American Experience
The Murder



1914


  1934


We went to the Cafe Martin, Mr. Truxton Beale and Mr. McCaleb with us. It was an ordinary dinner-party, rather quiet, if anything. We sat on the Twenty-sixth side of the dining-room, arriving about eight o'clock in an open motor-car from Sherry's.

We were an hour at dinner, and it was there that I saw Stanford White. He came in from the Fifth Avenue entrance, and went out on the balcony. He came back again from the balcony and went out by the door through which he had entered. He was about an hour. All this impressed itself upon me. He was an unexpected vision. Perhaps, too, something of Harry's fear for his safety had been imbued in me, and I took a distorted view of things. At any rate I borrowed a pencil and wrote on a slip of paper, "That blackguard is here again," and pushed it across to Harry. He read it and looked across at me.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. No other word passed.

We had taken tickets for the Madison-square Roof Garden, and we left the Cafe Martin about nine o'clock and arrived at the theatre a little after. The show was a rather trifling kind of production called "Mlle. Champagne," and we stayed just long enough to be bored. Harry and I sat together, and we talked of nothing in particular save the merits of the play, and when I had expressed a wish to leave the theatre he was at one with me and we rose and went.

I have been asked so often to describe my feelings on that particular night, and my impression of the tragedy which followed after our leaving the theatre, and I reply invariably that I have no particular remembrance of what I was speaking of or what I was talking about. I know it was something very commonplace. If you were sitting in a restaurant with a man, and suddenly saw him rise, raise his hand and shoot dead at a man at the next table, without any warning, without any preliminary exhibition of temper, you would sit aghast and dumbfounded, and exactly what occurred and of what you were thinking before the outrage would be a matter rather for your imagination than for your memory.

We did not go immediately, but when we did McCaleb and I went ahead and Harry and Mr. Beale followed. We had almost reached the elevator, and I was talking to Mr. McCaleb and I went ahead and Harry and Mr. Beale followed. We had almost reached the elevator, and I was talking to Mr. McCaleb and turned round to get some confirmation of what I had said from Harry, when I found to my surprise he was not there. I walked round to where he had gone. The next thing I remember was seeing Stanford White at a table about thirty feet away. For a moment I could not see Harry... then I saw.

He was standing about five feet from Mr. White directly in front of him. He had his hand outstretched perfectly still. Then I heard three shots. I could not have prevented it even if I had been at his side. I could only raise my hand to my lips. "My God!" I said, "He's shot him!"

Harry turned and walked towards me.

I said, "Harry what have you done? What have you done?"

He leaned over and kissed me.

"It's all right," he said smilingly. "I have probably saved your life."

Mr. McCaleb at my side was white and shaking. "My God!" he said, "You're crazy!"

I saw a man come up and grasp Harry, then they led me away to the elevator. I drove straight to the house of a friend, and that night, while the police were searching for me, I sat thinking, thinking, reconstructing the scene again in my mind, trying to grasp its meaning, trying to realise where it all led.

Evelyn Nesbit, The Story of My Life, 1914

 

We had seats for the premier of "Mlle. Champagne," a light musical production at the theater on the Madison Square Garden Roof. I could scarcely believe that Thaw had so reconciled himself to things that he would even set foot in the Garden, with which Stanford White's name and my seduction were so immutably linked. Incredible! And yet, I reflected, we were now married and had been living quietly for over a year, and he had probably resolved to forget the past. This was just another first night; why shouldn't we attend it even if we would sit in the very shadow of the Tower? ...How could I even dream of what was in his mind when, with that incredible, fantastic cunning of the insane, he guarded his purposes so well?

It was a lovely June night as we set out, Thomas McCaleb, Truxton Beale, Harry Thaw and myself, to dine at Martin's. I wore a white summer dinner dress covered with English eyelet hand embroidery, and a black picture hat -- currently in vogue.

We occupied a table in the main dining room of the restaurant. My chair was so placed that the dining room and the Fifth Avenue balcony were within the range of my eyes. Thaw, opposite me, had his back to them. Beale at my right and McCaleb at my left, faced each other.

