Cunningham-Burdell Murder Case

The Cunningham-Burdell murder case scandalized and fascinating 1850s New York society. Emma Hempstead Cunningham was a widow with five children and Dr. Harvey Burdell a dentist with a thriving practice when they met and began a tumultuous relationship. In January 1857, Burdell was found horrifically murdered on the floor of his office. Not long after, Cunningham appeared with the claim that they’d been secretly married and she was the heir to his estate. Instead, she was rewarded with murder charges.

Cunningham was a landlord, and Burdell her tenant; both lived and worked at 31 Bond Street in NoHo, an area that no more than a decade prior had been a tony residential neighborhood, home to the Astors and other elite New York families. By the late 1850s, though, the area was on a downward slide. The property of 31 Bond Street still exists, but not, alas, the house: the building that’s currently standing there was built in 1900, long after both Burdell and Cunningham were deceased.

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Though Cunningham was ultimately acquitted of murder, the taint of the case stuck with her for the rest of her life. She died in poverty in 1887, thirty years later. Both Cunningham and Burdell were buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. For a long time, the graves were unmarked, but headstones were erected for both in 2007. The amazing resource Find A Grave provides latitude and longitude for the location of Cunningham’s grave, and section/lot information for Burdell’s.

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(Sources: New York Times, Smithsonian, Murder by Gaslight)

–Ellen

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