Demented Facts About Lydia Locke, The Scandalous Soprano

Byron Fast

Before Taylor Swift became known as the songstress with a long list of beaus, there was Lydia Locke: the opera singer with a long list of husbands. There were seven to be exact, and most of them ended up dead, broke, or broken—if not all of the above. While Swift limited herself to writing songs about her exes, Locke got back at hers with obscene accusations, a loaded pistol, and even an unlawfully-borrowed baby. These super scandalous facts about Lydia Locke will make you think twice before taking your own trip down the aisle.


1. She Lived An Adventure

While Lydia Locke’s life may have been glamorous, her beginnings were far from it. Locke was born in 1884 in Hannibal, Missouri: the same town where Mark Twain grew up and set his famous novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Like Huck Finn, Lydia Locke’s life was an adventure, but it most certainly wasn’t one meant to be read by children.

2. She Belted Out Orders

Locke’s singing voice developed quickly, and the range and power of it were a blessing—but not for her parents. In fact, they probably didn’t count it as a blessing at all. Young Locke used her loud voice to demand things from various members of the household. With that set of lungs, Locke’s poor parents were powerless, and Locke became a spoiled brat.

Her parents, however, didn’t need to deal with her bad behavior for too long—Lydia Locke was about to leave Missouri in her dust.

3. She Rose Quickly

It didn’t take long for young Locke to use her powerful voice in order to work her way out of Missouri. She was still a teenager when she started working on the stage, and by her early 20s, she’d already hit the big time as an opera singer. It wasn’t, however, only her performances that got her noticed: audiences seemed to have no limit to their curiosity about all things Lydia Locke.

And when Locke became engaged, the masses went wild.

4. She Got Hitched

It was 1908 when 22-year-old Locke tied the knot for the first time. Newspapers flooded their columns with details about her husband to be: Reginald W. Talbot—and there were plenty of red flags. Not only was he was 21 years older than Locke, he was also a habitual gambler. Talbot put all his chips on Locke and hoped she would become the docile housewife of his dreams.

Boy did he get that wrong. It turned out that Locke was about as domestic as feral mongoose.

5. She Wasn’t What He Expected

Locke’s wedding to Talbot may have taken place in Reno, Nevada—but the real gamble was marrying Locke at all. You see, Locke wasn’t domestically inclined, which was what he’d been looking for in the first place. Once Talbot realized he’d misread Locke’s temperament, they began to fight regularly. Eventually, he took matters into his own hands—literally.

Poor Locke became the recipient of her husband’s brutal beatings. The next morning, the very unhappy couple were meeting in a divorce lawyer’s office. What happened there, is the stuff of legend.

6. She Was Prepared

Even though Locke and Talbot were in their lawyer’s office, things went off the rails pretty quickly. First, there was arguing—which got very heated—and this soon escalated into Talbot once again using his fists against Locke. This time, however, Lydia Locke was ready for Talbot’s aggressive behavior. In her fur muff, Locke had hidden a pistol, and she had every intention of using it.

7. She Meant Business

Locke pulled a pistol from her fur muff and aimed it directly at Talbot. We can assume the lawyer, now well aware this marriage needed something more than just a simple divorce, was cowering in the corner of his office. Talbot, on the other hand, likely assumed his wife was bluffing. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Locke shot him three times at close range.

8. She Got Taken Away

All the three shots that Locke fired hit Talbot and the result was unequivocal: He died right there in the lawyer’s office. The authorities arrived, and they took Locke away. What could be worse? She’d shot her own husband three times, all with a witness present—and the witness was a lawyer, no less. It seemed that Locke was a perfect candidate for a guilty verdict.

9. She Was Headed For The Gallows

The evidence against Locke was irrefutable. They had an eyewitness, and they discovered her standing over the body holding the still-warm pistol. To make matters even worse, the prosecution at the trial worked incredibly hard to paint a very negative picture of Locke. They said she was a drug user, and worse still: that she’d sold her body for money.

I’m no expert, but it looked like Locke would receive capital punishment for her very capital transgression. If you think this was the end for our young soprano—you don’t know Locke.

