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The murders at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: His motive for the attack was never explained
Number of victims: 7
Date of murders: September 15, 1914
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1884
Victims profile: Martha "Mamah" Borthwick (mistress of Frank Lloyd Wright) and her children, Martha, 9, and John, 12 / Ernest Weston, 13 (son of carpenter William Weston) / Emil Brodelle, 26 (Milwaukee draughtsman) / David Lindblom, 38 (handyman) / Thomas Brunker, 68 (Taliesin foreman)
Method of murder: Fire (gasoline) - Hitting with an axe
Location: Iowa County, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Died in jail from starvation seven weeks later, despite medical attention

Mystery of the murders at Taliesin

BBC News

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 Wisconsin history.

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 Dodgeville jail.

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 various theories.

'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 work.

"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 descent.

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 -

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 Taliesin.

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 -

January 10, 2008

Frank Lloyd 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 together.

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 the rails.

The incident 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 his actions.

David Lindblom 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.


Secrest, Meryle. "Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography" University of Chicago Press, 1998

Gabriel, Mary Ellen. "The Taliesin Massacre" Isthmus: The Daily Page, 03/08/2007

"Mamah Borthwick." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 Nov 2007, 04:35 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Jan 2008

"Frank Lloyd Wright." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 Jan 2008, 19:06 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Jan 2008

"Taliesin (studio)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2 Jan 2008, 16:04 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Jan 2008.


Mamah Borthwick, Frank Lloyd Wright's lover


The pioneering 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.



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