Let’s hop in our time machine and roll the clock back to 1875, where we find a young man named William Burroughs taking a job as a bank clerk in Auburn, NY. Much of his tedious work involved painstakingly checking the bank’s ledgers for errors. His only tools were pencils, paper, and his brain. It wasn’t long before Burroughs began to envision the development of a machine that would do the math for him. What the world needed was a mechanical adding machine and he was determined to figure out how to design it himself.
After spending five years at the bank, Burroughs picked up and moved to St. Louis, Missouri. There, he found employment as a mechanic at the J. Boyer Machine Shop, owned by a man named Joseph Boyer. This new job provided Burroughs with the opportunity to turn his dream of an adding machine into a reality.
In 1885, Burroughs filed his first patent application for a “calculating machine” and went on to establish the American Arithmometer Company in 1886. The early machines produced were not very accurate, but with persistent trial and error, Burroughs eventually created nearly flawless machines within a couple of years. All of these adding machines were manufactured by the Boyer Machine Shop, and the initial model was sold for $475, equivalent to nearly $16,000 in today’s currency. As primitive as mechanical adding machines may seem today, these were the supercomputers of their day.
Tragically, Burroughs passed away at the young age of 41 in 1898, reportedly having earned little money from his invention. In 1902, Joseph Boyer, the owner of the machine shop that produced the adding machines, assumed the role of company president and renamed it the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. Three years later, he relocated the entire company to Detroit, Michigan.
The company experienced prosperity, selling an estimated 800,000 machines by 1920 and employing 12,000 people worldwide. Joseph Boyer became a remarkably wealthy individual, particularly considering the absence of federal income tax at the time.
However, everything changed for the ultra-wealthy with the enactment of the Revenue Act of 1913, which re-established a federal income tax. This meant that high earners like Joseph Boyer would be obligated to pay a substantial portion of their income to the government. It can be inferred, although not conclusively proven, that it was no mere coincidence when Boyer established well-funded trust funds for each of his seven children that same year. This strategic move potentially allowed him to evade a significant portion of his tax burden.
It would be a fight over one of these trust funds—which belonged to Joseph’s son Myron Libby Boyer— that would capture headlines both in Canada and the United States throughout 1928. Values of the trust were estimated to be between 2.5 and 5 million dollars, which would be in the range of $35 to $88 million today.
Not exactly chump change…
On July 26, 1921, Myron entered into matrimony with Laura Lucille Miller, a former saleslady at the Burroughs company. Both had been previously married, so they were well aware of what they were getting themselves into.
Yet, the marriage got off to a rocky start. The one thing that Myron wanted more than anything was an heir, someone to pass his fortune on to. But since both were forty years old at the time of their union, it was proving difficult to conceive.
It wouldn’t be until the middle of 1923 that Laura revealed to Myron that she was finally pregnant. While details of what happened next were never described in the press, it is safe to assume that Mrs. Boyer’s belly expanded as the baby grew inside of her.
In early November 1923, as Laura approached the momentous day, she sent her husband off on an important errand that would keep him away for several hours. Then, upon Myron’s return home, he was taken aback to discover a doctor and nurse caring for his wife and their newborn baby. They named their little boy Joseph Andrew Boyer III.
Everything was going smoothly until around thirteen months after the baby’s birth. For some unknown reason—Mrs. Boyer blamed it on the nurse that attended to the baby—Myron began to suspect that the kid was not his son.
Could Laura have been two-timing on Myron? Enquiring minds want to know. Driven by the need for answers, Myron took the decisive step of engaging private investigators to uncover the truth. Through thorough detective work, it was revealed that not only was Myron not Joseph’s biological father, but Laura was not his biological mother either.
Huh? What? She clearly had given birth to that baby. Just how could this be?
Faced with the results of the investigation, Laura was forced into admitting that the whole thing was a hoax. Yes, the baby was real. But neither of the Boyers were his parents.
Instead, the baby had been born out of wedlock to a 19-year-old Windsor, Ontario woman. (Sidenote: In one of those quirks of cartography, Windsor, Ontario lies directly south of Detroit.)