Idly scanning the tables on the balcony, I suddenly went cold with fear. Stanford White sat there! I dared not make one false move, dared not cease smiling and exchanging repartee with my three companions. Against my will, my eyes wavered toward the balcony once or twice. I thought my nerves would crack from the tension when I saw White enter the room and walk through it, weaving his way between the tables. After he was gone a wave of relief broke over me. With luck, I would see no more of Stanford White this night. Determined to play fair with Harry, I asked for a piece of paper and pencil -- since I couldn't speak of it before McCaleb and Beale -- and wrote:

"The B. was here but has left" -- or words to that effect.

Harry read the note, pocketed it, nodded, and smiled at me.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yes."

We lingered over coffee and liqueurs until theater time. Then we strolled over to Madison Square Garden a block away. How strange it seemed to enter the Tower elevator again -- this time with Harry Thaw.

In the roof theater we were shown to our seats, about three-quarters of the way back from the stage. Seated, we watched the curtain go up, and for a while pretended an interest in the show, which was putrid. When Harry excused himself and slipped away, we three others exchanged winks: He was bored. Well, so were we. Nevertheless, we held out longer.

"This is awful," McCaleb finally complained.

Truxton Beale agreed with him in a whisper.

"Let's get out and go somewhere else. Where's Harry?"

As there was no sign of Harry, we were compelled to remain where we were and wait. How long we sat thus, I don't know. It might have been twenty minutes. Perhaps longer.

"This is awful," said McCaleb hastily when Harry returned. "I suggest we get out of here and go somewhere else."

"All right," Harry agreed without even sitting down...

We filed out into the aisle and headed for the elevator by a circuitous way round behind the seat section we had just quitted, and through an aisle bordered by tables and potted palms. Thaw walked ahead with Beale, and I followed on the arm of McCaleb. As we neared the elevator, Harry without warning swerved away from us and dashed off in the direction of the stage. Where was he going? We wondered.

Then I saw him turn and raise his right arm. There was a loud report! A second! A third! Whatever had happened, had happened in the twinkling of an eye -- before anyone had a chance to think, to act. Harry Thaw's arm, like a fatal indicator, had directed my eyes toward a table off the aisle. A macabre sight, brief yet unforgettable, met my gaze. Stanford White slumped slowly in his chair, sagged, and slid grotesquely to the floor!

A woman screamed. It was followed by several screams. Pandemonium. But whatever I saw and heard during thee ghastly moments of realization that I now lived through were to become permanent records on my consciousness only later -- as the sea's victim floats to the surface long after he has sunk in its depths. A numb, icy terror took possession of me. McCaleb was saying:

"He's shot a man! He has killed somebody! My god, what it is to be crazy!"

They say Harry raised high his arm and broke his gun right after the murder, but I didn't see that. I stood staring at that empty chair... A complete numbness of mind and body took possession of me. They tell me I moved like a person in a trance for hours afterward.

People were running about, herding in safe corners, calling for help. The ushers and waiters tried to calm them, to get them back to their seats.

Thaw walked over to me, his face a pasty white, and kissing me gently, said:

"It's all right dear. I have probably saved your life."

An officer came up and took him by the arm. "You are under arrest --"

Somehow McCaleb and Beale got me into the elevator and down to the street. A hansom cab stood at the curb. We climbed in, and drove up Fifth Avenue. No one said a word for a few blocks, each immersed in his own agitated thoughts. At length McCaleb spoke:

"Whom did he kill?"

When I told him, "Stanford White," he repeated the name in consternation, and burst out in a suddenly hoarse voice: "Oh my God! Oh, my God!"

I remember thinking: "This is a nightmare! It isn't true! It can't be true! I will wake up and find it's all a dream..."

Evelyn Nesbit, Prodigal Days, 1934


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1 -- Artist's Model In New York 2 -- Meeting Stanford White 3 -- The Red Swing 4 -- Confession To Thaw 5 -- The Murder 6 -- The Call To Testify 7 -- Aftermath