On the train trip West, Eytinge met John Leicht, who was leaving from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Once in Arizona, they became roommates. On Sunday morning, March 17, the two went out; only Eytinge returned, trying to pass off a check by Leicht as his own. Leicht was later found dead, and Eyting was convicted of his murder. He didn’t expect to live long—just before his arrest had a tubercular abscess removed from his leg, and the disease was also active in his lungs. His family gave up on him, reducing his stipend to 10 per month.
Ending up in prison, in Arizona, in the early part of the twentieth century, though, was an opportunity that Eytinge could use to make his declining stipend seem of no importance. In consonance with the Progressive ideals of the time, the governor, George Hunt, encouraged prisoners to become, as much as they could, active citizens, and Eytinge took this to heart. He saw that there were a number of inmates who practiced the typically Southwestern hobby of braiding horse hair into hat bands, watch fobs, and similar accessories. Eytinge organized the hobbyists and began to sell their wares. However, because he had no sales force and could not go out himself, for obvious reasons, he had to rely on sales letters.
As it happened, Eytinge had a serious knack for writing such letters. His business grew and attracted attention—as a symbol of life overcoming obstacles and the brave new world being created by Hunt. (Letters between the two preserved at the Arizona state archives show that they were relatively friendly.) Advertisers took notice of how good his letters were. The business was in its infancy and trying to suss out the best methods for attracting customers. The Chicago advertising journal Letters spent an entire issue analyzing his approach.
At the time, there were a few in Arizona who thought that Eytinge was innocent—that he was a forger, but not a killer, and perhaps Leicht had died from natural causes. They wanted him freed. In light of his industriousness, they were soon joined by others, some of whom saw the pardon of Eytinge as necessary on humanitarian grounds: he was talented and so deserved to be freed. (The Sheboygan press was not so happy about this development, as one might imagine.) Others saw him as an advertising gold mine. Hunt was inundated with requests to pardon him. Among those arguing for Eytinge’s release was Maynard Shipley, who would later be a Bay Area Fortean (though not part of the formal organization) and our man Kenneth MacNichol.
It’s not clear exactly how MacNichol became associated with the Eytinge case. Perhaps it was, as I said before, through his Arizona journalism. Perhaps he just saw it in the news—the case seems to have been well covered nationally. Sometime in the early teens, MacNichol had moved into advertising as well; according to the December 1914 issue of Efficiency Magazine, he worked for the Wonlancet Compnay in New Hampshire, presumably churning out copy for the company, which manufactured corded cotton for mills (and, in the opinion of The Printing Art Suggestion Book, put out a very nice calendar). Perhaps advertising was the only link. But whatever it was, MacNichol took up Eytinge’s cause with enthusiasm.
On 1 April 1914—in a tone that suggested this was not a joke—a parole clerk wrote to Governor Hunt, “The American magazine has accepted an article from the pen of Kenneth MacNichol on Eytinge of and the Arizona State prison. Someone had better put an end to this bone-head business of putting a man of Eytinge’s ability on a pick and shovel before the scribes of the nation make the administration ridiculous.” I have not yet seen this article—I don’t know if it was ever published—but it would fit well with American Magazine, which had been founded as a muckraking journal.
[Late update: a search of American Magazine from 1914 to 1916 revealed no article by MacNichol. For good measure I checked the Catholic magazine America for the same time period and also found nothing.]
Along about 1914, MacNichol became associated with Pauline L. Divers, treasurer of an advertising company in New York that had used some of Eytinge’s strategies. She had been so impressed that she made a personal trip to Arizona to plead with Governor Hunt for Eytinge’s release. She also said she wanted to marry the prisoner. Together, MacNichol and Divers established the Eytinge Service. The exact dates of its operation are unclear: Efficiency magazine announced its formation in late 1914, with Kenneth running the operation in Boston and Divers in New York. But according to the state of Massachusetts, the Eytinge Service operated there from 1911 to 1914 and according to New York State it was incorporated there 1 March 1915. At any rate, city directories indicate that the service operated at least in 1916. The service seemed to provide other companies with Eytinge’s form letters, which were supposed to have fabulous success rates.
Eytinge went on to other successes. He wrote articles for the slicks, such as The Saturday Evening Post and even a movie script, “The Man under Cover,” which was in theaters when he scored his biggest success: he was leased on 1 January 1923. He married Divers three days later in New York City. Eytinge had made a lot of money in prison—by some accounts, $5,000 per month, but ran through that while a free man and in 1927 he was busted for trying to pass another bad check. Showing very little gratitude—a theme that will recur shortly—Eytinge blamed his wife; she seemed to have stuck by him though, at least for a time, appealing to his uncle for money, a request that was denied. He went back to jail, was released again and, in 1933, went to jail again for swindling. In 2006, a reporter for the Yuma (Arizona) Sun tried to find what happened to him after that, but was unable. Eytinge disappeared into the mists of time.
MacNichol, however, had by that time moved on; the Great War had ended his involvement with Eytinge, set the conditions for his own marital betrayal, and changed his life enormously.