Mrs. Boyer had orchestrated an intricate plan, involving a payment of $1,500 (equivalent to over $26,000 today) to a Detroit doctor. He arranged everything, which included locating the expectant young woman in Windsor, the adoption of the newborn, bringing the baby across the border into the United States, and orchestrating a ruse wherein, in her husband’s absence, she could pretend that she had just given birth to the boy.
Yes, she had faked the entire pregnancy.
It’s difficult to say how most husbands in the 1920s would have reacted to this. Perhaps they would have divorced the wife or chosen to simply accept the child as their own and never reveal the secret to the world.
But this case was different. The Boyers were a socially prominent family and Joseph III, who was now four years old, stood to inherit a vast fortune that he wasn’t truly entitled to. From the Boyer family’s point of view, this needed to be avoided at all costs. As a result, lawyers for Myron Boyer filed suit in Detroit on March 1, 1928, to have the child’s birth certificate stricken from the state’s records.
The solution seemed straightforward: if there existed no official record identifying Myron as the boy’s father, the child would forever be unable to make any claim to the family’s substantial wealth. (Sidenote: Initial reporting on this story suggested that a separate trust fund had been set up solely in the boy’s name, but later it was revealed that he was simply the sole heir to his father’s trust fund.)
Efforts were made to keep this story out of the news, but that didn’t work. The Associated Press quickly picked it up and word spread like wildfire.
Mrs. Boyer told a reporter, “Everything Mr. Boyer charges in his suit is true: I did adopt a baby a few hours old and told Mr. Boyer it was our child. It was a desperate measure to save our home. I thought an heir, a child’s love, would make Mr. Boyer happy and contented. It did—for 13 months. Then not even the baby could hold him.”
At the time that the lawsuit was filed, the couple had been separated for about two years. While Myron had no interest in the boy, Laura found comfort in the fact that she had legally adopted him.
Mrs. Boyer continued, “I have lost the home but won a child and the deceit has been worth a thousand times what it cost. I love this boy more than anything else in the world.”
But there was a big problem brewing: Laura Boyer had no proof that she had legally adopted young Joseph. She had never received any legal documents proving so and the Detroit physician who arranged for adoption, Dr. R. J. Lennox, had since passed on. On top of that, the Ontario courts had no records of the adoption ever having taken place.
Adding to the complexity of the situation, a visit to Hôtel-Dieu Hospital in Windsor, where the birth occurred on November 5, 1923, brought forth more complications. The biological mother of the baby firmly believed she had given birth to a girl, yet the hospital records listed the sex as male. When the birth certificate was filed, it listed the baby’s sex as female.
Was this simply an error in bookkeeping or did Mrs. Boyer take the wrong baby home? It wouldn’t be the first time that there was a mix-up in the maternity ward. This was long before DNA testing, and since all those directly involved are deceased, that answer may never be known.
It wasn’t long before reporters located the real mother. At first, they kept her name out of the papers, but eventually, it was revealed that she was Edith Howarth, now 23 years old, who lived at 604 Bruce Avenue in Windsor with her parents.
Edith knew who the father was but made it clear that she was never going to reveal his identity because he was unaware that she had gotten pregnant. “I know he is a college boy and apparently of good family. I don’t know how much money his family had, or anything about them. I made no appeal to him or to them for assistance.”
Newspaper reports claimed that Edith had sold the child, but she insisted that wasn’t true. “I want to make it clear that I did not ‘sell’ the child. It has been repeatedly stated in the newspapers that Mrs. Boyer, when seeking the child for adoption, came over here and ‘bought’ mine. That is not true.
“When I went to Hotel Dieu Hospital to have the child, I told the hospital authorities on entry that I could not care for it, and I wanted it to be adopted by someone who could. There was four or five days before the child was born and taken away. I had not seen Mrs. Boyer or anyone representing her. I had the child registered for adoption before his birth, just so he could be sure of a good home. That was all I was interested in.”
As for the birth itself, “There was a woman there, but I didn’t pay any attention to her. I was crying. There was a man. I thought he was a lawyer. He asked me to sign these papers and I signed them, knowing them to be for adoption. He asked me if any provision was made for my care after I got better, and I said my parents would look after me. There was no mention of money between us, but after he had gone, I found a $20 bill on the bed cover.” (Approximately $350 today.) She added that whoever took the baby also covered the cost of her entire hospital bill.
