When a love triangle made big headlines


Contributing editor

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, love may be in the air – but as every Taylor Swift fan knows it might not last. And when it doesn’t, someone might write a song – or a novel – about it.

When he wasn’t embroiled in a social scandal, James Ashbury Allison was co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Sara Cornelius Parker Allison may not have had Taylor Swift’s gift for songwriting, but that did not keep her from exploring her love-gone-bad story in print, first in the newspaper, then in a “semi-autobiographical novel,” in which she didn’t even bother to change the characters’ names.

In her novel, Sara, Sara Cornelius said that she had known James A. Allison her entire life from when he was a penniless boy. When Sara married Chicagoan Andrew Hull Parker in January 1896, according to Sara, Allison swore to win her away. Sara and Parker had one child, Cornelia, before she divorced him a decade later. A year after her divorce she married James A. Allison.

By the time of their marriage on July 16, 1907, Allison was, “one of the better-known young men in Indianapolis,” according to an announcement in The Indianapolis News. The News reported that, “With C. J. Fisher, of this city, he controls Presto-Lite Company, which has factories in about fifteen different cities.” And went on to say that “Mrs. Parker was formerly Miss Sadie [her nickname] Cornelius. She is the daughter of Mrs. Melissa J. Cornelius, 2022 North Meridian” Street.

The new couple and Sara’s daughter, whom they now referred to as “Cornelia Allison,” became active members in Indianapolis society, and their fortune grew. They built a mansion on Cold Spring Road, which they called Riverdale Spring (now part of Marian University).

What happened after a little more than a decade of happy years together is described in detail in an Alienation of Affection complaint that Sara Allison filed against James Allison’s second wife in 1928.

According to the complaint, printed in full in the Indianapolis Times on Aug. 7, 1928, Sara Allison had contributed to James Allison’s success and happiness and “until about the year 1920 her said husband was kind, affectionate, devoted and faithful, and supported and maintained the plaintiff [Sara] upon a most liberal and high standard of living.” Then, “the defendant, a young woman of great attractiveness and personal charm, whose name, Lucille Mussett, became acquainted and associated with plaintiff’s said husband as secretary or stenographer to him and has remained in such apparent capacity or under the pretense or guise of such capacity with him down to the date of her [Lucille’s] marriage to him.”

Sara claimed that Lucille’s “wicked purposes consisted of and comprised, among other things, intimate and continuous love-making to plaintiff’s husband, living and remaining in his home days and nights in affectionate and intimate relations, persuasions, solicitations, enticements, bringing to bear upon him the fine arts of love-making, at which she was a skillful expert … trips on railway trains and in automobiles to various places and voyages on the ocean in his yacht, all for the aforesaid deliberate, sinister purposes and designs.”

During these years when Allison was experiencing the “skillful” love-making enticements of his secretary, he “built on Star Island off the coast of Florida a large, magnificent home, costing scores of thousands of dollars in which the defendant [Lucille] spent her time with” Allison. He then “barred” Sara from their “magnificent and beautiful home in Indianapolis. Sara averred that Allison was worth between $3.5 and $6 million, an astonishing sum for 1928, equivalent to about $103 million in 2023 dollars.

Because of Lucille’s actions, Sara claimed, she was forced to get a divorce and to take up residence in an Indianapolis hotel. An especially jarring detail mentioned that Allison attached his luxurious private train car to the train that was carrying Sara back to Indianapolis and in it he traveled with his mistress, Lucille, a few cars away from Sara.

Sara’s divorce was finalized on June 27, 1928. On August 1, 1928, the Indianapolis Times reported that Allison (age 55) had married Lucille (age 35) at the home of his friend and business partner, Carl Fisher, in Comstock, N.Y., a mere month later on July 29, 1928. The Miami Herald also reported the story of the marriage – and the preceding divorce – under the headline “Speedway Magnate Weds Miami Girl in New York.”

Then in the biggest shock of an already shocking story, on Aug. 3, 1928, The Indianapolis Star reported that James A. Allison had died in the Allison mansion in Indianapolis just five days after his wedding to Lucille from bronchial pneumonia. He had been ill for less than a week.

It took Sara three days to file the Alienation of Affection complaint. In it she said the “loss of her husband and the alienation and destruction of his affections for her, caused by the iniquitous acts” of Lucille meant that Sara’s “life has been ruined and she has been injured and damaged in the sum of $2,000,000.” She asked the court to demand that money from Lucille.

Over the next year or so the case of the two widows progressed through the court – and in the court of public opinion. When Lucille countersued Sara, the Times called it a “Love Suit,” and noted the “array of legal talent marshalled for one of the most sensational combats in city’s legal history.” Ultimately, James Allison’s mother was the winner. The court decided that the bulk of his $4 million estate would go to her after the judge refused to consider a will that had given the estate to Sara, but from which Allison had torn off his signature. Without a valid will, the estate was considered intestate, allowing the judge to decide who got the estate.

A brother, a sister, nieces and nephews were also established as heirs. The widows withdrew their suits and their claims to the business and Indianapolis estate. But they were not left destitute. Sara’s divorce settlement had given her $25,000 a year for life and her personal belongings from the Indianapolis mansion.

When Allison’s mother, Myra, died within a couple years, Lucille successfully sued the estate for a lump sum settlement of $135,000 and $1,000 a month, according to The Indianapolis Star on Aug. 5, 1932.

Lucille Mussett Allison next appears in the news as defendant in a lawsuit in Florida over an accident on her yacht in 1934 when it was being driven recklessly by James Barclay Orr. When the case was settled three years later, the Miami Herald reported that Lucille was married to Orr.

Sara Allison died in 1938. Before her death, she wrote the novel based on her marriage and divorce. It gave her the final word in this case of love. In her version Allison loved her to the end. n

 Connie Zeigler holds a master’s degree in history. She enjoys digging up a surprising, forgotten story and sharing her pirate’s booty with Urban Times readers.