Aspen Photographers Scam Patrons

In May 1891, after operating a photography studio in Aspen, Colorado, for nearly a year, Opie & Kerr quietly left town. Many customers had sat for portraits and paid for work without receiving their finished cabinet cards.    

Cabinet card
Opie & Kerr, photographers.  Cabinet card portrait of Lillie Warner, Cassie Warner and Mahlon Warner, History Colorado, 95.200.163.

About a week before leaving  town, Opie & Kerr advertised elegant cabinet photographs for the very low price of $1.00 per dozen, $2.00 less than usual  (Rocky Mountain Sun, May 9, 1891, p2, c3).  Since they expected a rush of customers, the photographers stated that it would take them two weeks to complete the work. True to form, customers flocked to their studio.

But on Saturday night, May 16th, Opie & Kerr boarded a northbound Denver & Rio Grande train, presumably headed for a brief trip to Glenwood Springs. Witnesses saw the pair purchasing tickets at Glenwood Springs to continue their trip. When the men did not return to Aspen, their apartments were searched, and all of their belongings and most of their mortgaged studio equipment was gone. Later, it was determined that Opie & Kerr had sent several packages to Telluride weeks earlier, proving their departure was premeditated. And while news reports suggested that the men would be chased down and returned to Aspen, Anna Scott, archivist at the Aspen Historical Society, could not find any records to substantiate this.  

Who were Opie & Kerr and what happened to them after they left Aspen?          

Front exterior view of William Opie’s original Ely, MN,  photography studio, 1891?, Iron Range Research Center.

William Ross Opie (1864-1917) was born in England in February 1864, the oldest of thirteen siblings.  Opie immigrated to the United States in 1886, where he was employed as a miner at Tombstone, Arizona Territory.  Opie arrived in Aspen in the spring of 1890, taking over the studio of M. L. Cutler with S. T. Kerr, operating as Opie & Kerr.  After leaving Aspen, Opie ran photography studios in Ohio, Minnesota and North Dakota.  Opie died on June 7, 1917, in Langdon, N. D.

Samuel T. Kerr (1868-1929)  immigrated to the United States from Canada in 1884.  By 1889, he had arrived in Aspen, where he partnered with photographer M. L. Cutler, as Cutler & Kerr.  A few months later, Kerr purchased, on a credit of $190, Cutler’s photograph outfit and set up shop on Hyman Avenue with William Ross Opie.  As the date for the payment neared, the team devised the plan to offer low cost photographs to their customers and also asked for a couple extra days in order to pay their bill in full.  After fleeing Aspen with Opie and their mortgaged photography equipment, they left disappointed customers waiting for their portraits.  They also fleeced their landlord and left several bills unpaid.  

Nevertheless, Kerr returned to Aspen in 1892, working for photographer    L. C. Newby.  The Newby studio claimed to have Opie & Kerr’s old negatives (Aspen Daily Times, September 15, 1891, p4, c2).  In 1895, Kerr worked for Aspen photographer, Mrs. Drenkel.   

In the early 1900s Kerr moved to West Virginia to be closer to family.  He drowned on October 27, 1929, when his car drove off a road into a stream.  Kerr was sixty years old.