Needless to say, things were getting messier with each passing day. Myron Boyer determines that his son isn’t his own. Mrs. Boyer suspects that she may not have legally adopt her son. No one is sure if the newborn was a boy or a girl. The doctor who handled everything is deceased. Fraud may have been committed when the child’s birth was registered in Detroit. Could it get any more complicated?
You bet it could. And it did.
It was learned that Mrs. Boyer had been paying large sums of money over an extended period to a blackmailer who threatened to reveal her child’s true identity to her husband.
Then, immigration officials on both sides of the border were investigating whether the boy was in the United States legally. Newspaper articles reported that if the boy was determined to be an illegal alien, he would be deported and forbidden from returning to the US for one year.
Mrs. Boyer told the press, “Nobody can take the baby from me, because where he goes I will go, too. If the United States sends him back to Canada because he came into this country illegally, I shall go with him. There will be no separation for us.”
The Canadian authorities appeared relatively unconcerned about the predicament. Firstly, it was a false notion that the boy would face a year-long ban from returning to the United States. Such a prohibition would only apply if he had committed a crime, which certainly wasn’t the case. Moreover, even if he were to be deported, Mrs. Boyer could easily bring him back to Canada, present the required documentation, and obtain the necessary papers for legal re-entry. The issue, however, lay in the fact that she was unable to locate those crucial documents.
The United States, on the other hand, requested that Laura Boyer appear before a special board of inquiry at the Federal Immigration Commission in Detroit on Monday, March 5, 1928. They would determine if the boy had entered the United States illegally and, if so, if he should be deported.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Boyer was across the Detroit River in Windsor searching frantically for any record that would prove that she had legally adopted her son Joseph. No documents were ever located, meaning the adoption had probably never taken place. On top of that, Talbot Clay, the Windsor lawyer who drew up the adoption papers, which Edith Howarth clearly remembered signing while in the hospital, had also died.
But all was not lost. Mrs. Boyer sent one of her attorneys to represent her at the immigration hearing in Detroit and he indicated that a legal adoption would take place within the next day or two. And that was exactly what happened. Edith once again signed the release papers, and the adoption was now legal. But Mrs. Boyer did make one big change. She changed her son’s first name from Joseph to Dode.
Immigration officials straightened out all of the paperwork and Dode Alfred Boyer was finally allowed to legally stay in the United States.
Things seemed to be looking up but there was still the issue of Myron Boyer’s lawsuit seeking to have his former son’s birth certificate removed from official records, which was intended to keep Dode from ever claiming any portion of the Boyer family’s fortune. To guarantee this outcome, a second lawsuit was promptly filed merely six days after the first one. It asked the court to legally sever the child’s access to any benefits from the trust fund, leaving no room for potential claims.
This was followed by a request made to the court on April 5, 1928, by Mrs. Boyer to dismiss the lawsuits initiated by her husband. There was speculation in the press that she was about start fighting for a portion of her husband’s trust fund.
The next legal punch came one month later, on May 5, 1928, when Mr. Boyer filed suit to discontinue the payments that his trust fund had been making to Dode, which were a whopping $500/month. (Approximately $8,800/month adjusted for inflation.)
Amazingly, through all of the lawsuits and constant press attention, the Boyers remained civil throughout the entire ordeal. There was no name calling, no nasty accusations, nor was there any consideration by the couple of divorcing.
Fast forward to early November, about eight months after the initial suit was filed, and it was learned that the court wouldn’t look at these cases for possibly another two years. Mr. Boyer’s attorneys requested that the court hear the cases sooner, arguing that Myron Boyer, who was only 48 years old at the time, could suddenly drop dead and the child would inherit a fortune that he was never entitled to.
This seemed to work, and a hearing was held in Wayne County circuit court on November 22, 1928. Once again, the death claim would be repeated, although this time it was about the elder Joseph Boyer, who reported to be in poor health. Trustee James Watkins stated, “We do know, he may or may not be with us in a few months from now. Therefore, we desire this matter settled once and for all.”
