Isabella filed a second suit on behalf of John Jr. alleging that Rodgers had “defamed the child by attempting to bastardize him.” All told, she asked for $1 million in compensation — that’s almost $36 million in today’s money. While all of this was going on, Isabella was also sending Rodgers’ wife vaguely threatening letters. (“Arthur Rodgers can never, while life lasts, undertake or attempt anything that will not be closely followed by myself,” Isabella wrote in one.)
Needless to say, Isabella didn’t win a penny. Moreover, the suits against Rodgers took on a whole new level of absurdity in 1907 when Isabella began claiming that John Jr. was, in fact, the biological son of the Princess de Chimay— a Detroit socialite named Clara Ward who’d married into Belgian royalty. Isabella of course, thought this assertion might entitle her to some of Ward’s money. It did not.
At that point, Martin could’ve cut her losses and given up on her life of failed schemes. But she wasn’t done. In 1901, she forced her son to burn down two Oakland cottages she owned so she could collect the insurance money. When the Westchester Fire Insurance company refused to pay out, rightfully suspecting arson, Isabella — the genius! — sued them. That case was dismissed four years later by a judge named Frank B. Ogden who also suspected Isabella of foul play.
It is at this point that Isabella left the neighborhood of money-hungry scam artist and flew headlong into unhinged maniac territory.
Two years after Judge Ogden threw her case out, Isabella hatched a plot to kill him and perhaps his family. One night, Isabella invited over a male admirer so she would have an alibi. She then gave John Jr. “an oil-skin coat and overalls” to wear, handed him a bomb she had made, and demanded he leave the device at Judge Ogden’s Alice Street home in Oakland. John Jr. lived in fear of his abusive mother, so did as he was told.
Not wishing to have blood on his hands, however, John Jr. did not put the bomb at the front of the house, as his mother had instructed. Seeing Ogden’s family gathered in the parlor there, John Jr. instead took the device around to the back of the house and left it on their veranda. When the bomb detonated, the veranda was destroyed and a portion of Judge Ogden’s house badly damaged, but nobody got hurt.
Isabella’s house of cards really started collapsing after John Jr. (now 16) was arrested after attempting to burn down a Weaverville barn on her behalf. He later told police that the man living in the barn had once failed to give Isabella “permission to stop in the New York Hotel on the ground that there was no room,” and that she still felt slighted by the incident.