“If I die, I hope then you can be happy”
Chester Gillette was born on 9 August 1883 in Montana and raised at Spokane, Washington. His parents were religious and joined the Salvation Army. Chester Gillette moved from job to job before finally settling at his uncle’s Gillette Skirt Factory in Cortland, New York in 1905. One of his co-workers was Grace Brown, a farmer’s daughter three years his junior, and in the spring of 1906 she told him that she was pregnant and expected him to do the decent thing.
Unbeknown to Grace, Gillette was seeing other women and marriage and a baby were not in his plans. She went to stay with her parents but the two corresponded. Her letters became desperate. One read in part, “If I could only die… if I die, I hope then you can be happy. I hope I can die… oh, please come and take me away.” Gillette decided to do just that and booked a break in the country in the summer of that year. Grace expected him to propose or even to have a secret marriage planned. He booked them into the Glenmore Inn at the Adirondacks. He used a false name but one with the same initials — Carl Grahm of Albany — to match his expensive luggage. On the Wednesday Gillette hired a boat and took Grace rowing on Big Moose Lake.
Out of sight of land, he smashed her over the head with a tennis racquet and threw her overboard, leaving her to drown. Grace’s body was discovered at the bottom of the lake the next day. Gillette was arrested on 13 July. He claimed that Grace had slipped and fallen and then said that she was depressed and had killed herself.
Big Moose Lake, Herkimer County, New York, USA
Wednesday 11 July 1906
Chester Gillette’s trial began on 12 November 1906 in the Herkimer County Courthouse. The defence finished their presentation on the evening of December 4 and the jury retired to consider its verdict. Six hours later, it was back. Gillette sent a telegram to his family, “I am convicted. Will write.” Despite several appeals, he went to the electric chair at Auburn Prison, New York on the morning of 30 March 1908.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Gillette was the prototype for Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy which, in turn, became the movies An American Tragedy (1931) and the 1951 Academy Award-winning film A Place in the Sun starring Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. The Brown family sued Paramount in 1934 over their depiction in the first film.