Nan Patterson -1904

By | November 12, 2016

“False to her husband, false to her lover”


Dancer and actress Nan Patterson poses second from the right


Nan Patterson was a married, 19-year-old dancer and actress when, in 1902, she began an affair with the much older, equally married New York-based bookmaker Caesar Young. He paid for her to divorce her husband after which time she lived “on Young’s bounty”.

Young promised to leave his wife for Patterson but never did. On 4 June 1904 Patterson and Mr Young were riding in a carriage down Broadway — he was on his way to the docks to meet his wife as he was going on a long overseas holiday with her. At some point in that journey Young was shot dead with a gun that belonged to Patterson. Police arrested Patterson and she was charged with the murder of Young.

Her first trial ended in a hung jury and she was tried again in the spring of 1905. The state alleged that Patterson killed Young because she was furious he would not leave his wife or that he had resisted her attempts at blackmail.

The defence argued that the evidence showed that the bookmaker had committed suicide. During proceedings The New York Times suggested, none too subtly, that Patterson was innocent. On 2 May 1905 the prosecution took five hours to deliver its closing arguments. He argued that the bullet’s trajectory made suicide difficult if not impossible. “Mr Young would not have held the weapon upside down when he fired the shot and sent the bullet through the apex of the left lung on its way to strike the fourth dorsal vertebra,” he said.

He tried to blacken Patterson’s character, referring to the love letters sent by Young. “Did the defendant render them? No. Was that the conduct of a woman madly in love or of a mercenary creature who wanted to keep them in her possession for blackmail purposes?” he demanded. “And now as to the morning of the tragedy… The murder in her heart flamed into action, and she shot and killed. A little crack, a puff of smoke, and a dead man lay prostrate on this woman’s lap. False to her husband, false to her lover, and false to her oath the defendant would have you believe by her story told at the previous trial that Young shot himself rather than be separated from her. A silly story — a lie she does not now dare attempt to support.”

When the jury left for lunch they were “jostled by the crowd that packed the streets. All the way to the restaurant the jurymen heard yells of ‘Free Nan Patterson! Set her free! Nan’s all right! She’s done nothing! You let her loose, that’s the best you can do!”


West Broadway and Franklin Street, New York City, USA


Saturday 4 June 1904


The jury having deliberated, the judge threatened anyone who spoke out of turn with contempt when the verdict was read. There was an air of disappointment when the foreman of the jury announced that they had not reached a decision and said “I am convinced that there is no hope of an agreement.”

After more conferring the jury foreman told the court that there was no hope of a verdict — they were voting eight to four for manslaughter in the first degree. On 13 May Patterson was finally freed. District Attorney Jerome said that it was a “miscarriage of justice of the most serious kind [attributable] to the attitude of the press of this city toward the accused woman.” As soon as she was given her liberty Patterson and her sister went shopping on Sixth Avenue and posed for photographers.


After the collapse of the second trial, Patterson received numerous cards and letters, mostly from well wishers. Armedi Beauparler’s missive was not in that category. His read, “If the jury acquitted Nan, I would have shot her as she left the Tombs.”

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