A Cur’s Hand
By Alex J. Coyne © 2017 Great Bridge Links
The Bridge Table Murder is arguably one of the most notorious murder cases in American history – and certainly proof that you should pick your partners carefully! We take a closer look at the infamous case of the Bennett-murders…
The date was 29 September 1929; husband and wife pair Myrtle and John Bennett sat down for what was set to be a friendly game of bridge at their house (located at 902 Ward Parkway) in Kansas City Missouri with their neighbors, the Hofmans. They were fairly well-acquainted and it wasn’t the first game they’d played together – the husbands had even played a round or two of golf that morning.
According to most versions of the story, the game was going fantastically well up until John failed to successfully make a spade contract going set two tricks – and his wife remarked that he was “a bum bridge player”. This upset the hot-headed John Bennett so much that he got up from the table and slapped his wife through the face, declaring that he’ll be spending the night at a nearby motel instead.
He got up and rushed off to pack his bags. The argument between Myrtle and her husband continued from room to room – Myrtle famously remarked to the Hofmans that ‘only a cur’ would have acted in such a way in front of their guests, and John had a solid history of losing his temper and becoming physical.
This is how the following minutes ensued, according to an accounting on the Bridge Guys website.
John Bennett had gone to his den, which was located near the bathroom, to pack for the intended trip to the hotel and for the days he wanted to be out of town. Charles Hoffman, putting on his muffler, had turned back and saw his friend, John Bennett, alone.
In a matter of seconds, John Bennett saw his wife brandishing the gun, ran hurriedly to the nearby bathroom, and slammed the door behind him. As soon as the door slammed shut, Myrtle Bennett fired two shots which penetrated the bathroom door. As it was pointed out later at the trial, she missed both times. John Bennett dodged the bullets.
Myrna Hoffman, after hearing the shots, ran down the hallway of the apartment building and began pounding on the door of the nearest apartment, apparently seeking help. Myrtle Bennett simply remained standing in front of the bathroom door with the pistol hanging by her side. However, in the commotion, Myrtle Bennett realized that she had not shot her husband. She heard him nearing the door which lead to the street. She followed, still furious about the play of the hand, the slaps she had received from her husband in front of friends, and determined to take revenge. She fired two additional shots, which allegedly killed her husband.
The trial began on the 23rd of February, seventeen months after the initial event. Myrtle was represented by James A. Reed, a former US senator, who was able to get Myrtle acquitted of murder charges – and she still collected her husband’s life insurance policy worth a reported then-$30, 000.
Alexander Woollcott, American critic, checked in with Myrtle years later and found that, during a game of bridge, a next partner of hers remarked, “I’m afraid you’ll want to shoot me for this.”
Myrtle, of course, fainted.
Myrna Hofman’s Testimony
Myrna Hofman’s testimony, quoted from the court case…
“He came right back at her. I don’t remember the exact words. This kept up for several minutes. We tried to stop the argument by demanding the cards, but by this time the row had become so pronounced that Bennett, reaching across the table, grabbed Myrtle’s arm and slapped her several times. We tried to intervene, but it was futile. While Mrs. Bennett repeated over and over in a strained sing-song tone “Nobody but a bum would hit a woman,” her husband jumped up and shouted, “I’m going to spend the night at a hotel. And tomorrow I’m leaving town.” His wife said to us: “I think you folks had better go.” Of course, we started to go.”
You can find links to various renditions of this story, and some photos, below:
It didn’t take long for newspapers to speculate over the hand (like this article in 1929), though according to Snopes it’s nearly impossible to tell what the game finished on – nobody was looking at the cards and during the slapping they were scattered! However, the bidding was recalled and the Hofmans did their best to reconstruct the hands, see it here.
Bridge experts later concluded that the four spades contract could, in fact, have been made.
From the Bridge Bum
John Bennett’s 4 contract was widely analyzed by bridge experts of the time, including Ely Culbertson. It should be noted, however, that the reconstructed deal is generally acknowledged as a fabrication.
|Charles Hofman||4||Mayme Hofman|
As the story goes, John Bennett opened 1, Charles Hofman overcalled 2, and Myrtle ended the auction
by leaping to 4.
Charles Hofman began by leading the A. At trick two, he continued with the J. The contract could be made if the trump queen was guessed correctly and dummy’s long clubs were established. However, John supposedly misguessed the queen and lost three heart tricks to doom himself both figuratively and literally.