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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Police do not keep evidence related to suicides, only evidence connected to unsolved murder cases. Fingerprinting was known in the 1890s, but was not used in Wilmington until 1915. Thus there is no surviving physical evidence from the death scene, the letter and the revolver being the most intriguing. The Wilmington Morning News wrote that two chambers of the .32-caliber pistol had been fired, one obviously having been spent at an earlier occasion.
Though Marquis James gives no explanation for the suicide, he does record that Louis drank too much “on occasion.” Louis was, by all accounts, one of the more playful of the du Ponts. James writes that Louis had visited his family a month before he died, and that all had a merry time. Louis attended a Wilmington Club event with Alfred and Bessie shortly before his death.
There he is reported to have danced the night away with Bessie, angering his brother. Obviously, this exhibits the complicated and interwoven relationships that must have existed in the home and played on the psyches of the family members. James gives no record of deep despondency in Louis, who was “stopping,” as one newspaper put it, at Alfred’s home when his death occurred.
Moreover, James says Louis was fond of taking his Yale “chums” to Swamp Hall, where Alfred resided with Bessie. (Alfred had the house razed after the marriage ended.) So jealousy clearly did not deter Louis from visiting his brother and sister-in-law and enjoying their company. James also writes that Alfred was fond of Louis and considered him one of the brighter lights of the family.
To be sure, Louis’ lackluster performance at Yale concerned Alfred. There is no evidence that Louis ever wanted to be a major player in the company or that Alfred ever feared competition from his brother.
If one excludes lingering jealousy, the effect of his mother’s “madness,” a life of dissolution and occasional drunkenness, and murder, it is hard to see why an attractive young man surrounded by a rich family would shoot himself.
Page 7: Guns, Booze and Women