Friday, May 16, 2014

Bessie Finn Costa Walton - Who died too young at the hands of a murderer

(Family lineage: 1 Bessie Walton, 2 Mae Finn, 3 Charles Thomas Copeland)
1891 – 1919

It's a shame that there is so little known about Bessie - a vibrant woman who died much too young!  After all these years she is still simply a headline in an old Chicago Tribune article (shown below). It's also a shame that none of the people who could have answered questions about her are still alive, and there is not even one picture to be found of her.

Mae Finn
However, there can be some advantages to lacking solid, documented  information. The main one is that there is no one to correct the picture I carry in my head of an attractive redhead (not unlike her daughter, Mae, pictured here) who, while not very tall, was full of energy, quick to anger but loved to laugh, and was looking for the perfect man who would make her life complete.

We do know that Bessie's father, Jacob Walton,  immigrated from England in 1867, and was a laborer in the cement industry until he was able to buy a small candy store adjacent to their home on the south side of Chicago.  Bessie's mother, Mattie McFarlane, had grown up in Wisconsin and her grandparents had been born in Scotland.

Walton family candy store and family home, 1003 S. Campbell, Chicago,Illinois

We also know that Bessie  married twice. Her first husband, Joseph Eugene Finn, was one of 13 children who, in 1900, had sailed to America from Ireland with his mother and one of his brothers. Although his large family settled in the Boston area, Joe eventually found his way to Chicago, where he lived the rest of his life.   He was 32 and Bessie was 22 when they married in 1913. Their daughter, Mae, was born in 1914.

After that marriage ended in divorce, Bessie, now 27, married again on February 20, 1919.  Her groom, Philip Costa (aka DeCosta) was 36 years old.   It was definitely not a marriage made in heaven! Only a few months into their marriage, Bessie took her 5 year old daughter back to live in her parents' home.

Mae told her daughter years later that she although she had few memories of that time, she did  remember her stepfather  throwing knives that would stick in the kitchen walls of their apartment.  Great memory for a little girl and very likely a strong indicator of what that marriage had been like - and why it ended so soon!!

On December 7, 1919, the following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune. To this day, it is unknown whether Costa was ever captured after killing his wife.

That day, Bessie and Joe's daughter, Mae, who was attending kindergarten in the elementary school across the street from her grandparents' home, remembered being brought home from school and seeing her mother lying very still on a couch.

Mae kept a journal after her marriage which included minute details of  her life, including doctor's visits, schools attended, toys bought for her children, how much they cost, etc. However, there was only one short paragraph dedicated to her early childhood. It gave the date her mother had died, where she was buried  and - underlined in red ink - that her mother had been killed by accident

I suspect that in order to explain to their young granddaughter why mommy wasn't with them anymore, the Waltons had told her that her mother had died accidentally. This was certainly more comforting for a child to believe, and it probably never changed over the years as the often-told fable became "fact".  

It was only after Mae's death that Bessie's death certificate and the newspaper article shown above were discovered - and the truth was finally known.