Mystery of the murders at Taliesin
January 14, 2001
A brutal multiple murder involving the lover of
probably the most famous Welsh-American of all, the pioneering
architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is to be the subject of a new book.
American journalist Ron McCrea and Professor
William Drennan of the University of Wisconsin have been researching
the seven savage killings at Taliesin, the hillside home of Frank
Lloyd Wright, in 1914.
Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867 in Wisconsin,
to a family of Welsh descent. He became America's most famous and
influential architect and was a leading figure in world architecture
until his death in 1959.
He gave the name Taliesin - after the Welsh bard -
to the house he built in 1911 near his childhood home in the valley
where his mother's Lloyd Jones family - originally from Llandysul -
had lived for generations.
Taliesin was a showpiece of Wright's design principles.
However, it was also the focus of scandal because
he built it as the home for himself and the woman for whom he had left
his wife and six children, Martha "Mamah" Borthwick.
And three years later, on 15 September, 1914, it
became the scene of the biggest single incident of mass-murder in
Ron McCrea said that on that day, "all hell broke
loose" at Taliesin when one of Wright's servants unleashed an attack
that claimed eight lives (including the attacker's), left the world-famous
architectural treasure in rubble, and devastated Wright, who was then
47 years old.
The attacker was 30-year-old Julian Carlton, an
estate worker originally from Barbados.
While Wright was away in Chicago, Carlton bolted
the doors and windows of the dining room where Mamah Borthwick, her
two children, and six other people were eating, poured buckets of
petrol under the doors and torched the building.
He then used an axe to attack those who jumped out
of the windows to escape the flames.
Only two people survived. Borthwick, and her
children, Martha, nine, and John, 12, died.
The other victims were: Ernest Weston, 13, the son
of carpenter William Weston; Milwaukee draughtsman Emil Brodelle, 26;
handyman David Lindblom, 38; and Taliesin foreman Thomas Brunker, 68.
Weston and draughtsman Herbert Fritz survived and
raised the alarm.
Scores of farmers arrived to help. Wright's
relative, the Unitarian preacher Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Iowa County
Sheriff John T. Williams and Sauk County Undersheriff George Peck set
up a posse to hunt for Carleton.
He was quickly found hiding near the burned-out
building. He had swallowed acid.
He was nearly lynched on the spot, but the sheriff
and posse, pursued by three carloads of men with guns, got him to the
He died from starvation seven weeks later, despite
medical attention. He made two court appearances but never stood trial,
and his motive for the attack was never explained, although there are
'Devastating scene of horror'
Wright arrived home on the night of Aug. 15, with
Edwin Cheney, the divorced husband of Mamah Borthwick and the father
of her two dead children.
Wright described it in his autobiography as a "devastating
scene of horror.''
Mamah was buried in the cemetery of the nearby
Unity Chapel, which Wright had helped design for Jenkin Lloyd Jones.
"I wanted to fill the grave myself,'' he said.
Ron McCrea says that shortly afterwards, Wright
published an open letter in the local newspaper to thank the community
for its support - but also to defend Borthwick and to show he was not
about to be driven out.
He promised to rebuild Taliesin in her memory.
He kept his word and rebuilt the house, which was
his home until his death and which is now a monument to his life and
"No evidence of a rational intention or motive,
including a conspiracy, has ever come to light," said Ron McCrea, who
is City Editor of the Capital Times and who is himself of partly Welsh
He has been researching the Taliesin murders for
several years, and is now working on a book which will provide the
first full modern account of the incident.
He hopes his research, and that of Professor
Drennan, will shed new light on the tragedy which hit the Welsh
settlement in Wisconsin, and which devastated the life of Welsh
America's most famous son.
Frank Lloyd Wright: Murder At The Taliesin
by Wood Butcher - Socyberty.com
February 17, 2007
The murders surrounding Frank Lloyd Wright and his
home in Wisconsin Taliesin.
Wisconsin in August the closing of summer, getting
ready for the winter months that are ahead. Mr. Wright is in Chicago
preparing to build yet another great architectural wonder. One can
only presume the days events on August 15th 1914, the fact is 7 lives
will be lost forever. The Taliesin a beautiful home nestled on the
brow of a hill. The name Taliesin in welsh meaning “Radiant Brow” the
Welsh heritage taking us back to times of old. The Taliesin was built
in Wisconsin a land that the Welsh Ancestors started settling decades
earlier. The ancestors of Frank Lloyd Wright, thus you have the name
The sun starting to set the work day coming to a
close. The family and friends of Mr.Wright prepared for dinner. Julian
Carlton a hired servant and his wife a cook preparing the evening meal.
One can only wonder the thoughts, the reasons why 7 people would have
to die. The 9 men, women and children sat down for an evening meal the
meal that would be their last supper. The group sat in 2 separate
rooms as Julian Carlton served dinner he turned to ask Mr. Weston for
some gas as he claimed there was a stain on the carpet.
Frank Lloyd Wright leaving 6 children and his wife
to be with Mrs. Mamah Borthwick. they travel Europe and settle in
Wisconsin to build the Taliesin. Life is good the community has more
or less accepted the fact that Mr. Wright and Mrs. Borthwick were
unwed. The fact that at that era of time a woman was considered to be
a mans property. The fact that Mrs. Borthwick was married to another
did not phase the Mr. Wright.
Julian Carlton locked all the doors and started
pouring gasoline. Through the cracks and splashing gas everywhere one
can only imagine the horror that would follow. The house was going up
in flames like an inferno so quick, so hot. There was no where to run
as Mr.Fritz jumped through a window only to see Julian wielding an Ax.
