In An American Tragedy, Dreiser used lightly edited and reworded excerpts from seven letters written by Grace M. Brown (1886-1906), who was murdered by Chester Gillette on July 11, 1906 on Big Moose Lake in Herkimer County, NY.
The Gillette murder case provided the factual underpinnings of An American Tragedy. The letters of Grace Brown to Gillette created a sensation when they were read at Gillette’s trial.
Posted here is a note from T. R. Smith, an editor at Boni & Liveright, advising Dreiser to excise letters from the novel.
Wisely, Dreiser did not heed this advice.
from the Theodore Dreiser Papers, Kislak Center for Special, Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania Libraries