Amazing Links to the Thousand Islands - Even Murder

By: Steve Krask

Volume 19, Issue 6, June 2024

Sometimes, as an editor, I receive an email that makes me sit up and take notice. That happened on March 12, 2024. Steve Krask, who lives near Atlanta, GA, wrote that he "accidently ran across our article  "Hill Island’s Link to Monsters and Murderers…" (October 2010) while googling. He knew the article referred to his family, and he "wanted to share it with a co-worker."

Of course, I was delighted for him to share the article! He wrote, "I am the grandson of Ben Berdan. He was the caretaker for Wallis Bird's Estate on Hill Island and on the Bird estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island."

He then went on to explain, "Ben lived in the house on Hill Island (known as Batterman's Point at the foot of Hill Island, on the Canadian Channel), and he raised my mother there. She was befriended by "Aunt Winnie," and because Winnie could not have children, she considered my mother her child."

Reading the email, I quickly realized that the Aunt Winnie to whom he referred was Winnie Bird, Wallis Bird’s widow. Where was this going, I wondered? Steve went on to explain, “Everyone from that era has passed, but my sister had a box with memorabilia from our grandmother—this included pictures, photo albums, magazines, and newspaper articles.”

That simple email brought back lovely memories of my research into Batterman's Point, the mysterious death of Winnie Bird in far-off Switzerland, and the 1960’s Saturday Evening Post magazine story. However, Steve gave me new information and we are honored to share it now.

Steve Krask's Memories and Photographs

I am pleased to share photographs from my family albums.

Ben Berdan was my grandfather. He graduated from Hyde Park High School in Chicago 1927. He was pretty handy at common sense stuff and was a proud Eagle Scout.

His aunt was Marjorie Winifred Kendall Bird, who was married to Wallis Bird. They lived in Long Island. Ben became his Aunt Winnie’s handyman. He often remarked that it took him a whole week just to cut about 40 acres of grass and by the time he was finished, he’d have to start mowing all over again!

As Ben got older, he started taking care of the house on Hill Island as well. In 1935, Ben Berdan married Ethel Cargill. We have been told they moved to Canada to avoid the WWII draft. Their daughter, my mother, was born in Kingston ON.

Winnie's big sister Ruby in a show dress. the photo inscribed to her mother at New Years.. [Photo courtesy Berdan family album]

Winnie grew up in Potosi and Pevely, MO, south of St Louis. She had a younger
brother, Ralph, and a sister 10 years her senior, Ruby. In 1910, Ruby got married and started a family. The marriage fell apart and Ruby became a single mom. She moved to St Louis and worked in the entertainment business at various saloons – eventually moving to Chicago to work the circuit during prohibition. Pevely was close enough to St Louis that Winnie could take singing lessons and polish her skills to follow in her sister’s footsteps. In 1915, her father, BF Kendall died.

After that Mattie Kendall (Winnie’s Mom) secured a nursing job in St Louis and moved the family. It was at this crossroads that Winnie decided to try and get a job singing on Broadway in New York City. Instead, she landed a gig with the Ziegfeld Follies. Wallis saw her perform and started a relationship. They married in 1920.

Winnie Bird [Photo courtesy the Berdan family album]

Wallis was part of the Standard Oil fortune and received a sizable inheritance. He
purchased the Farnsworth Estate in Matinecock, NY. It was a self sufficient complex of buildings, over 67 acres, which included a stable for 40 horses, and a 27-car garage.

Wallis had a small private plane and took delight in flying from NY to his estate on Hill Island. Newspaper clippings told us his plane crashed June 4, 1940, while flying to the Thousand Islands.

[Photo courtesy Berdan family album] 

Winnie was devastated, of course, and succumbed to a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. (See:

Winnie had become accustomed to being in the limelight. She began a relationship with Reginald Wright, a European socialite of great wealth, and she travelled extensively with him. They planned to get married but before the wedding, Reginald underwent surgery and died from complications. After the war ended, Winnie put the sad events of New York behind her and moved to France. It was a status symbol of the time to have a personal doctor on staff. She hired the physiatrist Dr. Gerard Savoy. She also needed an escort to attend the elite social parties and hired Nicholas Sturdza, an alleged self-exiled Romanian prince, as her escort and aide de camp. ‘Prince’ Nicky and Savoy took advantage of the situation, and stole jewelry and money from Winnie. Lots of it. They even conspired to bill the doctor’s fees in Swiss Francs, which the ‘prince’ then paid in USD at a 4X rate of exchange!

Then came the twist of fate. Winnie wired her lawyers in New York, asked that they
come to get her, and help to put her affairs back in order. Sturdza read the wired reply that they were going to send someone as soon as possible. He made the assumption that the lawyer was going to fly to Switzerland.

The two needed to act quickly to keep their scheme a secret. This is when Savoy
changed Winnie’s daily prescription of pills to injections. A cocktail of morphine,
scopolamine, and tranquilizers were administered. The desired effect was to have a
very tame person, with no memory, when the lawyer arrived.

Edward E. Watts Jr. decided to make his trip both business and vacation, so he took a boat to Europe. Winnie received daily injections during the course of the lawyer’s voyage and eventually crashed. The hotel nurse discovered her almost lifeless body and called the local doctor. When he visited her room, he saw the mass of vials and pills and ordered an immediate blood transfusion to try to dilute the toxins. However, after the blood transfusion, Savoy gave Winnie yet another injection. It was her final dose. It appears that Savoy went a little heavy to “catch up.” She died.

Both the prince and the doctor were arrested for murder and found guilty.

One section of a fascinating article. 

The Berdan Heritage came to an abrupt halt in the 1980’s. Ben, Ethel and Barbara all passed during the decade - However many of  the Winnie and Wallis Bird are stories left untold.

See also: Marjorie Winifred Kendall Bird - Find a Grave; and [Hill Island’s Link to Monsters and Murderers… by Susan Smith with the Heberlings posted on October, 2010

By Steve Krask

Steve Krask recently retired from a corporate career in the Life Science’s and Greens Industry. He lives outside of Atlanta, GA and is married with 2 children and 3 grandchildren. He currently consults in professional sales training, fertilizer technology development and is a licensed Arborist. Current hobbies include Golf, Gardening and Music. Plans are to finish writing a collection of songs. Compile them into a ‘pitch-book’ and sell them to the top talent in Nashville.

[Editor's note: We thank Steve Krask for contacting TI Life and most of all sharing his memorabilia. In the research world this is called Gold! We know there was an auction after Winnie Bird died and her husband's many cars were sold. However, the circumstances about the auction and winners of the bids is just one of Steve's stories that I am hoping he will share in the future.]

[Comment by Linda Twitchell, Westminster Park, received after article published with interesting history and an appropriate photograph.]  

Very interesting history of this family. I believe the house at Batterman's Point was built by DeForrest Fairchild of Leavenworth, Kansas in 1892. Upon his death, the property was sold to Sarah Batterman of Brooklyn. It is a treasure to have this next chapter of this house told in this interesting article, Steve. Most especially enjoyed the photos of the property. Thank you so much for sharing this River history. Of course, the label is incorrect (this is Batterman's Point on Hill Island). The Fairchild’s had a strong Westminster Park connection. They spent eight summers at the Westminster Park Hotel before building Fairjoline. Upon DeForrest’s death, Josie came back to Westminster Park and spent many years here in a cottage on the Park. [Courtesy Linda Twitchell]

Posted in: Volume 19, Issue 6, June 2024, People, Places, History

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