The Belle of the Trial
When Belle Wardlow’s trial began on February 25, 1918, in Hamilton, Ohio, Judge Walter Harlan presiding, the case presented a dilemma for both sides.
If the state introduced evidence that Belle Wardlow was interested in another man, it could provide a motive for the crime. On the other hand, it would also introduce another suspect and the shadow of a doubt as to her guilt, given the likely testimony of the Wardlow daughters.
If the state did not introduce evidence of another man, however, the defense would have to in order to demonstrate Harry Cowdry’s culpability.
During the examination of the jurors, the three Wardlow girls sat with their mother, the youngest, Alice, on her lap. Her mother was inside the railing and Mary Lou Brown, Wardlow’s sister, sat at the table with the only representative of the state, County Prosecutor Ben A. Bickley.
The room was crowded with spectators, both men and women, who filled every available seat in the room.
The selection got off to a slow start, and by noon Monday, the court had only seated two men, mostly because the prospects were opposed to the death penalty, and it seemed for a time as though it would take three days or longer and at least one additional venire to seat a jury.
But by chance alone, the later candidates tended to be more in favor of capital punishment, so the original venire of 38 turned out to be sufficient, and they managed to get a jury seated by noon Tuesday. That afternoon, the jury was able to visit the scene of the crime with the judge, the attorneys and the defendant in four automobiles.
Prosecutor Bickley asked the jury to pay particular attention to the locations of the various rooms of the house, especially the room in which her husband lay ill with the quinsy before his death, and the location of the house with respect to the barn and the creamery where the arsenic was kept.
Belle Wardlow seemed composed during the morning session and the trip to the farm. She chatted with her attorneys on the ride and kept her arm around her daughter Alice. She spoke of various familiar sights about their old home and as they approached the farm she said to Alice, “This looks like home again, doesn’t it, Alice.”
To the press, she declared herself “well pleased” with the progress of the case so far.
“I have not worried at all during my confinement in jail because I feel sure that I will be able to prove my innocence,” she said. “I am entirely satisfied with the case as it now stands and have complete confidence in my attorneys. I have at no time felt worried over the outcome.”