Sweet Ass Candy


Photo Credit: Delaware Public Archives

John Preston Dunning (31) was a well-travelled playa, a reporter with a position in the Associated Press Western Division bureau in San Francisco California, married to Mary Elizabeth (Penington) Dunning, daughter of former Congressman John B. Penington. In 1895 he meets Cordelia Botkin (41) who was at the time married to a grain broker from Stockton, California who supported her despite being estrange from one another. These two late-nineteen-century souls fell hard for each other while bicycling in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Ah the temptation of the forbidden fruit, as old as man itself.

Upon learning of her husband’s torrid affair, Mary Elizabeth left California with their daughter, and went to live with her father the ex- Congressman, in Dover Delaware. Meanwhile her husband took up with Cordelia, but began a life of drinking and gambling. Dunning got his sorry-ass on some heavy gambling debts so he decided to embezzled some moola from his employer the AP, they found out about it and fired his sorry ass. His drunkenness got him fired by several other newspapers so he had no other choice than to move in with his inamorata Cordelia Botkin.

Three years later playa Dunning, gets hired back by the AP to be their lead reporter on the newly brewing Spanish–American War. Before leaving San Francisco he broke up with Cordelia saying that he’s going back with his wife—which he did before leaving to cover the war in Cuba. Cordelia begged her beloved not to go, she even tried to convince the war board to send her to Cuba as a nurse, to be close to her man, but they turned her down do to her age.

Needless to say Cordelia Botkin was not a happy camper about any of this.

A bitter Cordelia began sending lurid anonymous letters about her husband’s affair to Mary Elizabeth, telling her to leave him. Then one day knowing that Elizabeth had a ‘sweet tooth’ she sends her a box of candy, placing a note that read ‘’With Love to Yourself and Baby.’ The note was sign ‘Mrs. C’. Elizabeth mistakenly thought that it was from a San Francisco friend of hers by the name of Mrs. Laura Corbaley; she took three pieces for herself, and shared the rest with her older sister Ida Harriet Deane (44) and four other friends. After two days of agony, Elizabeth and her sister Ida died from arsenic poisoning, the four others who’d only taken a sample of the candy survived.

Elizabeth’s father former Congressman John B Penington puts two and two together by comparing the taunting letters and the writing on the note of the candy which said; ‘With Love To Yourself and Baby’ the police eventually traced the chocolate’s origin to a San Francisco candy shop and then to the love-scorned Cordelia Botkin.

On December of 1898 judge Carroll Cook convicted Cordelia Botkin of murder, a charge she denied, regardless she was sentence to life in prison.

A few weeks later judge Caroll Cook sees Cordelia Botkin out and about around town shopping, upon further investigation he finds out that she’s been exchanging sexual favors in the pokey in order to be allowed to leave the prison whenever she felt like it. She was sent back to the pokey, San Quentin State Prison to be precise, she died in there in the year 1910 at age 56. Her beloved John Preston Dunning’s career never recovered from the scandal and in 1908 he died of a brain tumor in Philadelphia.

Moral to the story?

*Never take candy from strangers.

*Beware who you meet while bicycling in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Sweet as candy Cordelia Botkin was not.


Don’t forget to remember the victims– Verge Le Noir.

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