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GILLETTE  MURDER CASE

CAUTION: DROWN UNWANTED  WOMEN HERE! 

lake, Herkimer County New York state, USA….a vast lake and a well known summer tourist attraction at the turn of the century…boats bobbing on the blue waters, languidly in the warm morning sun…a group of upstate tourists amusing themselves on and around the lake…some of them noticed a trio of objects out of tune with the hap happy pleasant atmosphere…an overturned rowboat, a man’s straw hat and a woman’s cape floating lifelessly in the calm waters, mute but eloquent testimony for something tragic.

The curious tourists informed the Lake authorities and soon the Herkimer County police reached the picnic site. The River Patrol Wing of the police was pressed into service, and dragged the lake. An hour of search resulted in the finding of a female body. Who was she? A beautiful brunette, curve rich, and charming even in death.

She was identified as Grace Brown of South Ostelic, New York, and she had been seen in the Lake Hotel in the company of a young man. They had registered as Mr. and Mrs. Carl Graham, Albany, New York.

Where was Carl Graham? A man’s straw hat had been seen floating, did it mean that he too had drowned? The police dragged the lake again but nothing was found. Meanwhile the postmortem report had come out giving the situation a new colour, sinister and upsetting. Grace Brown had died of drowning. She was pregnant and there was evidence of physical evidence on her body. Murder? Where on earth was Carl Graham?

Preliminary investigation by the police revealed that the drowned dame aged twenty- four had been employed as a sewing mistress in the Gillette Shirt Factory, Cortland, and had dated steadily her boss’ handsome nephew, Chester Gillette. The cops found him in New York City and their eyebrows jumped beyond their foreheads when he was identified by the Lake Hotel Staff as Carl Graham!

It was now evident that Grace had been a victim of murder and a classic pattern of a pathetic situation ending in callous murder began to emerge.

Chester Gillette had always fancied himself to be a lady- killer. Of course his looks proved to be an invaluable asset in his favourite occupation, the happiness of pursuit, of women of course! And another credit card that came in handy and mighty useful was his relationship with the shirt factory boss. In those days such establishments were mostly dismal sweat shops employing several girls drawn from the wrong side of the tracks, poor, downtrodden, rootless immigrants and Gillette a professional playboy and penthouse style seduction specialist had made it a fine art of taking the poor nubile naïve girls for a ride and abandoning them after he had enjoyed them to the hilt.

Grace came of solid old world lower middle class and believed in marrying the man she would fall in love with, keeping her honour and body pure and virginal for the lord of her life. And the poor lass believed that Gillette, the dashing, debonair nephew of the boss was that man to whom she offered herself, body, soul, and skin. Basking in his male warmth she hopefully looked forward to the day of the laced veil-I do- gold band- and cake cutting.

Gillette had hoodwinked her with alluring promises and his lust and longing had not subsided as fast as usual and that’s why he had kept the affair going longer than his usual quota.

Grace’s friends who had known about it all came forward to tell the police and confronted with the damning evidence against him, he had no option than to make a clean breast of it all…

When Grace found herself well on her way to motherhood without the blessings of holy matrimony, she was shocked and then panic lassoed round her tight. She told her lover and begged him to marry her, at once. And he readily said yeah, promising her to make the necessary arrangements for that great grand gala day.

Meanwhile back in his mind, a plan, different and diabolical was getting ready for take off…

* * * *

July 1906, Gillette took his glee-filled grateful girlfriend Grace on a holiday- a sort of honeymoon preview to Big Moose Lake. Grace had heard of the popular resort but was too poor to even think of going there on her own. Soon of course after the grand wedding all that would change. She would be rich, the niece-in-law of Mr. Gillette, the big boss himself.

Grace had no inkling that her lover boy had registered himself under a false name at the hotel. To the hotel management and staff they were not Mr. and Mrs. Chester Gillette, but Mr. and Mrs. Carl Graham!

The lover boy was extra lovey- dovey towards Grace. His hands never left her smooth silken skin and he made long lingering love to her not only in the privacy of the hotel bedroom but also behind buses, beneath the starlit skies, and even inside bobbing boats. Grace was thrilled to the core by his amatory prowess and erotic expertise.

And then the final boating trip in the intimacy of the winking velvety night…Gillette and Grace alone in a world of their own in a boat on the Big Moose Lake. Earlier he had played tennis and come to the boathouse in his tennis shorts, straw hat and racket under his muscular arm…no time to lose in keeping the racket in the room…and of course useful to take along to smash a young girl’s head…

And that’s what the itchy-fingered playboy did out in the deep waters in the dark while Grace leaned back to enjoy the bliss of the lovemaking, her eyes closed in the engulfing ecstasy, he hit her on the head stunning her with the tennis tool. Shocked she was too dazed to realise what was happening to her. Now he grabbed her by the neck and began to strangle her. She became unconscious. And then he pushed her overboard and held the inert body under water.

It was all over. Grace was gone, gone to the way of all flesh. Never again would she pester him to marry her ‘to make an honest woman’ of her.

To pass it all off as an accident he overturned the boat and let it drift away. Then he sank his hat and while it surfaced and floated around he swam ashore, losing himself in the surrounding darkness.

Gillette was charged with the murder of Grace Brown with malice aforethought and brought to trial in New York during November 1906. During the trial Gillette retracted from his confession and said it was all an accident.

But the evidence against him pointed otherwise. The jury chose to disbelieve him and returned a verdict of guilty. He was sentenced to death, later sitting on the electric chair.

The trial attracted wide attention in America and the famous American write Theodore Dreiser who attended the trial wrote a novel based on it called “An American Tragedy”. The novel became a bestseller and a major work of fiction. Decades later Hollywood filmmaker George Stevens made a memorable movie , “A Place in the Sun” featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, a critical success and a box office hit still remembered and recalled with pleasure!

It was adapted in Tamil by (Veena) S. Balachandar as “Avana Ivan? which did fairly well……

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