In 1921, the baby name Madalynne saw a curious spike in usage:
- 1923: 8 baby girls named Madalynne
- 1922: 25 baby girls named Madalynne
- 1921: 39 baby girls named Madalynne
- 1920: 10 baby girls named Madalynne [debut]
- 1919: unlisted
Because of 28-year-old society beauty and femme fatale Madalynne Obenchain, who was accused of murder that year.
Born Madeline Connor in Wisconsin in 1893, she changed the spelling of her first name to “Madalynne” sometime before heading off to college at Northwestern University. There, at least two classmates fell in love with her. After college, while living in Los Angeles with her mother, she gained yet another admirer. The three men were:
- Arthur C. Burch
- J. Belton Kennedy
- Ralph R. Obenchain
All three wanted to marry her. Finally, in 1919, she made her decision: it would be Obenchain (who was, by then, working as an attorney in Chicago).
But the marriage didn’t stop her from seeing Kennedy on the side. After a few months, Madalynne decided she preferred Kennedy, and her “extremely understanding husband allowed her to divorce him, gave her $80 a month in alimony and blank checks as needed.”
Madalynne and Kennedy had a tumultuous relationship, though, and Madalynne became frustrated by Kennedy’s refusal to commit. At some point in the summer of 1921, she wired Burch, who, himself recently divorced, “hopped on the next train [from Illinois] to Los Angeles to aid the woman he called his “goddess.””
On August 5, 1921, Kennedy “was found shot to death on the stairs of his cabin on Beverly Glen Boulevard, in a then-rustic neighborhood near the Los Angeles Country Club.”
A few days later, both Madalynne and Burch were charged with first-degree murder.
Obenchain, the generous ex-husband, left his job in Chicago to come to Madalynne’s defense.
Over the course of 16 months, five trials were held — two for Madalynne, three for Burch. The public — fascinated by the idea of these “cultivated, college-bred folk in the grip of overwhelming passions” — followed along via the newspapers.
Here’s one paper’s summary of the goings-on during Madalynne’s second trial (in July of 1922):
“Dream Girl” Accused of Perjury Plot! — Madalynne Obenchain, whose love brought death to one man, divorce to another and prison to a third, is now, during her own trial for murder, embroiled in charges of conspiracy by which it is said she tried to lure a fourth man to commit perjury that she might be free.
(This fourth guy to come under Madalynne’s spell was Paul Roman.)
All five of the trials ended in hung juries. “Legal experts interviewed at the time theorized that the male jurors who voted for acquittal in Madalynne’s trial were all in love with her.”
What are your thoughts on the baby name Madalynne? (Do you like this spelling?)
- “Did Madalynne Obenchain, held for murder, offer thief her love for perjury, trying to vamp way to freedom?” Washington Times [Washington, D.C.] 23 Jul. 1922, Second news section: 3.
- Madalynne Donna Conner – Find a Grave
- Payne, Pauline. “Madalynne Obenchain and Louise Peete Are Analyzed.” Los Angeles Evening Herald 18 Aug. 1921: A-11.
- “Principals in Murder Trial.” Norfolk Post 1 Nov. 1921: 3.
- Rasmussen, Cecilia. “It was one of the most notorious…” Los Angeles Times 19 Sept. 1994.
P.S. The debut of the name one year earlier may be due to unnamed baby girls born in 1920 finally being named “Madalynne” after Madalynne Obenchain became a fixture in the news in mid-1921. Delayed baby-naming wasn’t uncommon in the early 20th century.