Secret Service Agents, the Titanic and Granny

Okay, I’m having way too much fun sharing the stories of my ancestors. But I had to do it one more time – okay, I’m not going to swear it’s only one more time. However, I want to share the story of my great-grandmother, Maidie Lois Leighton. Now, there are some disputes as to what her birth name actually was, not to mention her birth parents. Let me explain:

According to the Parshalls, the people who raised her, her birthday is 17 August, 1892. Granny, (Maidie Lois Leighton) vehemently denied to her dying day, that these were her birth parents. She insisted her parents were Frederick Gordon Leighton and Lois Mae Ruttencutter and that she was born in Boston, rather than Pennsylvania. She has distinct memories of being at her mother’s funeral, even of the dress and coat she was wearing, as well as the couple who came and took her way. Later in life, Warren, whom she stated was her brother, contacted her. The story just gets crazier from there. According to Granny, he was a Secret Service agent and had been sending money to the Parshall’s for her on a monthly basis. While she was living with Nell Herrington (her soon to be sister-in-law), he contacted her from Britain to let her know he was coming to remove her from her circumstance. He boarded the Titanic, having switched tickets with another passenger, and never arrived back in the United States.

This is the story we believe to be true. Granny was never known to lie, while there are those of her offspring who did nothing but lie. We have, however, been unable to prove the truth one way or the other.

Gordon Case, my uncle, relates the story another way:

According to the Akron, Ohio Newspaper (screaming headlines), Uncle Gordon insists that Maidie Lois is really Jesse May Parshall.

“Jessie had taken the stage name of Mae Lois Leighton, and was then approached by a “long-lost cousin” Warren Leighton, who said he was a “Secret-Serviceman”–he claimed Leighton was her real name and she was actually the daughter of a wealthy English couple. If he had the money, he could travel to England and obtain the proof she would need to claim her inheritance! Jessie fell for this story and gave the man enough to go to England. When her mother, Margaret Parshall found out about this, a rather heated dispute arose that resulted in Jessie being the subject of a “identity” hearing in the Probate Court. The court could find no reason to fine or hold her, and the suit was dismissed. After that hearing Jessie May Parshall rejected her Parshall family name, claiming for the rest of her life that she was an abducted daughter of an English millionaire—Frederick Gordon Leighton, and used the name of Mae Lois Leighton. On her application for a Social Security account, Maidie, as she was then known, listed her parents as Frederick Gordon Leighton and Lois Mae Ruttencutter, and a birth in Boston, MA. I have found no record of her birth either in MA or Claysville, PA. No one has ever found any official record of either Frederick Leighton or Lois Ruttencutter. Some of the family agree with the newspaper reporter who pondered whether this claim to millions was, in fact, a publicity stunt created by Jessie May, and simply got out of hand. The long-lost cousin wrote back for more money, and after receiving it, was never heard from again. (There are birth records for that time in Boston, but Pennsylvania did not require registrations until later, and the only child registered to Randolph and Margaret in Washington County was Margaretta in 1894)”

To this day, each side of the family raised with the story of Maidie Lois Leighton swear that theirs is true and the other is false. As I stated, we in our family believe Granny and that she is indeed Maidie Lois Leighton and not Jesse May Parshall. Margaret Parshall’s, the one who claims to be her birth mother, maiden name is Leighton. I believe Margaret to really be her aunt and a sister or cousin to Gordon Frederick Leighton. Granny never claimed Gordon was from England, but rather New York City. We continue to search for the truth but trust in our beloved Granny.