Friday, December 15, 2006
Saturday, November 25, 2006
WELL, THE AMERICAN TRAGEDY CENTENNIAL YEAR IS OVER AT LAST. LAST SATURDAY, I ATTENDED THE DEDICATION CEREMONY OF A HISTORICAL MARKER FOR THE 1834 HERKIMER COUNTY JAIL IN HERKIMER. THE CEREMONY WAS SUPPOSED TO MARK THE 100th ANNIVERSARY OF THE START OF CHESTER GILLETTE'S HISTORIC MURDER TRIAL FOR THE MURDER OF GRACE BROWN. THE MARKER WAS DONATED BY THE FAMILY OF HERKIMER COUNTY SHERIFF CHRIS FARBER. IN THE PHOTO ABOVE, I AM STANDING TO THE RIGHT OF THE MARKER, ALONG WITH JEFF STEELE, PRESIDENT OF THE HERKIMER COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY AND CRAIG BRANDON, AUTHOR OF "MURDER IN THE ADIRONDACKS" AND "GRACE BROWN'S LOVE LETTERS." SHERIFF FARBER AND HIS FAMILY ARE TO THE LEFT OF THE MARKER.
IN ADDITION TO CHESTER, THE 1834 JAIL ALSO HOUSED TWO OF HERKIMER COUNTY'S MOST INFAMOUS MURDERERS, BOTH OF WHOM I HAVE ALSO BEEN LEARNING ABOUT THROUGHOUT MY TIME RESEARCHING THE GILLETTE CASE: ROXALANA DRUSE, WHOSE HANGING IN 1887 PAVED THE WAY FOR THE ELECTRIC CHAIR; AND JEAN GIANINI, WHO WAS ACCUSED OF THE FIRST SCHOOLTEACHER MURDER IN AMERICAN HISTORY WHEN HE MURDERED HIS TEACHER IN POLAND IN 1914. THERE IS A BOOK ABOUT THE GIANINI TRIAL NOW ON SALE AT THE HERKIMER COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY: "LULLABY FOR MORONS," BY RONALD KEITH SIEGEL. I HAVE READ THAT BOOK AND I THOUGHT THAT IT WAS REALLY INTERESTING. IF YOU ARE IN THE AREA AND HAPPEN TO SEE THE BOOK THERE, I RECOMMEND IT TO ANYONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN OLD MURDER CASES.
DESPITE THE COLD WEATHER, THERE WAS A PRETTY GOOD TURNOUT FOR THE CEREMONY. FOLLOWING THE CEREMONY, TOURS OF BOTH THE JAIL AND THE COURTHOUSE ACROSS THE STREET WERE GIVEN, AS WELL AS A RECEPTION IN THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY BUILDING. CRAIG WAS ALSO ON HAND FOR A BOOK SIGNING, AS WAS JOSEPH BROWNELL, AUTHOR OF "ADIRONDACK TRAGEDY." MEMBERS OF THE ILION LITTLE THEATER CLUB WERE ALSO PRESENT, DRESSED UP AS PEOPLE THAT FIGURED PROMINENTLY IN THE GILLETTE CASE, AND I CONTRIBUTED MY 8 X 10 PHOTO OF GRACE, AS WELL AS A PHOTO ALBUM CONTAINING ALL OF MY GILLETTE PHOTOS TO DATE, AND THE RUBBING I MADE OF GRACE'S GRAVE WHEN I WENT TO HER GRAVESITE IN AUGUST.
ALTHOUGH I MET JOE BROWNELL IN AUGUST ON THE BUS TRIP, THIS DAY WAS THE FIRST TIME I MET CRAIG BRANDON. IT WAS A REAL HONOR FOR ME TO MEET THE LEADING EXPERT ON THE CASE AND TO STAND UP THERE WITH HIM AT THE MARKER DEDICATION CEREMONY. IT IS MOMENTS LIKE THIS THAT DEEPEN MY COMMITTMENT TO THE CASE, ESPECIALLY SINCE AFTER ALL, I AM DOING A BOOK ON THE CASE.
THE YEAR MAY BE OVER FOR THE AMERICAN TRAGEDY CENTENNIAL COMMITTEE, BUT IT IS NOT OVER FOR ME. IT MAY NEVER BE OVER FOR ME. LIKE I SAID, I AM DOING A BOOK ON THE CASE, AND I MAY AS WELL GIVE YOU AN UPDATE AS TO THE DIRECTION I WANT TO GO WITH IT. MY NEW PLAN IS TO FOCUS MORE EXCLUSIVELY ON GRACE, ESPECIALLY SINCE SO LITTLE IS KNOWN ABOUT HER, OUTSIDE OF THE LOVE LETTERS AND CHESTER. I BASICALLY WANT TO SHOW THE READERS THAT THERE WAS MORE TO GRACE THAN JUST THE LETTERS. I WILL ALSO INCLUDE THE UPDATES THAT HAVE EMERGED FROM THE CASE SINCE THE TWO BOOKS WERE PUBLISHED TWENTY YEARS AGO. IF ALL GOES WELL, I SHOULD BE GOOD TO GO BY THE END OF THE YEAR AND I AM HOPING TO GET THE BOOK OUT BY 2008, THE 100th ANNIVERSARY OF CHESTER'S EXECUTION.
I SHALL NEVER FORGET MY INVOLVEMENT IN THIS CASE OR THE PEOPLE I HAVE WORKED WITH FOR AS LONG AS I LIVE. WHEN I FIRST STUMBLED UPON THAT NEWSPAPER CLIPPING IN JULY, 2005, I THOUGHT THAT IT WAS AN ACCIDENT. NOW I REALIZED THAT IT WAS FATE THAT LED ME TO THE CASE. NOW I HAVE TO MAKE SURE THAT IN THE END, I WILL HAVE DONE RIGHT BY EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING THAT THE CASE STOOD FOR.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
OF ALL THE EVENTS SURROUNDING THE CENTENNIAL OF GRACE BROWN'S TRAGIC MURDER AT BIG MOOSE LAKE THAT OCCURRED OVER THE COURSE OF THIS YEAR, NONE HAS BEEN AS EAGERLY ANTICIPATED AS THE ILION LITTLE THEATER'S REVIVAL OF THEIR PLAY, CHESTER AND GRACE, A PLAY THAT WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY GLEN ALLEN SMITH AND WAS ORIGINALLY PERFORMED BY THE CORTLAND REPERTORY THEATER. THE ILION LITTLE THEATER ORIGINALLY PERFORMED THE PLAY IN 1999 AND AGAIN IN 2001, AND SINCE THIS YEAR MARKED THE ANNIVERSARY OF GRACE'S DEATH, THIS REVIVAL COULD NOT HAVE COME AT A BETTER TIME.
I ATTENDED THE OPENING NIGHT PERFORMANCE LAST FRIDAY NIGHT AND I WAS REALLY IMPRESSED WITH THE WHOLE PLAY. THAT NIGHT ALSO WAS MY FIRST TIME IN THE STABLES THEATER, WHERE THE PLAY WAS HELD. I HAD LIVED IN ILION THREE YEARS AGO, BUT I HAD NO IDEA THAT I LIVED RIGHT DOWN THE ROAD FROM THE THEATER UNTIL THE FIRST REENACTMENT PERFORMANCE BECAUSE I USED TO LIVE NEAR THE REMINGTON ARMS WHEN I LIVED IN ILION BEFORE I MOVED TO HERKIMER AND BEFORE I LEARNED ABOUT THE GILLETTE CASE.
ANYWAY, BACK TO THE REVIEW. I COULD NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF ANYTHING BETTER TO DO THAT WEEKEND THAN TO GO TO SEE THIS PLAY. THIS PLAY WAS PERHAPS THE BEST PLAY THAT I HAVE SEEN AND PROBABLY WILL EVER SEE IN MY LIFE. WORDS CANNOT DESCRIBE THIS EXPERIENCE. I WISH THAT I COULD HAVE GONE TO HIGH SCHOOL PLAYS AT LEAST HALF AS GOOD AS THIS.
BASICALLY, I WAS VERY IMPRESSED WITH THE ACTING. MOST OF THE ORIGINAL CAST MEMBERS FROM THE 1999 PLAY RETURNED FOR THE REVIVAL, INCLUDING JENNIFER SCHANTZ (GRACE) AND ART WILKS (AUSTIN KLOCK, WHO WAS IN THIS SUMMER'S "THE PEOPLE VS. GILLETTE"), BOTH WHOM I HAVE SERVED ON THE CENTENNIAL COMMITTEE WITH.
AS FAR AS THE PREVIOUS INCARNATIONS OF GRACE ON STAGE AND SCREEN GOES, THERE IS NO TOPPING JENNIFER'S PERFORMANCE. SHE BROUGHT OUT GRACE'S TRUE CHARACTER ON THAT STAGE SUCCESSFULLY. SHE ALSO HAD A LOT OF THE MOST POWERFUL AND HEARTBREAKING SCENES IN THE PLAY, INCLUDING A MOMENT IN THE PLAY WHERE GRACE KNEELS ON THE STAGE, CRYING AND HOLDING A WRAPPED JAR, AS WELL AS SCENES WHERE CHESTER (PLAYED BY JACK CARNEY) IS TRYING TO GET HER TO GET RID OF THEIR BABY. I WAS IMPRESSED WITH HOW AUTHENTIC AND REALISTIC THOSE SCENES WERE WRITTEN.
ONE THING THAT I'VE GOTTA SAY ABOUT JACK'S INTERPERTATION OF CHESTER IS THAT NOT ONLY DID HE LOOK THE PART, BUT HE ALSO HAD CHESTER'S PERSONALITY DOWN PAT: THE "BAD BOY" AS OPPOSED TO GRACE'S "GOOD GIRL" IMAGE. HIS SCENES WITH HIS MOTHER (PLAYED BY COLLEEN SCHULTS) WERE ALSO PRETTY WELL WRITTEN, AS ARE HIS SCENES WITH D.A. WARD (PLAYED HERE BY BOB DeCARLO) AND DEFENSE ATTORNEY MILLS (JOHN CAMPONERA). I ALSO THOUGHT THE TUG-OF-WAR SCENE OVER THE TENNIS RACKET WAS REALLY FUNNY TOO.
IN ADDITION TO THE TWO LEADS, THERE WERE SOME OTHER STAND-OUT PERFORMANCES, INCLUDING OF COURSE, ART WILKS, AGAIN PLAYING KLOCK WITH THE SAME HUMOR AND WIT THAT WE SAW IN THE PEOPLE VS. GILLETTE THIS PAST SUMMER. THERE WAS ALSO A STAND-OUT PERFORMANCE FROM RISING-STAR EMMA HEMPLE, WHOSE CHARACTER, LUCILLE GILLETTE (CHESTER'S YOUNGER SISTER) SEEMS TO ENJOY THE LIMELIGHT AT HER BROTHER'S EXPENSE.
THE PLAY ALSO CONTAINS THE SONG "ENTREATING," WRITTEN IN 1907 AND BASED ON GRACE'S LOVE LETTERS. THAT SONG IS PERFORMED BY THE CAST AT THE OPENING OF ACT 2. THE FOLK SONG, "THE BALLAD OF CHESTER AND GRACE," IS ALSO PERFORMED IN VARIOUS SPOTS DURING THE SHOW BY THE PLAY'S NARRATORS, KNOWN AS THE "THREE C'S," WHO ALSO FUNCTION AS MUSES IN VARIOUS SCENES. ALSO, LISTEN FOR THE SONG, "WON'T YOU COME HOME, BILL BAILEY?," WHICH IS KNOWN AS THE SONG THAT EARNED GRACE HER NICKNAME, "BILLY."
