In 1908, police in New Hampshire drew up a complaint against Madelon Kenmore, a woman they knew as Madelon Coburn. The charge was bigamy.
Born in 1878 as Madelon Kenmore, she claimed English heritage but grew up in Astoria, Long Island. In 1905, at just 17, she eloped to Albany with Irving Looker, a young son of a diamond merchant. So why, the police wanted to know, had she married a New Hampshire minister named William Coburn in 1908?
Rev. William Coburn ran a sanitarium in Wakefield, N.H. where he sold patent medicines and treated certain patients. He was financially successful. But perhaps not too wise in the ways of love.
A widower, Coburn fell in love with one of his young patients, Medelon Kenmore. However, Madelon did not inform Coburn that she was already married. She had threatened divorce, even hired private investigators to catch Irving Looker having an affair. But she had not completed the process.
When confronted with the charge of bigamy, Madelon at first denied it. She swore she had never married Coburn. Coburn’s sons supported their father’s claim.
Further, the Rev. Orrin Baker swore that he had performed the marriage ceremony. Not only that, he said, he had received a letter from a woman calling herself Madelon Looker, asking that he destroy all records of the marriage because her husband was accusing her of bigamy.
The Love Triangle
Soon, Madelon was at the center of a standoff. William Coburn declared that he still loved Madelon. He would make their marriage legal if she would go ahead with her divorce from Irving Looker. Irving said virtually the same thing. If she would drop the divorce matter and have her marriage to Coburn annulled, he would gladly reunite with her.
Then Madelon’s lawyer changed her story dramatically. She had, in fact, married Coburn. The evidence was clear. But the marriage happened when she was being treated at his sanitarium under hypnosis. He had married her while she was completely under the spell of hypnosis and could not recall any of it.
Whatever evidence she had was enough to persuade New Hampshire’s Gov. Charles Floyd to drop any attempt to extradite Madelon to face bigamy charges.
Having cleared away the New Hampshire charges, Madelon’s lawyer returned to the court to announce her decision. She was pressing ahead with her divorce from Irving Looker. She presented evidence that he had been at a hotel with another woman.
Finally in April of 1909 the court found for Madelon and she won her divorce. They cleared the way for Madelon to return to Rev. Coburn.
The Bumpy Road to Love
Not so fast, her lawyer said. His next stop was New Hampshire where he intended to have Madelon’s marriage to Coburn annulled. It would give her a fresh start at age 30.
Rev. Coburn took a prolonged trip west to avoid additional embarrassment, though it’s doubtful he outran the story. The hypnotized bride made headlines across the country.
Madelon Kenmore Looker Coburn made one more trip down the matrimonial aisle. This time she married an engineer from Long Island, Edward Le Compte, whose wife had left him for their chauffeur. Madelon’s first marriages were tame compared to the Le Compte union.
Madelon was a wealthy woman, both in her own right and because of her husbands. She drove in a bright yellow limousine and lived well.
But her relations with Edward quickly grew tense. They fought over a house he gave to his first wife. They were arrested for arguing so loudly in the street that they were declared a nuisance and sentenced to 30 days in jail each.
The Last Lawsuits of Madelon Kenmore
In 1912, the couple began slugging it out in court for a divorce. Edward managed to convince the court to lock Madelon up in an insane asylum. After three days she was released and proceeded to court to charge he was dishonest and scheming against her.
While locked away he had stolen furniture and silver from the house. Madelon accused Edward of trying to strangle her. Her father bailed his son-in-law out of jail.
Madelon’s family, meanwhile, said they felt she was mentally unsound. A psychiatrist said she suffered from “litigating paranoia,” a disease that prompted her to incessantly file lawsuits against others. He also noted that Madelon relied heavily on patent medication with ingredients that could explain some erratic behaviors.
The couple tried a brief reconciliation, and Madelon borrowed $6,000 to help Edward relaunch his career. Edward absconded with the money. He would return home later, sick with tuberculosis. Madelon nursed him for several months until he was so sick he had to be hospitalized. He died in the hospital, though not before he wrote to her and asked forgiveness.
If you liked this article, you might enjoy In the Gilded Age, Marriages Began in NY and Ended in RI, America’s Divorce Capital. This story was updated in 2021.