of Herkimer County's most famous murders took place on July 11, 1906.
Grace Brown, a farm girl from South Otselic, was found dead at the bottom
of Big Moose Lake, and her companion, Chester Gillette, was nowhere to
be found. He was arrested days later at a nearby hotel and was arrested
for her murder.
of Herkimer County learned much about Gillette and his victim Grace Brown
during the ensuing months. They read the love letters the couple had exchanged.
They read and heard about the intimate details of their lives together
and their final trip to the Adirondacks. And they heard two stories about
what happened on July 11, 1906.
told varying stories about what had happened to Grace Brown. At first
he said he had not been with her at all. Later he said there had been
an accident. Finally, at his trial, he said Grace committed suicide by
jumping out of the boat. He tried to rescue her, he said, but he couldn't
reach her. Then, out of cowardice and fear, he ran away rather than report
George W. Ward, the district attorney of Herkimer County, told a different
version. He told the jury at the trial that Gillette was a snake and a
cad who had lived a double life. Grace Brown was only one of his many
girlfirends in Cortland, N.Y., where they both worked in a skirt factory.
Twice a week or so, Gillette would pay a visit to Grace Brown's boarding
house where he had his way with her and then went home. On other evenings,
Gillette went to dances and parties with the daughters of some of the
best families in Cortland.
women said later that they had never heard of Grace Brown, but Grace know
all about them. When she asked Chester about them, he would only say that
he was taking advantage of the social opportunities available to him.
He told Grace that he loved only her and that the rest was just having
in the spring of 1906, an event occurred that changed this arrangement.
Grace discovered that she was pregnant with Chester's child. Suddenly,
all the games and petty jealousies became deadly serious. An unmarried,
pregnant woman was as good as dead in 1906 and Grace knew that Chester
had to marry her.
was a confrontation on the porch of Grace Brown's boarding house and Chester
and Grace agreed that she would go home to the family farm in South Otselic
in Chenango County. Then after a few weeks, Chester would come for her
and take her away somwhere.
after Grace left, she was all but forgotten by Chester, who made the rounds
of summer parties and outings, much as he had done before. Nearly every
morning however, waiting for him at the front door of his boarding house,
was a letter from Grace. The letters were always pleading, frequently
touching and sometimes angry. If he didn't come for her soon, she said,
she would come back to Cortland and tell everything.
a final outing on the Fourth of July, Chester finally met Grace in DeRuyter
in southern Madion County. He arrived on Sunday night, July 8, at the
hotel and registered under the name of Charles George, N.Y. That was evidence,
the district attorney said, that he was already planning a murder and
wanted to cover his identity.
arrived there the next morning and they had a quiet reunion. It was finally
decided that they would go to the Adirondacks. Chester who had a railroad
map of Adirondacks with him, had probably decided that earlier. The district
attorney said Chester had already picked out some quiet lakes in the Adirondacks
in which a young girl could quietly disappear and be a nuisance to him
they boarded the train a few minutes later, they said in different cars
so as not to attract attention. But if Chester thought he was going to
slip away quietly, he was mistaken. He saw his former landlady's son and
two girls he knew from Cortland. he told them he was going to visit a
friend at Raquette Lake and made and appointement to visit them at the
end of the week. It was an appointement he later kept.
and Grace spent their first full night togheter at the Hotel Martin on
Bleeker Street in Utica, where they registered as man and wife under assumend
names. The next day they went to Tupper Lake, again registering as husband
and wife. They went down to look at the lake, but it was rainy and neither
of them took a boat ride.
next day, July 11, they rode the train south, along the way they had come
the day before. Grace wrote a postcard to her mother saying that she was
in the Adirondacks and she was all right. Chester wrote a card to the
factory, asking that an advance of his pay be sent to Eagle Bay, where
he knew he would be at the end of the week.
got off the train at Big Moose Lake and checked into the hotel Glenmore.
But this time, they registered as Carl Grahm of Albany and Grace Brown
of South Otselic. Chester wanted to make sure the body was identified
right away, the district atttorney said, so her parents wouldn't want
the scandal of a major investigation of the man who had been with her.
who was so short on funds that he had left Utica without paying the hotel
bill, didn't ask how much it cost to rent the boats at the Glenmore. Again,
the district attorney said, that was because he knew he would never have
to pay for the boat. Because he knew he would never bring it back.
The map in his pocket
and the maps at the Glenmore clearly showed that Big Moose Lake was mostly
a wilderness, far from civilization. There were many camps around the
lake on the southern end, the end closest to his planned escape route.
And there was one bay, called Punkey Bay, where it was both isolated and
close to the road going south. It was no coincidence, the district attorney
said, that Punkey Bay was where Grace Brown's life ended.
were many people who saw the couple in the boat that day and all of them
remembered them because of one singlular fact. In the middle of the boat,
between the two riders there was a suitcase with a tennis racket attached
to the side. That was no coincidence, the district attorney said. Chester
knew he would need to bring his suitcase with him after the murder.
the tennis racket, he said, was brought along to be the murder weapon.
At dinner time, when there were no other boaters on the lake, Chester
steered the boat into Punkey Bay and struck Grace Borwn on the forehead
with the racket. She fell into the lake and was not found until the next
day. Chester brought the boat ashore, took his suitcase and ran down the
road that was so clearly marked on the map.
again, he wasn't very lucky. Three young men who were going the other
way passsed him just before dusk. The reason they were so sure it was
him, they said, was that they had never before seen a man walking through
the woods carrying a suitcase.
he reached Eagle Bay, he took the steamer across to the Arrowhead Hotel
in Inlet, where he registered for the first time under his own name. The
next day he met the two women from the train, just as he said he would,
and went over to Eagle Bay to check on the money that was to be sent from
was going as planned. He told people he had been at Raquette Lake the
early part of the week. He played the tourist and visitied Black Bear
Mountain and Seventh Lake and sang songs with the tourists on the verandah
of the hotel.
