Imagine four family members committing suicide by shotgun, three of which were in the same house, and a fourth elsewhere. At first I thought the family had committed suicide at the same time, like a cult. I was wrong…that’s probably a good thing, although it would make for an interesting story. Strangely, all of the family members were staggeringly wealthy, attractive-looking, and wanted for nothing. In fact, their luxurious estate was known as The Lemp Mansion. The Lemp Family, were the owners of Western Brewery in 1840s St Louis, Montana. You may not be familiar with Western Brewery; no surprise there. The business eventually went bankrupt during Prohibition in the 1910s. It was shut down and eventually sold at auction to International Shoe Company for pennies on the dollar. Ouch. But I am getting ahead of myself (can’t wait to get to the suicide part).
The First Lemp Suicide
William Lemp Sr, whose father Adam Lemp, founded Western Brewery, built the brewery to become the largest brewery in St. Louis, and then, the largest outside of New York with a single owner. William J. “Billy” Lemp, Jr., was born on August 13, 1867. Like his father, he studied the art of brewing. William named his son, William Jr. as Vice-President, and his son Louis as Superintendent. However, it was William Sr.’s fourth son, Frederick, born in 1873, whom he hoped to groom to take over the company. Unbeknownst to the family, however, Frederick suffered from serious health problems and he died on December 12, 1901, of heart failure due to complication of diseases. William Lemp Sr became utterly despondent and on the morning of February 13, 1904, William Lemp committed suicide by gunshot, and died at 10:15 a.m.
The Second Lemp Suicide
On November 7, 1904 With William Lemp Sr and Frederick Lemp dead, “Billy” Lemp took over the family business. The Lemp Brewery suffered in the 1910s when Prohibition began. The brewery was shut down and the Falstaff trademark was sold to Lemp’s friend, “Papa Joe” Griesedieck. The brewery itself was eventually sold at auction to International Shoe Company. On December 29, 1922, Despondent over his divorce from his wife, Lillian Handlen Lemp in 1914, and the loss of the family business, Billy Lemp shot himself in his office — a room that today is the front left dining room.
The Third Lemp Suicide
Elsa Lemp Wright, the youngest child of William Sr. married Thomas Wright, president of the More-Jones Brass and Metal Company in 1910. They separated in 1918 and in February, 1919, Elsa filed for divorce. She cited, among other things, damage to her mental and physical health. The divorce was granted after a trial, but Elsa and Thomas soon reconciled and remarried in March 1920. Apparently, the re-marriage didn’t do Elsa any good. Later that month on March 20, Elsa shot herself while in bed at their house at 13 Hortense Place. (The picture is not of Elsa, but of Lillilan Lemp, Billy’s wife).
The Fouth Lemp Suicide
Charles Lemp, the third son of William Sr., was the final Lemp to live in the mansion, starting in 1929. He had left the brewery in 1917, to go into banking and finance. He had also dabbled in politics, influencing many south side wards. He never married and lived with his dog in the mansion with two servants, a married couple. In April, 1941, Charles Lemp sent a letter to a south St. Louis funeral home requesting that in case of his death, his remains should be taken by ambulance to the Missouri Crematory. On May 10, 1949; eight years later, he shot his dog, then himself in the head, leaving the following suicide note: “St. Louis Mo/May 9, 1949, In case I am found dead blame it on no one but me. Ch. A. Lemp.” It didn’t explain the madness that overtook him, and his suicidal predecessors, but at least Charles left a note; no one else in the family left behind any communication.
Suicide through the Generations
Is it true that suicide “runs in families?” I wonder in the Lemp family case (poor buggers) if there was a genetic component, along with some environmental and personal factors:
Personal Reasons: William Lemp Sr killed himself due to his depression over the loss of his son, Frederick. This seems like an over-reaction to me.
Environmental Reasons: William Lemp Jr committed suicide due to the loss of the family business during Prohibition.
Unknown: Elsa Lemp Wright ended her life for reasons unrelated to the family business. It is possible that she was despondent over her father and brothers’ suicides although there is no evidence to support this theory.
Unknown: Charles Lemp killed himself, also for reasons unknown. Perhaps it was chronic, clinical depression, or perhaps he also suffered from health problems like his brother, Frederick.
A suicide gene has been discovered. Can this be the sole cause or a significant contributing factor to the suicides? Since Elsa and Charles’ cause of suicide has not been established, this may be impossible to determine. I knew a girl who had two brothers, both who died suicides. Her mother was a cold, emotionally detached woman and it affected this woman deeply. Perhaps this was also a factor in her brothers’ deaths. Certainly family dynamic has a great deal to do with family members’ suicides and inherited clinical depression. It is also true that when one family member commits suicide, this opens the door for other family members who have contemplated the same fate; it now seems more acceptable and inevitable.