THE PLAY'S DIRECTOR, DAVID STRITMATER, WHO ALSO DIRECTED THE 1999 PRODUCTION, DID AN EXCELLENT JOB WITH THIS PRODUCTION. IT IS DEFINITELY WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION. IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN TO ANY OF THE EVENTS OF THIS PAST SUMMER AND ARE INTERESTED IN THE STORY OF CHESTER AND GRACE, YOU MUST NOT MISS THIS SHOW.
THE NEXT PERFORMANCES OF CHESTER AND GRACE ARE SCHEDULED FOR THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 9; FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10; AND SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11 AT 8 P.M. AT THE STABLES THEATER IN ILION.
Friday, October 27, 2006
For years after the famous murder of Grace Brown at Big Moose Lake in 1906 and the trial and execution of Chester Gillette in 1908, ghost stories have emerged about the case in locations that related to the case, including the courthouse and the 1834 Jail in Herkimer as well as Big Moose Lake itself.
The Gillette-related ghost stories started as early as 1909 and it also tied in with the sudden disappearance of the boat where the murder took place. It had been sitting in the courthouse since the trial ended and suddenly it was gone. One of the stories that surrounded the disappearance of the boat is that one day, people claimed to have seen ghostly images of a man and a woman in the boat and suddenly the ghostly man attacked the woman, who let out a loud shriek. Then they disappeared. Whether or not people had seen a ghostly reenactment of the murder remains a mystery.
And of course you all have heard the story of Grace's ghost at Big Moose Lake, right? It is one of the most famous ghost stories in New York State history. Over the years, people who have gone to Big Moose Lake have claimed to have experienced some unusual activity and sometimes claimed to have seen an image of a young woman in Victorian-era garb floating around the lake. Many have experienced a really strong feeling of sadness from the spirit, as though the ghost was mourning the circumstances that led to her death.
The most famous encounter was in 1988 when two women claimed to have seen Grace's ghost. That encounter led to a segment of the TV show "Unsolved Mysteries" that aired in January 1996.
Even today, the ghost stories of the Gillette case capture the imagination of the public as much as the love letters, Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy," and the film "A Place in the Sun" have done. It keeps people guessing and it is always open to speculation. People believe what they want and it is always interesting, especially since this is Halloween season after all.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
First off, it has been five months since I started this site on Blogger and the feedback that I have received in regards to it have been largely positive. I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has viewed the site for their praise and their comments. I do have more on tap in the coming months as I have stated before so stay tuned. This site is open to the public so all comments are welcome.
In other Gillette-related news, I received word the other day that the summer events in regards to the centennial have been very successful in terms of tourism and profitability. Of course now there is a three-month hiatus until the next event: The Ilion Little Theater Club's play "Chester and Grace," as well as a dedication ceremony where a historic marker will be placed at the 1834 Jail where Chester stayed during his trial.
However, my work on the case is not done yet. I am now entering my fourth week of research because now I am developing a non-fiction book on the case.That's right, you heard it here first folks. I am writing a book. The book will basically cover the whole case and how it became Theodore Dreiser's novel, "An American Tragedy." There will also be some additional things, including the opera, Jennifer Donnelly's novel, "A Northern Light," the events of the centennial year, and so much more. I will post more on it from time to time.
So anyway, that is all the reporting I have to do now. I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone for the support they gave me throughout the course of the whole year since I have been involved with the case and I hope that I can continue to be on the case for some time to come.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of going on a bus trip that was sponsored by the Herkimer County Historical Society to the sites in Cortland and South Otselic, NY that related to the Gillette Murder Case. It was another major event in the American Tragedy Centennial Year and it is the last one for the next three months until the Ilion Little Theater Club begins the performance run of "Chester and Grace" and the unveiling of the historic marker in front of the 1834 Jail on November 18.
And as you can see, I finally did meet Grace Brown. In a manner of speaking, of course.
Our first stop was to the Cortland County Historical Society where we met Joseph Brownell, the author of "Adirondack Tragedy. " I did get a chance to meet him, got his autograph, and told him about this site. He was very nice and he really knew a lot about the case, most notably about Grace. I learned a lot from him.
After the lecture at the Historical Society, the director came with us on a driving tour of the sites in Cortland. We drove past Grace's boarding house as well as her sister Ada Hawley's house where she stayed when she first arrived in Cortland in late 1904. We also went past Chester's boarding house and the former Gillette Skirt Factory building, which has been a furniture and appliance store for years. I got some good shots of the building. We did not go in the building, but I guess that will be for another time.
After lunch, we drove through DeRuyter, where Chester and Grace caught the train for their trip to the Adirondacks, and arrived at Grace's home in South Otselic, now owned by Robert and Diane Timm. The road that leads up to the farm has since been renamed "Grace Brown Lane" in honor of the house's former occupant. The view from the farm house was the same as I remember from the "Murder in the Adirondacks" book and the house itself was beautiful, despite the fact that the house was being remodeled at the time.
While I was at the house, I started feeling Grace's presence, especially when I passed one of the apple trees on the property. I remembered a photo in "Murder in the Adirondacks" in which a 16-year-old Grace was standing in front of an apple tree. At that point, it all started coming back to me that I was on sacred ground.
Finally we arrived at Valley View Cemetery, located right in town. We had to ascend a flight of moss-covered stairs and walked through the cemetery until we finally got to the Brown family plot and sure enough, there she was. I was actually at the grave that I had only seen in photos before this trip.
We also saw Ada Hawley's grave, which was directly across from Grace's family. We also saw the graves of her best friend/teacher Maude Crumb as well as the grave of her husband, Dr. J. Mott Crumb who represented the Brown family as a witness to Chester's execution in 1908.
Then while the rest of the group went to a peach festival that the town invited us to, I spent an extra twenty minutes or so with Grace in the cemetery. I took a rubbing of the grave that took up about ten minutes or so. I also talked to her a little bit and I may have even cried a little. I guess that once you get to know someone (even someone who's been dead for 100 years), they become a part of you. And I have gotten to know Grace quite well over the course of a year. Of course what was said will remain between myself and Grace.
Before I left, I laid down the flowers that I bought for her before I caught the bus. This time, I delivered them myself and I took a couple more photos of the grave before I said goodbye to her. Hopefully, I will go back there someday and see her again.
All in all, the trip was a bit of a soul-searching experience for me, not to mention that it will be very helpful in finding information so that I can start my book. As a result of everything that has happened, I now believe that me finding out about this case was not an accident. It was fate that led me to the Gillette case and it looks like I am here to stay for the time being.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
As the year of the Gillette Centennial begins to wind down, let me bring you up to speed as to what has happened during the course of the last few weeks.
On July 21, there was another performance of the Ilion Little Theater production, "The People vs. Gillette" at the very same Herkimer County Courthouse where nearly 100 years earlier (the trial happened in November), Chester Gillette was on trial for his life for the murder of Grace Brown. There were some differences at the courthouse performance, such as the addition of the jury box, not present at the Herkimer County Community College performances. Herkimer County Sheriff Chris Farber served as the jury foreman and delivered the guilty verdict to the actor playing Chester Gillette.
There was also another performance at HCCC the night after the courthouse performance and again I attended. I ended up getting autographs from both the cast and crew of the reenactments. They did a really wonderful job and I was glad to be a part of this major piece of history.
This Saturday, I will be going on the bus trip that is being sponsored by the Herkimer County Historical Society that will take me to Cortland and South Otselic that relate to the case, including Grace's house and grave site. In addition to photos, I will be taking a rubbing of her grave. I can't wait.
I also have a lot of things on tap here that will be coming up in the coming months, including the "Dreiser Story," as well as various other things that pertain to the case that will eventually lead up to the Ilion Little Theater Club's upcoming production "Chester and Grace." The year of the American Tragedy is not over yet.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Auburn Prison. March 30, 1908. 3:45 am.
Two guards entered the cell block known as "Murderer's Row" and walked to the cell closest to a large metal door containing a room where no prisoner would ever return. Once they arrived, they awoke the prisoner that resided in that cell and handed him a new prison uniform. This uniform was designed with slits in the sleeves and trouser legs to allow the electrode straps to be fastened to the prisoner's wrists and ankles before the prisoner was executed.
Two hours later, the guards came back and announced that it was time for the prisoner to be led to the electric chair. The other cells on Murderer's Row had to close a curtain over each cell to prevent the other inmates from seeing what was going on, but they didn't need to see what was going on, for soon it would be their turn. Then, Chester Gillette stepped out of his cell along with his spiritual adviser, the Reverend Henry MacIllravy of Little Falls and the prison chaplain to begin the final walk to the electric chair.
The witnesses were all gathered in the execution chamber to see Chester pay the ultimate penalty for the murder of his pregnant lover, Grace Brown. Among them was Austin Klock, who by then was Sheriff of Herkimer County. He was there because Chester wanted him to be there to witness his execution. Representing Grace and her family at the execution was Dr. J. Mott Crumb, the South Otselic town doctor and husband of her teacher and best friend. They could hear the two clergymen reciting the 23rd Psalm as the small procession entered the chamber ahead of Chester, who was flanked by the two guards.
As he did at his trial, Chester displayed no emotion as he calmly walked to the chair and sat down. The guards fastened the straps to his wrists and ankles and fastened the metal cap to his head.
At 6:14 am, the warden gave the order to proceed. The execution threw the switch sending 1800 volts of electricity through the wires to the chair. The witnesses then saw Chester lurch suddenly in the chair and his body shuddered continuously for about a minute before the warden gave the order to cut the power. After the power was turned off, Chester slumped back into the chair. The doctors then examined his body to make sure that the execution was successful.
By 6:18 am, it was official. Chester Ellsworth Gillette became the twenty-seventh victim of Auburn's electric chair. He was only 24 years old. He had been in Auburn for fifteen months.
After the execution, Klock made a statement that he was relieved that Chester was finally out of his misery, while Dr. Crumb commented that he had never seen anything as easy as Chester's execution. The prison officials stated that Chester's execution was the most successful execution in the prison's history. MacIllravy gave the press Chester's final statement (which did not contain a confession) and stated that no legal mistake was made in his execution.
After an autopsy was performed in which his brain was removed, Chester's body was returned to his family for burial. The next day, accompanied by his family and MacIllravy, Chester's body was taken to Soule Cemetery, on the outskirts of Auburn and was buried in an unmarked grave. To this day, no one really knows where it is. A couple of days later, Chester's family gathered Chester's final belongings and left New York State only to fade into history.
Grace Brown remained buried in Valley View Cemetery in South Otselic, where she was buried the day after Chester's arrest in Inlet. Unlike Chester, her grave has a headstone which says that she is "at rest."
Or is she?
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
7/25/06- THE LAST DAYS
THE GILLETTE FAMILY WAS REALLY DESPERATE NOW. THEIR OLDEST SON, CHESTER'S APPEAL FOR A NEW TRIAL HAS BEEN DENIED BY THE NEW YORK STATE COURT OF APPEALS. HIS SENTENCE TO DEATH IN THE ELECTRIC CHAIR FOR THE MURDER OF GRACE BROWN HAD NOT ONLY BEEN UPHELD, BUT IT WAS OFFICIALLY SCHEDULED FOR MARCH 30, 1908, WHICH DID NOT GIVE THEM ENOUGH TIME TO TRY ONE MORE THING THAT COULD SAVE THEIR SON'S LIFE, AND THAT WAS GOING DIRECTLY TO THE GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK STATE, CHARLES EVANS HUGHES.
