The Dook, local moniker of the man known variously as Charles Asquith, Lord Walter Beresford and, genuinely, Sidney Lascelles, came to Asheville and died in October of 1904. Within days it is discovered that he had arrived here under a fictitious name and for months his true identity is unknown.
During the time that he remained unidentified, there was speculation. Naturally, people wondered if he were any of several well-known imposters, con-men and bigamists still at large. One guess was that he had been the phony Lord Reginald Oswald Douglas or Lord Percy Sholto-Douglas, both aliases of John Cavendish, a man of about the same age who had left a trail of robbed and abandoned wives from Virginia to Mexico.
Cavendish was the name used by this, ahem, gentleman when he presumably arrived in Asheville early in the fall of 1905. His likely but as yet undocumented arrival might temptingly be pinned on curiosity. He had recently returned from California, where he had abandoned a pregnant wife, the former Miss Louisiana Hobbs of Norfolk, Virginia.
Miss Hobbs' family gave publicity to the thought that our Dook may have been this same Lord Douglas, but upon further investigation abandoned this idea. The sensational press of the day had already latched onto the story and it was reported widely, with varying details, for the next few years! In fact, even after the Dook had been claimed and removed from Asheville in 1910, some newspapers continued to publish a mugshot of the bogus Lord Douglas as a life-portrait of the now infamous Asheville mummy.
Back to Asheville in the fall of 1905, we can easily imagine the debonair and deceitful Lord Douglas aka John Cavendish, far from dead, dropping by the Noland-Brown undertaking parlor on Church Street for a darkly humorous look at his own corpse!
What is known is that, by December of that year, he had wooed and married young Josephine Hood of Asheville. Josephine's parents were from old and proud Buncombe County families, her grandparents being of the wealthy local Alexander, Roberts and Ray clans, now mouldering in the dust of Newton Academy cemetery alongside the likes of the Pattons and the Smiths.
As is usual in such cases, we can imagine her father being quite suspect of this whirlwind romance and whisking away of his teenaged daughter by the much older and charismatic noble Englishman.
All the same, the couple were married at New Iberia, Louisiana, where Mr. Hood was then residing on business, and departed on their honeymoon from New Orleans and would mix business with pleasure while visiting Mexico, where Cavendish said he owned oil wells.
"Don't be surprised," he told her family, "if you don't hear from us for a month or two."
A month or two of silence turned to several and a check with the American consul in Mexico revealed that mail addressed to the couple there was piling up unclaimed.
Belle Hood, the missing bride's mother, sounded the alarm amongst the Asheville nobility and by June of 1906 the story was spreading like wildfire in the national press. Handsome rewards were raised by friends and family of the missing girl. The North Carolina governor posted an additional reward for the apprehension of the notorious bigamist Cavendish, now known to be the same man who had posed as Lord Douglas and a handful of other aliases, married by best count to eight other women in recent years.
One of these wives reported that Cavendish, as Douglas, had taken her to a Texas border town and then struck and threatened her before stealing her jewels and vanishing.
Josephine's mother was in a panic. Suspicion was aired that the young Mrs. Cavendish had been murdered and was buried somewhere in the Mexican desert.
The involvement of two senators and a federal judge in the influential Hood family's circle of acquaintances added weight and resolve to the hunt. Authorities in Mexico and lawmen from locales where Cavendish had previously acted out his charades fell in to help.
As one newspaper article of the day put it, "The couple had dropped completely out of sight as if the earth had opened and swallowed them up."
A woman was reported abandoned in California, first thought to be Josephine Hood, but turned out to be the duped bride of another confidence man.
Then, an amazing story from Idaho. A lady manager at a hotel had been sitting at her desk on which stood a framed photo of a dear friend, a man from Norfolk, Virginia. A young woman passing in the hall chanced a glance and recognized the photo. She stopped and took up a conversation, first calling the man by name. "My family lived in Norfolk for a time," she said. "I'm Josephine Hood," as she smiled and extended a hand in greeting to the lady hotel manager.
