Episode 379:

Alcoholic Pickle

The Chocolate Box Murders of 1898


The Murder of Dominick Ciscone During the 1977 New York City Blackout


Episode 379: Alcoholic Pickle

On today's episode, Karen and Georgia cover the Chocolate Box murders of 1898 and the murder of Dominick Ciscone during the 1977 New York City blackout.

Listen on Apple Podcasts.

The Chocolate Box Murders of 1898

The Chocolate Box Murders of 1898 Notes:

Header Image Source: Photo by Niklas Herrmann on Unsplash

Other Images: 

1. Mary Elizabeth Dunning

2. John P. Dunning

3. Cordelia Botkin


"John Preston Dunning did not believe in living a quiet life.

He’d spent years as a foreign war correspondent for the Associated Press and had recently returned to San Francisco to run the West Coast bureau. When he wasn’t working, he was gambling. And when he wasn’t gambling, he was cheating — often and openly — on his wife Mary.

Dunning was insatiable. So perhaps it is no surprise that when his bicycle broke down on a ride through Golden Gate Park in 1895, he engineered the mishap to his advantage.

Sitting on a nearby bench was a woman who caught his eye: 41-year-old Cordelia Botkin. He struck up a conversation with her as he fixed his bicycle, flirting unabashedly with the married woman 10 years his senior. By the time he’d made his repairs, he had secured a date with Cordelia. It was the first of many.

Cordelia, it would seem, had no qualms with other women; Dunning called her “Ada,” a reference to  “a former love whom he said she resembled.” Poor Mary Dunning, however, could bear no such indignity. Shortly after her husband took up with Cordelia, Mary left San Francisco to move back to Delaware with her father, a former US congressman. Dunning moved in with Cordelia, whose husband — the magnificently named Welcome A. Botkin — lived in Stockton and seemed perfectly content with their arrangement.

Paradise was short-lived. Dunning sank deep into alcoholism and gambled away thousands of dollars he didn’t have. He was fired when the Associated Press discovered he’d embezzled over $4,000 from the bureau to cover his gambling debts.

But war gave Dunning a second chance. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the AP rehired Dunning to cover the conflict. Cordelia accompanied Dunning to the train station in Oakland where they said their farewells. And there, Dunning told her the news: He would not be returning to San Francisco. After the war, he was going back to Delaware to be with his wife and their daughter.

Dunning had broken off affairs with many women. But he had misjudged Cordelia, and his mistake was a fatal one..."

Source: “Murder by mail: The story of San Francisco's most infamous female poisoner” by Katie Dowd (SFGate)


The Murder of Dominick Ciscone

The Murder of Dominick Ciscone During the 1977 New York City Blackout Notes:


1. Lightless skyline of New York City during the 1977 blackout (Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

2. Dominick Ciscone

3. People walking during the New York City blackout, July 13, 1977 (Alamy)


"Mystery still remains in the unsolved case of a 17-year-old boy who was shot dead during New York City's power blackout in 1977.

Nearly 40 years later, detectives still haven't figured out who killed Dominick Ciscone on the night of July 13, 1977.

The teenager was standing on a corner in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, usually a safe neighborhood, when he was shot in the back by an unknown suspect.

It was the only murder during the chaotic 25-hour blackout that saw fires and looting erupt throughout New York City's five boroughs.

Now police are taking another look at the cold case in hopes they can bring closure to the Ciscone family all these years later. 

His family members spoke to the New York Post with their memories of the night, saying that the teen didn't deserve to die.

Dominick's sister, Mildred Ciscone, said to the news outlet: 'That was my baby brother.

'He was a sweetheart but he wasn’t afraid of anybody — and that wasn’t a good thing. He fought, yes, to stick up for other people. But everybody loved him.'

His cousin Joan Ciscone said: 'As you can imagine, it was totally devastating. Rumor from way back when was it was a case of mistaken identity.

'There was so much speculation. I don’t think anybody ever knew what happened.'

The blackout was caused by lightening striking a power substation in Westchester several times, and within an hour power was out across the city.

As the lights went out, fires went up with more than 1,000 fires set by arsonists throughout the city.

Looters made off with goods from 1,600 shops, according to an archived New York Times story.