AND SO WITH WEEKS TO GO BEFORE BEFORE THEIR SON'S EXECUTION, FRANK AND LOUISA GILLETTE, ALONG WITH THEIR 14-YEAR-OLD SON, PAUL, BOARDED A TRAIN AT THE STATION IN DENVER, COLORADO FOR THE THREE-DAY JOURNEY BACK TO NEW YORK STATE.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN AUBURN, THE WARDEN OF AUBURN PRISON INFORMED CHESTER OF THE COURT OF APPEALS' DECISION. ALTHOUGH HE TOOK THE NEWS CALMLY, CHESTER HAD DISPLAYED A HINT OF BITTERNESS THAT THE SYSTEM HAD FAILED HIM LIKE THAT. IN A LATER STATEMENT, HE SAID, "I DON'T BELIEVE THAT I AM ONE-HUNDREDTH AS GUILTY AS HARRY THAW, BUT THERE IS NOTHING BEFORE ME BUT THE ELECTRIC CHAIR, AND LOOK AT HIM, WITH FREEDOM JUST AHEAD OF HIM. HUNDREDS SAW HIM FIRE THE SHOT THAT KILLED (SANFORD) WHITE AND THEY WANT TO ELECTROCUTE ME ON CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE."
THE "HARRY THAW" THAT CHESTER REFERRED TO WAS THE OTHER MAJOR MURDER CASE IN 1906. IN JUNE OF 1906, A MONTH BEFORE CHESTER KILLED GRACE AT BIG MOOSE LAKE, ECCENTRIC PLAYBOY HARRY THAW GUNNED DOWN WELL-KNOWN ARCHITECT SANFORD WHITE IN NEW YORK CITY BECAUSE THE LATTER MADE A PLAY FOR A 16-YEAR-OLD SHOWGIRL WHOM HARRY LOVED AND LATER MARRIED. DURING HIS TRIAL, HE USED THE INSANITY PLEA, MAINLY BECAUSE HE WAS UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF DRUGS, AND SUCCESSFULLY EVADED A MURDER CHARGE AND A TRIP TO THE CHAIR.
WHEN THE GILLETTE CASE OVERSHADOWED THE THAW CASE, EVERYONE WAS CONVINCED THAT CHESTER WOULD FOLLOW THE SAME COURSE AS HARRY THAW AND USE THE INSANITY PLEA, BUT DISTRICT ATTORNEY GEORGE WARD ANTICIPATED IT AND REQUESTED A SANITY TEST. SOME OF THE METHODS USED INVOLVED THE USE OF NEEDLES AND EVEN A WEIGHT WAS DROPPED ON HIS FOOT. BASICALLY CONSIDERED INQUISITION-STYLE, BUT CHESTER WAS CONSIDERED SANE AND WAS THEREFORE CONVICTED.
THE FAMILY ARRIVED AT AUBURN AND WAS REUNITED WITH CHESTER. FOR HIS FATHER AND YOUNGER BROTHER, IT WAS THE FIRST TIME THAT THEY HAD SEEN CHESTER IN THREE YEARS. AFTER THE REUNION, THE FAMILY SPLIT UP AND WENT TO CORTLAND AND HERKIMER TO GET SOME NEW EVIDENCE AND SUPPORTERS TO HELP THEM PETITION TO GOVERNOR HUGHES. THEY HAD NEARLY GIVEN UP ALL HOPE THAT CHESTER WOULD EVER GET A NEW TRIAL, BUT THEIR GOAL NOW WAS TO GET HIS SENTENCE COMMUTED TO LIFE IN PRISON. IT WAS ONE OF THE MANY POWERS THAT THE GOVERNOR HAD IN CAPITAL CRIMINAL CASES.
TWO DAYS BEFORE THE EXECUTION, THE GILLETTE FAMILY ARRIVED AT THE GOVERNOR'S MANSION IN ALBANY AND PRESENTED THEIR CASE TO GOVERNOR HUGHES. LOUISA PRESENTED SOME SHOCKING NEW EVIDENCE THAT GRACE'S DEATH WAS THE RESULT OF EPILEPSY. THERE WERE CO-WORKERS THAT CLAIMED TO BACK UP LOUISA'S NEW THEORY AND TESTIFIED THAT THEY SAW GRACE SUFFER SEIZURES AND SPASMS FROM TIME TO TIME. HOWEVER, THAT CLAIM WAS LATER DISCREDITED. THEN THERE WAS A RATHER ODD TESTIMONY FROM A 20-YEAR-OLD SCOTIA MAN THAT CLAIMED THAT HE HAD SEX WITH GRACE AND THAT HE WAS THE ONE WHO GOT HER PREGNANT. HE ALSO CLAIMED TO HAVE PAID HER SOME HUSH MONEY TO BLAME THE PREGNANCY ON CHESTER. HE WAS DISMISSED BY THE GOVERNOR AS A PUBLICITY-SEEKER. HE LATER FLED THE COUNTRY AFTER LEARNING THAT THERE WAS A WARRANT OUT FOR HIS ARREST.
WHILE AWAITING HUGHES' DECISION, THE GILLETTES RETURNED TO AUBURN WHERE THEY MET WITH CHESTER FOR THE LAST TIME. LOUISA ASKED HIM IF THERE WAS ANYTHING THAT HE NEEDED TO CONFESS TO HER, HE HAD TO DO IT BEFORE HE DIED. CHESTER REPLIED THAT HE ALREADY CONFESSED TO GOD AND TO HIS SPIRITUAL ADVISOR. LOUISA INSISTED THAT IT WAS NOT ENOUGH AND THAT HE HAD TO CONFESS TO HER TOO, BUT CHESTER DID NOT. AFTER SHE LEFT, LOUISA BEGAN TO DOUBT THAT CHESTER WAS INNOCENT OF THE MURDER CHARGE.
CHESTER SPENT THAT LAST DAY TYPING UP FINAL LETTERS TO HIS FAMILY AS WELL AS HIS FINAL STATEMENT. IN A LETTER TO HIS BROTHER, PAUL, CHESTER ENCLOSED A PHOTO OF GRACE AS A WARNING TO HIM NOT TO SUCCUMB TO HIS SAME FATE AS THE RESULT OF TEMPTATION.
THAT NIGHT, GOVERNOR HUGHES, WHO REJECTED LOUISA'S PLEA FOR CLEMENCY, POSSIBLY BECAUSE OF THE FACT THAT HE WAS CONSIDERED TO BE IN THE RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, CALLED THE PRISON AND TALKED TO THE WARDEN, BUT THE NATURE OF THE CALL WAS UNKNOWN. HAD HE DECIDED TO INTERVENE AFTER ALL? OR WAS HE CALLING TO MAKE SURE EVERYTHING WAS READY FOR THE EXECUTION THE NEXT DAY? WE'LL NEVER KNOW, BUT ONE THING WAS FOR CERTAIN. MARCH 30, 1908 WAS GOING TO BE A BIG DAY INDEED.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
It has been a very trying week with the memorial for Grace Brown happening this past Tuesday at Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks. About 200 people witnessed the memorial wreath being placed in the lake that day, including descendants of Grace herself. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. Due to work commitments, I could not attend and I was very devastated about that. As I mentioned in my last blog, I made arrangements to have a dozen red roses sent up to the lake, along with a brief message to Grace.
In addition to posting my last entry, I spent that unhappy Tuesday thinking about Grace. I am not related to her in any way, but I certainly felt terrible about not being there. I found nearly every thought that I had that day to be about her. I could hardly get to sleep and I was so choked up. I have only been involved with Grace's story for a year as of this past Wednesday and I haven't really known about Grace that long, but I felt like I have lost someone very close to me.
In a way, I have but at the same time, I feel as though I gained one as well. It is as if Grace has become a permanent part of me.
Since then, I have been trying to take it easy as I go through the mourning process, which is why I haven't posted anything since that day. I have posted a brief memorial blog on my Yahoo 360 site, but other than that, I have been trying to take it easy as I go through this period.
I also watched news reports in connection with that day and I learned that Grace's relative did not know about his relation to her until the day he had to read Theodore Dreiser's novel, "An American Tragedy" in college. At first he told his father that the book was all right, but it wasn't until his father told him that the book was about his grandmother's sister (Grace) that he became interested in the book.
When he came to Big Moose that day, he brought with him several of Grace's personal effects, including her school-age diary, her baby cradle, and a lock of her hair.
Hopefully, Grace received my flowers and my message to her and hopefully the day will come when I will finally be able to go up to Big Moose and I will finally be able to pay my respects to the famous young writer from Chenango County who has captured not only the hearts of dozens of people all over the world but mine as well.
And now that the memorial is over, I can finally get back to the story of Chester Gillette's last days, but that will have to wait until sometime next week.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Well, it's here at last. Today is officially the 100th anniversary of Grace Brown's tragic murder at Big Moose Lake at the the hands of her one-time lover, Chester Gillette, an event that historians have referred to as "The Murder That Will Never Die."
Today, thousands of people from all over the country will be at the site where Grace was killed. The events that they have planned include the unveiling of a historic marker at the site of the Glenmore Hotel where Chester and Grace embarked on their fatal rowboat ride, as well as a stamp cancellation where a stamp commemorating the murder's anniversary will be revealed. There will also be boat tours on the lake during the day following the route that Chester and Grace took in the rowboat. There will also be a book signing by Craig Brandon, the leading expert on the case and author of the books "Murder in the Adirondacks" and most recently, "Grace Brown's Love Letters."
The main event will happen in the afternoon when boats will gather at the site where Grace's body was found on July 12, 1906. The final letter will be recited and a memorial wreath will be placed in the lake by a descendant of Marjorie Carey, the woman who heard Grace's final scream. Descendants of the key players in the case will be in the boat, including Grace's descendants.
Sadly, I will not be up there due to work commitments that I could not get out of. That is why I am online here at the library instead of up there. However, I decided to make a last minute addition. I arranged to have a dozen red roses sent up to be put in the lake along with the wreath. I got this idea from her letters in which she stated that she loved red roses. The roses are basically to let Grace know that even though I could not be up there for her memorial, it will at least let her know that I haven't forgotten her.
When I delivered them to the Historical Society yesterday morning, I was told that by buying the roses, I had done the best thing possible for Grace. Even though I could not be up there, I may still have another chance to pay my respects to Grace in August when I go on the bus trip because one of the stops is to her grave in South Otselic. Then I was offered the suggestion that if I ever did go to Big Moose Lake that it would be best if I went alone so that it would be a private matter between myself and Grace. In some ways, I do think that it would be the best thing for me to do.
Tomorrow is another anniversary of sorts. Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the day I became involved with the Gillette Case when I stumbled upon that newspaper clipping. Since then I have learned enough via the books on the case and the Internet to launch this site. Also in the process, I found myself developing feelings for Grace, especially after receiving a copy of the final letter. It is like she has become a permanent part of me.
In closing, I would like to say one more thing. To Grace, wherever you are, I hope that you like the flowers that I sent up for you. May you continue to rest in peace.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
7/5/06- THE FINAL LETTER
MY ORIGINAL PLANS FOR TODAY AFTER MY FOUR-DAY WEEKEND WAS TO GO BACK TO THE STORY OF CHESTER GILLETTE'S LAST DAYS, BUT THEN I REALIZED THAT TODAY'S DATE, JULY 5, MARKS THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE NIGHT THAT GRACE BROWN WROTE HER IMMORTAL FINAL LETTER TO HIM BEFORE SHE WENT UP ON HER FATAL TRIP TO THE ADIRONDACKS. UPON REALIZING THIS, I REALIZED THAT TODAY, I WOULD RECOPY THE LETTER THAT HAD BEEN NAMED ONE OF THE GREATEST LOVE LETTERS OF THE 20TH CENTURY. SO WITHOUT FURTHER ADIEU, HERE IT IS, COMPLETE, UNCUT, AND UNEDITED.
