Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Mystery of the Two Mrs. Renders- Tempe, Arizona

While researching for an historical piece to write about in Maricopa, I stumbled upon a newspaper article in the archives that caught my attention. I was also planning to look into the history of the old Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad, when I found the story of a woman who committed suicide on the railroad tracks in 1906.  As I researched further, I found the story not only to be very tragic, but one that had me asking many questions. So being the "digger" that I am, I decided to keep digging around and I attempted to find the answers.

The newspaper article I found was dated January 3, 1906 and it spoke of an apparent suicide that took place a day earlier in Tempe, Arizona. According to the report, a woman who was going by the name of Mrs. Renders committed suicide at the train depot by throwing herself across the railroad track just as the train was coming into the station. She waited until the "train was too near for the engineer to reverse throttle", she then dropped the satchel she was carrying and threw herself across the tracks, falling in front of the oncoming train, causing her body to be cut in two! She died instantly.

old postcard of a train in the early 1900s
As gory a sight one could imagine, the mystery surrounding why she did it escaped attention in the papers. As soon as the suicide was reported, it was instantly forgotten and not one more mention I could find. According to the paper, it also mentions that "nothing of her identity could be confirmed" but then it states that the few people who were interviewed, claimed that Mrs. Renders was in very ill health. Others claimed the woman they knew as Mrs. Renders was actually Mrs. or Miss Morgan and that she was perfectly healthy. It also states that she had recently had a baby a few weeks earlier, and that she had left it in the care of a Mrs. McVey in Tempe. The lady who jumped onto the tracks of the Maricopa & Phoenix Railroad had purchased a ticket to Maricopa, but of course her final destination proved to be elsewhere.

Going over the newspaper article over and over, I had to wonder why some people said she was Mrs. Renders while she was actually Mrs. or Miss Morgan? I also had to wonder who the father of the child was that she left in the care of Mrs. McVey in Tempe? I also had to wonder why she would kill herself if she had in fact given birth to a new baby just a few weeks earlier?

I did some research into the Arizona Death Index records and looked for a Mrs. Renders, but what I found shocked me. You see, I found a death record in 1906 for a Mrs. Renders, however the death certificate is misspelled as Render, but the date of death was not January 2, 1906 and cause of death wasn't suicide by train. No, I found Mrs. Renders death to be on September 29, 1906, by Tuberculosis. It all started to swirl around in my head, becoming even more intriguing by the minute.

Now, remember this woman was going around saying she was Mrs. Renders, but was reported to actually be named Morgan. She left the child in the care of someone before committing suicide. Now this is just speculation but could it have been possible that this woman was seeing a married man? Perhaps her child was the product of an affair, and when she realized, after giving birth, that the married man was not going to leave his wife, that she then took her own life? It has been done before, so it's possible. I have no proof of this theory, but I cannot deny that it does sound possible to me.

The woman who died in September was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Phoenix. Her headstone reads "Mrs. Alb. Renders." The engraving was damaged or decayed over the years so you cannot read the entire date of death but you can make out the numbers 28th or 29th, 1906. According to death records, a Mrs. Cora Renders died on September 29th, 1906 from Tuberculosis.  Now that had me thinking again. If she was married to Albert Renders, as the grave notes, and she died from an illness, perhaps the news around town of  a Mrs. Renders being ill was true. It was just that the people who had heard of Mrs. Renders ill health had mistook the suicide victim for Mrs. Renders because she was going around using the same name.

So if the real Mrs. Renders died from ill health in September of 1906, who was this lady who jumped off the platform at the train depot in Tempe on January 2, 1906 a whole eight months earlier? Why did she refer to herself as Mrs. Renders? And who was the father of her baby that she left in the care of Mrs. McVey?

I have not been able to trace this suicide victim any further. If her real last name was "Morgan", I haven't found any death record with that name in Tempe or in any Arizona death record either. I would really like to get to the bottom of this mystery and find out just who this mystery lady was. Who was this person who felt that there was no purpose left in life and chose to end it so tragically and so morbidly, by jumping in front of a moving train?

I checked the Census records for 1910, and located Mr. Albert Renders living in Jerome, Yavapai County, Arizona. He was living with a family, the Goodfellows, and was listed as a widower. I couldn't find any records that he ever remarried, but I found that he died on July 4, 1934 from heart problems and was buried in the Valley View Cemetery in Clarkdale, Yavapai County, Arizona.

The woman, Mrs. McVey, that was said to have been taking care the baby of the suicide victim, was my next search. According to the 1910 Census, the only female McVey I could locate was Mrs. J.A. McVey and she lived in Tempe, was widowed and living with an adult son. No records of a young child living with her. Perhaps if she did have the young lady's child, when she committed suicide, maybe Mrs. McVey returned the child to the woman's next-of-kin to be raised? There really is no way to know for sure, unless we find records to prove this.

So in ending, the mystery continues in the search of just who this Mrs. Renders (Morgan) was who fatally jumped in front of the train. Was she somehow connected to Cora Renders who died eight months later in nearby Phoenix? Was she connected to Albert Renders? The answers still elude us.

(Copyright- 2014; J'aime Rubio, Dreaming Casually Publications) 

US Census Records
Arizona Death Records
Salt Lake Tribune (1/3/1906)
Spanish Fork Press (1/11/1906)

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