It’s almost like these people were placing a curse on both Joseph and Myron Boyer. A decision was needed now because they both could drop dead tomorrow!
Judge Arthur Webster wasted no time in handing down his decision. Dode Alfred Boyer was legally disinherited from the Boyer estate. Not only would all payments from the trust fund stop immediately, but his faked birth records were ordered expunged from all governmental records.
Mrs. Boyer was not surprised by the ruling. “I am perfectly satisfied. I have my boy and he will be taken care of. That is all.”
About one week later, Myron Boyer, who had been silent to the press throughout the entire ordeal, offered up his “first and last statement.” It’s quite lengthy, so I’ll just share portions of what he said.
He begins, “During the last nine months considerable newspaper space has been devoted to the so-called Boyer baby case. I, Myron L. Boyer, being one of the principles of the case, it may be recalled, have never made a statement to the press, and never discussed the case with anyone, outside of any immediate friends. I studiously avoided making any public statement, as I considered the case entirely a civil one in a personal matter.”
“This case first came to the attention of the public in March of this year, due to the fact that I had filed a suit in Ingham County to have expunged from the state records the certificate of birth registering the name of Joseph Andrew Boyer, who, as a baby several days old, had been surreptitiously brought into my home by a doctor and a nurse, during my absence, and proffered to me, on my return, by my wife as my own son.”
He continues, “At this time, also, I started suit to restrain the trustees of the fund established for me from dispersing any of the fund to this child as my son. These suits were started after I had conclusive evidence that I’ve been the victim of a deliberate scheme to thrust upon me a child not my own.”
Jump ahead to the seventh paragraph: “With reference to her statement that she committed this hoax upon me through her desire to make our home a better one and to bind me more closely to my home, I, knowing fully the context of the trust fund established for me, will never believe that she was prompted by the higher motives that she advanced but will always believe that she was prompted by a monetary motive, as the trust is so drawn that she could never have enjoyed any huge monetary benefits except in the case that I should die leaving a true and legitimate heir.”
But, as the old expression goes, be careful about what you wish for because it might just come true. His council asked for a speedy trial because either he or his father could die before a decision was reached. Well, that’s exactly what happened.
On December 29, 1928, Myron was traveling in a Detroit taxicab while on his way with a friend to the theater. He suddenly felt a sharp pain in his chest, but declared that he was well enough to continue, but soon collapsed. Myron was taken back to his home, where he died, just a few weeks after the judge finalized his decision. His father Joseph died less than two years later.
Myron’s will, dated April 26, 1923, was handwritten on a single piece of paper. It read, “I, Myron L Boyer, being in good health and of sound mind, do hereby will, deed and bequeath at my death to my beloved wife, Laura Miller Boyer, all of my earthly possessions without reservation of any nature whatsoever.”
It was never revealed how much his estate was worth, but when Mrs. Boyer was questioned by a reporter as to its value, she replied, “Well, not quite a million.”
Let the court battles begin…
The newspapers would be mostly silent on the fight that was taking place between Laura Boyer and her late husband’s siblings. It would drag out over many years. There wasn’t any argument over Myron’s personal assets, but the debate was over income from the trust fund, which was valued at $2.5 million. Mrs. Boyer’s lawyers insisted that it belonged to Myron, while attorneys for the trust fund argued that after Myron’s death, any earnings were the property of his father’s estate.
On July 9, 1937—Dode was now thirteen years old—the Boyer heirs were ordered to pay Laura $1.2 million in cash and securities. This was then appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, where the decision was reversed, meaning that she wouldn’t receive a dime. An appeal was denied by the United States Supreme Court.
The 1940 census shows that Laura Boyer and her son Dode were living in a small house that she owned at 15760 Southfield Road in Detroit. She was working as a saleslady in construction, but sadly died on December 21, 1940, at the age of 59, not long after her census data had been collected.
As for Dode, I was able to find one picture of him at age 22, which I will post on my website. By 1950, he had relocated to Los Angeles and passed away on September 15, 1995, in Long Beach. He was 71 years old.
Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.