True Nightmares: Tales of Terror is examining the murder of Clothilde Marchand at her home in Buffalo, New York, by Nancy Bowen in 1930. The subsequent investigation led to the events surrounding the crime being described as the scandal of the century.
Clothilde’s husband was Henri Marchand, a renowned French artist and sculptor, and in the 1920s, the pair moved to Buffalo. Henri had been commissioned to produce dioramas and wax sculptures for the Buffalo Museum of Science, something he had done previously for the New York State Museum.
Marchand set about his task by acquainting himself with members of the local Seneca tribe on Cattaraugus Reservation, whom he used as models. He formed a romantic relationship with a 36-year-old Seneca woman, Lila Jimerson, which would later prove fatal to his wife, Clothilde.
On March 30, 1930, 66-year-old Seneca woman Nancy Bowen went to the home of 50-year-old Clothilde and demanded to know if she was a witch. Clothilde apparently responded with a glib remark, which led to Bowen bashing her on the head with a hammer.
A struggle followed, which left Clothilde with marks on her neck and led to her tumbling down the stairs. Bowen then jammed a wad of chloro-form soaked cotton down her throat, which asphyxiated the petite cultured French woman. She was found a few hours later by her 12-year-old son.
Marchand case was engulfed in sexual scandal
The ensuing trial unleashed a scandal that gripped the nation and tarnished the reputation of the Buffalo Museum of Science for years. The cops learned that Henri had been having an affair with numerous Seneca women, but particularly with one of his models, Jimerson.
Henri shocked 1930s sensibilities by claiming that his sexual affairs were a “professional necessity” as he needed to sculpt barechested women. He also claimed that Clothilde was aware of his affairs and had given consent.
1930s blushes at moral indiscretion aside, the police found evidence that Jimerson may have been behind the murder. She had purchased a hammer shortly before the killing and had given it and the chloro-form to Bowen. Both Bowen and Jimerson were arrested and charged with murder. At one point, Jimerson claimed that Henri had discussed killing his wife, something he vehemently denied.
Jimerson was suspected of convincing Bowen that the victim was a witch who had cursed her husband, Charley “Chief Sassafras” Bowen, and killed him. It was believed that Jimerson used a Ouija board to trick Bowen into thinking her husband was calling for revenge from beyond the grave.
Jimerson’s first trial was abandoned after she fell ill from tuberculosis, and a second trial in 1931 turned somewhat into a circus. At one point, even vice-president Charles Curtis, who was part Native American, intervened in the case. Ultimately, Jimerson was acquitted.
Bowen pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to between one and ten years. She only served one year.
An air of suspicion continued to hang over Henri Marchand, but there was no evidence that he was involved in Clothilde’s death. After the 1931 trial, he moved to Troy, NY, where the 54-year-old married his sister’s 18-year-old foster daughter.
More from True Nightmares: Tales of Terror
Follow the links to read about more chilling nightmares from the past.
In 1897, in Chicago, sausage maker Adolph Luetgert murdered his wife, Louise Luetgert, and then dissolved her remains in a large sausage vat. The cops later made the grisly discovery of finding body parts mixed in with sausage meat.
Graham Backhouse was a wealthy farmer in the English countryside who attempted and failed to kill his wife Margaret Backhouse with a car bomb. He then murdered his neighbor Colyn Bedale-Taylor as part of an elaborate scheme to frame him for the attempted murder of Margaret.
True Nightmares: Tales of Terror airs at 11:30/10:30c on Investigation Discovery.