At first blush it appears that Tillie led a pretty benign life. On paper, she never married or had any children. She lived with her parents until her mid-late twenties, working as a tailoress in Cincinnati. That was also the occupation of my great-grandmother, her sister Louisa.
By the 1900 Cincinnati census she was boarding at 219 Odeon with Mary Lambert, a widow with a 14 year old son and a 12 year old daughter. Tillie’s occupation was still listed as tailoress. In the 1901 Cincinnati Directory she was a tailoress residing at 1562 Linn St.
In the early 1900s, Matilda’s life took an interesting twist as she hooked up with her cousin’s husband. The cousin, Sophia Saatkamp, was born in Cincinnati in March of 1870 to Henry and Richie (Suhre) Saatkamp. She married William H. Niederhelman on 22 August 1888. William was a jeweler, who at one point owned a jewelry store. They had two sons: Albert born in 1889, and William born in 1896. Sophia divorced William as she felt he was paying too much attention to her cousin, Tillie. Around 1904 or 1905, William and Tillie left Cincinnati together, and set up a home in Terre Haute, Indiana. There are conflicting reports as to whether the divorce of Sophia and William occurred before or after they took off.
The couple lived in Terre Haute several years, and though she was often referred to as his wife, there is no record of a marriage between William and Tillie. She left him just before Christmas of 1909 to go and live with her brother John Boegel, his wife Luella, and their three sons in Connersville, Indiana. By that time, according to a newspaper account, she was blind, deaf, and suffered from paralysis of the left side.
|William Niederhelman's death|
Effie, in the meantime, had continued on the train in the company of a man named Henry Corcoran. When they arrived in New Orleans they were arrested and charged in connection with the death of William. They vehemently denied the charges, and stated William was fine when he got off the train in Terre Haute.
Police believed that William had committed suicide because he was despondent that Effie would not stay with him, and the coroner sent the body to the State University at Bloomington for examination. It was determined the William had committed suicide by taking 53 grains of cyanide potassium. Chemists confirmed that this amount would have caused instant death, so Effie could not have given him the poison in Chicago 12 hours before he died. Effie and her male companion were released after spending a couple of days in a New Orlean's jail.
In light of William’s death, Tillie’s brother John petitioned to take care of William’s estate, but in the end he could not prove that William and Tillie ever married, despite the fact that they had lived together as husband and wife. The estate was thought to be worth $5,000. William carried two life insurance policies, each with a death benefit of $500. One was payable to his estate and the other to “Mrs. Mathilda Helman, Cincinnati.”
But someone else was also interested in William’s estate - his ex-wife Sophia. She traveled to Terre Haute with her son Albert to petition the court to be appointed administratrix of the estate. Ultimately, co-administrators were appointed, one for each of the so-called wives of William.
In another odd twist the Cincinnati Enquirer, in covering the sordid tale of the 1910 death of William. reported that about two yeas ago a liveryman committed suicide. It is alleged that he ended his life when his wife learned that he had an “engagement with the woman know as Mrs. Helman No. 2.” That would be Tillie.
Tillie died 16 September 1910 in Connersville, Indiana at the age of 38. The cause of death was listed as “Exhaustion”, having a duration of one year. It must have been exhausting to live a life of betrayal, deception, infidelity and ostracism from your family. But one has to wonder if something else contributed to her debilitating illness. Syphilis can cause blindness, hearing loss and neurological issues. It bears consideration.
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