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Aired October 16, 1995

Murder of the Century

Film Description

When socialite Harry Thaw murdered architect Stanford White in the rooftop cabaret atop Madison Square Garden early in the summer of 1906, many New Yorkers felt their deepest suspicions were confirmed about the immoral conduct of the very rich.

White's murder was the final act in a long struggle between two fabulously rich, famous and powerful men over Thaw's wife, Evelyn Nexbit, a poor, young and exceptionally beautiful artist's model and showgirl.

The lovely Evelyn Nesbit was only fifteen when she first arrived in New York City. Spectacular photographs of her soon began to appear in newspapers and magazines, and Nesbit became a highly acclaimed model and showgirl. Stanford White was a Renaissance man -- educated and interested in all things beautiful. He was also New York City's most famous man-about-town. He spotted Evelyn at the theater one night and soon after invited her to visit the hideaway he had built high atop Madison Square Garden — a place filled with Japanese lanterns and a red velvet swing. Stanford White was 30 years older than Evelyn. He was also a family man and Evelyn knew there was little hope for marriage. So when Harry Thaw, the scion of a wealthy Pittsburgh family, relentlessly pursued her, she finally consented to marriage. But Thaw was a drug addict with a reputation for bizarre behavior. He was also obsessively jealous of Stanford White. His fury over White's "violation" of his wife would lead him to shoot the architect at point blank range.

No murder had ever received more press attention. New York's daily papers reinforced what moralists described as an "unhealthy fascination with the degeneracy of the so-called higher classes." To the delight of the reading public, Nesbit's relationship with White would be examined in exquisite detail.

Within weeks, crowds filled Nickelodeon and Vaudeville houses to watch not one but two moving pictures that meticulously re-created the sordid affair -- one financed by the Thaw family fortune, portraying Harry as an innocent, aggrieved husband.

Thaw was an eccentric playboy who once rode a horse up the steps of the Union League Club and lit his cigars with $5 bills. But from the moment he was taken into custody, Thaw insisted he had acted "to avenge the rape of his wife." To many in the city, his behavior seemed quite appropriate. A leading minister said it would be a good thing if there was a little more shooting in cases like this.

Murder of the Century examines the opulent world of wealthy New York just after the turn of the century, conflicts over morality between the rich and middle class and the rise of a tabloid "yellow" press that encouraged and fed the public's hunger for more and more sensational stories.

"It is not merely a murder," William Randolph Hearst's Journal declared at the time. "The flash of that pistol lighted up an abyss of moral turpitude, revealing hidden features of powerful, reckless, openly flaunted wealth."


Written and Produced by
Carl Charlson

Associate Producer
Joseph Mcmaster

Edited by
Peter Rhodes

Tom Hurwitz

Original Music by
Brian Keane

Narrated by
David Ogden Stiers

Evelyn's voice by
Blair Brown

Sound Recordist
Michael Lonsdale

Assistant Camera
Andrew Yarme
Jerry Risius

Sound Mix
Richard Bock

Sound Editor
Peter Rhodes

Animation Camera
Berle Cherney
Kirk Mangels
Ed Joyce
Ed Searles

Ned Hallick
Neil De La Pena

Alex Chronis
Tim Driscoll
Ralph Perri
Gay Riedel
Andreas Wood

Jacqueline Schwab

Ragtime Piano
Brian Klarman

Flutes & Woodwinds
Lawrence Feldman

Dan Barrett

David Carroll

Robert Tenca

Susan Tenca

Oboe, English Horn
Shelley Woodworth

Keyboards & Synthesizers
Brian Keane

Don Wallace

Digital Music Editing
Ron Bach

Music Recording Engineers
Brian Keane
Jeff Frez-Albrecht
Fernando Ruiz

Online Editor
Bernie Clayton

Brian Lovery

Additional Archival Research
Jacqueline Sigaar
Paula Uruburu

Additional Research
Christen Kaczorowski
Nishani Frazier

Special Thanks to
The Metropolitan Club
The International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino
The Preservation Society of Newport County
Elaine Abelson
Paul Baker
Elizabeth Blackmar
Timothy Gilfoyle
Adolph Grude
David Nasaw