"MY DEAR CHESTER:
I AM CURLED UP BY THE KITCHEN FIRE AND YOU WOULD SHOUT IF YOU COULD SEE ME. EVERYONE ELSE IS IN BED. THE GIRLS CAME UP AND WE HAVE SHOT THE LAST FIRECRACKERS AND OUR LAWN LOOKS ABOUT AS GREEN AS THE CORTLAND HOUSE CORNER. I WILL TELL YOU ALL ABOUT MY FOURTH WHEN I SEE YOU. I HOPE YOU HAD A NICE TIME.
THIS IS THE LAST LETTER I CAN WRITE DEAR. I FEEL AS THOUGH YOU WERE NOT COMING DEAR. PERHAPS THAT IS NOT RIGHT, BUT I CAN'T HELP FEELING THAT I AM NEVER GOING TO SEE YOU AGAIN. HOW I WISH THIS WAS MON.
I AM GOING DOWN AND STAY WITH MAUDE NEXT SUN. NIGHT, DEAR AND THEN GO TO DE RUYTER THE NEXT MORNING AND WILL GET THERE ABOUT TEN O'CLOCK. IF YOU TAKE THE 9:45 TRAIN FROM THE LEHIGH THERE, YOU WILL GET THERE AT ABOUT ELEVEN. I AM SORRY I COULD NOT GO TO HAMILTON, DEAR, BUT PAPA AND MAMA DID NOT WANT ME TO AND THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS I HAVE HAD TO WORK HARD FOR IN THE LAST TWO WEEKS. THEY THINK THAT I AM JUST GOING DOWN TO DE RUYTER FOR A VISIT.
NOW, DEAR, WHEN I GET THERE, I WILL GO AT ONCE TO THE HOTEL AND I DON'T THINK THAT I WILL SEE ANY OF THE PEOPLE. IF I DO, AND THEY ASK ME TO COME TO THE HOUSE, I WILL SAY SOMETHING SO THAT THEY WILL NOT MISTRUST ANYTHING. TELL THEM THAT I HAVE A FRIEND COMING FROM CORTLAND AND THAT WE WERE TO MEET THERE TO GO TO A FUNERAL OR WEDDING IN SOME TOWN FARTHER ALONG. AWFULLY STUPID, BUT WE WERE INVITED TO COME AND AS I HAD TO CUT MY VACATION A LITTLE SHORT AND GO. WILL THAT BE ALL O.K., DEAR? MAYBE THAT WOULD BE JUST WHAT I WILL SAY BUT DON'T WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING FOR I WILL MANAGE SOMEHOW.
ONLY I WANT YOU TO COME IN THE MORNING FOR I DON'T WANT TO WAIT THERE IN THE HOTEL ALL DAY FOR IF THEY SHOULD SEE ME THERE AND ALL DAY THEY WOULD THINK FUNNY I DID NOT GO TO THE HOUSE. YOU MUST COME IN THE MORNING FOR I HAVE HAD TO MAKE- YOU DON'T KNOW HOW MANY NEW PLANS SINCE YOUR LAST LETTER- IN ORDER TO MEET YOU MON. I DISLIKE WAITING UNTIL MON., BUT NOW THAT I HAVE, I DON'T THINK IF ANYTHING ONLY FAIR THAT YOU SHOULD COME UP MON. MORNING.
BUT DEAR, YOU MUST SEE THE NECESSITY YOURSELF OF GETTING THERE AND NOT MAKING ME WAIT. IF YOU DISLIKE THE IDEA OF COMING MON. MORNING AND CAN GET A TRAIN UP THERE SUN. NIGHT, YOU COULD COME UP SUN. NIGHT AND BE THERE TO MEET ME. PERHAPS THAT WOULD BE THE BEST WAY. ALL I CARE IS I DON'T WANT TO WAIT THERE ALL DAY OR A HALF DAY. I THINK THERE IS A TRAIN THAT LEAVES THE LEHIGH AT SIX-SOMETHING SUN. NIGHT. I DON'T KNOW WHAT WOULD DO IF YOU WERE NOT THERE OR DID NOT COME. I AM ABOUT CRAZY NOW.
I HAVE BEEN BIDDING GOODBYE TO SOME PLACES TODAY. THERE ARE SO MANY NOOKS, DEAR, AND ALL OF THEM SO DEAR TO ME. I HAVE LIVED HERE NEARLY ALL MY LIFE. FIRST, I SAID GOODBYE TO THE SPRING HOUSE WITH ITS GREAT MASSES OF GREEN MOSS, THEN THE APPLE TREE WHERE WE HAD OUR PLAYHOUSE, THEN THE "BEEHIVE," A CUTE LITTLE HOUSE IN THE ORCHARD, AND OF COURSE, ALL THE NEIGHBORS WHO HAVE MENDED MY DRESSES FROM A LITTLE TOT UP TO SAVE ME A THRASHING I REALLY DESERVED.
OH! DEAR, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT ALL OF THIS IS TO ME. I KNOW I SHALL NEVER SEE ANY OF THEM AGAIN. AND MAMA- GREAT HEAVENS- HOW I DO LOVE MAMA. I DON'T KNOW WHAT I WILL DO WITHOUT HER. SHE IS NEVER CROSS AND SHE ALWAYS HELPS ME SO MUCH. SOMETIMES I THINK IF I COULD TELL MAMA, BUT I CAN'T. SHE HAS TROUBLE ENOUGH AS IT IS AND I COULDN'T BREAK HER HEART LIKE THAT. IF I COME BACK DEAD PERHAPS, IF SHE DOES KNOW, SHE WON'T BE ANGRY WITH ME. I WILL NEVER BE HAPPY AGAIN, DEAR. I WISH I COULD DIE. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE MADE ME SUFFER, DEAR. I MISS YOU AND WANT TO SEE YOU, BUT I WISH I COULD DIE.
I AM GOING TO BED NOW, DEAR. PLEASE COME AND DON'T LET ME WAIT THERE. IT IS FOR BOTH OF US TO BE THERE. IF YOU HAVE MADE PLANS FOR SOMETHING SUN. NIGHT, YOU MUST COME MON. MORNING. PLEASE THINK, DEAR, THAT I I HAD TO GIVE UP A WHOLE SUMMER'S PLEASURE IF YOU WOULD SURELY BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO GIVE UP ONE EVENING FOR ME. I SHALL EXPECT AND LOOK FOR YOU MON. FORENOON.
HEAVEN BLESS YOU UNTIL THEN.
LOVINGLY AND WITH KISSES,
I WILL GO RIGHT TO THE TABOR HOUSE AND YOU COME FOR ME THERE. I WISH YOU COULD COME UP SUN. NIGHT SO AS TO BE THERE AND SWEETHEART, I THINK IT WOULD BE EASIER FOR YOU. PLEASE COME UP SUN. NIGHT, DEAR."
AS YOU CAN SEE, THIS LETTER IS CLEARLY ONE OF THE GREATEST MASTERPIECES EVER PUT ON PAPER AND WHEN THIS LETTER WAS READ AT THE TRIAL, IT WAS COMPARED TO WORKS BY THE MOST POPULAR AUTHORS OF THAT ERA. I AM VERY FORTUNATE TO BE ONE OF THE FEW WHO ACTUALLY HAS A COPY OF THIS HISTORICAL DOCUMENT. THE ORIGINAL IS KEPT IN THE RARE BOOKS COLLECTION AT HAMILTON COLLEGE BUT THERE HAVE BEEN PLANS FOR THE LETTERS TO BECOME AVAILABLE ON THE INTERNET FOR FUTURE RESEARCHERS.
AND SO, TOMORROW, I HOPE TO GET BACK TO THE STORY ABOUT CHESTER'S LAST DAYS BECAUSE I HAVE PLANS TO REPORT ON THE MEMORIAL FOR GRACE NEXT WEEK AND I HAVE TO GET CAUGHT UP HERE.
Friday, June 30, 2006
Last week at Herkimer County Community College, I took part in a really historic event. Last week marked the premiere performance of this summer's Gillette Trial Reenactment, entitled "The People vs. Gillette," written by Jack Sherman, a judge from Ithaca. He first originated the idea for the trial reenactment back in 1977 while he was an assistant district attorney in Herkimer and revived it for the centennial of Chester's famous trial for the murder of his pregnant sweetheart, Grace Brown.
Members of the Ilion Little Theater Club played the key characters in the reenactment with Sherman playing Judge Irving Devendorf. The performances were really interesting and it felt like you were immediately taken back to the legendary trial that made headlines back in 1906.
I was there as a volunteer, but I was able to see the show anyway. For me a few characters stood out for me, including the guy who played District Attorney George Ward. He brought depth to the role of Ward and the opening scene where he read Grace's letters in open court brought out the emotional quality of the man he played. Also for me, Art Wilks stole the show as Undersheriff Austin Klock. He brought humor and wit to the show and it was very well done. And the climatic showdown between Chester and Ward, which took place during the second half of the reenactment gave you a sense into what it was really like. The guy who played Chester also did a pretty good job.
In case you missed it at HCCC, the next reenactment will be held on July 15 and 16 in Old Forge before returning to Herkimer on July 21 at the very same courthouse where the trial actually took place. That is definitely not to be missed. And there will be one more performance at HCCC on July 22.
In the meantime the next Gillette-related even is today at Ward's Pond Bed and Breakfast in Dolgeville. It is a dramatic reading of Grace's letters called "My Dear Chester, again written by Jack Sherman. Then on July 11, the memorial for Grace will be held at Big Moose Lake. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend either one, but I will be there at least in spirit.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
6/24/06- THE PEOPLE VS. GILLETTE
I FIGURED THAT TODAY I WOULD TAKE A LITTLE BREAK FROM THE STORY EVEN THOUGH I DO NOT HAVE THAT MUCH FURTHER TO GO TO TALK ABOUT SOMETHING REALLY IMPORTANT. LAST NIGHT, I HAD THE PLEASURE OF VOLUNTEERING FOR THE PREMIERE OF THIS SUMMER'S TRIAL REENACTMENT, ENTITLED "THE PEOPLE VS. GILLETTE" AT HERKIMER COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE RIGHT HERE IN HERKIMER. IT WAS PART OF THE THREE-DAY LITERARY CONFERENCE "CHESTER, GRACE, AND DREISER: THE BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN TRAGEDY," WHICH HAS BEEN GOING ON SINCE THURSDAY AND ENDS TODAY.
THEY ALSO HAD A DISPLAY ROOM WHICH HAD A WHOLE COLLECTION OF RARE ARTIFACTS FROM THE CASE, SOME OF WHICH HAD NOT BEEN SEEN SINCE 1906. MOST OF THE ARTIFACTS INCLUDED NEWSPAPER ARTICLES FROM 1906 AS WELL AS SIGNED STATEMENTS FROM CHESTER GILLETTE'S SPIRITUAL ADVISORS AFTER HIS EXECUTION IN 1908 AND A LIST OF PEOPLE WHO ATTENDED THE EXECUTION. THERE WERE ALSO LETTERS FROM GRACE BROWN, AS WELL AS CHESTER'S FINAL LETTER TO GRACE IN THE THREE-WEEK PERIOD LEADING UP TO HER DEATH, AND A LETTER FROM HARRIET BENEDICT ASKING CHESTER FOR A "POSTER."
