A Woman Pays, Pays and Pays for Nothing
The word is blackmail, and you don't know what it means until it happens to you.
Mrs. Anita Roddy-Eden Sutton said it happened to her on the third day following her marriage to actor John Sutton. That was Feb. 24, 1957.
She and Sutton were honeymooning at the St. Regis in New York when the phone in their suite rang.
She lifted the receiver and the man's voice told her, "Good morning , Mrs. Manville. How do you like being a bigamist?" That was all the man said. Then the phone went dead.
"Who was that calling?" the actor asked his bride.
"Nobody," she stammered. "It was a wrong number."
But it wasn't. It was a very right number. Before her marriage to Sutton, Anita Roddy-Eden had been Tommy Manville's ninth wife. Their 3 1/2 year union -- which had been her first -- ended in a Reno divorce in 1955.
Anita hinted there were some possible irregularities. That's what worried the new Mrs. Sutton. There was, for example, the possibility that she hadn't fulfilled the six-week Nevada residence requirement -- but she had stated in court at the time that she had. There was a chance that she was guilty of perjury, as well as bigamy.
This, the mysterious caller knew. And he told her so when he phoned her again that night.
"How would you like Mr. Sutton to find out?" he asked.
The thought terrified her. The caller apparently knew it would because he set a $10,000 price tag on his silence. Mrs. Sutton laughed uneasily and asked where she would get that kind of money. But the caller was too familiar with her financial status to fall for her bluff. "You've got it," he said.
She did. And after a few more persuasive phone calls in the next couple of days, she stuck it in an envelope, wrote -- according to instructions -- the name "Mr. Forest" on it and left it at the hotel desk.
She had been assured -- as all blackmail victims are -- that this would be the only payment she would be required to make.
Even at the price, she figured that she was getting off cheap, if the silence would save her new marriage and keep her out of trouble with the Nevada authorities.
Yesterday, Mrs. Sutton recalled for me the strange emotions that tore her after that first $10,000 payment.
"Whoever was blackmailing me knew an awful lot about me," she said. "That's what bothered me most. I'd look at my friends and wonder if they were implicated."
Three months passed before the blackmailers contacted her again. They wanted another ten grand. After some persuasion, she paid a second time.
But this didn't stop them. They hit her again in July of '57 for $5,000 more, and in August twice, for $1,000 each time. Total $27,000.
"By then," she told me yesterday, "it was driving me half-crazy. I'd devise little schemes to try to trip them up, to catch them. But I never succeeded. The only thing that stopped them was the fact that my husband and I went out of the country."
The Suttons eventually returned to the U.S. and as the months passed her fears that the blackmailers would reappear diminished. "Sometimes I'd go days, weeks, without thinking about them."
But then, last December, her husband opened a note addressed to her which was mixed among a batch of Christmas cards.
It was from the blackmailers, announcing that they were back -- and when John Sutton confronted his wife with it she broke down and told him the whole story.
Secret in Public Domain
Also the press. That apparently cost her the sympathy of the district attorney in Reno, William J. Raggio. He said inspection of the records failed to back up her statement of blackmail and irregularities in the divorce.
"I can only assume her statement is insincere and issued for the purpose of obtaining publicity," he said, "especially in view of the fact the statements have been made to the press rather than to the officials concerned."
In any event, Mrs. Sutton's $27,000 secret wasn't a secret anymore.
"If you had the choice again . . .?" I started.
"If I had the choice again, I don't know," she answered. "I guess I was a fool to pay them the $27,000.
"But," Anita Roddy-Eden Sutton added, "it bought me three years of silence. And they were very happy years."