The influential Prairie School architect fell in love with his Oak Park neighbor Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Their spouses refused to grant either one a divorce. The couple moved to Europe. Wright built a home in Spring Green, WI, called Taliesin, named after the Welsh bard. Julian and Gertrude Carlton, from Barbados, were hired as caretakers.
Wright was in Chicago on August 15. Lunch was served to Mamah Borthwick Cheney, her 9-year-old Martha and 12-year-old John, carpenter William Weston and his 13-year-old son Ernest, draftsmen Emil Brodelle and Herbert Fritz, gardener David Lindblom, and foreman Thomas Brunker. Gertrude Carlton reported that her husband had been agitated over the previous days and slept with a hatchet by the bed.
After lunch, Julian Carlton asked carpenter William Weston for gasoline to clean a rug. Instead, Carlton doused rugs and doors with the gas and set Taliesin ablaze. Mamah and her children had been eating on the veranda. Carlton killed mother and son John with an axe. Martha ran to escape, but he killed her too. The others suffered burns from the fire. Fritz and the elder Weston jumped out of a window. Weston was knocked to the ground by two blows from the back of Carlton’s axe. The fall saved Weston; the butler turned his attention to the others. Brunker, Brodelle and Ernest Weston received axe blows to the skull. Lindblom was burned and received a head wound from the axe, but he and William Weston were able to run to a farmhouse a half-mile away where they could call for help.
The fire brigade arrived, but Taliesin burned down. Julian Carlton was found hiding in a furnace. He had attempted suicide by taking hydrochloric acid. He was nearly lynched on the spot, but starved to death after two months in the Dodgeville jail despite medical care. Lindlbom succumbed to the burns. William Weston and Herbert Fritz were the only survivors.
Wright arrived with Mamah’s husband, Edwin Cheney, who came for the remains of his children. The architect rebuilt Taliesin as his summer home, but its bungalow was destroyed in another fire on April 20, 1925.