BUT THE BIGGEST DRAW OF ALL HAD TO BE THE TENNIS RACKET WHICH CHESTER USED TO KILL GRACE WITH THAT DAY ON THE LAKE. IT WAS RECENTLY AUTHENTICIZED BECAUSE THEY FOUND AN EXHIBITION NUMBER ON IT. THIS ALSO MARKS THE FIRST TIME THAT THE MURDER WEAPON WAS PUT ON DISPLAY SINCE THE 1931 PREMIERE OF THE MOVIE "AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY," THE FIRST MOVIE BASED ON THEODORE DREISER'S NOVEL.
I WILL HAVE TO STOP NOW, BUT I WILL HAVE MORE ON THIS MONDAY.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
AUBURN. THE MOST FEARED INSTITUTION IN NEW YORK STATE DURING THE VICTORIAN ERA. KNOWN FOR THE "AUBURN SYSTEM" (ABSOLUTE SILENCE), STRIPED UNIFORMS, AND THE LOCKSTEP, IT GAINED ITS BRUTAL REPUTATION AND THEREFORE MADE A POPULAR TARGET OF REFORMERS. ON AUGUST 1, 1890, AUBURN BECAME KNOWN AS "THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE ELECTRIC CHAIR" AS A CONDEMNED MURDERER NAMED WILLIAM KEMMLER BECAME ITS FIRST VICTIM.
ON DECEMBER 12, 1906, AFTER A TRAIN RIDE FROM HERKIMER WHICH INCLUDED INTERACTIONS WITH A TRAVELLING VAUDEVILLE SHOW WHERE HE SIGNED AUTOGRAPHS FOR ITS FEMALE PERFORMERS, CHESTER GILLETTE ARRIVED THERE TO AWAIT HIS TURN IN THE CHAIR FOR THE MURDER OF HIS PREGNANT GIRLFRIEND, GRACE BROWN. HE WAS HANDED OVER TO THE WARDEN BY HERKIMER COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF AUSTIN KLOCK, WHOM CHESTER REGARDED AS A FATHER FIGURE. AFTER HE WAS PROCESSED, CHESTER THANKED KLOCK FOR HIS HOSPITALITY AND, DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE KNEW THAT HIS ATTORNEYS FILED AN APPEAL ON HIS BEHALF, INVITED HIM TO WITNESS HIS EXECUTION IF IT EVER CAME TO PASS.
CHESTER WAS THEN LED TO A CELL ON THE BLOCK KNOWN AS "MURDERER'S ROW," AS DEATH ROW WAS THEN CALLED. THE BLOCK CONSISTED OF FIVE SOLITARY CELLS AND A METAL DOOR WHICH LED TO THE ELECTRIC CHAIR. CHESTER WOULD REMAIN ON MURDERER'S ROW FOR THE NEXT SIXTEEN AND A HALF MONTHS.
HE PASSED THE TIME READING AND MADE FRIENDS WITH ANOTHER CONDEMNED MAN, WILLIAM BRASCH. HE WAS THE SAME AGE AS CHESTER AND LIKE HIM, WAS CONVICTED OF DROWNING A LOVED ONE. IN HIS CASE, IT WAS HIS WIFE. WHENEVER THEY GOT A CHANCE, THEY PLAYED CHECKERS BETWEEN THE WALLS THAT SEPARATED THEM.
FAMILY MEMBERS CONTINUED TO VISIT CHESTER THROUGHOUT HIS TIME IN AUBURN, ALONG WITH A YOUNG MINISTER FROM LITTLE FALLS WHOM CHESTER'S MOTHER HAD MET WHILE ON HER LECTURE TOUR. THE REVEREND HENRY MacILLRAVY FREQUENTLY VISITED CHESTER IN HIS CELL AS HE PROMISED HIS MOTHER HE WOULD. DURING HIS VISITS, MacILLRAVY WAS SOON ABLE TO TURN CHESTER INTO A BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIAN. BUT WOULD THAT BE ENOUGH TO SAVE HIM FROM THE FATE THAT AWAITED HIM?
IN JANUARY, 1908, CHESTER'S CASE WAS FINALLY BROUGHT BEFORE THE COURT OF APPEALS. WHILE THE JUDGES THERE FELT THAT CHESTER WAS TREATED UNFAIRLY, THEY ALSO FELT THAT HE WAS GUILTY BECAUSE OF THE FACT THAT HE SHOWED VERY LITTLE EMOTION AT THE TRIAL, ESPECIALLY WHEN THE D.A. READ GRACE'S LETTERS IN OPEN COURT. THEY PROBABLY TOOK INTO ACCOUNT CHESTER'S MOTHER'S LECTURE TOUR IN WHICH SHE BADMOUTHED THE VICTIM. THEY DECIDED THAT THE VERDICT WOULD BE UPHELD.
CHESTER NOW HAD SIX WEEKS LEFT TO LIVE.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
6/10/06- A MOTHER'S CRUSADE
ON DECEMBER 10, 1906, NEARLY A WEEK AFTER HE WAS CONVICTED OF THE FIRST DEGREE MURDER OF GRACE BROWN, CHESTER GILLETTE ARRIVED IN THE COURTROOM OF THE HERKIMER COUNTY COURTHOUSE FOR THE LAST TIME AS THAT DAY WAS THE DAY THAT WOULD DECIDE THE REST OF HIS LIFE.
THE COUNTY CLERK CALLED CHESTER UP TO THE STAND AND ASKED HIM IF THERE WAS ANYTHING THAT HE WANTED TO SAY BEFORE SENTENCING. CHESTER REPLIED BY SAYING, "I DESIRE TO STATE THAT I AM INNOCENT OF THE CRIME AND THEREFORE OUGHT NOT TO BE PUNISHED. I THINK THAT IS ALL."
THE JUDGE, IRVING R. DEVENDORF, HAND-PICKED BY THE GOVERNOR OF THE STATE TO PRESIDE OVER THIS TRIAL, WAS FACED WITH HIS FIRST MURDER TRIAL AND THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME THAT HE HAD TO SEND A MAN TO THE ELECTRIC CHAIR. HE DID HAVE SOME HELP FROM THE LAW IN THAT AREA BECAUSE ONCE A MAN WAS CONVICTED OF FIRST-DEGREE MURDER IN THOSE DAYS, A DEATH SENTENCE WAS INEVITABLE. THEREFORE, REGARDLESS OF HIS OWN FEELINGS, HE HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO CONDEMN CHESTER TO DIE IN THE ELECTRIC CHAIR.
SEATED BEHIND CHESTER AND HIS DEFENSE ATTORNEYS WAS HIS MOTHER, LOUISA RICE GILLETTE. SHE HAD ARRIVED IN HERKIMER THE NIGHT BEFORE ON A TRAIN FROM DENVER, COLORADO, WHERE SHE AND HER FAMILY HAD BEEN LIVING SINCE LEAVING THE ZION CITY CULT THE YEAR BEFORE. SHE WAS THERE ON ASSIGNMENT FROM THE DENVER TIMES NEWSPAPER TO COVER THE SENTENCING. SHE SHOWED NO EMOTION WHEN THE FATEFUL SENTENCE WAS PRONOUNCED BECAUSE SHE HAD FAITH THAT THERE WOULD BE AN APPEAL THAT WOULD GRANT CHESTER A NEW TRIAL.
AS SOON AS SENTENCE WAS PRONOUNCED, CHESTER'S ATTORNEYS FILED THE APPEAL TO PREVENT THE PROPOSED EXECUTION DATE OF JANUARY 28, 1907. IT WAS ACCEPTED AND THE EXECUTION WAS POSTPONED UNTIL THE APPEALS WENT THROUGH THE COURTS.
HOWEVER, THE APPEALS PROCESS WAS VERY EXPENSIVE AND LOUISA FIGURED THAT SHE COULD RAISE MONEY AND PUBLIC SYMPATHY BY EMBARKING ON SPEAKING TOURS TO PROCLAIM HER SON'S INNOCENCE AND HELP HER RAISE MONEY SO THAT CHESTER COULD GET A NEWER AND FAIRER TRIAL. HER LECTURES BEGAN IN THE BEGINNING OF 1907. THROUGHOUT HER LECTURES, LOUISA PROCLAIMED HER SON WAS NOT GUILTY AND TREATED UNFAIRLY BY THE COURT. BUT SHE INFURIATED THE PUBLIC BY CRITICIZING GRACE BROWN IN FRONT OF PEOPLE WHO OTHERWISE WOULD HAVE SIDED WITH HER. SHE SAID THAT GRACE WAS TO BLAME FOR EVERYTHING BECAUSE SHE "TEMPTED" CHESTER INTO THE RELATIONSHIP AND SAID THAT IF IT WAS NOT FOR HER, CHESTER WOULD NOT BE IN AUBURN STATE PRISON AWAITING ELECTROCUTION.
DESPITE SOME LAST-MINUTE INTERVENTION FROM FORMER D.A. GEORGE WARD, BY THEN A COUNTY JUDGE, LOUISA'S LECTURES PROVED TO BE A FAILURE. SHE DID NOT RAISE ENOUGH MONEY AND PUBLIC OPINION WAS AGAINST HER. BUT STILL SHE WOULD NOT GIVE UP, NO MATTER HOW LONG IT TOOK. BUT THERE WASN'T REALLY ANYTHING SHE COULD DO IF SHE STAYED IN NEW YORK. AT CHESTER'S INSISTENCE, SHE BOARDED A TRAIN AND RETURNED TO DENVER TO BE WITH THE REST OF HER FAMILY TO WAIT FOR THE OUTCOME.
BUT NEW YORK STATE HAD NOT HEARD THE LAST OF LOUISA GILLETTE. SHE WOULD PLAY A BIGGER ROLE IN THE YEAR TO COME.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
5/31/06- TRIAL OF THE CENTURY
PEOPLE FROM ALL AROUND THE COUNTRY POURED INTO THE LITTLE TOWN OF HERKIMER, N.Y. TO ATTEND THE TRIAL OF CHESTER GILLETTE FOR THE MURDER OF HIS PREGNANT LOVER, GRACE BROWN, WHICH BEGAN ON NOVEMBER 12, 1906 WITH A WEEK-LONG SEARCH FOR THE 12-MAN JURY THAT WOULD DECIDE HIS FATE. THE JURY WAS MADE UP OF TWELVE MEN WHO WERE ALL FROM HERKIMER COUNTY AND A MAJORITY OF THEM WERE FARMERS WHO COULD RELATE TO THE BROWN FAMILY. SOME OF THEM EVEN HAD DAUGHTERS THAT WERE CLOSE TO GRACE'S AGE. THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY, GEORGE WARD, DECIDED TO USE THIS TO HIS ADVANTAGE IF HE WAS GOING TO WIN THE CASE AND SEND CHESTER GILLETTE TO THE ELECTRIC CHAIR.