10. They Heard The Horrible The Truth

To defend Locke, her lawyer brought several members of the house staff to the courtroom. Each one testified about what life was like for Locke in her husband’s home. What came out was a very clear picture of a woman horribly mistreated by her husband. The jury saw Talbot for what he was: a serial wife batterer. Locke’s lawyer then pulled an extremely risky move.

He brought Locke to the stand. But would Lydia Locke’s brazen personality be too much for the jury?

11. She Won Them Over

Lydia Locke took the stand at her own trial and faced the courtroom. She began to speak, and what she said had a profound effect on the jury. They fell in love with her. It was Locke’s sweet voice and good looks that won them over. The members of the jury were so taken by Locke that they did something unheard of at a trial: they applauded her.

It wasn’t, however, applause that Locke needed—she needed to avoid the gallows.

12. She Was A Charm

After giving Locke a warm round of applause, the jury proceeded to acquit Locke of all charges related to her husband’s demise. But the jury didn’t stop there. One Milwaukee newspaper reported that the jury somehow got it into their heads that Talbot had taken his own life—even though there was a witness who saw the whole thing.

If Lydia Locke could charm a jury into believing that, there was no telling what else she could get away with.

13. She Took Aim Again

Locke went from applause at her trial to applause for her singing. After her acquittal, she performed in both the Paris and Chicago operas. In between performances, she even had time for love. In 1913, just four years after losing one spouse, Locke had set her sights on another. The man was Orville Harrold and he, like Locke, was an opera singer. There was one problem though: Harrold was already married.

14. She Made Him An Offer

Locke’s new boyfriend Harrold hadn’t always been an opera singer. In fact, he’d had what some might call a pretty gloomy profession: driving a funeral hearse. Back then, Harrold had married someone that, let’s just say, matched his old job more than his new glamorous one. Harrold took one look at Locke—and what she had to offer—said goodbye to his wife and hello to Lydia Locke.

15. She Made Him Husband Number Two

Harrold divorced his wife and tied the knot with Locke four days later. He said of his new wife: “she possesses an amiable and loving disposition.” Wait a minute. Was this guy completely in the dark about the fatal end of Locke’s previous marriage? Maybe Harrold should have spoken to Locke’s ex-husband to get the truth. Oh right, he couldn’t: he was already six feet under.

Had Locke had calmed down? Was she now ready for a more conventional life? Spoiler alert: no.

16. It Got Off To A Good Start

Lydia Locke had her own opinion about her second marriage. She thought that marriage required “affection, sacrifice, and sympathy.” Well, we didn’t see much affection and sympathy in her first marriage, but she did sacrifice her first husband in a sense. With such heartfelt words, it might seem as though this marriage had more than a chance at success—but sadly, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

17. He Should Have Seen It Coming

The wedding of Locke and Harrold went off without a hitch—the honeymoon, however, was another story. The setting was Italy, but with two opera singers at center stage, there was bound to be some high drama—and drama there was. Although, I would knock off a few points for lack of originality.

18. She Failed To Aim

During their honeymoon, Lydia Locke actually took a shot at her second husband. And unlike her first husband, Orville Harrold lived to tell the tale. Luckily, Locke’s shot narrowly missed him. But that’s not the most disturbing part. The incident, beyond all logic, failed to end the marriage. Foolishly, Harrold continued to be Locke’s wedded soulmate.

So, maybe Locke had gotten it out of her system. Maybe she was ready for a sane married life. Well, don’t bet on it.

19. She Replaced Him

Harrold wisely spent the next years of his life with Locke at a safe distance. He arranged for his job to take him away on business—a lot. But that didn’t stop Locke from getting into trouble. If you remember correctly, Harrold had driven a hearse before getting into opera. Well, now Locke was taking her ire out on another driver—maybe a husband stand-in?

The story goes that Locke had ordered some sleeping powders from a local pharmacy. The store sent the powders with a driver—and that’s when the trouble started.

