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Primary Sources: Insanity Defense

Details of Thaw's planned defense made headlines two days after the crime.

Expert Alienists Examine Slayer of Stanford White in His Cell, Murderers' Row, in the Tombs

Efforts Made To Inform Mother, Who Is On Atlantic Line Steamer in Mid-Ocean by Wireless Telegraphy

New York Daily Tribune
Wednesday, June 27, 1906

Insanity will be the sole defense for Harry K. Thaw. His killing of Stanford White on the roof of the Madison Square Garden on Monday night, the authorities say, can scarcely fail to be regarded as deliberate murder, unless he is pronounced insane.

Thaw was committed to the Tombs, without bail, by order of Coroner Dooley yesterday, and before he had been in the prison an hour he was examined by Dr. Austin Flint and Dr. Carlos MacDonald, alienists, retained by the District Attorney, who will continue their examination of the prisoner to-day and to-morrow.

Several well known lawyers have been retained for Thaw's defense, and they undoubtedly will have him examined by other alienists of repute, and will collect a mass of evidence to support a contention that he has been insane for months.

Meanwhile the police and the District Attorney's office will collect evidence in support of the theory that Thaw fired three bullets into the body of his victim to avenge a wrong done to Mrs. Thaw.

Coroner Dooley has set the inquest for tomorrow morning, and Mrs. Thaw, who was a witness of the shooting, has been served with a subpoena to appear and testify. Should she refuse, as the wife of the accused man, to give testimony, she will be called before the grand jury and questioned.

Inspector Schmittberger, who was conducting the police investigation of the murder yesterday, said that Thaw might be insane, but the information gathered by the police indicated that the murder had been prompted by a desire for revenge. This information, he said, was in line with a brief statement made by Thaw, immediately after his arrest, that White had ruined his wife.

It has been ascertained, Inspector Schmittberger said, that on Monday evening the Thaws and two friends had dinner at Martin's restaurant in Fifth avenue and that while thy were at the table the attention of Thaw was directed by his wife to White, who had entered the restaurant and had seated himself at another table. Thaw did not show any undue excitement at the time, but paid $22 for the dinner, which had included two bottles of wine, and gave a liberal tip to the waiter.

Thaw did not follow White from the restaurant, and the police have not been able to ascertain that the two men met again before the fatal encounter on the Madison Square Garden roof several hours later. There was some evidence however, the inspector said, that Thaw had been looking for an opportunity to shoot White, because he had been told that White had wronged Miss Evelyn Nesbit previous to her marriage and had boasted of it later. There was also information to the effect that Mrs. Thaw was greatly disturbed by the appearance of White in the restaurant on Monday evening.

The police were busy yesterday and until a later hour last night endeavoring to verify a report that Thaw and White had met on Sunday night in Burns's restaurant, in Sixth avenue, and had talked alone together until nearly 4 o'clock Monday morning. There was another report that White had been seen in conversation with Mrs. Thaw in a theatre lobby recently.

The police placed little credence in the story told by an actress that White told her two weeks ago he had been warned of Thaw's threat to kill him, but that he regarded Thaw as a harmless "dope fiend."

Assistant District Attorney Nott said yesterday that he did not think Thaw was insane, and he believed the prisoner should be treated like any ordinary murderer. He said the inquiry would be made regarding Thaw's mode of living, his reputed indulgences in morphine and liquor, and his dissipations, with a view to analyzing their bearing on his mental condition.

Dr. McGuire, the Tombs physician, reported to Mr. Nott that Thaw showed a good appetite after being locked in a cell, but exhibited some symptoms of emotional insanity and some symptoms of incipient paresis. The physician said he would watch the prisoner closely to ascertain if any of the symptoms had been caused by the use of drugs.

An attempt was made yesterday to inform Mrs. William Thaw of her son's act by wireless telegraph. Mrs. Thaw sailed on the Atlantic Transport liner Minneapolis last Saturday, occupying suite No. 5. She went abroad to visit her daughter, the Countess of Yarmouth, who is in London.

Mrs. Thaw's relatives fear that reading a public notice of her son's crime might shock her, and they are anxious to send her a message before she arrives in London. The position of the transatlantic liner was such that no message could be relayed to the Minneapolis, which had covered about one-third of the distance to London when the shooting occurred. The Minneapolis was probably out of the range of wireless communication from Sable Island yesterday. The only hope of getting word quickly to Mrs. Thaw is by cable to London, thence by wireless transmission from the White Star liner Majestic, which leaves Liverpool at 5 p.m. to-day. The Majestic should be within communicating distance of the Minneapolis next Friday.

A cable message might also be sent to Southampton and put aboard the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which leaves that port to-day. If these steamers fail to pick up the Minneapolis a cable message will be sent, probably to the Marconi station at Poldhu, reaching Mrs. Thaw about fifteen or twenty hours before she arrives at London. The Minneapolis will be in communication with the Lizard about 9 a.m. on July 1 and is expected to arrive at Tilbury Docks, London, the next day.

The funeral of Stanford White will take place to-morrow morning at St. James's Church, St. James, Long Island. The burial will probably be in Woodlawn. Mrs. White arrived at her home, No. 121 East 21st street, yesterday morning, having been informed at her country home in St. James, Long Island, that her husband had been assassinated.

Assistant District Attorneys Garvan and Turnbull, with other representatives of the District Attorney's office, were in conference with Inspector Schmittberger at the Tenderloin station until after midnight. During the conference two detectives were sent up to Burns's restaurant, and came back and made a report. Neither the lawyers nor the inspector would discuss the conference, but Schmittberger said it would have important results to-day. New witnesses had been found, he said, some of them strong for the defense.

Mrs. Thaw, it was reported, turned over to her husband's attorneys a number of letters. Among these, it was said, was one of recent date sent to her by White.

A large audience witnessed last night's performance at the Madison Square Roof Garden, the scene of the tragedy of the night before, many of those present being drawn by curiosity.

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