In her next letter home, the hotel lady from Idaho had mentioned to her friend in Norfolk, "I met a family friend of yours. Josephine Hood was staying here."
The man's reply came days later, with concern. "Josephine Hood is missing and reported murdered!" Of course, she hadn't known any of this when she recently met the young woman. Hadn't Miss Hood made a lovely appearance, fashionably dressed and by all accounts comfortable and carefree? Something was amiss. The press ate the story up.
Then in early March of 1909, the headlines began to appear with the likes of, "Girl's Wounded Pride Makes Her an Exile," and went on to announce that Mrs. Hood-Cavendish had been found in Tucumcari, New Mexico and was in the care of local authories. Stories of this episode paint a picture of a poor, starving woman, abandoned soon after her honeymoon by the bad man Lord Douglas, or whoever he was, left to eke out a living alone in a cold, cruel world, too ashamed to return to her family and friends.
The final word in the story was that her mother was on a train from Asheville to retrieve her but would be disappointed to find that the young woman had walked out of custody and disappeared yet again.
By now it starts to sound like a mother is in denial. Perhaps Josephine Hood knew from the start, or at least soon learned, what she was getting into.
Confirmation of Josephine's willing involvement would come in 1911, two years later, when a letter to her aunt in Asheville was shared with the newspapermen, anxious for a follow-up to the story that had sold lots of papers over the last five years.
Unsure of her mother's current address, Josephine writes to her aunt that she is well, traveling between continents and living a luxurious lifestyle in the company of her scoundrel husband. While careful not to mention her whereabouts, clues in the letter suggest that Cavendish is doing some high-stakes gambling; we can wager a safe bet about his honesty at the card table. Also, they've crossed the Atlantic something like twenty times and visited China.
Josephine says nothing specific about her husband's swindling and there is no mention of the other wives. She does admit that there are legal matters which need clearing up and that once this is done they intend to settle down in Los Angeles.
So, dozens of articles tediously retrieved through the magic of modern digital archives later, Josephine would seem to be little more than a spoiled brat whose mother's early denial probably turned to outright cover-up when she finally admitted her own daughter's involvement.
The press is silent after the letter to her aunt in 1911, but, though the story was told differently within the family in later years, four children won't stay lost.
Yes, in the midst of all this, Cavendish and Josephine had 3 daughters and a son together.
Grandchildren of Josephine's brother knew their cousin Diane Cavendish. She was raised by her English father who, as she described it, was a poet and a war correspondent. Of course, he often assumed pen names and didn't stay in one place very long.
Cavendish had left Josephine before 1920 in the wake of accusations that she had been cheating on him, maybe with a man less than twice her age and with less than 8 extra wives looking for him.
By this time Josephine was reunited with her mother and living with her in Atlanta with the three remaining Cavendish grandkids in tow. Belle Hood didn't bother running to tell the newspapers that her daughter's blunder, which they had blabbed about at her instigation for so long, had finally been resolved.
Josephine remarried and settled in St. Augustine, Florida. She died there in 1929 and her two youngest children were raised to adulthood by their step-father. They kept the Cavendish name.
Her mother, Belle Hood, returned to Asheville and died in 1931.
Diane Cavendish told cousins that her father, in later years, had become the favorite poet of his adopted home town of Houston, Texas. His pen name was O'Malley, she said.
In a sprawling cemetery in Houston is the grave of poet Hamilton O'Malley, 1858-1939. Though this was the name carved on his tombstone, along with the simple epitaph "Daddy," his death record identifies him as Robert Neil Dunné, born in San Antonio, both parents born in France, his mother's maiden name O'Malley.
He had published at least one collection, March On, Oh Soul, and ninety-nine other poems, in 1937. It bears the notation "by Houston's own poet, Hamilton O'Malley," leaving small doubt that, based on his late daughter's account, this is the final work of the notorious Lord Douglas, aka John C. Cavendish, once the most sought-after scoundrel in America who met his match when he married a not-quite-innocent mountain girl.