Mini-Merrill

In our search for Merrill, we traced the lives of all his possible associates. This meant researching the whereabouts of all identifiable members of Merrill’s complicated extended family. In doing so, we came across one very eccentric character called Andrew Hessler who led a fascinating life with echoes of the Mystery of Merrill, although this man’s antics occurred a few decades earlier and culminated with his shocking death in 1915. As a result of my strange findings, I christened Andrew as Mini-Merrill.

If you‘ve read Where‘s Merrill, you will recall that Horace Forster’s mother was Amelia, and when her husband Leo Forster Jr shot his brains out after five years of marriage in 1886, we found out that Amelia eventually got married again to this fellow called Andrew Hessler – but this second husband “disappeared” (just like Merrill) during 1900 amid rumours of suicide.

I take some comfort regarding my ultimately frustrating search for Merrill’s whereabouts after 1936 in that I was able to track Andrew down across several far-flung American states after his particular reported “disappearance“ in 1900. Here’s a summary of Andrew Hessler’s crazy life:

  • Born 2nd June 1850 in Rosenburg, Baden (now Germany).
  • 1868 – residing in Philadelphia.
  • 1869 to 1873 – residing in Saginaw IL; working as a barber.
  • 1880 to 1889 – residing in Indianapolis; still a barber, but now renowned on the entertainment circuit as an accomplished tenor singer. Reportedly spent some time in Cuba to refine his opera singing talents.
  • 1890 to 1900 – residing in St Paul. Initially a barber-cum-singer. Marries widowed Amelia in April 1892, and becomes Horace’s stepfather. Amelia had some theatrical interests, so a romance may have blossomed “on the boards”. By 1900, Andrew is wealthy enough to invest in a restaurant and liquor sales outlets.
  • In May 1900, Andrew is reported to be missing from St Paul. A friend says he’s in Denver. The Forsters say he has “headed west” looking for a business location. Others say he has committed suicide.
  • 1901 to 1903 – Andrew secretly reappears in Seattle WA, alone, and working as a barber again.
  • 1904 to 1906 – Andrew relocates way south and lives in San Diego CA. Here he takes joint ownership of a saloon bar, and marries Catherine Rausch on 12th March 1906 after a courtship of only a few weeks. For a while, he takes sole ownership of his bar.
  • 1907 to 1911 – After his second marriage, Andrew moves north again, this time to Portland OR. He starts trading as a real estate salesman, mainly selling saloon bars located on the west coast. The marriage to Catherine does not last long. By 1908, his second wife has sought refuge in Chicago where she dies aged just 50. An extract of her Will referring to Andrew makes newspaper headlines all over America (see below).
  • 1912 to 1915 – Andrew heads back to San Diego. The end of his life in 1915 mirrors events in the St Paul home of Leo Forster Jr way back in 1886. Andrew shot his brains out on Santa Fe Wharf with a Smith & Weston revolver tied around his neck with his shoelaces.

It is clear that Andrew could never settle down in one place. This tells us something about his personality, perhaps reflecting a character akin to Merrill in later life. Thankfully, newspaper reports provide more than just hints of what was going on. It is apparent that Andrew was considered as the equivalent of a musical pop-star of his generation, and reaped the financial benefits. In each city where he lived for a while or more commonly visited “on tour“, he organized sell-out musical shows. Andrew gained the support of town dignitaries by offering to make charitable cash donations to local worthwhile causes, agreeing to meet the unaware benefactors at noon on the day after his recitals. It seems like Andrew was regularly trusted to act as banker of the concert takings at his overnight hotel – but Andrew was always long gone after a hearty breakfast and probably beyond State borders by noon the next day.

When his voice started to fail, he turned his hand to the management and sales of saloon bars. More opportunities for some dodgy dealing. As with Merrill post-1923, it is also clear that Andrew sought out wealthy brides to help him to finance his lifestyle. It’s my bet that Hessler “disappeared” in 1900 with his own chunk of the growing Forster Fortune. The Will of Catherine Rausch is an amusing “classic”. What better way to shame a dastardly husband? Referencing Andrew, this is what she had calculatingly had written up and witnessed:

To the individual who married me in San Diego, California, and who got from me thousands of dollars and when he could get no more, deserted me, I give one dollar payable in monthly installments of 25 cents.

The newspaper hacks in 1908 reported that “Hessler’s present whereabouts are unknown (again!) but I found him – again.

And the whole tale came full circle when I finally found Andrew’s funeral notice and brief obituary. It mentions his stepson Horace. Bizarrely, it seems that Andrew kept in touch with Horace from a distance, or at least made his late-life friends aware that he had a stepson. Imagine how Horace must have felt upon hearing the news from San Diego about Hessler’s dramatic suicide; both his biological father and stepfather had now raised a pistol to their own temple – and pulled the trigger – albeit 30 years apart.

Andrew’s obituary concludes by stating that “in recent years, Hessler was financially embarrassed.” This statement also resonates with our main missing man, Merrill, except I believe that Merrill learned how to hide that embarrassment by adopting the persona of an always comfortably well-off businessman … and then conning foolish associates into investing in his dubious schemes. In the end, Merrill was showing classic psychopathic tendencies, and psychiatrists tell us that extreme psychopaths cope with life by believing in their own deceptions as though it were true.

Medical experts also tell us something else: psychopaths do NOT commit suicide.

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