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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Shooting Incident at the Home of Former World Champion

    As is often the case newspaper accounts are unclear and at times even conflicting. Was the shooting incident at the home of former World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz an accident or attempted murder? Then there is the question of William H. K. Pollock, the English master. Was he present when the shooing occurred or wasn't he?
     Sometime in 1889 or 1890 Wilhelm Steinitz moved to a secluded house in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. In early November, 1892, Pollock paid a visit to Steinitz to help him with a book. Five years previously Steinitz had fired his personal secretary, Nathaniel W. Williams, and replaced him with Ernest Treitel, but both were living with Steinitz and there was an uneasy rivalry between them. Williams had been resentful of Treitel and had refused to hand over Steinitz' books and papers. 
    One morning Williams, dressed for hunting and carrying a gun, entered Treitel's room at about 7:00 AM. Steinitz was sitting a short distance away from the room which had the door closed and testified that he heard the two men talking angrily when he heard a muffled gun shot and then a louder one and Williams came out of Treitel's room and left the house. Treitel cried out that Williams had shot him and Steinitz rushed in and found Williams in bed with his left arm badly wounded.
     When arrested, Williams insisted it was an accident and claimed he was in Treitel's room because he had to pass through it to get out of the house. After his arrest Williams was scheduled to appear before a judge early the following week and the way things stood, if the judge released him, he would be arrested again. This time on a complaint from Steinitz that Williams had repeatedly threatened to kill him.
     Williams had worked for Steinitz as his secretary, butler and business manager. He also did a little gardening and even killed the chickens to make a meal. He didn't get paid a lot, but both he and his employer were happy with the arrangement.
     How was Pollock involved, or was he involved at all? Problems between those two developed when Steinitz needed help in preparation of of a book he was planning and so had hired Pollock to help him. Things didn't go well. Pollock didn't like Williams and Steinitz claimed Pollock's domineering manner made life difficult for him. And so, Steinitz fired Pollock, but gave him permission to stay in the house until he could make arrangements to move.
     After the hiring of Treitel, Williams continued with his duties. Then one day he asked Steinitz for a day off so he could attend a Columbus Day parade in New York City. Steinitz refused to give him the day off and told him that if he went, he might as well stay in New York because he would not be allowed back in the house. Williams replied with something Steinitz didn't like and Steinitz angrily rose from his seat which was not an easy task because he had a bad knee and walked with two canes. Williams was frightened enough that he ran upstairs and returned with what Steinitz called a “bludgeon.” But, by the time Williams returned with his bludgeon Steinitz had resumed sitting and that was the end of the incident.
     The two then sat down for breakfast and the conversation again turned to Williams' plans to go to New York for the parade and the argument rekindled. As Steinitz was again getting out of his chair one of his canes somehow manage to hit Williams on the head. Steinitz said it was a with a just a tap, but Williams said it was with a thud. Williams also claimed that as he held out his hand, he was again struck, this time with enough force to dislocate his thumb.
     Williams went to the parade and when he returned Steinitz allowed him to continue living in the house because he didn't have the heart to throw him out. Williams said he refused to leave because Steinitz owed him money. For two weeks things continued with an uneasy truce.
    The night before the shooting Treitel and Steinitz were playing cards when Williams came in, swept the cards off table and cursed at them both…according to Steinitz' testimony he used “bad words.” 
   Steinitz testified that on the day of the shooting, Williams had threatened to kill him. After he found Treitel wounded he ran out of the house and from the front porch cried, “Murder!” but Williams was standing there and threatened to shoot him unless he kept quiet. Steinitz knew the gun was empty, but he was still scared. 
   At the trial Treitel, who never got up before 10:00 AM, claimed that he was awakened at seven in the morning by a blow to the head and saw Williams standing at the foot of the bed and said, I'm going to shoot you.” Treitel told him, “All right. I can't help it.” whereupon Williams did indeed shoot him. Treitel manged to go look for Steinitz and told him to go for a doctor, but Steinitz replied that nobody could leave the house because Williams was standing at the front door saying he'd kill anybody that left. 
   Williams testimony was that he was passing through Williams room to go hunting when Williams chased him out and grabbed the gun and it went off. There was yet another person living in Steinitz' house, Anna Dietrich, a housekeeper, and she testified that Treitel himself confessed to her that the shooting was accidental.
     In the end, Williams was found guilty of assault and battery with intent to kill. In the meantime Treitel had died from scarlet fever.
    And what about Pollock? Historians are not sure of his whereabouts at the time and he was never mentioned in the newspapers of the day as a witness so it seems he was not living in the house at the time. Nor are they sure exactly what fueled the animosity that developed between him and Steinitz. Pollock is not known to have ever made mention of the falling out between the two or of the shooting. As for Steinitz, he privately complained of Pollock's ingratitude, hostility and drunkenness. So far as anybody knows this is the only time Pollock was ever accused of having had a problem with alcohol.

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