A Murder and a Suicide in the Tower Family

Albert Edward Tower Sr. had done well for himself and his family. He had made himself a millionaire with his iron industry here in the City of Poughkeepsie. The Falkill and Poughkeepsie Iron works were both operated by him in the mid-19th century, and cranked out thousands of pounds of “pig iron and projects thereof.” His work in the iron industry allowed him to raise a large family, own lots of property, and donate large sums of money to his place of worship, Christ Church. However, wealth does not always equal happiness for all within the family, and in this case there were deadly issues lying under the surface.

Albert Tower Jr. had taken over the iron business and fortune after his father’s death in 1891. He also took control of the family’s mansion, which once stood on the west side of North Road (roughly the modern location of the Dutchess Care Assisted Living facility). In 1885, he married Nina Carpenter, daughter of Benjamin Platt Carpenter, a prominent political figure in Dutchess County. In 1887, Nina gave birth to their one and only child, Albert E. Tower III and by all appearances focused her life entirely on the happiness of her son. She gave him everything he desired; horses, his own home gymnasium, even allowed him to pursue his boyhood fascination with guns (he was said to keep loaded pistols under his pillow). In our Vail Brothers photography collection, we uncovered several pictures of mother and son together, as well as several portraits of little Albert as he aged. Nina was happy to drop money on everything, including expensive photo sessions to document her son’s growth.

Money was no issue for the Tower family, as Albert Jr. had inherited and continued to make millions of dollars with the family’s iron works. They owned property in Poughkeepsie as well as the fashionable Newport R.I., which they sailed to on the steam yacht they owned named “Erl King.” The family had donated to various charities and institutions throughout Poughkeepsie, most notably Christ Church and Vassar Hospital. It was said, however, that Albert focused entirely on the business, and not so much on his family’s emotional needs. He was known for spending late nights overseeing the operations at the mills; even when he had plenty of managers who were capable of the work, he insisted on doing things himself.

On the night of April 10th, 1902, things seemed normal in the Tower household. A neighbor, Mr. Douglas Taylor had enjoyed a lovely evening with the family and commented that Mrs. Tower was a gracious hostess and all seemed perfectly fine when he left around 9:30 pm. Mr. Tower left the house soon after, to attend to a problem at the iron works, located just a couple blocks away from the family’s mansion. At some point before 11 pm, Nina called her husband and asked if he would come home soon, but he replied that he could not. Soon afterwards, Albert received another call, this one from the family’s Butler, Robert Pavitt, informing him that Mrs. Towers had been shot. Albert immediately called Dr. Tuthill then rushed to his home where he was met with the Doctor arriving at the same time.

Robert Pavitt kept Albert downstairs so that the doctor could examine the situation, as he knew that not only was Mrs. Towers dead but so was their 14 year-old son Albert Jr. Two female maids who had been sleeping on the third floor recalled hearing five or six shots around 11:45 pm, followed by the voice of Mrs. Towers crying “Oh, Albert, Albert!” and then another few shots moments later. Dr. Tuthill and coroner Harry Selfridge examined the scene, and it was determined that in a fit of insanity, Mrs. Towers got out of bed and walked from her room to her son’s (there were four rooms connected by doorways, Mrs. Tower’s room, two rooms in the middle, and then Albert’s). There she shot the boy with a 32 caliber revolver, several times in the chest, and finally through the chin, the bullet exiting through the back of his skull.

Mrs. Towers put the gun down and grabbed a 45 caliber before she turned and walked back into the room next to her son’s, where a small bed was located. She sat on the bed and fired a few shots unsuccessfully over her head and the final shot aimed perfectly at her temple. She was 39 years old. She was found dressed in a pink kimono with the gun still in her left hand. No one could quite understand why she did it, but there were plenty of theories. Some say that she had been sick for a while, but that it had just not been discussed. The neighbor who visited that night, Mr. Taylor, had said that he had spoken to Mrs. Tower about her son’s future at college and moving out someday. Perhaps that had concerned her, as she couldn’t bear to let him out of her sight (she even refused to send him to school, and had him tutored at home), so maybe she decided not to let him go; not ever. Sadly, we will never know her reason for why she did what she did.
Both mother and son were placed in the family vault at Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery after a large funeral held at the family home a few days later. Albert would eventually remarry, and divorce, and remarry again before his death in 1941.

Tower Family Folder – Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery Archives
Poughkeepsie Journal – April 12 1902, October 9 1941
The Sun Newspaper – April 12 1902
US Census Records – 1900

Tower-001 – Photograph of Nina Carpenter as a young woman before she married Albert Tower, 1876. – Vail Brothers Studios, LH Collections
Tower-002 – Photograph of Mrs. Nina Tower holding baby Albert Tower III, 1887. – Vail Brothers Studios, LH Collections
Tower-003 – Photograph of young Albert Tower III, circa 1897. – Vail Brothers Studios, LH Collections
Tower-004 – Poughkeepsie Journal headline for the murder suicide, 1902.
Tower-005 – The Tower family vault, designed by local architect Arnout Cannon Jr.
Tower-006 – Inside the Tower family vault showing the location of Nina and Albert III’s remains.