AFTER THE JURY WAS SELECTED, THE TRIAL BEGAN. WARD CALLED ALL OF HIS WITNESSES, INCLUDING MARJORIE CAREY, THE NEW JERSEY WOMAN WHO WAS AT BIG MOOSE LAKE ON THE DAY OF THE MURDER AND CLAIMED TO HAVE HEARD GRACE'S FINAL SCREAM. HE ALSO CALLED HARRIET BENEDICT, WHOM HE BELIEVED WAS THE OTHER GIRL IN THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHESTER AND GRACE. ALTHOUGH HARRIET ADMITTED THAT SHE WENT OUT WITH CHESTER TO LITTLE YORK LAKE ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, SHE SAID THAT THERE WERE NO ROMANTIC FEELINGS BETWEEN HER AND CHESTER. WARD'S SO-CALLED "STAR WITNESS" MAY HAVE PROVED TO BE A LETDOWN, BUT YEARS LATER, THEODORE DREISER WOULD IMMORTALIZE HER AS "THE OTHER WOMAN" IN HIS NOVEL, "AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY."
IN TRUTH, HIS REAL "STAR WITNESS" WAS ONE WHO WAS NOT ALIVE: GRACE BROWN HERSELF. IN OPEN COURT, WARD PROCEEDED TO READ GRACE'S LETTERS TO THE JURY AND SPECTATORS SO THEY COULD GET AN IMPRESSION OF WHAT GRACE WAS GOING THROUGH AND HER ATTEMPTS TO GET CHESTER TO MARRY HER AND THAT HE IGNORED HER. AS HE CONTINUED READING, EVERYONE IN THE COURTROOM STARTED CRYING. REPORTERS, JURYMEN, SPECTATORS, AND EVEN THE D.A. HIMSELF WAS CRYING.
HOWEVER, THERE WAS ONLY ONE PERSON WHO DID NOT SHOW ANY EMOTION WHATSOEVER. THAT WAS THE MAN TO WHOM THE LETTERS WERE ADDRESSED TO: CHESTER GILLETTE. HE SAT THERE, CHEWING HIS GUM, AND APPEARED TO BE BORED WITH THE WHOLE THING. THAT MOVE WOULD INFURIATE PEOPLE WHO MIGHT HAVE GIVEN HIM THE BENEFIT OF A DOUBT. THE PRESS CALLED HIM AN "UNREPENTANT AND MURDEROUS MONSTER" AND FROM THEIR REPORTS, THEY HAVE ALREADY CONVICTED HIM.
CHESTER'S DEFENSE ATTORNEYS, LED BY FORMER SENATOR ALBERT MILLS, PULLED OFF A VALIANT EFFORT, DESPITE NOT HAVING A VERY GOOD CASE. THEY WERE WELL BEHIND WARD AS FAR AS COLLECTING EVIDENCE WENT. PART OF THEIR CASE INVOLVED USING GRACE'S LETTERS AS EVIDENCE THAT SHE COMMITTED SUICIDE AT BIG MOOSE LAKE THAT DAY. THAT WAS THE STORY THAT CHESTER TOLD ON THE STAND. ASIDE FROM THAT, CHESTER WAS NOT CONSIDERED TO BE A VERY RELIABLE WITNESS, ESPECIALLY FOR SOMEONE WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE TRYING TO SAVE HIS OWN NECK. HE JUST DIDN'T CARE.
FINALLY ON DECEMBER 4, 1906, AFTER FOUR WEEKS OF THE MOST INTENSE COURTROOM DRAMA EVER SEEN FOR THAT ERA, THE JURY CAME BACK WITH ITS VERDICT AFTER ONLY FIVE HOURS OF DELIBERATION. THEY ANNOUNCED THAT CHESTER WAS GUILTY AS CHARGED OF FIRST-DEGREE MURDER. AFTER HEARING THAT, CHESTER WROTE A QUICK TELEGRAM TO HIS FATHER TELLING HIM, "DEAR FATHER, I AM CONVICTED."
WARD HAD WON. CHESTER'S TRIP TO THE ELECTRIC CHAIR WAS NOW VIRTUALLY GUARANTEED.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
On the evening of July 14, 1906, a train pulled into the station in the town of Herkimer, NY. Herkimer was the county seat of Herkimer County. There were huge crowds of people lined up at the station because one of its passengers was a young man who had been arrested for the first-degree murder of Grace Brown at Big Moose Lake.
As soon as the train stopped, Chester Gillette was led off the train by two men, one of them being Undersheriff Austin Klock and led to a waiting wagon. They then departed down a back road to avoid being mobbed on Main Street and arrived at the Herkimer County Jail where Chester would remain until he stood trial for murder, a crime which if convicted, meant that he would be executed in the electric chair.
That evening and even in the days that followed, the news of Chester's arrest and stay in the 1834 Jail spread like wildfire. People flocked from all around to see the young murderer in his cage. One of the spectators was Frank Brown, Grace's father who had just buried his daughter in South Otselic. Once he saw Chester, he moved to attack him and would have succeeded had Klock not intervened. Some reacted to him in that manner. However others had somewhat favorable opinions of him. Not surprisingly, many of those people were young women.
The district attorney, George Ward, started gathering evidence for his case against Chester with the intention that the evidence would send him to the chair. To date, he had obtained Grace's trunk from Old Forge where it was delivered the day she died. In the trunk were Chester's seven letters to her. He also obtained Grace's letters to him from his room in Cortland; Grace's autopsy report; a wrapped jar containing her unborn fetus; the hotel registers containing Chester's fake identities; and the boat which he requested the Glenmore Hotel to give to him to use as evidence. He was still missing some key pieces of evidence, including the tennis racket and Grace's final letter.
Three weeks after Chester's arrest, his landlady found Grace's final letter hidden beneath his collar rack and she had it mailed to Ward. The tennis racket was found a month later hidden under a log near Big Moose Road. It was believed that Chester had made a deal with Klock that if Chester told him where the racket was, he would receive better food and treatment. As a result of him giving up the location of the racket, he began receiving his meals from the local hotels and from the sheriff's wife.
For Chester, life in the 1834 Jail was like living in the Hilton. After all, his cell was basically a three-room suite. The main cell was his sitting room and exercise area. The left cell was his bedroom and the right cell was his walk-in closet.
At his arraignment, Chester was appointed two defense attorneys by the courts because he could not afford a lawyer and lawyers in Cortland declined to get involved, partly because of the reputation of Chester's rich uncle. As a result, the papers viewed this as though the Cortland Gillettes had officially abandoned Chester. The defense attorneys appointed for Chester were Albert Mills, a former state senator, and Charles Thomas, a prominent Herkimer lawyer. They were considered the best lawyers to defend Chester.
The only real problem facing the defense was timing. Since they were appointed only ten weeks before the trial, with a governor-appointed judge at Ward's recommendation, would take place. It was also an election year, as Ward was running for County Judge and any earlier date would conflict with his campaign. And Ward did not want the trial to start after his term as District Attorney had ended. Ultimately, they decided on mid-November to start the trial. So the only thing that the defense could do was to get their story ready for the trial, including a story that Grace committed suicide that day on Big Moose Lake and that Chester's failure to save her was an act of fear rather than premeditation.
The only question was, would it be enough to save Chester from being ensnared in the noose that Ward was already tightening around his neck?
Monday, May 15, 2006
In the late evening hours of July 11, 1906, a young man dressed in slightly damp attire entered the Arrowhead Hotel in the town of Inlet, which was located on Fourth Lake in the Adirondacks. When he registered for a room there, he signed the register as "Chester Gillette of Cortland, NY." He was shown to his room where he had something to eat and went to sleep.
Little did the people at the Arrowhead know that several hours earlier, Chester (under the assumed alias of "Carl Grahm of Albany) murdered his pregnant girlfriend Grace Brown in a secluded area of Big Moose Lake. By the time he got to the Arrowhead, Chester had only his suitcase. The tennis racket he had with him was gone. On the way to Eagle Bay, he buried the racket under a log near a group of trees along the road that connected Big Moose Lake with Eagle Bay.
Over the course of the next three days, Chester enjoyed the life of a normal Adirondack tourist, taking in the sights, going mountain climbing at nearby Black Bear Mountain, and going for canoe rides on Fourth Lake. He also had an appointment to keep with two girls that he knew from Cortland who were vacationing on Fourth Lake. Soon, he was reunited with Josephine Patrick and another girl, Gladys Westcott in a gift shop in Inlet. They were staying on Seventh Lake and Chester had made arrangements to meet them at their camp that Saturday.
And all that time, Chester was unaware of the fact that the law knew what happened to Grace and was rapidly closing in on him.
On Saturday morning (July 14) after a leisurely breakfast, Chester was shocked to see Albert Gross, his friend and co-worker at the Gillette Skirt Factory in Cortland in the hotel lobby. He was there in response to Chester's request for money that he sent three days earlier. With him were three men. Two of them worked for the Herkimer County Sheriff and the third man was a maverick Herkimer County District Attorney.
In greeting, Albert blurted out, "Chester, do you realize that Billy Brown has drowned?"
Chester seemed surprised to hear this and pretended that he didn't know about it. Then District Attorney George Ward started asking him questions and when he wasn't satisfied with Chester's answers, he ordered Undersheriff Austin Klock to arrest him.
Within hours, Chester was arrigned in the Old Forge Hotel for the first-degree murder of Grace Brown and was on a train bound for Herkimer, where his fate was to be decided by the grand jury.
For George Ward, the hunt for Chester Gillette was over and his crusade to send him to the electric chair had just begun.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
5/10/06- LADY IN THE LAKE
ON THE MORNING OF JULY 12, 1906, ROBERT MORRISON, THE BOATKEEPER AT THE GLENMORE HOTEL AT BIG MOOSE LAKE WAITED NERVOUSLY FOR THE YOUNG COUPLE WHO RENTED A ROWBOAT FROM HIM THE PREVIOUS MORNING. THEY HAD NOT RETURNED AS THEY HAD SAID THEY WOULD THAT NIGHT. AT FIRST, HE ASSUMED THAT THE COUPLE HAD GOTTEN LOST. AT BIG MOOSE LAKE, THAT WAS VERY COMMON. THEN HE BEGAN TO FEAR THAT THE COUPLE HAD DROWNED IN A BOATING ACCIDENT. A SEARCH PARTY WAS SOON ORGANIZED AND THEY FOUND AN OVERTURNED ROWBOAT WITH A WOMAN'S PETTICOAT DRAPED ACROSS THE KEEL FLOATING IN SOUTH BAY.
ON BOARD THE STEAMBOAT ZILPHA, 13-YEAR-OLD ROY HIGBY, SON OF THE LOCAL JUSTICE OF THE PEACE, WHO WAS ALSO ON BOARD, DISCOVERED A WHITE BLUR AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LAKE. USING A SPIKED POLE, THE SEARCH PARTY PULLED A DEAD WOMAN'S BODY OUT OF THE WATER. THE DEAD WOMAN LOOKED LIKE SHE HAD BEEN BEATEN UP BADLY. SHE HAD A GASH ON THE SIDE OF HER FOREHEAD AND HER OUTFIT HAD BEEN RIPPED AND DISARRAYED.
WHEN THE SEARCH PARTY RETURNED TO THE GLENMORE, THE BODY WAS SOON IDENTIFIED AS GRACE BROWN OF SOUTH OTSELIC, NY. ROBERT MORRISON CONFIRMED THAT SHE WAS THE GIRL IN THE BOAT THAT THE COUPLE RENTED FROM HIM THE PREVIOUS MORNING. HOWEVER, THE SEARCH PARTY HAD NOT FOUND ANY TRACE OF HER MALE COMPANION, WHO WAS TRAVELLING UNDER THE ASSUMED NAME OF "CARL GRAHM OF ALBANY." THE ONLY THING THEY FOUND OF HIM WAS A STRAW HAT WITH THE LINING TORN OUT. HAD HE DROWNED TOO? OR DID HE SOMEHOW ESCAPE AND FIND HIS WAY BACK TO ALBANY?