Still Photographs
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SPADEM, Paris
Bettmann Archive
Boston Public Library
Brown Brothers
Ann Buttrick
Culver Pictures
de Grummond Children's Literature Research Collection, University of Southern Mississippi
George Eastman House
Harvard Theatre Collection, The Houghton Library
Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania
Cynthia Jay
Alida Lessard
Suzannah Lessard
Library of Congress
David Lowe
McKim, Mead & White Scrapbook Collection, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York
Moss Archives
Musée de la Mode et du Costume, Paris
Museum of the City of New York
Museum of Polo & Hall of Fame
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
The New York Historical Society
The New York Public Library For the Performing Arts
Claire Nicolas
Photographic History Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Science Graphics, Bend, Oregon
Sirot-Angel Collection
Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum
Underwood Photo Archives, San Francisco
Paula Uruburu
Peter White
Robert White

Stock Footage
John E. Allen, Inc.
Archive Films, Inc.
Library of Congress
The Museum of Modern Art Department of Film and Video
National Film and Television Archive, U.K.

"After the Ball"
"Come Down, Ma Evenin' Star"
"Under the Bamboo Tree"
"Good bye, My Lady Love"
performed by Joan Morris, accompanied by William Bolcom from the album, After the Ball, courtesy of Nonesuch Records, by arrangement with Warner Special Products

For American Experience

Post Production
James E. Dunford
Gregory Shea

Series Designer
Alison Kennedy

On-Line Editor
Mark Steele

Sound Mix
John Jenkins

Series Theme
Mark Adler

Business Manager
John Van Hagen

Project Administration
Nancy Farrell
Vanessa Ruiz
Helen R. Russell
Rebekah Suggs

Jay Fialkov
Maureen Jordan

Director, New Media
Maria Daniels

Project Coordinator, New Media
Ravi Jain

Daphne B. Noyes
Johanna Baker

Coordinating Producer
Susan Mottau

Series Editor
Sharon Grimberg

Vice President, National Programming
Margaret Drain

Executive Producer
Mark Samels

This program was produced by WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.

(c)1995, 2003 WGBH Educational Foundation All rights reserved


NARRATOR: In the decades following the Civil War, vast fortunes were being made by men who had started their lives with virtually nothing. Confident that their extraordinary financial success was a reward for virtue, they thought of themselves as a kind of American nobility. In fact, their business practices were often predatory and most certainly their personal lives were riddled with impropriety. Given their influence, this went largely unreported by the press until one night in 1906.

Stanford White, a figure at the very center of this world, was dead. New York City's leading architect and arbiter of taste had been shot in a dispute over a showgirl. Now the newspapers wrote about "lecherous, champagne-supping men and the theatrical women who were their willing consorts." Working people, who viewed them with a mixture of suspicion and envy, found the story irresistible.

BRENDAN GILL, Critic/Author: It had everything, society -- money, rage, lust, envy. And in those days we had, whatever it was, fifteen newspapers in New York City -- it wasn't limited to two or three newspapers -- and it was just -- it was the great story.

NARRATOR: Within a week of the murder, the Biograph Company had produced a motion picture dramatization. Stanford White was shot at Madison Square Garden, the entertainment complex that he himself had created. In the film, the architect is seen arriving at the rooftop cabaret. He is stalked by Harry Thaw, heir to a great Pittsburgh fortune. The murder, Thaw said, was to avenge the ruin of his beautiful young wife. Mrs. Thaw was the celebrated Evelyn Nesbit, a model and showgirl already well known to readers of the daily press.

No murder had ever received so much publicity. The attention was due, in large part, to the new and highly sensational "yellow press" dailies. The papers were written for a huge new population of working people who had moved to the city in search of factory jobs. As the case unfolded, readers were constantly reminded of the gulf that separated them from their rich employers.

In 1906, just one percent of American families controlled nearly ninety percent of the country's wealth, and a great many of these people lived in mansions along upper Fifth Avenue. While their employees worked sixty-hour weeks and lived in some of the most crowded tenements anywhere, the rich seemed not to work at all.

