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.

4 comments:

Mary in Houston said...

Tim - have you downloaded the trial transcripts from http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/gillette.htm? i have printed it and put it into 14 three-ring binders. Also have a photo of Chester on Black Bear Mountain just before he was arrested I will try to send to you. I almost owned the DA's scrapbook in 1998. How I regret not acting quickly enough. You know the theory is that Chester and Grace tried to find a home for unwed girls and/or an orphanage, right?

You HAVE to go to Cortland and into the attic of the former skirt factory. From that window you can see Grace's boarding house and it literally takes your breath away because you have seen the photo of the house so many times. Have photos of both Chester's and Grace's boarding houses, the factory, and Little York Lake. The boarding house photos I took on black and white film to make them seem like they were.

Let's keep in touch about this and try to figure out exactly what happened.

Mary in Houston said...

tried to copy and paste the photo of Chester - would not work - how can I send photos to you?

mboardway@targaresources.com

Mary in Houston said...

A little information I got a few years ago from a decendent of Chester and Grace - COULD they have been related??? See below:

----- Original Message -----
From: Philip Schweitzer
To: Mary
Sent: Monday, July 08, 2002 12:36 PM
Subject: Re: Chester and Grace

Hi, Mary,
Yes, I remember you very well. Here is what I know concerning the
story. It was actually my Grandmother's sister, MY Great Aunt, Mildred
Seymour Greene, who worked with Chester and Grace. My grandfather lived in
Cortland and was getting ready to marry my grandmother and bring her there
to live. Her sister, Mildred, single at that time, and through school was
looking around for employment. They lived in the country near Marcellus
and transportation and work possabilities for females in that area was
somewhat limited. So, I am guessing my grandfather, kind man that he was,
arranged an interview for her at the Gillette Skirt Factory. She was hired
and must have boarded out there around the same neighborhood as Chester
lived. When my grandparents married and rented a house, she came to live
with them. She was certainly aware of her Grandmother Gillette, of the same
family, so it is possible this helped her to get a job. I remember reading
that the owner liked to hire people who were connected to him. Anyway, she
worked closely with Grace and Chester and grew quite fond of him, though
not of her. I know she went to parties with him, whether separately or in
a group, I don't know. She was very prety, and had inherited the French
part of the family's looks, with black hair and huge expressive eyes you
never forgot. My grandmother inherited the English Seymour looks with
blonde hair, blue eyes and very white skin. They looked nothing alike. Aunt
Mildred was quite blown away when he was taken to jail and very upset. She
was one of his few ardent supporters and always believed he was innocent.
She used to say that Grace was very forward and pushy for the time and was
always chasing him. She felt Chester grew weary of being chased all the
time. Of course, at the end, to be fair, she had reason to gain his
attention. Anyway, Aunt Mildred lived to be nearly 97 years old and her
family said that one of the last things she ever talked about was Chester
and her fervant belief that he was wrongfully executed. We have visited all
the major spots of the story, where they lived and worked in Cortland,
Grace's home and where she's buried and also Chester's burial spot. My
husband and I once spent a night, all alone, in the supposedly haunted
Glenmor Hotel at Big Moose Lake. It was back here where Grace's body was
brought. The owners told us all kinds of ghost stories and we were excited.
We had a bedroom overlooking the water, but , sad to say, we fell asleep
and slept like logs and never saw or heard a thing! Oh, well! Hope this
helps. Could you please just let me know if you get this. I am having some
problems sending e-mail lately for some reason.
All the best,
Sheila Farrington Schweitzer

Mary in Houston said...

Tim - I can't seem to stop commenting, but this is important. In the trial transcripts, the waitress from the hotel in Tupper Lake said NOTHING about ever talking to Grace - NOTHING about ever holding Grace while she cried - that is all rumor and from those newspapers that printed "sensational" stories. Please read the entire 2,400 page trial transcript and the the appeal transcripts and see how things REALLY were. Do not rely on the books that have been written.

I do have an article from the Utica newspaper from 2 days after they found Grace. The article points to the possible fact that Chester stole money from Grace's purse. I e-mailed Craig Brandon - he never saw anything and I found nothing in the trial transcripts. As soon as I can get an e-mail address for you I can e-mail you these photos and newspaper articles and links.

Mary