Monday, November 11, 2013

Harold Blake Van Alstyne -- The Unbalanced Acrobat

A member of the hand balancing team of Van and Emerson, the 24-year-old acrobat became infatuated with Marian MacLaren of the vaudeville musical troupe the Five MacLarens while touring on the same circuit with them in 1922.  MacLaren, 30, accepted Van Alstyne's marriage proposal, but later broke off the engagement and returned his ring.  In September 1922, the acrobat turned up on the doorstep of the MacLaren home in Philadelphia demanding to speak to his former fiancee.  MacLaren's father intercede informing Van Alstyne that not only would the marriage break up the family act, but their age difference was also too great.  When finally allowed to see Marian MacLaren she refused to explain her reasons for cancelling the marriage although it was later reported she planned to marry another.  On the night of January 12, 1923, Van Alstyne attempted to talk to MacLaren backstage at New York City's Grand Theatre where the family was performing.  She again refused.  The acrobat waited until after the last show and followed the four MacLarens (three sisters and a brother) to the Autodine Cafeteria on 8th Avenue.  Van Alstyne walked up to their table, produced a pistol, and fired five shots instantly killing Marian and wounding her brother.  He shot himself in the chest, but survived.  The performer pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life imprisonment on April 13, 1923.  Three days later, Van Alstyne hanged himself with a belt from his bunk in the Tombs.

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