Scandal and murder were part of the nation’s news in the 19th century as it is today. A murder unsolved in 1894 involved a mother-in-law, her son, his wife and a doctor.
Edward Irving Darling came from a family steeped in American history. His mother, Flora Adams Darling, was the founder of the national organization, Daughters of the American Revolution. Edward was Flora’s only son, due to her husband’s death in 1863 during the American Civil War.
Married Family Man
Edward’s passion was writing, music and composing musical pieces. The love of his life was Susan Beatrice Klingle, from Washington, D. C. They married on September 15, 1885 and had two children. Edward took a position in Detroit, Michigan managing the music house of Grinnell Brothers. Life appeared to blissful until one day events would change everything forever.
It was December 1890 In Detroit, when Edward accidentally fell from a second-story window, breaking twenty-seven bones in his body. His doctor was a handsome physician, Dr. Francis X. Spranger, who was well liked and known in Detroit society.
Edward needed a couple years to recover. While he was laid up, Dr. Spranger and Edward’s wife, Susan Darling, were spending time together and become very close as a couple. Edward was unaware of this romance development.
By July 1892, Edward had improved enough to travel with his wife to Washington, D. C. to assist with some family business. While at the Ebbett House Edward became extremely ill. A doctor examined Edward and speculated the milk Edward had drunk had poison in it.
Edward’s condition continued to get worst back in Detroit. His mother, Flora Adams Darling, came to his home extremely distressed over her son’s condition and began blaming Susan Darling for making Edward ill, accusing her and the doctor of a slow poisoning of her son. The wife and doctor gave their own version to their friends, that Edward was drinking heavily which made him ill.
By November 1892, Edward was taken by his aunt to New York City, examined, given new medicine and his condition started to improve. Susan had divorce papers drawn up in Detroit claiming Edward was always drunk and had abandoned her. Susan arrived in New York City on January 24, 1893 bring medicine from Dr. Spranger. By her living with him in New York , the divorce suit became null and void in the eyes of the law of 19th century America.
While in New York she insisted he take Dr. Spranger’s medicine, and his condition worsened again. By March 1893 Susan returned to Detroit alone. In June 1893 Edward managed a surprise return trip to Detroit only to find Susan in the arms of Dr. Spranger on his arrival.
Dying Man’s Statement
With Edward’s condition not improving by 1894, Flora Darling came to Detroit and had him taken to Mount Clemens hospital in January 1894. These doctors there stated it was poison and it had now destroyed his vital organs. On his death bed, Edward signed a statement that he believed his wife and Dr. Spranger poisoned him. It was too late for Edward, who died February 13, 1894 at Mount Clements. Susan, the widow, immediately ordered her husband’s body cremated with no autopsy preformed and that the ashes be turned over to Flora Darling for burial.
Flora was so distraught it would be July 2, 1894 before she could have her son’s ashes buried in New Hampshire. Next she turned her attention to seeing Susan and her lover prosecuted. In August 1894, Flora made her formal complaint to the Detroit District Attorney, charging systematic poisoning of Edward. It was felt there was not enough evidence to arrest the widow and doctor in spite of Edward’s signed statement. She next presented the case to the New York District Attorney in October 1894 believing Edward received poison while Susan was in New York earlier that year.
While Flora was working with the legal system, Susan Darling remarried on March 6, 1895 to Dr. Francis X. Spranger in Baltimore, Maryland. With news of this marriage, Flora informed the Detroit District Attorney’s office of the latest developments and provided them the medicines; morphine, antimony, nitro glycerin and cocaine given Edward by his wife.
The widow’s statement in the New York Times, April 19, 1895:
“We were greatly shocked at these charges,” Mrs. Spranger said, “but, do you know, I have been expecting this for a long time. Mrs. Darling, the mother of my first husband, is a monomaniac on the subject of money, and ever since my husband’s death she has made my life miserable. This persecution has grown almost unbearable since my marriage to Dr. Spranger.”
Flora’s wish to see her former daughter-in-law stand trial never occurred. Dr. and Susan Spranger moved to California after their marriage in March 1895. Susan, age 27, died suddenly on June 9, 1895. It was believed she died of diabetes which had intensified due to the controversy. Since Susan was attended by her new husband, a doctor, no investigation was conducted regarding her death.
Flora immersed herself in her civic work with her only revenge being Susan’s early death.
Flora Adams Darling died of apoplexy on January 6, 1910 in New York City. A couple years later, Dr. Francis X. Spranger died on February 17, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan.
More than one hundred years later, the true events surrounding Edward Irving Darling’s death and his wife’s actual involvement have never been discovered.
- “Flora A. Darling”, New York Times, NYC, April 19, 1895.
- “Dying Statement”, Morning Telegram, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, May 14, 1895
- “Scandal Hastened Her Death”, Sterling Evening Gazette, Sterling, Illinois, June 22, 1895