Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles J. Guiteau


In 1869, Guiteau married Annie Bunn, who worked at the Chicago YMCA he attended.  By the time of their wedding, Guiteau had struggled through the Illinois Bar exam and had established a small legal practice, but his pattern of questionable ethics and business failures continued.

Once he realized that Chicago held no further hope for his big dreams, and no doubt with many creditors on the hunt, he and Annie left Chicago for New York City.

The Fatal Bullet
The Fatal Bullet
Rick Gearys The Fatal Bullet states that Annie successfully sued for divorce in 1874 on the grounds of adultery once it became known that Guiteau had contracted syphilis from a prostitute. That Annie had stayed for five years is remarkable; as the Lauinger Librarys Web site says, Guiteau ...was abusive to his wife, reportedly locking her in a closet for whole nights.

Charles Guiteau's business card in NY
Charles Guiteau's business card in NY

New York City held no better fortunes for Guiteau than Chicago had.  Now on his own, lack of money continued to plague Guiteau, although his massive ego kept him convinced that his prosperity would bloom as soon as one of his brilliant ideas resulted in the money and prestige he deserved.

Still dodging creditors and landlords, he moved about frequently, and some of those creditors approached his brother John for the settlement of Guiteaus many debts.  When John wrote to Guiteau about the urgency to pay back the debts, Guiteau was outraged and wrote John a reply:

Find seven dollars enclosed.  Stick it up your bung hole and wipe your nose on it, and that will remind you of the estimation in which you are held by Charles J. Guiteau.  Sign and return the enclosed receipt and I will send you (the money), but not before.  And that, I hope, will end our acquaintance.

Guiteau didnt turn his back on his entire family, however.  After a brief stay in jail (which Geary states was due to trying once again to vacate his residence without paying), he went to live with his sister Frances and her family.

After a few months, however, according to Lauinger Librarys Web site, Guiteau attempted to attack Frances with an ax he was using to chop wood.  There was no apparent reason for the spontaneous attack, and Frances ran to a local doctor who recommended that she have her brother institutionalized. Guiteau fled the area before Frances could take any action.

Without a home or income, his journalistic and legal careers in the dust, Guiteau began a string of speaking appearances to take advantage of the many religious revival meetings that crisscrossed the country in the late 19th century.

If he hoped to become more successful as a traveling preacher than in his earlier occupations, however, he was to be disappointed.  One newspaper article that appeared after one of his nearly-incoherent religious lectures said:

Is There a Hell?  Fifty deceived people (believe) that there ought to be.  Charles J. Guiteau (if such really is his name), has fraud and imbecility plainly stamped upon his (face).  (After) the impudent scoundrel talked only 15 minutes, he suddenly (thanked) the audience for their attention and (bid) them goodnight. Before the astounded 50 had recovered from their amazement...(he had taken their money and) fled from the building and escaped.

As 1880 approached, Guiteau took stock of his life.  Nearing 40, none of his past efforts had led him to the notoriety and fame he felt he was owed.

He could not understand it.

He was a great man, an exceptional man, but nobody was paying him homage.

He wondered if he had just chosen the wrong occupations.

Perhaps, Guiteau thought, he was destined to make his mark in politics.

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