On Saturday morning, July 14, he had just finished eating his breakfast
and was returning to his room when he saw three men waiting for him at
the desk. One was his friend from Cortland, Bert Gross. the other two
were Ward and undersheriff Austin B. Klock, who arrested him for the murder
of Grace Brown.
Grace's body had been found on July 12, newspaper reporters and lawmen
combined their efforts to track down what information could be found about
Grace Brown. At first, it was assumed that she and "Carl Grahm"
had drowned together. But when his body was not found, and it was discovered
that her boyfriend from Courtland was also in the Adirondacks, everyone
suspected that a murder had taken place.
the arrest of Chester was just the beginning of Ward's work. He spent
months tracking down everyound who had seen Chester and Grace during those
last days. He found all the letters that Grace had written to Chester.
he found the tennis racket where Chester had hidden it and the hotel registers
with the false names on them. By the time the trial began in Herkimer
on Nov. 11, Ward had over 100 witnesses and 100 pieces of evidence.
Chester's end of the table where Charles D. Thomas and Albert M. Mills,
two of the best attorneys in the county. They knew they had a tough job
ahead of them. Chester's rich relatives, who could afford to bring in
expensive attorneys from outside the area chose instead to abandon him.
Whith out any money of his own, Chester asked Judge Irving R. Devendorf
to assign him an attorney.
and Thomas had only a month before the trial to prepare their case and
they were far behind Ward. They didn't have the personnel or the financial
resources for a major effort, but they spent many hours with him, preparing
was clear from the beginning, however, that public opinion and probably
the jury was against Chester. Each day, in the front row, sat Grace Brown's
parents and sisters, sobbing as each new witness testified and each new
bit of evidence was introduced. Chester had no one to weep for him. His
uncle from the factory was cold and indifferent as he testified for the
prosecution. His family was in Denver, far away from the events.
besides that, he seem to be doing his best to convict himself. He sat
in the court room each day, chewing gum and acting as if it were someone
else on trial for his life. When Ward read Grace's letters, even the reporters
admitted that they wept to hear the poor girl's pathetic pleadings. Only
Chester, they noticed, was not affected. He only chewed his gum and looked
Herkimer was having its first and only taste of national front page sensationalism.
By the time the testimony began, there were 25 to 30 reporters in the
courtroom each day, including representatives of New York City newspapers
and the national wire services. Since the hotels were already crowded
with Ward's witnesses, there wasn't much room at the local inns. Many
of the reporters and their copy runners, photographers and artists stayed
at the Palmer House, where one veteran said later that they took over
the bar room for their own use each evening.
a few of them, expecially the local reporters, stuck to the news, much
of what was reported out of Herkimer was closer to fiction than fact.
There were stories that the jury went down to the Mohawk River to see
Chester re-enact the crime. There were stories that he tried to commit
suicide, that a lynch mob attempted to run off with him, that he tried
to escape and that a secret lover visited him in his cell each evening.
and the press played an elaborate game every day in a courtroom that was
much larger than the one that exists today. There was a large balcony
in the back of the room and many other people waited in the hallway.
long hours of closing statements by Ward and Mills, the trial reached
its climax at 10:55 p.m. on Dec. 4 when the jury, after five hours of
deliberation, announced that it had found Chester guilty of first degree
murder, meaning that he would be sentenced to the electric chair.
was watched carefully for any sign of emotion, but he displayed none.
He went on chewing his gum and was asleep in his cell a few minutes later.
days later, his mother finally arrived in Herkimer from Denver, where
a newspaper had agreed to pay her train fare in exchange for an article
written by her on her son's sentence to death the next day. She sat behind
him as the sentence was read.
Chester was taken to Auburn Prison, his mother lauched a speaking tour
throughout Central New York to raise money for his appeal to try to shift
public opinion in his favor. She tried to do this, in part, by attacking
Grace Brown's reputation. She knew that in some eyes the fact that he
was responsible for her pregnancy was a greater crime than causing her
death. But there was a lot of opposition to those allegations and she
soon toned them down.
the spring of 1908, after the Court of Appeals upheald the conviction.
Louisa Gillette visited Gov. Charles E. Huges twice in an effort to obtain
a new trial or delay of the death sentence. But on Mar. 29, the day before
the execution, he issued his final ruling. He saw nothing in the evidence
that showed that justice had not been done.
the last hours of his life, Chester wrote letters to each member of his
family and a public statement that was to be given out after his death.
In some of these writings he comes very close to confessing his guilt.
He told his brother, Paul, that he should make sure that women were not
the cause of his downfall as they were for his brother.
mother, who also spoke with him in those hours, said later that she was
finally convinced that her son was really guilty of causing Grace Brown's
death, but would never explain how it happened. She did say, however,
that the tennis racket was not the murder weapon.
life ended at 6:14 a.m. on Mar. 30 when a switch was thrown and 1,800
volts of electricity passed thorugh his body for 61 seconds. He was buried
in Soule Cemetery, just outside Auburn, in a grave that has never been
story might have ended there. His family left New York and probably never
returned. The Brown family moved to DeRuyter and carried on with their
lives. The lawyers went on to other cases. But in New York City, a magazine
editor and sometime author name Theodore Dreiser was reading all those
articles and thinking about a novel that would ensure that people decades
later would never forget the story of Grace Brown and Chester Gillette.
by: Craig Brandon
information on the story of Chester Gillette and Grace Brown, check out
Craig Brandon's website at www.craigbrandon.com
We also recommend
you checking out this website, created by Tim Haines, telling the story
of Chester and Grace -