DAVID LOWE, Architectural Historian: It was an era of absolute opulence. People were covering their houses with the pelts of polar bears and other rare ocelots. It was the time of real luxury. People were wearing diamonds. People were wearing sable. People were eating lobster and drinking champagne. And the great restaurants, like Rector's and Delmonico's -- you'd take your girlfriend, you'd never take your wife. There's a famous story of two chorus girls talking, and one says, "You know, I found a pearl in an oyster at Rector's." And the other said, "That's nothing. I got a diamond necklace off an old lobster at The Metropolitan Club."

NARRATOR: The elegant Metropolitan Club counted Stanford White among its members, along with some of the wealthiest men in New York. White was also the club's architect. His murder over a showgirl created a scandal that threatened to force open the doors on the private lives of the rich. The most aggressive of the papers, The Evening Journal, launched the offensive with these words: "The flash of that pistol lighted up an abyss of moral turpitude, revealing powerful, reckless, openly-flaunted wealth."

In the days following the murder, the popular press proved just how well they understood their readers. Within a week, newsboys for The New York World, were selling an extra one hundred thousand copies a day. The lion's share of the coverage went not to the victim, Stanford White, nor even to his murderer, Harry K. Thaw, but, rather, to Mrs. Thaw, the former Evelyn Nesbit. Everyone knew Evelyn's photos, and she'd been immortalized as that ideal of glamour and independence, the Gibson Girl.

BRENDAN GILL: Evelyn Nesbit, from the moment she arrived in New York, she was one of the prettiest people that had ever been in New York, and she was -- not only with perfect features, but a soft, voluptuous, smiling mouth, and everybody wanted to take her picture, and she was photographed by everybody. She could wear a middy blouse and pretend to be very virtuous, or she could be this true, voluptuous creature.

NARRATOR: Now there was an insatiable desire to know everything about the beautiful showgirl at the center of the love triangle. Readers identified with the fairy tale story of a poor working girl rescued by a rich young man. Reporters noted that both Evelyn and her husband had grown up in Pittsburgh, the gritty steel capital of America. Thaw was the son of a railroad speculator and lived in a mansion on Pittsburgh's Fifth Avenue, while Evelyn lived with her brother and her mother in poverty. Evelyn's father had died when she was eight. Her mother turned their home into a boarding house, but couldn't make ends meet and was forced to sell her furniture to pay the rent. Some nights there was nothing more for dinner than bread and mustard. Evelyn took refuge in a fantasy world of fairy tale characters. Later, she would recall these days in a memoir.

READER: [Evelyn Nesbit] In my young mind, I turned the grim realities into a wonderland where I might roam.

NARRATOR: But she was also a child with spirit.

READER: [Evelyn Nesbit] Every day, some notion of self-aggrandizement and fame entered my head.

NARRATOR: In 1899, the Nesbits moved to Philadelphia, where they hoped to improve their fortune. Both mother and daughter ended up with jobs at Wanamaker's Department Store. Even on their combined salaries, they could barely get by. Evelyn and her mother knew very well how beautiful she was.

READER: [Evelyn Nesbit] Ever since I could remember, I had read admiration in the faces of casual passersby

NARRATOR: An offer of money to sit for a portrait was the opening to a life of glamour, wealth and tragedy. Evelyn began modeling for Philadelphia's commercial illustrators. Soon she could be seen in books and magazines as the fairy tale characters she loved so well. After a year in Philadelphia, the Nesbits were able to move to New York.

BRENDAN GILL: The mother of Evelyn Nesbit knew that she had a very salable commodity in a pretty child. Girls in those days, unless they were from upper class circumstances, didn't even finish high school. And especially if you were pretty and ambitious, what was there for you in education? There was nothing.

NARRATOR: Evelyn was sixteen and slim as a young boy. Voluptuous women were the fashion at the time, but her lean lines appealed to the artists and photographers of New York. Newspapers had only recently begun to reproduce photographs. Evelyn became famous overnight, and landed in the hit Broadway musical, Florodora. Broadway was one of the few places where a poor girl from Pittsburgh could be introduced to the exclusive social world of Stanford White and Harry K. Thaw. Evelyn had a small but featured role as a Spanish dancer. All the girls in Florodora were showered with gifts from stage door Johnnies -- six were said to have married millionaires -- so no one was surprised when the little Spanish dancer followed a similar path and began a relationship with the flamboyant Stanford White.

