The Bride in a Coffin–Her Dreadful Revenge: 1896

Bridal post-mortem photograph

Bridal post-mortem photograph


Of His Discarded Bride

Lying in a Coffin in Her Wedding Costume,

Made James Cocroft a Hopeless, Raving Maniac

Ghastly and Awful Revenge of a Deserted Girl.

Unique Romance of Two Ardent Lovers Separated By Cruel Accusations of “Friends.”

New York, April 4. The recent confinement in an insane asylum of a young accountant, named James Cocroft, has revealed one of the most original dramas of real life ever plotted by human ingenuity. It is the unique romance of an unusually moral youth, a fair enchantress of the sparkling metropolitan music halls, rapturous love at first sight, a betrothal that caused domestic delight at Cocroft’s home, and then cruel accusations from “loving friends” that brought about a chain of mental discord with a frightful result.

Cocroft comes from a highly respectable old American family, much reduced in circumstances since the death of his father, who was an expert accountant. The elder Cocroft made his money easily examining the books of several large dry goods firms in the commercial district, and was at one time confidential clerk in the employ of A. T. Stewart. He spent his money lavishly entertaining many friends in a handsome brown stone front on Madison Avenue, and died suddenly of heart failure eight years ago, leaving a small income to his widow and some real estate in trust; the interest from which his son was to receive on coming of age. He also left a daughter, who is now the wife of a wealthy St. Louis merchant. Mrs. Cocroft’s allowance was insufficient to retain the almost princely splendor of the Madison Avenue residents, and she


At Locust Valley, Long Island. One evening, while his sister’s betrothed was visiting New York, about a month previous to their marriage, young Cocroft spent an evening with him in the metropolis, and Cocroft was shown the sights for the first time. The exhibition of gayety and vulgarity he saw had little impression on his mind either one way or the other, but a certain young siren, who sang sentimental songs to an unappreciative audience at the Imperial Music Hall, interested him seriously. Later in the evening, at a popular dance hall, since closed by the police, Cocroft’s companion pointed out the same young woman. He was seized with a desire to make her acquaintance, being impressed by the apparent innocence of the pretty face. Her sympathetic voice not only charmed his ear, but also her graceful manner bewitched his eye, completely captivating him.

In the course of their conversation, Cocroft obtained her name and address, and discovered that she had an aunt who was the wife of a Long Island farmer living near Locust Valley, where she frequently spent her Sundays. On returning home James showed himself a rapturous candidate for matrimony, and so his mother and sister noted the change in his manner with increasing regret. He no longer seemed to find pleasure in their society, and when unable to visit the mistress of his heart


His mother and sister made fun of him and exhorted him to listen to reason, but all to no purpose; and then, bowing to fate, consented to make the acquaintance of the fair enchantress.

The first impression was truly favorable. In fact she finished her introduction at his home by weaving around mother and daughter a spell as potent as that cast over the son. So Etta, although only a shop girl, as she had chosen to call herself, was formally recognized as the bride-elect, and the date of the wedding was fixed in the near future.

Miss Marmon left her boarding house in the city, and came to live with her aunt on the outskirts of Locust Valley. She laid new plans for the future, resolving to resign all connection with the music halls, and forget much in her life that had led in an erring direction through a necessity that her betrothal to Cocroft had obliterated. She is an orphan, and had to earn her own livelihood or eke out a miserable existence on a farm with her aunt. She had been given a musical education, and her more cultivated tastes rebelled against such a life. What she had been forced to do in the metropolis, in order to support herself according to her desire, was far from being satisfactory, but it was naturally her choice of the two paths fate had opened before her.

Young Cocroft was madly infatuated with his attractive betrothed, and she—as much enamored.

Mrs. Cocroft was Puritanical in her ideas of right and wrong, and so she determined to separate James from his adored one. This was not so difficult to accomplish as might be assumed, as the young man had been brought up to worship his mother’s principles, and accordingly.


He was prevailed upon to renounce his fair betrothed. At his mother’s request he also resigned his position, it being a matter of only a couple of months’ time from his twenty-first birthday when he could claim his inheritance, and she wanted to make sure that he should not see Etta again until his infatuation had passed away.

