers killing him and then herself.

Mary Cook could hardly believe what Frances Martin had just told her: That instead of killing her boyfriend and then herself, she planned to have him arrested instead. The wife of the Lyric Theatre's stage manager watched her hired girl walk out of the North Main Street apartment and turn toward the theater next door. She would never see Frances alive again.

By 7:30, the air had turned colder and a light snow began to fall. At the box office, Frances picked up the ticket that her boyfriend, John “Spikes” Innis, had left for her – a 50-cent reserved seat – and walked down the long, narrow hallway past the poolroom to the theater.

The performance the night of Feb. 2, 1907, was “The Sleeping Beauty and the Beast,” a Victorian pantomime. Advertisements for the show announced a company of 60 actors performing in the tradition of London's Drury Lane productions. These were elaborate shows that featured stunning costumes and sets changed quickly and often, and mechanical devices that could rotate and elevate props and backdrops.

Frances was seen to leave her seat and return several times during the performance. One of those times, she walked up the hall, past the box office to the sidewalk and turned right, walking a few doors up the street to McNulty's drugstore.

At the coroner's inquest a few days later, druggist Frank DeNormandie testified that Frances entered the shop and told him the cat she wished to be done with was still alive and that she wanted strychnine to kill it. He wrapped the poison in paper and handed it to her without a comment.

In the theater's ladies parlor after the show, Frances met 13-year-old Anna Watson. It's not clear from testimony at the inquiry if Innis introduced her to Frances or whether Frances met Anna on her own and then introduced the child to Innis. At any rate, Frances invited the girl to go upstairs with her. The two went through the box office where theater manager Daniel B. Forrest was sitting at his desk. He acknowledged the pair as they climbed the staircase to the large room at the front of the building.

The room was 18 by 26 feet, with three large windows overlooking Main Street. The furnishings included a bed, couch, dresser and center table and a Brussels carpet. In one corner was a sink with warm and cold water, and the walls were decorated with, as The Washington Reporter described, “pictures of an obscene nature such as are usually found in places used for what the room is alleged to have been kept for.” The article continued: “It is said by those who have been investigating the case that the room was used almost nightly for immoral purposes and drunken debauches.”

The room could be entered through the box office and up a narrow stairway, as Frances and Anna did, or through another door that exited to the main hall of the second floor. In order to get into the main hall it was necessary to go into the building from Main Street, down the first-floor hall and through the poolroom and up another staircase.

Soon after Frances and the girl entered the room, so did Innis and Amos Martin (no relation to Frances), who was employed by the Lyric as an electrician and was in charge of the pool room. Amos left to buy four club sandwiches, and Frances and Spikes went down the hall to see about getting some beer. While they were gone and Anna was left alone, Forrest came into the room through the box office staircase.

Anna had never been in the room before but had an idea what that night might lead to. She had been living on her own since dropping out of school and leaving her family and getting into all kinds of trouble. It would have been no surprise to her when Forrest came upstairs from the box office and into the room, put his arms around her, kissed her and handed her a bottle of beer.

Forrest asked Anna who her company was for the evening and if he might be able to spend some time with her after the show some night.

Innis was in and out of the room all night. He left once to pick up a letter that Frances had written and left with her friend, Carrie Prowitt. In the letter, Frances had written that she intended to kill herself if Innis would not marry her. Innis kept his distance from Frances. There was a poker game going on down the hall that went on into the early hours of Sunday, and Innis spent most of the time there, returning to the room at about 1:30 a.m. and again at 4 a.m.

Anna would later testify that she spent most of the evening talking with Amos, and that the two got into bed together at 3:30 a.m. Which bed or room the couple used was not made clear in the testimony that would follow, nor was it clear if Frances stayed in the room above the box office all night. But in the early hours of Sunday morning, Anna Watson said she noticed Frances unwrapping a package and putting something in her mouth. Frances said it was medicine but did not elaborate.

At 5:50 a.m. Frances told Anna that she was going to die. About 10 minutes later, Innis came back to the room to find Frances in convulsions.

Innis ran through the hall and down the stairs to the poolroom, where Amos was sleeping on one of the tables.

“Oh, God, Frances is dying!” he cried before running from the room.

A Death in the Lyric
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