Mabel Tinley: Con Woman of a Thousand Names, Part 4

Special thanks to Laurel Hill tour guide and author Tom Keels for providing us with this wonderful written account of the life and crimes of Mabel Tinley – featured on our True Tales from the Tombs tour on October 12th.




The only solution was to kill off Louise Vermeule and to rise phoenix-like from her ashes, this time as Mrs. John Van Ness Roberts, née Catherine Stuyvesant.  This amalgamation of Old Knickerbocker names was meant to suggest a society matron who would be welcome in every baronial palace on upper Fifth Avenue.  With her hair freshly dyed and the carriage traded in for a new limousine, Mrs. Roberts took up residence in an elegant seven-story apartment building at 227 Riverside Drive.  The attractive widow explained that both her husband and young son had died in Germany.

Soon, Mrs. Roberts was seen at every posh gathering in Manhattan.  She was present at the 1902 reception given for Prince Henry of Prussia, younger brother of Kaiser Wilhelm, at the Waldorf-Astoria.  She attended the balls given by Prince Louis of Battenberg, Admiral of the British Fleet, aboard his flagship Drake when it docked in New York Harbor in 1905.  Mrs. Roberts greeted the prince as an old friend, reminding him of how they had met in London.

Prince Henry of Prussia

Mrs. Roberts’ lavish receptions in her own elegantly furnished suite were filled with high-ranking officers of the armed forces.  Mrs. Roberts explained that she had met many of these military men when she served as private secretary in Washington to Phoebe Hearst, William Randolph’s multi-millionaire mom.  She beguiled her friends with stories about “Cloud-Rift,” her summer estate near Yonkers, and made it so real that it was even listed in the Social Register.

Beneath this serene surface, the constant struggle continued for cold, hard cash to fund the illusion.  Mrs. Roberts advertised in newspapers, seeking contact with Western businessmen in New York who owned stock in unprofitable mining companies.  The businessmen were invited to her suite on Riverside Drive, where they noticed the silver-framed pictures of European royalty and the silver tray filled with calling cards of society leaders.  The lovely Mrs. Roberts explained that through her A-list contacts and knowledge of the industry, she could easily unload their stock at a hefty profit, for an upfront fee of several thousand dollars.

Example of calling cards from the time

When all else failed, Mrs. Roberts drove to some fashionable boutique and ordered copious quantities of jewelry.  She gave the clerk her beautifully engraved card and asked him to send the jewels to her address.  When they came, her maid took the gems to a pawn shop, getting enough ready money to satisfy the most immediate needs.


Enjoying the story? Mabel is just one of the many stories buried in Laurel Hill, and autumn is the perfect time to come here and listen to as many as you can. We suggest beginning with our Fall Family Day, or any of the wonderful programs on our complete fall lineup. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow to read part 5!

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