The Erich Muenter Saga (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part One

After arriving back in New York City, Frank Holt took more dynamite and two handguns to Glen Cove, New York and the estate of J. P. Morgan Jr.   He had already scouted out the location, or as well as a casual visitor could possibly manage.  On June 3 at 9:30 AM,  Holt knocked on the front door of the Morgan estate and introduced himself to the butler as Thomas P. Lester.   After presenting his business card, he asked to see Mr. Morgan.   When the butler, Stanley Physick, refused, Holt pulled the two pistols out of his pocket and forced his way inside. 

Showing considerable courage and quick-thinking, Physick misdirected Holt to the library on the other side of the house from where Morgan and his family were actually at breakfast with the British ambassador.    Taking Physick with him, Holt began searching the house after realizing the library was empty.   Before reaching the room where the Morgans were eating, Physick managed to shout out a warning and the family attempted to take cover.  

Holt was hardly deterred and began chasing the financier and his family.   To protect his family, J.P. Morgan rushed Holt directly but not in time to keep him from firing four shots.   One of those bullets hit Morgan in the leg and another one lodged in his abdomen.  Still, Morgan was able to wrestle Holt to the ground and Physick hit Holt in the head with a lump of coal.   After taking away his guns and tying him up for the police, another servant noticed the dynamite sticking out of Holt’s pocket.   The dynamite was immediately placed in a pail of water 

Police arrived quickly and took Holt into custody.  He identified himself as a Cornell professor and gave a voluntary confession which was immediately published in the newspapers.   While insisting that he had been in New York for weeks, the dynamite in his possession and the similarity between his confession and the “R. Pearce” letters were enough to link him to the Senate bombing.     As for J.P. Morgan Jr, his injuries weren’t life threatening and churches across New York gave masses praising his escape.

All of which led to a major free-for-all with Holt being interviewed by city, state, and federal police officers and psychiatrists trying to determine his mental state.  He kept changing his story about what he had been planning with J. P. Morgan, whether to kill him or to take his family hostage to force him to stop financing the war effort.    Police quickly learned that Holt was really Erich Muenter though they had bigger worries by then.   In a letter that Holt had previously written to his wife in Dallas, he claimed that he had placed bombs on different ships heading for Europe, all set to blow up on July 7. 

Considering the large amount of dynamite Holt had purchased, most of which could not be accounted for, police had no choice but to take his threats seriously.   Though there was an explosion and fire aboard the ship Minnehaha on July 9, police were unable to link it directly to Holt since other German sympathizers were also targeting ships.   As it was, the fact that the Minnehaha had been carrying high explosives which (mercifully) failed to detonate was enough to add to the paranoia.  Police also raised the inevitable question of whether Holt was acting alone or part of a larger gang  but their chief source of information would soon become unavailable. 

On July 6, Holt/Muenter managed to slip out of his cell.  This  happened despite the fact that he had been on suicide watch after previously attempting to slash his wrists with a broken pencil along with trying to starve himself to death.  Once he evaded his guard, Holt managed to climb onto a railing on the second story of the jail and dived headfirst onto the concrete floor below.   He was killed instantly and an autopsy later determined that he had died of a compound fracture and a cerebral hemorrhage.  

With their main suspect gone, police had no option but to send out a general alert due to the possibility that Holt had planted other bombs.  While they managed to trace most of the explosives, there were no more explosions although fifty sticks of dynamite were never found .   Another bombing plot involving a German spy ring would later be broken up in 1916 but there was no link  to Frank Holt who had apparently been working alone.   Police later turned up evidence of several small explosions that occurred in Central Park near the bungalow he had rented and concluded that he had used up much of the missing dynamite in experimental blasts to test out his bombs.

Beyond establishing that Frank Holt was definitely Erich Muenter there was little enough left to do in the case.  A telegram sent by his lawyer to his Holt’s father-in-law in Texas likely said it all:  “Holt a suicide in jail here.  Obviously demented.  Do you wish body shipped to Texas?”   The “obviously demented” theory was the only explanation anyone would ever make about the bizarre academic who had tried to halt American involvement in World War I before it even started.    His actual impact on U.S. society seems minimal and the world would soon be too embroiled in World War I and its aftermath to spare much thought to a deranged professor.   Even today, about the only conclusion anyone can make about Professor Erich Muenter is that he is much an enigma in death as he was in life.



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