In the meantime Etta wrote letter after letter, pleading for an opportunity of defending her wretched position. She did not deny that she had been mixed in with a fast set, but emphatically asserted her innocence of blame. That she was heartbroken and almost despondent her letters plainly told. In the most pleading tones the English language supplies she begged and implored her estranged lover to overlook what bitterness there may have been in her career for the sake of the happiness the future held for them—would he but say the word, and she warned him that every day that passed without such a reconciliation took their souls farther apart on the sea of life. But as she lost courage her letters became less and less frequent, and more and more melancholy in tone, until they ceased to disturb the Cocroft household. Finally Etta’s feelings changed. She began to reproach herself forever having loved such a man of self-conviction and wished to hate him. Her lover’s indifference to all the heartbreaking appeals she made, the several long, unanswered explanatory epistles she penned in the gloom of his cruel neglect, and her growing desire to transform her tender anxiety into malignant hatred, soon triumphed, bearing


A craving for vengeance arose in her breast, and she conceived a ghastly plot for bringing remorse to her former lover. It was to send him a photograph of herself artistically arrayed in her bridal costume with her shapely figure laid out for dead in a handsome casket.

She had the deceptive photograph taken. Then the question arose as to the best means of assuring his seeing it. She had begun to doubt whether James had received her letters. She decided to send the photograph to Mrs. Cocroft, instead of to her son, and to send it in her aunt’s name. Next day Mrs. Cocroft received a registered letter with a deep black border. The handwriting was not that of any of her friends or acquaintances. She nervously tore the seal and drew out—not a missive as she had expected the contents of the envelope to be, but a photograph, a picture far more eloquent than any letter could have been. It was the portrait of Etta attired in her bridal finery, and lying lifeless in a handsome casket. She rushed into the library, where her son was reading, and laid the fatal photo before the unhappy Romeo with a significant air of triumph. Her silence was more expressive than any word she could have employed. It plainly bespoke of her satisfaction that the crisis of her beloved son’s threatened destruction had passed, and that thereafter he would never give a thought to Etta. She thanked God that her good influence had save him from wrecking his life.

For a few moments the young man gazed intently at the gruesome likeness in silent horror,


Its pallid face, the awful recognition of the features, hypnotized him. For a moment the fierce contraction of his muscles stood still, then twitched violently again, and with a loud, piercing cry he threw himself on the floor, beating his breast in terror. In his frenzy he seemed to see Etta in death and called to her in bating whisperings.

In awful language Cocroft reproached himself as the murderer of his martyred love. He raved and tore, and madly smashed everything within his reach to pieces, exclaiming:

“Oh, Etta—Etta! Oh, I know—God will demand my life at thy hands! I am branded forever—a murderer!”

The paroxysm of wild despair continued and inspired the sufferer’s relatives with fear for his life. The family physician was called from the city, and his diagnosis proved even more terrible than death—confirmed insanity, with very little hope of ultimate recovery. When the physician arrived James had sunk exhausted in a comatose state, but before he left the victim of Etta’s morbid act revived his strength and went into another fit of raving. It is impossible to describe the grief of the broken-hearted mother on hearing the truth of her son’s state.  On the physician’s advice James was placed under the personal treatment of a famous expert on insanity in the specialist’s private sanitarium. After what passed in her cozy little cottage Mrs. Cocroft could not remain there alone, and so when her daughter and son-in-law were compelled to return to St. Louise, she accompanied them. She is said to have developed symptoms of dementia, and to be under the care of a St. Louis specialist.

The life of Etta Marmon is strikingly interesting in itself. She was first employed in the stage work of J. M. Hill in the Marie Tempest production of “The Fencing Master,” as a member of the chorus. Etta was then only 17 years old, and the most doll-like of the beauties of that much complimented flock, when the opera was presented at the New York Casino. She partook of late suppers with her companions and their friends, and was considered the angel of the company. She was not engaged by Mr. Whitney, when he bought the opera, the manager declaring such work not suitable for her, and so she drifted into the demoralizing music hall circle. At present she is on the road with a traveling company of burlesquers. 

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 5 April 1896: p. 17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The article draws a veil over Mrs. Cocroft’s ease in persuading her son to drop the young woman he supposedly loved. It is frustratingly silent about those “friends.” Did the mother enlist them to whisper  hints to her son about the entertainments available at those “late suppers?” The article also does not divulge whether his mother withheld the girl’s letters. In this distressing case it does not appear that a Boy’s Best Friend was His Mother.

The photograph below is of Marie Tempest in “The Fencing Master.”  The play offered much scope for the display of charming limbs in tights. One wonders what ultimately happened to Miss Marmon and if that traveling company of burlesquers was yet one more step towards her final ruin.

Marie Tempest in "The Fencing Master."

Marie Tempest in “The Fencing Master.”

The photograph at the head of the post is of the so-called “Italian Bride,” whose incorrupt body was found in Chicago’s Mount Carmel Cemetery.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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