20. There Was Mutual Mistrust

The driver had done his part and brought Lydia Locke her sleeping powder, but he wasn’t ready to give it up until he was paid. Locke owed the driver 25 cents for his trouble, but she only had a 50 cent coin. Locke didn’t trust the driver for the change, and the driver didn’t trust her. Instead of discussing it like an adult, Locke hit the driver.

When that didn’t yield the expected result, she knocked him over the head with her slipper. After she dealt with the chauffeur, Locke had to deal with her maid.

21. She Was Mean

Another one of Locke’s violent episodes involved an actual knock ‘em down brawl with her maid, who’d threatened Locke with an iron rod. Once the dust had cleared—and any injuries had been taken care of—the reason for the disagreement came to light. Turns out that the maid owed Locke all of eight days’ rent. Come on Locke, loosen those purse strings a bit.

Harrold was out of town for both of these events, but you can guess how he felt on his return.

22. She Wanted To Win

When Harrold did eventually come home from his almost permanent business trip, it was only to make a surprising announcement. He asked Locke for a divorce. Locke, not one to be outdone, turned around and asked him for a divorce. Well, at least they agreed about one thing. But only one party could file for divorce, so the battle was on—and Locke wasn’t about to give in easily.

23. He Just Wanted Out

The battle of the divorce between Locke and Harrold actually ended before it began. I think we can assume that Harrold knew he had no chance at winning at any game that Locke excelled at. He let Locke have the divorce and told a San Antonio newspaper the reason. He said, “I don’t care who gets it, so long as it is gotten.”

In 1918, Lydia Locke was a free woman, and…well, she did what came naturally.

24. She Was Multi-Tasker

During the divorce proceedings from husband number two, Locke was working on husband number three. Arthur Marks was a wealthy businessman whose business interest involved selling organs—no, not livers and kidneys. He was the president of a musical instrument company that specialized in pipe organs. What Marks didn’t specialize in was vetting potential spouses.

He was about to come face to face with a true Bridezilla, and he had nothing to defend himself with.

25. He’d Had Enough

It’s not clear what actually happened during the marriage of Locke and Marks—besides adopting a son together—but the result says it all. After about six years of marriage to Locke, Marks couldn’t take it any longer. His solution for his problems was truly surprising. He actually checked himself into a nuthouse. They called them sanitariums back then, but the reason for his admission was clear.

His marriage to Locke had exhausted him to no end. But even the sanitarium’s sturdy gates couldn’t keep Locke from pestering her husband.

26. She Got To Him

The doctors at Marks’ sanitarium noticed something odd: even though he was away from Locke, Marks’ condition wasn’t improving at all. The reason for this was truly disturbing. Locke was still getting to him. It turned out that Locke couldn’t face not berating her husband, so she took to calling him at his secluded sanitarium.

The stress of speaking to his wife on the phone was having a negative effect on his recovery. The next time Locke called the sanitarium, Marks’ doctor interrupted the call.

27. She Was Part Of The Problem

Marks’ doctor took the phone away from him and spoke directly to Locke. He wanted to know what it was about these phone calls that was preventing Marks from getting better. The doctor had a brief conversation with Locke and then ended the call. He looked at Marks and gave his shocking diagnosis. Marks didn’t need a sanitarium, he needed a divorce.

28. She Went Over The Line

It was 1924 when Marks officially got a divorce from Lydia Locke, but his troubles were far from over. Locke saw how successful her pestering phone calls worked when they were husband and wife, so she continued them after the divorce. But now that Marks was at home and not in the sanitarium, Locke had an added advantage: she could call him at bizarre and jarring times of the day.

Marks, once again, had had enough and he was willing to pay any price to stop the madness.

29. She Got An Offer

Lydia Locke had already received a hefty alimony of $300,000—that’s about four million dollars today. Unfortunately, that amount hadn’t bought Marks any peace at all. To get the solitude he craved, Marks resorted to his only line of defense: more money. He offered Locke an additional $100,000 just for one year of peace.

Locke accepted the money and promised to leave Marks alone for a year—a promise she only half kept.

30. She Broke Her Promise

Only six months into her year of not harassing Marks, Locke broke down and broke her agreement. In her defense, she did have something she really needed to get off her chest. Locke told Marks something that would send him reeling. She had a baby and the baby was his. The announcement gave Marks a shock—but he also knew Locke well enough to be suspicious.