WHEN THE BIG MOOSE AUTHORITIES WIRED ALBANY POLICE, THEY WERE SHOCKED TO LEARN THAT THERE WAS NOONE IN ALBANY WITH THE NAME OF CARL GRAHM. IT WAS THEN THAT THE AUTHORITIES BECAME AWARE THAT THE GIRL'S DEATH WAS NO ACCIDENT AND THAT THERE WAS SOME KIND OF FOUL PLAY INVOLVED. THE BIGGEST QUESTIONS THAT THEY HAD TO ASK THEMSELVES WERE "WHAT WAS THE REAL NAME OF CARL GRAHM?, " AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, "WHERE WAS HE?" THE SEARCH FOR HIS BODY WAS ABANDONED.
THE NEWS OF GRACE'S DEATH SPREAD LIKE WILDFIRE. IT MADE IT ALL THE WAY TO UTICA WHERE HERKIMER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY GEORGE W. WARD, 35, AND DEPUTY SHERIFF AUSTIN KLOCK, 52, WERE ENJOYING A HORSE RACE AT THE FAIRGROUNDS. WHEN THEY SAW THE NEWSPAPERS, THEY LEFT QUICKLY TO CATCH THE FIRST AVAILABLE TRAIN TO THE ADIRONDACKS. WHILE THEY WERE AT THE STATION, THEY WERE APPROACHED BY ALBERT GROSS, A YOUNG MAN FROM CORTLAND, WHO WAS ON HIS WAY TO EAGLE BAY AT THE REQUEST OF A FRIEND. HE INQUIRED ABOUT GRACE'S DEATH AND THAT HE KNEW HER FROM THE GILLETTE SKIRT FACTORY. THEN HE INQUIRED ABOUT ANOTHER YOUNG MAN NAMED CHESTER GILLETTE, WHO WAS ALSO SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE ADIRONDACKS AND HAD BEEN KNOWN TO BE INVOLVED WITH GRACE. HE WONDERED IF CHESTER HAD ALSO DROWNED. THE DESCRIPTION THAT ALBERT GAVE WARD AND KLOCK MATCHED THE DESCRIPTION OF THE PERSON WHO CALLED HIMSELF "CARL GRAHM."
AT LAST, WARD WAS CONVINCED THAT HE HAD HIS MAN. NOW ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS FIND HIM.
Friday, May 05, 2006
5/5/06- BIG MOOSE LAKE
BY THE MORNING OF JULY 11, 1906, GRACE BROWN'S HOPE OF A WEDDING DURING HER VACATION IN THE ADIRONDACKS WITH CHESTER GILLETTE HAD DIMINISHED GREATLY. THE TRIP HAD NOT BEEN GOING WELL AT ALL. TENSIONS MOUNTED GREATER THAN EVER AS THE PREGNANT GIRL CONTINUED TO PUT PRESSURE ON CHESTER TO DO HIS DUTY AND MARRY HER, BUT CHESTER CONTINUED TO PUSH HER FURTHER AWAY.
THAT MORNING DURING BREAKFAST AT THE HOTEL IN TUPPER LAKE, CHESTER AND GRACE GOT INTO YET ANOTHER HEATED ARGUMENT ABOUT MARRIAGE AND GRACE BECAME SO HYSTERICAL THAT SHE HAD TO BE ESCORTED OUT BY A SYMPATHETIC WAITRESS. LATER ON, WITNESSES SAW THAT SHE WAS STILL CRYING WHEN SHE BOARDED A TRAIN WITH CHESTER THAT WAS BOUND FOR OLD FORGE, WITH A STOPOVER AT BIG MOOSE LAKE, WHICH WAS ON THE BORDER BETWEEN HERKIMER AND HAMILTON COUNTIES. BY THEN, GRACE HAD REACHED HER BREAKING POINT.
ON THE TRAIN LATER ON, GRACE MANAGED TO CALM DOWN ENOUGH TO WRITE A POSTCARD TO HER MOTHER BACK IN SOUTH OTSELIC SAYING THAT SHE "WAS HAVING A LOVELY TIME ON HER 'UNEXPECTED VACATION' IN THE ADIRONDACKS. " WHEN SHE HAD LEFT, HER FAMILY ASSUMED THAT SHE WAS RETURNING TO CORTLAND AND TO HER OLD JOB AT THE GILLETTE SKIRT FACTORY. IT WAS NOT LIKE GRACE TO LIE TO THEM THAT SHE WAS HAVING A GOOD TIME WHEN SHE REALLY WASN'T.
WHILE GRACE WAS WRITING HER POSTCARD, CHESTER WROTE A POSTCARD OF HIS OWN. THIS ONE WAS MORE OF A BUSINESS ARRANGEMENT THAN A SIMPLE POSTCARD STATING THAT SOMEONE WAS HAVING A GOOD TIME. HIS POSTCARD WAS TO THE SKIRT FACTORY AND IT SAID: "PLEASE SEND FIVE DOLLARS TO EAGLE BAY SO I CAN GET IT ON FRIDAY. CHESTER." IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT HE PLANNED TO BE THERE THAT DAY TO RECEIVE HIS MONEY. HE MAILED HIS POSTCARD ON THE TRAIN.
WHEN THE TRAIN GOT OFF AT BIG MOOSE STATION, CHESTER AND GRACE DISEMBARKED AND BEFORE GETTING INTO THE STAGECOACH THAT WOULD TAKE THEM TO THE GLENMORE, HE MAILED GRACE'S POSTCARD AT THE STATION. IT WAS CONSIDERED TO BE ANOTHER CLUE THAT HE WAS PLANNING MURDER.
AT THE GLENMORE HOTEL, HE USED THE ASSUMED NAME OF "CARL GRAHM" AND GAVE HIS ADDRESS AS ALBANY. THIS TIME, HE DID NOT PUT GRACE DOWN AS HIS WIFE. INSTEAD, HE USED HER REAL NAME AND HER ADDRESS AS A FORM OF QUICK IDENTIFICATION WHEN HER BODY WAS FOUND THE NEXT DAY WHEN HIS BODY WOULD NOT BE. HE WOULD BE LONG GONE BY THEN.
THEN HE ARRANGED FOR A ROWBOAT RIDE ON THE LAKE. FROM WHAT THE PROPRIETOR SAW, GRACE DID NOT LOOK TOO THRILLED ABOUT GOING OUT IN A ROWBOAT. AFTER ALL, SHE COULD NOT SWIM AND CHESTER KNEW THAT. HOWEVER, CHESTER GOT HIS WAY AGAIN AND GRACE WENT IN THERE WITH HIM. HE BROUGHT ALONG HIS SUITCASE, WHICH INCLUDED HIS TENNIS RACKET, WHICH SEEMED STRANGE TO THE PROPRIETOR. MOST OF THE PEOPLE WHO RENTED HIS BOATS DID NOT BRING THEIR SUITCASES WITH THEM ONTO THE BOATS.
THEY ROWED FOR HOURS, STOPPING OFF ON SHORE A FEW TIMES, ONE OF THEM FOR A PICNIC LUNCH. WHERE THEY HAD THEIR LUNCH WAS ALSO WHERE HE LEFT HIS SUITCASE. THEN SOMETIME AFTER SIX, A WOMAN FROM NEW JERSEY HEARD A SINGLE SCREAM FROM ACROSS THE LAKE. SHE COULD NOT SEE WHERE IT CAME FROM, BUT SHE KNEW THE SCREAM TO COME FROM A WOMAN.
WHAT HAPPENED THEN REMAINS A MYSTERY TO THIS DAY. MANY SPECULATED THAT CHESTER ATTACKED GRACE IN THE BOAT WITH THE TENNIS RACKET, RENDERED HER UNCONSCIOUS, AND TOSSED HER INTO THE LAKE. DID THIS HAPPEN? DID HE ACCIDENTALLY KNOCK GRACE OUT OF THE BOAT AND MAKE NO ATTEMPT TO SAVE HER, AS THEODORE DREISER MAY HAVE IMPLIED IN HIS BOOK, "AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY?" OR DID GRACE, AS CHESTER SAID AS HIS DEFENSE, COMMIT SUICIDE BY THROWING HERSELF INTO THE LAKE?
NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENED. ONE THING WAS CLEAR. ONE PERSON WAS DEAD AT THE BOTTOM OF BIG MOOSE LAKE AND THE OTHER PERSON VANISHED WITHOUT A TRACE.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
He arrived in DeRuyter at the heartfelt urging of his sweetheart Grace Brown, who for the past three weeks had been trying to get him to come for her so that they could go away together on what she thought would be their wedding trip. However he was not planning to marry her. Instead, he was planning something much worse mainly because he wanted to continue his dalliances with the high society women of Cortland without fear of being hampered by her unplanned pregnancy.
His original plan when he got there was to hire a team of horses to drive to her home in South Otselic, over ten miles away. However, the proprietor did not have any horses that were rested enough for him to make the journey and it was also too dark for him to travel. There was also the fact that Grace was not at her family farm that night. She was staying overnight with a friend who lived in town before heading out to DeRuyter in the morning.
Instead, he went to the Tabor House, the hotel that Grace told him that she would meet him at, and registered under the assumed name "Charles George" and put down his address as New York City. He would use that alias again two nights later in Tupper Lake. That night marked the beginning of a pattern that Chester used throughout his trip while Grace was with him: A pattern that involved the use of assumed names that included his real initials, and this was established as evidence to indicate that Chester was planning to kill her.
Grace arrived at the Tabor House around 9:30 the next morning and in the parlor of the hotel, she was reunited with Chester for the first time in three weeks. They discussed their plans on where they would go and they agreed on the Adirondacks. They boarded the train that was going to Canastota in order to connect to trains that were headed for Utica and the Adirondacks.
They rode in separate cars to avoid suspicion. However on the ride to Canastota, Chester saw two girls from the group he hung out with in Cortland on the train. They were also on their way to the Adirondacks. Chester told the girls that he was on his way to Raquette Lake. He promised that he would meet them later on in the week.
That evening, Chester and Grace stayed at the Hotel Martin in Utica. Grace was really impressed with Uitca because it was the largest city she had ever seen. However Utica was no small potatoes to Chester, who lived in Chicago and San Francisco. At the hotel, he used the assumed name "Charles Gordon" and listed Grace as his wife. Then when they left the next day, they left without paying the bill, probably knowing that the blame would be placed on someone else. This was an act that would later come back to haunt him.
After a train ride through the Adirondacks that was filled with spectacular outdoor scenery, Chester and Grace arrived at their next stop: The town of Tupper Lake. Once there, he used the Charles George alias again and again he listed Grace as his wife.
However, tensions between Chester and Grace did not get any better in those two days they were together. And things were about to get a lot worse.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
5/2/06- LOVINGLY, THE KID
IT HAD BEEN NEARLY THREE WEEKS SINCE GRACE BROWN RETURNED TO HER FAMILY'S FARM IN SOUTH OTSELIC, N.Y. THERE WAS SCARCELY ANY WORD FROM HER LOVER CHESTER GILLETTE, WHO WAS IN CORTLAND TRYING TO RAISE MONEY FOR A SECRET TRIP THAT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO TAKE TO PROTECT HER DARK SECRET: THAT SHE WAS PREGNANT WITH HIS CHILD AND NEITHER ONE WAS MARRIED. SHE HAD WRITTEN TEN LETTERS TO HIM, IN ADDITION TO PHONING HIM AT HIS JOB AT THE GILLETTE SKIRT FACTORY, WHICH WAS OWNED BY HIS UNCLE. IN THAT TIME, SHE HAD RECEIVED ONLY THREE RESPONSES FROM HIM AND HIS PLANS FOR THE TRIP ARE STILL VAGUE TO HER AND SHE WAS GETTING REALLY DESPERATE.
