A Soap Opera--50 Years Too Early


September 15, 1991|By Carleton Jones

Today, a divorce case that doesn't involve gunfire or million or titillating details rates not much more attention than a three-bumper accident on Erdman Avenue.

It was different back in 1915 when men were snickering and women sniffing at what was called "The Snyder Case" (always written in capital letters). It played like an old silent movie -- lovely wife, handsome alleged seducer, wronged hubby and possibly a lady in the wings -- an irresistible quartet of solid-gold, middle-class innuendo that was served up to Baltimore society at nickelodeon prices.

With 5,000 pages of testimony and no less than 25 days of argument, the Snyder affair may well have been the longest and most complex single domestic hassle in Maryland court history.

It literally had everything: the waving of pistols, detectives sneaking across a bedroom floor, a love poem. It was prime-time soap opera -- 50 years too early.

In the 1910s women wore whalebone corsets, layers of #i petticoats, giant hats and coats that looked as if they had been cut from piles of rugs and blankets.

Such was the wardrobe of dark, attractive Ada "Dolly" Snyder, who dressed in black for the divorce trial. Her husband, the Rev. Edward Snyder, was the respected pastor of the Morrell Park Methodist Church. He was suing for divorce on the grounds that Mrs. Snyder had been cavorting with her doctor, George Kieffer, an important parishioner of Mr. Snyder's church. Mrs. Snyder had entered a countersuit alleging that the pastor had been playing pitty-pat with Lillian M. Koons of Good Intent, an estate near Union Bridge, Frederick County.

On the January morning that the trial opened, 200 people, largely women, swamped the hallways at the Baltimore Circuit Court, hoping for a juicy legal show. They were disappointed, for the judge heard large swaths of the interminable case in chambers. But reporters had a field day covering the case.

It seems that Mrs. Snyder had been taking "violet ray treatments for neuralgia of the back" administered by the doctor. And it seems that Mr. Snyder had hired a Burns detective to snap some pictures of the couple together. Mr. Snyder said he had already peeked through a keyhole and seen the Mrs. dressed in "a pink kimono with ribbons" and parked on the doctor's lap.

One of the doctor's neighbors had teacup-rattling news. He said he had seen Dr. Kieffer's auto parked in front of the Snyders' home "30 or 40 times," one time at 12:30 a.m. Dr. Kieffer and Mrs. Snyder also were said to have frequented Carroll and Gwynn Oak parks. Testimony also brought out that the handsome, thirtysomething doctor had had several luncheon trysts with Mrs. Snyder at the Smedley House in Towson and had visited, with a female companion, the New Howard Hotel dining room and Thompson's Sea-Girt House restaurant.

By contrast, almost nothing of note could be charged to Mrs. Koons of Good Intent, other than the fact that she once had been a neighbor of the pastor.

The trial stretched from the snows of early January to the winds of mid-March. Additional testimony revealed that two detectives in stocking feet had attempted to trap the doctor and Mrs. Snyder by tiptoeing into her bedroom and hiding under her bed, but they couldn't fit. And Dr. Kieffer was said to have authored a love poem to Dolly and waved a pistol about in the Snyder home. By this point, the trial was playing as a comedy.

What was the trial judge to do with such a bafflingly trivial case? He dismissed both actions but not without declaring that "the public should be kept out of the courtroom in such cases. They should be heard in private." The doctor and the pastor were left on equal terms -- both, assuredly, with big lawyers' bills. *

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