He demanded proof that there was indeed a baby, and also proof that it was his.

31. She Had Proof

Locke appeared at Marks’ home holding their baby in her arms. There was also a birth certificate and affidavits stating the baby was theirs. Marks, always thinking through his wallet, began the process of creating a fund to pay for the child’s welfare. But Marks did something else: he hired private detectives to make sure this baby was his.

32. The Truth Came Out

The detectives got right to work—and before long, they came to a chilling conclusion. Locke may have already been mentally counting the money she would receive for her child…but she was in for a surprise. The detectives had found that Marks was not the father of the baby. They’d also found something else: the baby wasn’t Locke’s, either.

Locke had certainly shown Marks a baby, though. So, where had this baby come from?

33. She Did Something Horrible

The shocking truth of the baby’s provenance caught the world by storm. It turns out Locke had done something horrible. She’d snatched the baby from a hospital without permission. It was the Willow Maternity Hospital in Kansas City and Locke had used a fake name to take it. For good measure, she’d also created a false birth certificate.

The authorities came to take the baby away and returned it to its frantic mother. Surely this time, Locke would receive a punishment that fit her offense.

34. They Bought It

In her previous trial, Locke used her charm to sway the jury to let her get away with murder. But how about child abduction? Well, this case didn’t even get to trial. The authorities bought the excuse she’d offered them: that she’d “made an error somehow”. A fake name? A snatched baby? Forged certificates? On what planet is that an error? I’ll tell you where: on Locke’s planet, population one.

Well, the population of planet Locke was about to double in size: husband number four was on the horizon.

35. She Didn’t Look Far

Locke didn’t have to look far for her fourth husband—it was her former personal assistant. Now this fellow, named Harry Dornblaser, really should have known better. As her assistant, he’d likely seen her at her worst, and yet he still chose to walk down the aisle with her. But maybe knowing the worst about Locke had prepared him for what being married to her would be like.

Well, in this case, this wasn’t true—not at all.

36. She Honeymooned Alone

Poor Dornblaser made it to the honeymoon but didn’t quite finish it. Locke and Dornblaser had planned a whirlwind European vacation…which Dornblaser saw about half of. Something during the honeymoon spooked Dornblaser, and he abandoned ship. But that’s not the most unbelievable part. He didn’t just leave the holiday though—that wasn’t enough space from Locke—he disappeared completely.

37. Another Sad End

No one knew where Locke’s fourth husband Dornblaser went after fleeing his own honeymoon. He was only found months later—and it was a devastating discovery. They found Dornblaser’s lifeless body in a cabin in the Cleveland area. Authorities were pretty sure that he had taken his own life. What had happened on that honeymoon to send Dornblaser to this sad end, no one knows.

How Locke felt about this tragedy is also a mystery. What we do know is that she was soon getting up to more mischief.

38. She Launched An Assault

You’d think after the scandalous baby-snatching episode, Lydia Locke would have left third husband Arthur Marks alone. Well, this didn’t happen. But Marks can blame himself just a little for not ridding himself completely of Locke. You see, Marks made a fatal mistake: he remarried to one of Locke’s friends. Certainly, it surprised absolutely no one when Locke took this personally.

She then launched a cruel campaign against the two love birds.

39. She Used Her Words

Luckily, Lydia Locke had dismissed the idea of firing any shots at Marks and his new wife, but she picked up a pen instead. She wrote a letter to Marks and his new wife, but it wasn’t one of congratulation and hopes for a lovely marriage. In the letter, Locke revealed, in exquisite detail, all the deviant bedroom behavior of Marks’ new wife. It turned out that Locke had quite the gift for writing fiction.

40. They Couldn’t Print It

Newspapers got a hold of the letter that Locke had written about Marks’ wife and were anxious to print excerpts from it. After all, the public had a right to know and, maybe more importantly: Can you imagine the boost it would be for newspaper sales? Well, sadly, the newspapers couldn’t print a single line of the letter. This wasn’t an altruistic attempt to protect the bride. They couldn’t print the letter for a much more scandalous reason.

