A Family's Curse
June 9, 1907
Olga Miller was a comely young thing who worked at the Hotel Rosslyn and was considered quite attractive despite the scar on her temple from shooting herself in the head.
One day she fell ill and was taken to County Hospital, where she went into convulsions and died after a visit from Richard Hardy, who forced his way into her room and made her drink a glass of milk that police suspected was poisoned.
But her death was only the beginning of the complicated story, a morbidly Victorian tale that includes murder, insanity, false identities, suicides and fears of body snatching.
Shortly after Miller died, officials learned that she was actually Bertha Beilstein, the daughter of John Frederick Beilstein, a wealthy Allegheny, Pa., businessman and politician. Before his mysterious death in 1897 (some people suspected Bertha of poisoning him in a fit of insanity), he wrote a will putting all his money in a trust for his heirs as long as she was alive.
Then “on the night of Oct. 2, 1898, she shot her mother three times and took a hatchet and hacked the body almost to pieces,” The Times said.
“Afterward she walked the floor for hours, when a cloud seemed to leave her mind and she saw what she had wrought. She seized the same revolver and sent a bullet crashing into her skull just to the left of the temple. She fell to the floor and struck her head on the point of a piece of furniture.
“She lay there for hours—her murdered mother on the bed and the daughter unconscious on the floor. Then she regained consciousness and, raising herself, saw the bloody body of her parent on the bed. She seized the revolver again and sent a bullet into her breast over her heart.”
But still, she did not die and the neighbors found her the next day. She said: “I was tired of life. It had no pleasure for me. I wanted to die and did not want my mother to live and fret over my death. For that reason I killed her.”
At the trial for her mother’s murder, Bertha was declared utterly mad and imprisoned at the Dixon Asylum for the Criminally Insane outside Pittsburgh, where she became a model prisoner and was given free reign.
In the meantime, her brother Edward, apparently unable to live with the family scandal, killed himself by drinking prussic acid at the Voegtly Cemetery, where his body laid undiscovered for days. Shamed by the scandal, her uncle David Reich “threw himself in front of an express train and was ground to death,” The Times said.
Then in 1906, Bertha escaped from Dixon, and here is where the story becomes almost impenetrably complex. It may have been that her lover in Los Angeles, Richard L. Hardin (or Hardy or Harding), was also an attendant at Dixon and disappeared when Bertha escaped from the asylum. Or it may have been, as he said, that he only met her in California. Or maybe her brother Frederick Beilstein of Chicago sent her to Los Angeles under the name Olga Miller.
Whatever the cause, Bertha arrived in Los Angeles and moved into the Royal Hotel on South Main Street. Hardin said he met her at the hotel three weeks before her death. He said that they quickly became friends because they were both Easterners and when she got sick, he brought meals up to her room and had a doctor prescribe medicine for her.
Hardin said that although he helped get her admitted to County Hospital, he was distressed by her treatment there. “It wrung my nerves to see her tied down and her hands tied, so that is why I asked the doctor to unloosen her hands and the waist bandages,” said Hardin, who was freed when it was determined that Bertha died of brain tumors rather than poisoning.
Then the various factions of her family began fighting over the body. Some, to preserve the trust set up by her father, claimed that Bertha had gone to England and that the deceased was merely some unfortunate woman.
Her brother Frederick, however, insisted that the body was hers and warned officials of Evergreen Cemetery to protect her remains as some members of the family might try to steal it. As a result, police officers were stationed outside her crypt, allowing access only to the series of people sent to identify the body.
Trying to view Bertha’s remains became a popular pastime in Los Angeles as cemetery officials noted that more than 40 women had attempted to get a look by claiming to be a friend or relative. Cemetery superintendent Olneyman told The Times “that all are simply morbidly curious and always depart when their names and addresses are asked.”
After six weeks, Bertha’s body was conclusively identified and sent to Pittsburgh. Later that year, her brother Charles died when he fell from a ladder at his hotel in Vandergrift, Pa.
The Times said: “Charles was a firm believer in Bertha Beilstein’s declaration years ago that an avenging hand followed every member of the family. Less than a month ago the hotel keeper declared to a friend that he fully expected to die a violent death.”