In the days right after the murder, readers learned that the defense would attack the character of Stanford White. The public knew White as a glamorous architect and taste-maker for New York society, a passionate character, much larger than life. What they didn't know was that he was a man almost without limits.

BRENDAN GILL: Stanford White was at every party. He was at all the openings of the theaters, of opera and everything else. He was well over six feet tall. He had reddish hair. He was extraordinarily handsome and vivid. He moved at top speed. He was ready for everything that was coming along. He was so excited by the-- by the nature of change. When automobiles came in, he had to go faster between New York and his house in St. James, Long Island, than anybody had ever gone before. He was mad to make use of the telephone. He loved going back and forth to Europe on the fastest ships. Everything -- everything was going at full-tilt.

SUSANAH LESSARD, Author/Great-Granddaughter of Stanford White: The age was like that, too. America was feeling its imperial oats. There was this feeling of ascendancy, this feeling of expansion, regardless of others, just expansion, and he rode that wave.

NARRATOR: At the time of White's death, the firm of McKim, Mead and White was the most successful architectural firm in the country. They had remodeled the interior of the White House for Teddy Roosevelt, built the Boston Public Library, and would soon complete Pennsylvania Station in New York City. Stanford was the team's dynamo.

SUSANAH LESSARD: He was enormously productive -- always working, always designing, carrying as many as sixty projects at a time sometimes, and so gifted and so consumed by his gift, and it's a part of that extraordinary attractiveness.

NARRATOR: He was passionate in his love of all that was beautiful. A colleague described him as an inveterate whistler who could convey "the very genius of the music." Sometimes whistling would fail him, he said, and as though in despair of expressing all he felt, he would burst into a kind of song. It was as though beauty possessed him. Beauty did possess him.

SUSANAH LESSARD: It was actually seen as kind of patriotic work to house properly our very wealthy upper-class people, that we would have this upper class in their palazzos, and that they were the descendants of the Renaissance princes.

NARRATOR: White had become famous for designing some of the most luxurious residences in the country. This "cottage" in Newport, Rhode Island, was built for Tessie Oelrichs. He was known for his talent with interiors. The rooms he created often functioned as stage sets tuned to the ambitions of his clients. Many of the new rich had little idea how to spend their money. Stanford helped Tessie establish her credential in Newport society by building her the largest and most beautiful ballroom in town.

SUSANAH LESSARD: He would not only build their homes and furnish their homes, but design their parties and be there, hanging up the red velvet curtain and suggesting how to bring the party off. He was teaching this ascendant class of this ascendant nation how to act out this fantasy.

NARRATOR: The more people learned about Stanford White's life, the more they found it strangely appropriate that he was murdered in Madison Square Garden. All the streams of his life seemed to converge here. Since it had opened in 1890, the Garden had been the place for the city's most extravagant entertainments and held the largest amphitheater in America. White's imagination had been caught up in every detail of the space. He spoke about how it would look, how it would feel when the cigarette smoke curled up into the yellow spotlight, how the color would sound when the band struck up, how the arena would smell when the scents of powder and perfume and the acrid odors of excitement were mixed. He made sure there was a sunken tank in the middle of the arena for aquatic shows, "Especially ones in which girls wear skintights," he said.

Above the public space, White built one of the tallest towers in the city with several private apartments. He kept one for himself. The tower was crowned by a thirteen-foot statute of Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt, clad only in a thin veneer of gilt. The Philadelphia Times called her typical of "the depraved artistic taste of New York."

White's apartment became famous for his intimate dinner parties, and Evelyn Nesbit became a regular at these affairs. In her memoirs, Evelyn described the first time she met White. She was sixteen and White, a married man of forty-seven, appeared old to her and not very attractive.

READER: Evelyn Nesbit] He had a big, broad frame and hair the color of copper -- it stood up like velvet pile -- but he was courteous and had a ready laugh, and his gentle banter and humor kept me smiling. Many nights or, I should say, mornings, Stanford White and I would ride up in the elevator to its last stop, then climb the stairs to the top of the tower. I loved to climb to this high point and gaze out over the city. Often we would stand there for a long time, holding hands and softly talking.