Every line was completely obscene. Locke had gotten away with child abduction and murder, but could she get away with this?

41. Another Year, Another Trial

Marks may have been deeply terrified of Locke, but his new wife wasn’t. She hired a lawyer and prepared to sue Locke for what she’d written. Because Locke had used the national postal service to spread her malicious lies, the federal grand jury got involved. The grand jury indicted Locke, and the public again eagerly waited for the trial to begin.

42. She Spun The Truth

Before the trial of the obscene letters could even begin, Locke began her campaign to clear her name. Like a modern-day spin doctor, Locke had a multi-layered plan. First, take on the victim role and create some sympathy. Next, give the role of villain to Marks. Soon Locke was talking not about her own crime, but about the punishment Marks should receive for what he’d done to her.

43. Third Time Was Not A Charm

Locke’s charm must have been on the decrease, as her campaign fell mostly on deaf ears. Neither her case against Marks nor Marks’ wife’s case against Locke, saw the inside of a courtroom. But the public, after hearing so much nastiness about their singing star, was surely wondering if maybe all this time Locke hadn’t been a victim at all.

Maybe, just maybe, she was the cause of all her own misadventures. Whether the public was with her or not, Locke still had plenty of scandalous shenanigans left in her.

44. She Shopped Till She Dropped

In 1927, Locke again found herself in something resembling love and ready to tie the knot. This was husband number five, in case you’ve lost count. His name was Carlo Marinovic. Although he was a Balkan count, he still wasn’t ready for the extravagant lifestyle of his new bride. One day, Locke returned from a Parisian shopping spree and showed off what she’d bought to the count.

What the Count did with her purchases is straight out of a movie.

45. She Lost Another

Marinovic took one look at Locke’s expensive new dresses and furs and completely lost it. He grabbed all the purchases and threw them right out the window. But the count didn’t stop there. Hopefully using the door instead of the window, the count left Locke and returned to the Balkans. The marriage was only three years old.

As it turned out, however, Marinovic wasn’t above stirring the pot a little to make Locke lose her cool.

46. He Pumped Up The Drama

Marinovic had run off to the Balkans to get away from Locke, but somehow managed to still create tension for his estranged wife. Marinovic began an affair, but one that he knew would put Locke into the anger zone. His affair was with one of Locke’s friends. Locke, perhaps losing her edge as she got on in years, didn’t go for her pistol, nor snatch another baby. She just quietly divorced him.

47. He Was Missing In Action

The legend of Lydia Locke—and her scandalous life—always mentions that she had seven husbands. The strange fact is, however, no one knows who the sixth was. History states that she had seven, and even Locke’s seventh husband declared that she had seven. Somewhere between number five and number seven there was husband number six.

What happened to him is anyone’s guess. But knowing Locke, it was unlikely to be a happy fate.

48. She Settled Down

And speaking of husband number seven…he was real estate developer Irwin Rose. The nuptials took place in 1954, and the two quickly made a home in Yorktown, New York. There was a 26-room mansion there, and there was something more: an inn. The happy couple spent their days running the rather busy hostelry and hosting visiting guests.

Had Locke actually lost the desire to raise a ruckus? Not quite.

49. She Still Raised Eyebrows

Even though Locke had settled down—husband number seven had stuck—she couldn’t quite keep herself from scandal. Although mostly harmless, Locke had a little habit to keep her bad reputation going. On occasion, Locke would get her chauffeur to drive her around town. And the scandal? In the back of the car she’d be wearing one of her furs—and nothing else.

50. A Mystery To The End

Locke lived to the ripe old age of 82. She died of natural causes when she was still with husband number seven. It was a peaceful end to a headline-grabbing life. There was still one suspicious aspect to the end of her life, though. In the same year that she died, her mansion suddenly became engulfed in flames and burned to the ground. I’d say it sounds like something the ghost of Locke would do.

Oh, I should also mention her final resting place. It’s a graveyard with a spooky name: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Seems like an apt place for the remains of Lydia Locke.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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