In December 1924, a 21-year-old millionaire orphan, William Billy McClintock, died of an unusually virulent form of typhoid. He was mourned by his finance, Isabelle Pope, who sought unsuccessfully to rally her love by marrying him on his deathbed. Shortly after Billy's funeral, questions arose as to the cause of death, with insinuations of foul play. After reaching his majority and inheriting his estate in April, McClintock had signed a will drafted by one of his guardians, lawyer William D. Shepherd--a will which left everything to Shepherd, but only if Billy died before his planned February 1925 wedding to Ms. Pope. Ultimately, Shepherd and his wife Julie were accused of killing not only Billy McClintock, but Billy's mother and a doctor friend of the family.
This case caused a major sensation in Jazz Age Chicago, a society fascinated with murder and mayhem. When the body of Billy's mother was exhumed after sixteen years, it was found to contain enough mercury to have killed two people. The Shepherds were the only likely sources. Three physicians came forward to say that Shepherd had approached them about obtaining typhoid germs. Yet, Shepherd would beat the charges of Billy's murder; in fact, no one would ever be charged in the death of Billy's mother. Was there a murder--or two? Who stood to gain the most from these deaths? McConnell recreates a slice of life among Chicago's elite and the colorful characters who may or may not have sought their own piece of the fatal fortune--so-called because its inheritors almost always died within two years of receiving it.