In Search of an Ending: The Mystery of Toledo’s Warren Sisters

I always love a good mystery, and there are just enough eccentric and curious people on this planet to satisfy that fascination.

Take the case of the Warren sisters of Toledo, for example, an odd case if ever there was one. Mary and Nanette (Nattie, according to the 1910 census) lived most of their adult lives at the family’s estate near downtown Toledo during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.   It is said they lived alone, as spinsters, after their father, Samuel Warren, a successful horse breeder and buggy manufacturer vanished one day in 1878 and was never heard from again.  Police even dragged the cistern behind the house on 14th Street, but the body of Mr. Warren was never found. His disappearance was noted as an early Toledo mystery. The two young sisters were shaken by the unexplained loss of their father, but continued living with their mother in the years after.  But then another tragic turn, as the girls’ mother, Mary Van Gorton Warren, died suddenly of a stroke. It now left the Warren girls on their own. The deaths of their parents, however, made these 20-something daughters rather wealthy as they became  the heirs of a significant estate. Not only did they receive the family home at 335 14th Street in Toledo, but several parcels of farm property on River Road,  plantations in the south, and some type of sugar beet interests in California.  Life should have been promising, but according to news stories of the time, the disappearance of the father and subsequent death of their mother also left the Warren girls with emotional issues. The youngest sister Mary developed serious mental health problems, becoming so serious that Mary eventually turned violent and lost the power of speech. In the meantime, the older sister Nanette, was not only left to care for her fragile sister in the Toledo family home, but was left in charge of running the entire family businesses.

Life and Death in California

Thier lives took an even stranger turn when, in about 1912, they moved from Toledo to Los Angeles. For reasons not entirely clear, but supposedly because of Mary’s state of health and state of mind.   They would move to an apartment in the City of Angels and it was there that the lives of these reclusive sisters would make national headlines.  In January of 1914, the landlady of the apartments where they lived had been trying to deliver a message to them from a woman named Mildred Cline of Toledo, but the sisters wouldn’t, or couldn’t, answer the door.  Fearing for their welfare, the landlady had the police break into the apartment to check on them and that’s where in one of the bedrooms, they found a starving Nanette lying in bed. Next to her was her sister Mary. Very dead and decomposing. Physicians said Mary had probably been dead for as many as three weeks prior. The news wire reports at the time said Nanette, who hadn’t eaten for about a week, was taken to a ward for the insane as investigators tried to unravel what might have happened inside the apartment and just how her younger sister had died.  Adding to the mystery and intrigue was the discovery of half a bottle of chloroform poison near the body of Mary. Police also found valuable heirloom jewels in the room, dispelling rumors among their neighbors that the women had become impoverished because of bad business investments.

Nurses caring for Nanette say the Toledo woman had no recollection of the events leading up to her sister’s death. Nor could she explain why every crack in the bedroom had been stuffed with rags.  Fueling the suspicions even more was the fact that sister Nanette, would now stand to inherit the entire Warren estate worth about a half million dollars. That was an enviable fortune in 1914.  It prompted many questions and suspicions as newspaper readers from across the nation were treated to the story of the sisters’ secretive lives in Toledo and why they opted to remain unmarried, spurning the interest of many young suitors. The implied question was of course that Nanette had caused her sister’s death for the family fortune.  It seemed a reasonable motive and police asked many questions, but in the end, Nanette was never charged, despite the many questions left unanswered.  Within a week after the body of Mary was found, the coroner in Los Angeles said there would be no further investigation and the remains of Mary could be released for burial.

Loved the scent of violets

A few days after the initial reports of the story, newspapers were writing that Nanette had received a gift of some violets from a woman who took pity on her situation, and it was the scent of the violets that helped clear her mind to begin talking with authorities about what happened. “I do like violets,” she said, although, after a few minutes, after talking about her childhood and life in Toledo,  she then stopped and would not speak further. It was also reported that a man by the name of B.F. Mace contacted the coroner in Los Angeles and said he was living in the Warren homestead in Toledo and had power of attorney for the affairs of the estate and would come to California to help settle matters. Another man also claiming to be the next of kin of the sisters came froward from Toledo, George J. Waldvogel, and informed investigators the reason that Nanette protected and tried to hide the body of her sister was because she was afraid that authorities might bury her sister and she was abhorrent to the idea of her sister, or anyone, being buried in the “cold earth”. Waldvogel who had been married to the Warren’s sister aunt was attempting to have the body of Mary released to him to have it returned to Toledo to be interred in a mausoleum.

And that is unfortunately where the story ends…at least for now. Did her remains ever make it back to Toledo, and did Nanette ever get released from the insanity ward to return to live out the remaining years of her life? If so, where? Who was B.F. Mace and did George Waldvogel ever get custody of Mary’s body?  Questions for which there are no convenient answers. The public trail of the Warren sisters journey onto the stage of notoriety stops abruptly after the first sensational stories of Mary’s mysterious death and Nanette’s vigil over her.  After many checks of obit files, and cemetery indexes, census records, and newspaper accounts, the story grows cold and seems to vanish into oblivion. I will continue looking.

If you have any information on how the final chapter of this story is to be written, I invite you to share it with our readers. Until then, perhaps it is only fitting that the tormented tale of Warren sisters remains cloaked in the same mantle of mystery that seems to have surrounded their lives.

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1 Comment

Filed under Strange Happenings, The Forgotten and no so famous

One response to “In Search of an Ending: The Mystery of Toledo’s Warren Sisters

  1. Karen

    It saddens me to think about how women in earlier times were unable to shape their lives in meaningful ways. We can only imagine how the world might have been different had the population of women been able to contribute productive skills and ideas to improve society. Perhaps Nanette married in California thus explaining the abruptness of her disappearance from any obvious public records. Intriguing story.

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