People check into hotels for all kinds of reasons: to escape, to get drunk, to meet lovers, to hide out, to lie low. A lot of the things that go on in hotel rooms are furtive, and most of them pleasurable, but not all. One of the reasons people check into hotels is to commit suicide. You’re alone, there’s no one to make you change your mind, and you won’t be saddling your loved ones with the burden of discovering the body. I’ve lived in the Belvedere for five years, and I’ve enjoyed learning about the grand hotel’s exciting past, the parties, princesses and presidents it has hosted. But every hotel has a hidden history, and the Belvedere has seen its fair share of desperate characters. While most suicides go unreported in the press, those with a touch of drama sometimes make the headlines. Here is a selection of memorable tragedies from the Belvedere’s first 30 years.
On February 19, 1909, 17-year-old Thomas E. Sutton Jr. committed suicide at the Belvedere by inhaling chloroform. This troubled young man checked into the hotel after an argument with his father, who’d insisted Sutton give up his house key. According to The Baltimore Sun, “The father said he feared his son was keeping bad company and took the key from him for that reason.” Ten years earlier, Sutton had undergone an appendix operation at Maryland University Hospital, where he was put to sleep by chloroform, which apparently gave him the inspiration for his tragic plan.
On June 15, 1917, around noon, a maid in the Belvedere noticed blood trickling from under a bedroom door. She called for help. The room was entered, and hotel staff discovered the body of Lawrence Perin, a “local society idol,” lying on the floor between wardrobe and bed, clad in his pajamas with a pistol beside him. According to The Washington Post of June 16, 1917, Perin, son of a wealthy Baltimore railway magnate, had recently “defeated the efforts of his relatives to have him declared insane.” A patient at the Phillips clinic of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Perin had apparently checked into the Belvedere in order to take his own life. Letters left on the bureau to his wife and mother “indicated a recurrence of his mental depression.”
On October 28, 1918, Mrs. Bernice Chaney Webster, 20, was strangled to death in her bridal chamber on one of the upper floors of the Belvedere. The murderer was her new husband, 32-year-old Carlyle P. Webster, who’d swallowed poison but was still alive, when the police found him; according to The Baltimore Sun, he was “taken to Mercy Hospital and placed under guard.” A suicide note was discovered, apparently written by Mr. Webster, accusing his new bride of infidelity. “I have known the girl I married for nearly two years and I could not believe certain things,” he wrote. “I have loved her so much, so it is better that we both die together.”
On October 13, 1921, police rushed to the Belvedere after being informed via telegram that one of their guests was planning to take his own life. Harry C. Hassett was the president of a brokerage merchandizing firm in Toledo, Ohio. Unfortunately, police arrived too late. Hassett had shot himself in the bathroom of his suite. When found, according to The Washington Post, “he was holding a revolver in each hand.” He left a note declaring himself to be “as crazy as a bedbug.”
On February 2, 1929, the pajama-clad body of a man was discovered on the roof of the Belvedere’s second-floor sun parlor. The body turned out to be that of William Harvey King Jr., assistant to the president of the Baltimore Steam Packet Company. King either jumped or fell to his death from his hotel room on the 10th floor. According to The Washington Post, “William A. Faison, a friend, said King attended the Bal des Arts last night and did not return to the hotel until about 6:30 a.m. Faison said he believed King went to the window for a breath of air, lost his balance and toppled out.”