NARRATOR: White helped Evelyn with her Broadway career. He also arranged for music lessons and brought her books to read. Evelyn's mother was pleased that such a prominent man had taken an interest in her daughter's well-being, and was delighted when White arranged to move them from their rooming house into a hotel and started to pay their bills. One day, there was a special gift for Evelyn, a red tailored cloak. White said she looked "bully" in it, just like Little Red Riding Hood.

When Mrs. Nesbit expressed a desire to visit her home in Pittsburgh, White volunteered to look after her little girl while she was away. He took Evelyn to be photographed wearing rare Japanese kimonos from his own collection. He introduced to his dear friend and partner, Charles McKim. "This little girl's mother has gone to Pittsburgh and left her in my care," White said. "My God," was all McKim could say. It would be some time before Evelyn told the story of just how they became lovers, but she said that this was when it happened, and that she was head over heels in love with Stanford White.

Later, many were fascinated to discover that a favorite entertainment at White's studio involved a red velvet swing. Dramatized in a motion picture, it captured the public's imagination. Audiences were able to watch Stanford push Evelyn higher and higher until she kicked her foot through a paper parasol.

READER: [Evelyn Nesbit] Sometimes he would set me stark naked on the red swing and laugh aloud with delight as he sent me soaring toward the ceiling.

BRENDAN GILL: Most of the young actresses were not without the knowledge that, of course, they were going to be approached sexually and they were going to have to be, as in Hollywood days, they would say, on somebody's casting couch. This is what happened, and, of course, this is what goes on happening. The situation in respect to seeking employment as an actor or actress has not changed in two thousand years. The couch is always there.

NARRATOR: Evelyn marveled at the strange effect she had on White. When he put his arms about her, he would tremble. But she knew that he was married and discovered that there were other girls as well. In time, she decided to make him jealous.

Evelyn accepted invitations from the handsome polo player Monty Waterbury, and Bobby Collier, the magazine publisher's son. She found Ethel Barrymore's younger brother John "strikingly attractive." The equally-smitten Barrymore described Evelyn as "a quivering pink poppy in a golden, windswept space." Evelyn became quite involved with Jack Barrymore, but he was young and penniless. Mrs. Nesbit believed he was not a suitable match. There were new admirers at the theater every day -- old rouŽs, young blades, and wealthy businessmen.

Evelyn started receiving flowers from a "Mr. Monroe," a name she didn't recognize. One night there were long-stemmed American beauty roses with a fifty-dollar bill attached. "Mr. Monroe" turned out to be Harry Thaw from Pittsburgh, as he always said. Harry was one of the forty-million-dollar Thaws. Evelyn found Thaw strange in both his appearance and behavior. He spoke in short, rapid bursts, and his moods seemed to shift without warning.

PAULA URUBURU, Author: He was known as "Mad Harry" among the people of the Broadway district and the Tenderloin. Apparently one of the things he had done, among many, was to ride a horse up the steps into the Union Club. And, of course, Harry had a real problem. He wanted to be accepted socially and was not.

NARRATOR: Harry's stunts made good copy, and long before the murder, he had achieved a certain notoriety.

PAULA URUBURU: He gave a dinner once for four hundred chorus girls, and each one had something like a one thousand dollars' worth of jewelry on a plate. He would light his cigars with hundred dollar bills. So he was-- you know, his behavior was rather bizarre.

NARRATOR: Reporters began picking up other stories about Harry -- rumors that some of his scrapes had been of a decidedly unsavory nature. Evelyn found Thaw a too-persistent suitor, but she found in him a gentle, kind side as well. "Do you know you are the prettiest girl in New York?" he blurted out. "Why does your mother permit you to know that beast, Stanford White?"

SUSANAH LESSARD: Thaw was obsessed with Stanford long before Evelyn came on the scene and, in fact, there are indications he went out with women Stanford had been involved with and then dropped, that this is one of his patterns. Stanford loathed him and had excluded him from his parties. Stanford's parties were parties everyone wanted to go to.

PAULA URUBURU: I think he felt inferior to White, because White had everything that he didn't, mainly social position. And he was respected and he was well-liked and I think Harry essentially had to buy his friends.

