John Hedrich, the hotel’s head porter, confirmed that Dr. Binkley was dead and summoned the hotel’s house doctor, Dr. H. A. Watson. Manager Theodore C. Capen had arrived in the room as well. Dr. Binkley’s chair was on the left side of the bed, and his left hand was on his right knee close to his right hand. He had been shot in the left side of his face, the bullet having travelled upward at an angle into his brain. A small 32-caliber revolver with one empty chamber lay on the bed. Dr. Watson estimated that Dr. Binkley had been dead for at least thirty minutes.


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Shortly afterward, Dr. Binkley, Jr., arrived and was told that his father had committed suicide. According to the Chicago Tribune Dr. Binkley exclaimed, “It can’t be true. I don’t understand it. When I left him a few minutes ago he was in good spirits and I know of no reason why he should take his own life.” But other newspapers, quoting Manager Capen, reported that Dr. Binkley, Jr., had looked calmly at his father’s body and remarked, “I never thought that you would do this.”

Only $2.51 was found at the murder scene, either on the body or on a dresser. (Accounts differed.) Dr. Binkley’s wallet and a valise, containing medicine and toilet articles, were found in a public restroom about fifty feet from his room. Nearby was a half-empty whiskey flask. The police noted that there was no sign of a struggle in the room and that a thief would not have needed to kill a frail elderly man in order to subdue him. Detective Sergeant Thomas Sheehan, who headed the investigation, insisted that no thief would remove the valise from the room and then leave it at the hotel. He maintained that the presence of the whiskey bottle also argued for suicide and that the small amount of cash in Dr. Binkley’s room argued against murder by a thief. Furthermore, according to the police, the small-calibre weapon that killed Dr. Binkley was not the kind a burglar would use.


Dr. John Thomas Binkley, Sr.,
in the photograph the family
supplied to the Chicago Daily Tribune.

From the start the Binkley family insisted that their father and grandfather would not have committed suicide. They pointed out his strong religious beliefs and his good health and spirits. His father always carried at least $50 in cash, according to Dr. Binkley, Jr., and futhermore his gold watch was missing. Although he owned a gun, they said, the gun on the bed was not his; and he would not have had the opportunity to buy one in Chicago. [The June 3 article in the Chicago Tribune said Dr. Binkley denied that his father owned a gun.] The family pointed out that since Dr. Binkley’s room had a private bathroom, he would not have needed to use the public restroom. Dr. Binkley, Jr., stated that earlier in the day, after drinking with several family members, his father had returned the flask to his valise and then placed the valise next to his bed. Mary Upchurch said that she had last seen the valise in her father’s lap. Furthermore, argued the family, Dr. Binkley’s watch was missing, and he had left no suicide note.

Because the younger Dr. Binkley had supplied substantial financial support to his father in recent years, police doubted that his father had possessed much cash at the time of his death. Perhaps, one officer suggested, he had used most of his cash in making the day’s journey. At any rate, said investigators, the trajectory of the bullet clearly indicated that the doctor had died by his own hand. The police offered no explanation for the missing watch.

Why was the Chicago Police Department so determined to rule Dr. Binkley’s death a suicide? The Wellington Hotel had good reason to hope that it was a suicide and not a murder. Earlier that year, Agness Barrett, who had operated a lace store at the hotel, charged Ella Gingles, a young employee, with stealing valuable Irish lace. Shortly afterward Ella was found drugged, bound, and chained to a bathtub at the hotel on the same floor as the Binkley-Upchurch party’s rooms. Although she eventually confessed that she had staged her own kidnapping, the hotel had not welcomed the notoriety. [You can read Ella's own story at "The Tragedy of the Little Lace Maker."] News accounts of the Binkley murder suggested that the two incidents might be related. On the day of the murder detectives questioned various people connected to the Gingles incident. One of these was Jesse Rohr, a businessman who lived in Room 222 at the Wellington. Although some inconsistencies in his answers puzzled the police, they decided that he knew nothing about Dr. Binkley’s death. The inquest.

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