The Madness of Count Louis
History says little about the famous A.I. du Pont’s younger brother, and what it does say is often wrong. Here, the authors attempt a more accurate account of his life and death. Yet the mystery surrounding his suicide remains.
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Bessie Gardner du Pont says nothing about her former beau in her 1920 history of the company and the du Pont men who ran it. George H. Kerr’s “Du Pont Romance: A Reminiscent Narrative of E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company,” published in 1938 by the DuPont Co., mentions Louis as one of Charlotte Henderson du Pont’s three sons, but misspells his middle name. His death is not mentioned.
The study by William S. Dutton, “Du Pont: One Hundred and Forty Years” (1942), makes no mention of Louis. Author John K. Winkler says something about Louis in “The Du Pont Dynasty” (1935) when Winkler offers this extraordinary explanation: “Louis du Pont, who had gone from Yale to Harvard Law School, broke down from overstudy and shot himself.”
Louis spent six years at Yale before receiving his bachelor’s degree, so he cannot be described as a zealous scholar. His studies at Harvard were desultory and incomplete.
The letter he was writing when he died cannot be found and was most likely destroyed. According to an article in the December 4 issue of The (Baltimore) Sun, the unfinished letter read as follows:
“Dear Rabbi, I hope you will excuse this vile paper upon which I am compelled to write. I will not have the pleasure of hav…”
And thus the letter ends, as abruptly as Louis’ life. That it ends mid-word is but one more mysterious detail. Curiously, the Wilmington Morning News quotes the text but writes that it was addressed “Dear Rabbie.”
The most detailed published description of the event is in Marquis James’ biography, “Alfred I. du Pont: The Family Rebel” (1941). James writes that the letter was meant for a friend in New York and revealed nothing about Louis’ motive for self-slaughter. Perhaps the nickname for the friend was “Rabbi.” Yale students are fond of inventing nicknames for their classmates. James may have known of the letter’s content from news accounts. If he had seen the letter, he says nothing of its whereabouts.
James also goes further than any other writer to explore the theories that surrounded Louis’ death. One claimed that a “colored servant” (presumably Henry Carter) employed by the club shot him. Another suspicion was that Louis had become involved with the wife of a fellow club member, so the jealous husband sought revenge. And still another surmise found Louis mixed up in the unsolved shooting death of a young woman, a murder that occurred not long before Louis’ end.
Page 5: Hurried to the Cemetery