NARRATOR: White continued to exercise his enormous capacities for work and play. What he didn't know was that he was being spied on, that Thaw had detectives dogging him wherever he went. By all appearances, White's life was that of a successful family man. During the warm months, he spent weekends with his wife Bessie, their son Larry, and whoever else might be visiting at Fox Hill, their estate on Long Island. More often, he lived at their townhouse on Gramercy Park. White was a passionate, even obsessive collector of art and furnishings.

SUSANAH LESSARD: It is a consuming and precipitous and unrestrained love of beauty which just rode right over the line of the aesthetic right into the human. I mean, his voracious appetite for beautiful young girls doesn't seem to be-- it's on a continuum with his voracious appetite for the antiquities of Europe.

NARRATOR: Stanford had more than a few secrets in his life, but perhaps the most surprising was that he was broke. A series of disastrous investments had led him into insoluble debt several years before he met Evelyn. Still, he went on spending. He liked to say that an architect should always live better than his clients.

Most of White's nights in town were spent in the company of men. He belonged to nearly every club of any consequence in the city, and had himself been the architect for eight of them. His personal favorite was The Players, a club for theater people. White often started his evenings there with drinks. Later, he would move on to dinner with friends at Delmonico's or Martin's, then, as he said, go "bumming 'round town with the boys." This might include visits to a show, a music hall or a boxing match. He often went on late to the opera. Stanford was said to be one of the few men who actually went to hear the music.

There were also nights at secret hideaways. Sometimes they were used for elaborate dinner parties where the only women present provided entertainment. Other nights, there might be a private supper for a young actress or dancer. This photograph shows Stanford at a party hosted by the painter William Merrit Chase.

BRENDAN GILL: At the turn of the century, the letter of the law, and the morality of the society which was setting itself up as the standard for New York City was entirely hypocritical and one married and one pretended to be monogamous, and monogamy was out of the question. And the richer you were, the freer you were to break the rules.

NARRATOR: But a spirit of reform began sweeping America in the early years of the century and gained momentum when President Theodore Roosevelt spoke out against ruthless business practices. Reformers found allies among those already fighting immorality and vice in the cities. The New York Society For the Suppression of Vice was led by Anthony Comstock, an evangelical Christian and Civil War veteran who had crusaded against pornography and indecent behavior for over twenty-five years. Harry Thaw reported to Comstock that Stanford White regularly used hideaways to drug underage virgins. Thaw calculated that White had ravished three hundred and seventy-eight girls.

At the very time that Thaw was trying to undermine White's reputation, he was also launching a campaign to win Evelyn's hand. In an effort to gain Mrs. Nesbit's support, he offered to pay her a generous sum. Fate gave Harry a chance to prove his allegiance when Evelyn became dangerously ill with a severe attack of appendicitis. The last thing she remembered before succumbing to the surgeon's ether was Harry Thaw on his knees beside the operating table, kissing her limp hand.

While she was recovering, Thaw was on his very best behavior. He presented her nurse with a Tiffany diamond brooch and told Evelyn that she was his angel.

READER: [Evelyn Nesbit] He could be exceptionally sweet when he wanted to be. I had been lulled into a false sense of security.

NARRATOR: When her doctor recommended a long rest, Thaw offered to send Evelyn and her mother to Europe. He would meet them there. Mrs. Nesbit and her daughter decided not to tell Stanford White about their new sponsor.

In Paris, Thaw dressed Evelyn in haute couture gowns. He bought her a pair of diamond shoe buckles. They went to the races at Longchamps and mixed with Russian grand dukes, South American millionaires, and a host of professional beauties. Everyone called Evelyn, Le BŽbŽ,and it should have been the time of her life, but she found Thaw's behavior increasingly strange.

PAULA URUBURU: When she went to the ladies room, he would stand guard outside the ladies room. He didn't want her meeting anyone. He would slip away for X number of hours and come back and have this kind of crazed look on his face, or his eyes would seem to be bulging, and she wondered what was going on, but she -- she sort of brushed it off and -- they would sit down to breakfast and if something wasn't to his liking, he would throw the table over.