FINALLY, SHE COULD NOT WAIT ANY LONGER. ON THURSDAY EVENING, JULY 5, 1906, GRACE WROTE WHAT MAY BE CONSIDERED THE MOST FAMOUS LOVE LETTER EVER WRITTEN IN HUMAN HISTORY. THIS WAS HER FINAL LETTER TO CHESTER. FOR HER, IT WAS DO OR DIE. SHE HOPED THAT THIS TIME, HE WOULD TAKE ACTION AND FINALIZE PLANS FOR THEIR TRIP TOGETHER. HOPEFULLY, IT WOULD BE A WEDDING TRIP.
IN THIS LETTER, GRACE APPARANTLY WAS FEELING NOSTALGIC BECAUSE SHE SPENT THAT DAY LOOKING BACK ON THE PEOPLE, PLACES, AND THINGS THAT MADE HER LIFE IN SOUTH OTSELIC MEMORABLE BECAUSE SHE KNEW THAT SHE WAS GOING TO LEAVE ANYWAY. BY THE TIME SHE WROTE THAT LETTER, HER LIFE WAS AT THE CROSSROADS. WOULD SHE BE LEAVING TOWN TO START A NEW LIFE WITH CHESTER, POSSIBLY MARRIED TO HIM AND HAVE THEIR BABY TOGETHER? OR WOULD SHE COMMIT SUICIDE, AS WAS THE CUSTOM AMONG VICTORIAN-ERA WOMEN WHO FOUND THEMSELVES PREGNANT AND ALONE? THE LETTER CONTAINED THE MOST REFERENCES TO DEATH AND SUICIDE THAN IN ANY OF THE OTHER ONES THAT SHE HAD WRITTEN, AND IT WAS EXPLOITED BY CHESTER'S DEFENSE ATTORNEYS AT THE TRIAL LATER ON.
THE LETTER IS FAMOUS FOR THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE:
"I HAVE BEEN BIDDING GOODBYE TO SOME PLACES TODAY. THERE ARE SO MANY NOOKS, DEAR, AND ALL OF THEM ARE SO DEAR TO ME. I HAVE LIVED HERE NEARLY ALL OF MY LIFE. FIRST, I SAID GOODBYE TO THE SPRING HOUSE WITH ITS GREAT MASSES OF GREEN MOSS, THEN THE APPLE TREE WHERE WE HAD OUR PLAY HOUSE, THEN THE "BEEHIVE," A CUTE LITTLE HOUSE IN THE ORCHARD, AND OF COURSE ALL OF THE NEIGHBORS WHO HAVE MENDED MY DRESSES FROM A LITTLE TOT UP TO SAVE ME A THRASHING I REALLY DESERVED. OH! DEAR, YOU DON'T REALIZE WHAT ALL OF THIS IS TO ME. I KNOW I SHALL NEVER SEE ANY OF THEM AGAIN..."
IN THE LETTER, GRACE URGED CHESTER TO MEET HER IN THE TOWN OF DE RUYTER, TEN MILES FROM HER HOME. SHE EVEN PERSUADED HIM TO TAKE A TRAIN UP FROM CORTLAND THAT SUNDAY NIGHT, WHICH WAS JULY 8TH. THAT WAS EXACTLY WHAT HE DID.
FOUR DAYS LATER, GRACE LEFT SOUTH OTSELIC FOR THE LAST TIME. LITTLE WOULD ITS INHABITANTS KNOW THAT A WEEK LATER, SHE WOULD RETURN HOME UNDER VERY TRAGIC CIRCUMSTANCES.
Friday, April 28, 2006
However, Grace knew that Chester had been continuing to spend his time with the high society girls of Cortland and also she knew about Chester's history of not accepting responsibility for his problems and that he frequently ran away from them. She feared that he would do the same to her and leave her to fend for herself.
That night, Grace began writing the first of what would be considered the most famous love letters ever written. She tried to keep them loving and affectionate, but at the same time she constantly reminded him of his duty as a gentleman to come for her and marry her or else she would return to Cortland and expose him as the father of her unborn child, which would destroy the reputation that he worked so hard to build among Cortland's social elite.
In her letters, Grace talked about being lonely, sick, and crying frequently. She even hinted of suicide and premonitions of her own death, which would be used as a defense later on in Chester's trial. If you read the letters closely, you could feel the struggle that Grace went through to resist the urge to commit suicide because she wanted Chester to marry her. She was so desperate that she even made a telephone call to Chester at the factory to which co-workers listened in.
While Grace wrote a total of eleven letters in that three-week period before her fatal trip to the Adirondacks, Chester only wrote three. His letters were very short and vague about their future together. One plan was that Chester was going to put Grace in an asylum for single mothers so that she could have the baby in secret and then give it up for adoption. Despite not having a set plan, they agreed to meet in the nearby town of DeRuyter to embark of a trip of sorts.
What Grace didn't know was that Chester had something else in mind. Something far worse.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
IN APRIL OF 1906, A YOUNG WOMAN LIVING IN CORTLAND, NY, LEARNED SOMETHING THAT WAS CONSIDERED TERRIBLE FOR A YOUNG WOMAN LIVING IN THE VICTORIAN ERA WHO WAS NOT MARRIED: SHE LEARNED THAT SHE WAS PREGNANT WITH HER LOVER'S CHILD. IN 1906, A WOMAN COULD NOT BE A SINGLE MOTHER. DESPITE THE FACTS THAT SOME ORGANIZATIONS TREATED SINGLE MOTHERS AS VICTIMS OF SOCIETY, THE SOCIAL MORES OF THAT TIME CONDEMNED THEM TO A LIFE OF DISGRACE AND SHAME. IN SHORT, IF A SINGLE WOMAN BECAME PREGNANT, IT WAS HER FAULT.
THIS WAS THE PROBLEM THAT 20-YEAR-OLD GRACE BROWN FACED. SINCE THE SUMMER OF 1905, SHE WAS ROMANTICALLY INVOLVED WITH CHESTER GILLETTE, THE NEPHEW OF THE OWNER OF THE SKIRT FACTORY WHERE THEY BOTH WORKED, DESPITE WARNINGS FROM CO-WORKERS. SHE HAD NOT BEEN WITH ANYONE ELSE AT THAT TIME. SHE KNEW WHO THE FATHER WAS, BUT SHE WAS STUCK WITH TWO OPTIONS: PRESSURE CHESTER TO MARRY HER OR COMMIT SUICIDE. IN THOSE DAYS, SUICIDE WAS NOT ONLY AN ACCEPTABLE WAY OUT FOR A PREGNANT SINGLE MOTHER, BUT IT WAS ALSO CONSIDERED HONORABLE. HOWEVER, GRACE DID NOT WANT TO KILL HERSELF. SO BEGAN THE DAUNTLESS TASK TO TRY AND PERSUADE CHESTER TO MARRY HER.
THE PREGNANCY CAME AT A BAD TIME IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP. SINCE THE WINTER OF 1905, CHESTER HAD BEEN SEEN AROUND TOWN WITH THE YOUNG WOMEN OF UPPER-CLASS SOCIETY, WHICH DID NOT SIT WELL WITH GRACE, WHO WAS A MIDDLE-CLASS GIRL. A LOT OF THAT WAS DUE TO HIS UNCLE'S INFLUENCE OVER HIM. IT WAS AS IF HE SECRETLY KNEW ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP. IF INTEGRATING CHESTER INTO HIS WORLD WAS HIS INTENT TO BREAK UP CHESTER AND GRACE, HE WAS ONLY MILDLY SUCCESSFUL.
ONE GIRL THAT CHESTER HAD HIS EYE ON WAS HARRIET BENEDICT, THE DAUGHTER OF A CORTLAND LAWYER. HE HAD MET HER BACK IN THE SUMMER OF 1902 WHILE HE SPENT HIS SUMMER VACATION WORKING AT THE FACTORY BEFORE HE WENT BACK TO OBERLIN ACADEMY. HE WOULD LATER TAKE HER OUT ON A DATE ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. HISTORY, ALONG WITH THEODORE DREISER, WOULD LATER REFER TO HER AS "THE OTHER GIRL" IN THE CHESTER/GRACE TRIANGLE. THIS, OF COURSE, WAS NOT TRUE. ALTHOUGH HARRIET ADMITTED THAT SHE DID GO OUT WITH CHESTER ON SOME OCCASIONS, SHE DENIED THE FACT THAT THERE WERE ANY ROMANTIC FEELINGS BETWEEN HER AND CHESTER. IT WAS SOMETHING THAT WOULD HAUNT HER FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE.
ONE INCIDENT OCCURRED IN JUNE OF 1906 WHEN A GIRL NAMED JOSEPHINE PATRICK PULLED UP AT THE FACTORY TO TALK TO CHESTER. GRACE SAW THE INCIDENT HAPPEN AND AFTER CHESTER RETURNED, GRACE STORMED INTO THE STOCK ROOM, WHERE CHESTER WORKED, AND GOT INTO A HEATED ARGUMENT. AFTER THAT, GRACE FINALLY DECIDED TO LEAVE CORTLAND AND THE FACTORY BEHIND UNTIL CHESTER GAVE IN TO HER DEMANDS TO MARRY HER, WHICH WAS HIS DUTY AS A GENTLEMAN. A FEW DAYS LATER, SHE WAS ON A TRAIN BACK TO HER HOMETOWN OF SOUTH OTSELIC, WHICH WAS THIRTY MILES AWAY IN CHENANGO COUNTY.
THE DAY THAT SHE BOARDED THE TRAIN WOULD BE THE LAST TIME THAT ANYONE IN CORTLAND WOULD SEE GRACE BROWN ALIVE.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
A little over a month after his arrival in Cortland, New York in the spring of 1905, Chester Gillette encountered the one event that would change the course of his life forever.
That would be the day he met Grace Brown.
The exact circumstances of how they met is still unclear. The most famous account was that one day, Chester was visiting the inspection department on the cutting room floor of the Gillette Skirt Factory building. He then saw a ring rolling to a stop right by his foot. He picked it up and traced it to a lovely young woman, slightly embarrassed because the ring slipped off her finger while she was inspecting a finished product. Chester was quite the gentleman, very polite and courteous to the young woman. Before that month was out, they would be seen together frequently while they were working and later when they were not working.
Chester started visiting Grace at her sister's house, where she had been staying since she moved to Cortland in the fall of 1904. He made quite an impression on Grace's sister and her family. They were impressed enough that they allowed Chester to see Grace without supervision, which in those days was probably not a good idea. By the end of that summer, their relationship reached the point where they started making love in the parlor of her sister's house at least twice a week.
By that fall, Grace found herself without a place to stay after a death in the family forced her sister to move back to Chenango County. Chester was able to influence his uncle to set her up in a boarding house not far from the factory. If Grace had to leave the area too, Chester would have nothing to do.
That soon changed when the girls of high society started inviting Chester to social function, which therefore forced him to push Grace away into the background. She had tried in vain to persuade him to take her with him to the social functions, but he refused. From that point on, Grace only saw him two nights out of the whole week.
Then in April of 1906, the one thing every unmarried woman in those days feared had finally happened to Grace: She was pregnant.