Murder or Unfortunate Accident?

What was supposed to be a lighthearted farce on the stage turned into a real-life tragedy in the Eastern Shore town of Marydel in January 1909.

The play “Chaps” was being presented on New Year’s night to benefit the Methodist Episcopal Church, and Charles Pippin’s character was to drink sherry. He did — and it cost him his life.

A police investigation revealed the bottle that was used for the wine had had poison in it.

But was it accidental or was it murder?

The bottle for the play was traced back to Samuel and Maude Pippin (no relation to Charles). The Pippins had supplied two bottles for the performance — one was labeled “Sherry Wine” and the other was labeled “Poison.”

Samuel had worked on finding bottles for the play from their home; one was amber and the other green. He found them in the garret and only washed one, as the one labeled “Poison” was going to be empty. However, it is believed that he accidentally mislabeled the bottles, putting the “Poison” label on the washed bottle and the “Sherry Wine” label on the unwashed one — the one that his wife had previously dissolved corrosive sublimate, a chemical used in those days as a disinfectant in the home.

The month-long investigation determined that the death of Charles occurred because of Samuel’s mix up and was deemed accidental; no motive could be determined for the poisoning. Both Samuel and Maude made statements as to the events leading up to the tragedy, and each visited with Charles’ family; they had been friends for years.

A Denton Journal news account described Maude’s tearful, emotional meeting with Charles’ family: “There was no hesitation upon the part of the victim’s family to assure Mrs. Maude Pippin that they realized the young man’s death was an accident.”

Maude was quoted in a news account about the incident: “This is a sad hour when I think of that boy as I last saw him in his casket. I would as soon as have given my husband poison as to give it to Charles Pippin,” she said. “I suppose this matter will become public, but there are other places we can go to live. Our sorrow is just beginning, but my only consolation is that none of us in infallible.”

Charles’ parents were thinking of moving to Elkton to be close to their living son.

Newspaper reporters had descended on the small Caroline County town of Marydel, which got its name for being situated on the border of Maryland and Delaware, to cover the case. When they left, The Denton Journal seemed to reflect the thoughts of the residents as calm returned to the town: “Now the place is resuming its wonted serenity, but the deep and settled sorrow for the sad accident remains and will be felt for many a day hereabout.”

Source: The Denton Journal, January 30, 1909, February 6, 1909

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