The city was ransacked and historic photos show the destruction New Yorkers left in its wake. 

Dominick was hanging out on a street corner in Carroll Gardens with his older brother Andrew when he was killed.

Mildred retold the tale of what happened to the Post, saying: 'It was dark so they lit up a garbage pail and were standing around, singing and laughing. At the same time, they were setting off fireworks.

'Someone screamed "Andrew!" Dom turned to [Andrew] and said, "I think I got shot." Andrew said, "Nah, that’s just the fireworks."

'[The bullet] went into [Dom’s] back and hit an artery. He went down. 

'Andrew looked down Nelson and saw a guy running, near Smith Street. He was a little well dressed, not a bum. 

'[Andrew] ran after the guy, [who] started shooting. One shot hit him. It gave him a cut across the side of his head, right above his eyebrow.'..."

Source: “Mystery of the 17-year-old boy who was shot dead during New York City's 1977 power blackout” by Cheyenne Roundtree (Daily Mail)

Karen's Episode Sources

  1. “Murder by Mail” (Murder by Gaslight) 2022
  2. “Dying for Chocolate” by Kerry Segrave
  3. “Murder by mail: The story of San Francisco's most infamous female poisoner” by Katie Dowd (SFGate)
  4. "Death of Mrs. J. P. Dunning" "Another Death at Dover from Eating Chocolate Bon Bons" (Daily Republican) 1898
  5. “The Request for Extradition” (The San Francisco Call) 1898
  6. “Victims of Arsenic Poisoning” (The Morning News) 1898
  7. “Strangers with Candy: Delaware‘s Chocolate Box Murders of 1898” by Jake Rossen (Mental Floss) 2023
  8. “State of Delaware, Kent County” (The San Francisco Call) 1898
  9. “Candy from a Stranger: The Gifts of Cordelia Botkin” by Paul Drexler (San Francisco Examiner) 2015
  10. “Cordelia Botkin” (Murderpedia)
  11. “Mrs. Botkin May Have Double in San Francisco” (The San Francisco Call) 1900
  12. “Dover's infamous 'Chocolate Candy Murders' brought back to life on anniversary” by Jerry Smith (Delaware Online) 2018
  13. Arsenic: A Murderous History (Dartmouth Toxic Metals)
  14. “Victorian era” by Susie Steinbach (Britannica)

Georgia's Episode Sources

  1. “45 Years Ago Tonight, a Blackout Struck New York City” by James Barron (New York Times)
  2. “A Look Back: Major blackout hits New York City on July 13, 1977” (CBS New York)
  3. “Blackout: Chapter 1” (PBS American Experience)
  4. “Ed Koch” (Wikipedia)
  5. “How we got here: the 70's, the decade that brought you modern life (for better or worse)” by David Frum (Basic Books)
  6. “Keep Your Mouth Shut” by Clare Amari and Rachel Bailey (Shoe Leather Podcast, Columbia University)
  7. “Mystery of the 17-year-old boy who was shot dead during New York City's 1977 power blackout” by Cheyenne Roundtree (Daily Mail)
  8. “NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: CARROLL GARDENS; Blackout. Murder. Mystery.” by Edward Lewine (New York Times)
  9. “New York City blackout of 1977” (Wikipedia)
  10. “Northeast Blackout of 1965” (Wikipedia)
  11. “NYC Blackout: What It Was Like When the City Lost Power in 1977” (NBC New York)
  12. “New York's Power Outages Offer Rare Stargazing Opportunity” By Joe Rao (Space.com)
  13. “The Infamous 1977 Blackout Is Focus Of New PBS Documentary” by Jen Chung (Gothamist)
  14. “The mystery behind the only murder during the 1977 NYC blackout” by Brad Hamilton (New York Post)
  15. “The Night New York’s Lights Went Out” by Kirstin Butler (PBS American Experience)
  16. “The Real Story of the New York City Blackout of 1977” by Gena Vazquez (Medium)
  17. “These photos show the infamous New York City blackout of 1977” (Rare Historical Photos)
  18. “Why the 1977 Blackout Was One of New York’s Darkest Hours” by Jennifer Latson (Time)