Memorable Events

The Notorious Marriage of Donald Andrews and Alma Vetsera Hayne

Alma Vetsera Hayne and Rudolph
Alma Vetsera Hayne and Rudolph

Donald Shields Andrews was the eldest child of Matthew and Mable Andrews, owners of Gordon Hall in Bratenahl.  In April 1915, Donald was finishing his senior year at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  He was engaged to be married to a young lady from Cleveland and scheduled to graduate from the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale in six weeks.

On Saturday April 17, 1915, he walked into the studio of Alma Vetsera Hayne in New York City and his life changed.  Later, Alma claimed that Donald brought to this first meeting a letter of introduction from his fiancé.  Alma referred to the fiancé as her “dearest chum.”  One hour later they were dining at the Plaza Hotel near Central Park.  Donald told Alma that his engagement “had been broken.”  Alma asserted that they immediately fell in love with each other.  On Monday Donald asked Alma to marry him.

In response, Alma “immediately began to get into communication with Cleveland to try and find out if my dearest girl friend and Donald really had parted.”  Presumably from the family of the fiancé, Donald’s mother Mable Andrews found out about the new romance.  She immediately contacted a detective agency in New York City to locate her son and restrain him until she was able to arrive in the city.  Reportedly the “detectives managed to take away all young Andrews’ wearing apparel and left him locked and stranded in a room in the hotel.”  Apparently “he had no clothing save for his pajamas until fellow students at New Haven shipped him garments.”  As soon as Mrs. Andrews arrived from Cleveland, she returned her son to Yale to complete his schooling.

Donald had other ideas.  On Thursday, Donald returned to New York City, located Alma, and again asked her to marry him.  The next day, Alma received confirmation that Donald was no longer engaged.  By now, the couple were being followed by the detectives wherever they went.  Donald’s father, Matthew Andrews, arranged to fly to New York City from Florida on Sunday.  He was too late.

On Saturday, April 24, 1915, exactly one week after they first met, Donald and Alma slipped out of the city in Donald’s automobile.  They were followed by the detectives.  Near Mamaroneck, New York, the couple was able to lose the detectives.  At 11 pm, they awoke Justice Mooney, a Mamaroneck justice of the peace, who performed a wedding ceremony before two witnesses “in his bath robe.”

By Monday, the newly married couple resided at 24 West 59th Street.  Donald’s parents were secluded at the Vanderbilt Hotel in the city.  In the press, the bride was described as “fascinating to a high degree, vivacious and pretty.”  Donald was described as “tall, blond and immaculately attired.”

The wedding caused considerable attention primarily because of who the bride claimed to be.  Alma Vetsera Hayne Andrews asserted that she was the natural daughter of Crown Prince Rudolf, son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Elizabeth of Bavaria, and Marie Vetsera, a beautiful young baroness.  Rudolf and Marie were found dead by suicide at his hunting lodge Mayerling in January 1889.  Alma called herself “Princess Vetsera of Austria.”

Alma had a six-year old son, Rudolph Spurway Hayne, the son of George Osborne Hayne, a Wall Street broker, whom she had divorced several months before her marriage to Donald Andrews.   She claimed that her son was in direct royal line to the Hapsburgs.

Although detailing her story in banner headlines, the press at the time were very skeptical of Alma’s assertions.  Her claims of royal birth were officially denied in Vienna.  The Austria Hungarian consulate in Washington asserted that it was “a matter of such common knowledge to everybody of any standing in Viennese society and in the Austrian official world that it is difficult to understand how any woman can have been accepted as the natural daughter of the ill-fated crown prince and Baroness Marie Vetsera.”  It was reported that at her divorce hearing, Alma gave her maiden name as Alma Irene Zetkous “claiming the ‘Vetsera’ cognomen only when not required to swear to it.”

The newly married couple made plans to travel to Europe for their honeymoon.  It was announced that they would be passengers on the Lusitania when the ship left New York on May 1, 1915.  Fortunately for them, their departure was delayed.  On May 7, 1915, the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland, killing 1,198 passengers and crew.  On May 15, 1915, the couple safely sailed to England on the American liner St. Paul.

The marriage did not last long.  On June 14, 1915, Donald returned from England on the British liner Orduna.   Although passengers confirmed that Alma and Rudolph saw him off at the dock in Liverpool, Donald stated to the press that he had left his wife in England.  He would not answer any other questions.  In July, Alma and Rudolph returned to the United States.

In January 1916, Alma told the press that she was sailing on the New Amsterdam for the British front to nurse soldiers.  She stated that she was through with Donald forever but would never divorce him.  She claimed to be “deserted” by him and “broken in health.”  Alma asserted that she was returning to Europe “as a Red Cross nurse, sent by St. Mark’s Hospital, New York, to the battle front in Poland.”  Unfortunately, the Superintendent of St. Mark’s Hospital declared that he had “never heard of her, and his hospital certainly wasn’t sending her abroad as a nurse or anything else.”

Alma returned to England with Rudolph.  On August 30, 1919, she married Sebastian Cedric Samuel Steane in London.  On November 12, 1919, after attending the second victory ball celebrating the end of World War I, Alma Vetsera Hayne Andrews Steane took her own life with poison.

Curiously, on June 12, 1930, Donald Shields Andrews suffered a similar fate.  In the interim, Donald married Nilah Reeder, becoming an independent chemical researcher.  They had one son Donald Shields Andrews, Jr.  He was working in the laboratory he built on the Shrewsbury River in Fair Haven, New Jersey, where he endeavored to make precious stones synthetically.  Somehow, he accidently drank poison instead of water from a container in his laboratory.  Donald is buried with his parents at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland.

(The passages in quotes come from two articles in The Plain Dealer, dated April 28, 1915, entitled "'I Love Him' Cries Bride of Andrews" and "Claims She is Kin of Austrian Ruler.")