Laying in shock as he watched Mr. Brodelle come crashing out the same
window only to meet Julian. Wm. Weston followed Mr. Brodelle almost
simultaneously Carlton striking Mr. Weston with the axe.
Mr. Weston getting and running for his life with
Carlton chasing is struck again, falling down. Falling down is what
saved his life Carlton turning heads back to finish his killing any
other survivors. Mr. Weston getting up disoriented runs, finding David
Lindblom on fire. Helping Mr. Lindbolm they run and are able to
escape, telephoning for help. Seven people lay dead, the Taliesin
burned but not destroyed.
The murders at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin
By Robert Alverson - Helium.com
January 10, 2008
Wright is generally considered to have been one of the most preeminent
architects of our era. Countless books recount both his stunning body
of work as well as his biography; however few dwell on the murders
that occurred at his Taliesin home. This is a concise telling of those
events, compiled from several sources.
Taliesin was, and
is, a beautiful large home, set atop a hill in Wisconsin. The valley
that it sits in was settled during the Civil War by the Lloyd Joneses,
Wright's maternal family. The building also showcases Wright's Organic
Architecture; the house is built into the hill and prominently
features local materials, tying the structure and the environment
This was Wright's
second house, begun in 1909, as he left his Oak Park home and wife
behind to have an affair with Mrs. Martha Borthwick Cheney in Europe.
They settled in Taliesin in December 1911, along with her two children,
John and Martha. The house was a fully functioning studio for Wright,
and at the time of the incident a work crew was there in addition to
the now Ms. Borthwick and her children.
The staff of the
household was a couple from Barbados, Julian and Gertrude Carlton.
Gertrude was the cook, and Julian filled a variety of roles, from
general handyman to butler. He was both intelligent and well educated,
with an apparently affable character; however many in the house viewed
him with suspicion. Testimony later described him as hot-headed,
recalling incidents where he got into arguments with the tenants. He
once decried everyone in the household as "picking on him," which put
him continually on the defensive. There are differing reports on what
caused his rampage: some claim that he'd been given two weeks notice
because Gertrude wanted to return to Chicago, others say that there
was a falling out between him and Ms. Borthwick leading to his
dismissal. Either way, his wife later stated that he'd been agitated
in the days up to the event, and was sleeping with a hatchet next to
his bed. Clearly the steady flow of life at Taliesin had just come off
occurred during lunch on August 15, 1914. The work crew was made up of
the foreman Thomas Brunker, David Lindblom the gardener, father and
carpenter, William Weston, his son Ernest Weston, draftsmen Herb Fritz
and Emil Brodelle. They were seated and served in the house's dining
room, which was roughly 25 feet away from the veranda where Ms.
Borthwick and her children were eating. After he had served the meal
Carlton asked Weston for gasoline, ostensibly to clean a rug with. He
was permitted to retrieve the gasoline, with which he doused the rugs
and exterior of the building. Setting the gasoline alight and telling
his wife to run, he ran to veranda and killed Ms. Borthwick and John
with blows from his hatchet. He also killed Martha as she was trying
to flee; she was the only family member not found sitting in a chair.
The work crew in
the dinning room did not fare much better. The gasoline fire spread
rapidly and they all suffered burns. Herbert Fritz dove out of a
window, breaking his arm in the process. He rolled down the hill to
extinguish his clothing, and looked up to see Carlton running around
the house. Weston made it out the same window, and was knocked to the
ground by two blows from the back of Carlton's hatchet. Carlton did
not pursue him further, perhaps under the assumption he was dead, and
killed Thomas Brunker with a blow to the skull. Brodelle and Ernest
Weston shared a similar fate as well. David Lindblom received a
non-fatal wound to the back of his head, but was badly burned. He and
Weston managed to telephone for help from a farmhouse a half mile down
the road. Lindblom stayed at the farmhouse due to his injuries, and
Weston returned to the fire and combated it with the house fire hose
until he was forced to stop.
His and the fire
brigades efforts were futile; in less than three hours Taliesin had
burned to the ground. A few hours after that, Julian Carlton was found
hiding in the furnace. He had attempted to commit suicide by
swallowing muriatic acid (household name for hydrochloric acid), and
was almost lynched by the mob. He was however safely transferred to
the county jail under the protection of the local sheriff. He managed
to starve himself to death over the next two months in jail. He died
before he could be convicted, and never clarified the motive behind
later died from the severe burns he received, leaving William Weston
and Herbert Fritz as the only survivors of the attack.
Wright came to
the scene as quickly as he could from Chicago, running into and
traveling with Ms. Borthwick's ex-husband, Edwin Cheney. Cheney came
for the remains of his children; Ms. Borthwick was laid to rest at the
Unity Church in Spring Green.
The fire took
everything that Wright had worked for over the prior 5 years. Dismayed
by the loss it took him a period to regain his former will. However,
he went on to continue his career and rebuild Taliesin, using it as
his summer home for the next 50-odd years of his life.
"Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography" University of Chicago Press, 1998
Ellen. "The Taliesin Massacre" Isthmus: The Daily Page, 03/08/2007
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 Nov 2007, 04:35 UTC. Wikimedia
Foundation, Inc. 10 Jan 2008
Wright." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 Jan 2008, 19:06 UTC.
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Jan 2008
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2 Jan 2008, 16:04 UTC. Wikimedia
Foundation, Inc. 10 Jan 2008.
Mamah Borthwick, Frank Lloyd Wright's lover
architect Frank Lloyd Wright
People in Sunday dress wander the scene of devastation after the
Saturday, Aug. 15, 1914, destruction of Taliesin’s residential wing.
The alleged mass-murderer and arsonist, Julian Carlton, was discovered
hiding inside the cold furnace after the fire. He had swallowed acid
and died eight weeks later in the Dodgeville jail.