NARRATOR: But it was in Paris that Thaw also first spoke of marriage. While Evelyn tried to avoid the subject, Thaw talked of it incessantly. And it was here in Paris that the seeds were sown for murder. In their apartment near the River Seine, Thaw finally persuaded Evelyn to reveal the details of her relationship with White. After a long night of questioning, she admitted to a sexual affair, but explained that White had given her too much to drink. She was, she said, unconscious when she lost her virginity. "The beast, the filthy beast," Thaw cried, "A sixteen-year-old girl -- damn him. Damn him to hell." Following a tour of Germany, the couple settled down in a secluded Austrian castle where Thaw lost control and beat Evelyn until her body was covered with welts.

In the fall, Evelyn returned to New York without Harry. One of the first things she did was contact Stanford White to recount her tale of abuse. White had his lawyer record the story in an affidavit.

READER: [Evelyn Nesbit] Thaw, without any provocation, grasped me by the throat and tore the bathrobe from my body. His eyes were glaring, and he had in his right hand a cowhide whip. He then began to inflict on me severe and violent blows. I besought him to desist, but he refused.

NARRATOR: Several weeks later, Harry Thaw returned to the city. Evelyn tried to hide, but he hired detectives to find her. During a stormy reunion, she told Thaw that she thought he was crazy, accused him of using cocaine, said she'd learned of his reputation for beating girls. He took her hand and said that no matter what she thought, he would always care for her, and that she would always be his angel.

PAULA URUBURU: Harry was persistent. I mean, he had an obsessive personality and he was persistent in his pursuit of her, surrounding her with people who were pleading his cause and saying, "But you don't understand. He loves you so much."

BRENDAN GILL: White couldn't provide her with an entrŽe into society -- she could be his mistress, but she could never be his wife -- and so she chose to undergo the suffering of a sadistic husband and everything else in the name of being Mrs. Thaw.

SUSANAH LESSARD: Evelyn was courted by eligible millionaires, young bachelors, appropriate age -- wonderful husband prospects. She ends up going with a man who is crazy, who scares her to death, but obsessed with Stanford. She -- that is the way -- she can't get away from Stanford. She goes with the person obsessed with hatred of Stanford, which is really just the other side of the coin.

NARRATOR: By New Year's Eve of 1903, just after her nineteenth birthday, Evelyn moved in with Harry Thaw. Over a year later, Harry's mother reluctantly consented to their marriage. Evelyn wore black to her wedding.

The last months of Stanford White's life were plagued by ill fortune. His financial situation continued to deteriorate. He had arranged an auction of art and furniture from his collection to pay off some of his debt, but a warehouse fire had destroyed everything. His health was failing, and he was now aware that Thaw's detectives were following him everywhere.

BRENDAN GILL: There was an increased sense of an emergency. Something awful was going to happen, something awful was bound to happen, and White was, in effect, running faster and faster, but not knowing what the end was going to be.

NARRATOR: After the wedding, Evelyn and Harry had moved back to Pittsburgh to live in his mother's home. It was an uncomfortable arrangement, and Evelyn was looking forward to a trip abroad. The Thaws decided to spend a few days in New York before they sailed.

PAULA URUBURU: I think she knew that, at some point, there was going to be some kind of a confrontation. I think a lot of people knew it. It wasn't just -- you know, Evelyn wasn't the only one who was aware of it.

NARRATOR: The 25th of June 1906 was a busy day for Stanford White. It would also prove to be the last day of his life. The morning was spent on decorative elements for the recently-completed Madison Square Presbyterian Church. Then there was a meeting at The Players Club about designing a memorial for his friend, the painter James McNeal Whistler. White debated whether to catch a late train for a meeting the next day in Philadelphia, but decided to stay in town and have dinner with son Larry, who was down from Harvard. They went to CafŽ Martin for dinner where, unknown to White, Evelyn happened to be dining with her husband and two friends.

SUSANAH LESSARD: There's no coincidence here, but there also isn't any plan. Nobody's planning anything. Everybody's just sort of acting out in some kind of almost automatic way.

NARRATOR: After dinner, White went on alone to the rooftop theater at Madison Square Garden to attend the opening night of Mamzelle Champagne. It just so happened that Harry Thaw and his wife had also preceded him there.

DAVID LOWE: The murder, to a great extent, was the result of her saying to Harry K. Thaw all the time, "Look what Stanford White's doing. Look at the buildings he's done. Stanford White gave me a better present. He was more fun to be with. He had better friends." And it was true.

NARRATOR: Evelyn didn't like the musical and wanted to leave. As the Thaw party approached the elevator, a tenor was singing, "I Could Love a Million Girls." Harry suddenly disappeared into the crowd.

The day after the murder, the entire weight of the Thaw family fortune was brought to Harry's defense. Thaw's version of the story was featured in papers across the country.

PAULA URUBURU: They actually hired a PR person who wrote a book, A Woman's Sacrifice: The Great Harry Thaw Case, that came out the same year as the trial. They had postcards that were put out with a dejected-looking Harry saying, "For the sake of wife and home," which also appeared on sheet music. They had a play mounted off-Broadway where the character was-- there was a lecherous older man whose name was Black and someone whose name, I think, was Shaw or, you know, something similar to Thaw, and which showed this man defending his wife's honor and killing this dastardly man who had seduced her.

NARRATOR: As in the play, Harry insisted he would be set free, protected by an "unwritten law" that allowed a man to commit murder in the defense of his wife and family. Meanwhile, squab and champagne were being sent to his prison cell from Delmonico's. The threat of the electric chair seemed to impress him less than the approval he received from the public. The trial opened on January 23, 1907. The New York Times wrote that it was being reported "to the ends of the civilized globe." The public was banned from the courtroom, which was reserved for an unprecedented number of lawyers, reporters and illustrators for the daily press.

Thaw's attorneys hoped to prove their client was temporarily insane at the time of the murder, a result of the trauma he had undergone that night in Paris when Evelyn had told him she'd been raped by Stanford White. The strategy was clever. The truth of the story was not at issue, only that Thaw had heard it. His life would be dependent on Evelyn's testimony. It was reported that her cooperation would be well rewarded.

When Evelyn took the stand, she wore a navy blue tailored suit, a shirtwaist with a boyish collar, and a black velvet hat trimmed with violets. She was twenty-two, but could have passed for a schoolgirl. Led by the attorney for the defense, she told the story of her seduction by White.

READER: [Evelyn Nesbit] He insisted I drink this glass of champagne, which I did. It was bitter and funny-tasting, and I don't know whether it was a minute after or two minutes after, but a pounding began in my ears, a pounding and pounding. Then the whole room seemed to go 'round and everything got very black.

NARRATOR: Thaw buried his head in his handkerchief and sobbed.

READER: [Evelyn Nesbit] When I woke up, all my clothes were pulled off me, and I was in bed. There were mirrors all around the bed. Then I screamed and screamed and screamed, and he came over and asked me to please keep quiet. He said, "It's all over now."

NARRATOR: A tough cross-examination revealed Evelyn to be less innocent than she presented herself, but her story became Stanford White's epitaph. The trial lasted eleven weeks. The jury deliberated forty-seven hours before announcing that they were hopelessly deadlocked. At a second trial, Harry Thaw's attorneys changed their strategy. They no longer claimed that Thaw's insanity was temporary.

BRENDAN GILL: His own mother testified that the Thaw family had been nutty as a fruitcake for three generations. She stipulated that they were all crazy and always had been crazy, and that was part of getting her son off.

NARRATOR: It took the jury twenty-five hours to find the defendant not guilty of murder on the grounds of insanity. Harry would be sent to a prison for the criminally insane. To many, Thaw's defense of his wife had made him a hero. When he left for the asylum, a large crowd cheered him on his way. Among the millions of words printed about the murder, readers were able to find almost any story they wanted. To reformers, it was about the abuse of power, while romantics found in it the power of love. The wealthy insisted that publication of the testimony would corrupt the less well-bred, while clergymen saw in it a morality tale. And to everyone on the street, it was great theater.

Seven years after his conviction, Harry Thaw was declared sane, and became a free man. He immediately began divorce proceedings against his wife. Evelyn launched a vaudeville career and for a time remained one of the best-known women in America. Later, there were stories of drug addiction and suicide attempts. Before Evelyn died in 1967, she said that Stanford White was the only man she had ever loved.

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