what was Gillette’s motive?


I have been studying the trial transcript of the Gillette-Brown murder case.

What about the “other woman” (Sondra Finchley in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy)?

We know that there was no such romance in actuality. But what was Gillette’s motive?

I have pointed out that Harriet Benedict, rumored to be the other woman in the actual case, with brief reports to that effect in newspapers, was not only not engaged to Gillette; she did not have a romance with him.

But Gillette and Miss Benedict (later Mrs Levi Chase) were acquainted, and witnesses in the trial transcript reported occasionally seeing them in public together.

What do I think Gillette’s motive was? It is significant that while many employees at the skirt factory in upstate Cortland, NY where Gillette and Grace Brown worked saw them flirting and talking more than usual during work hours, it was commented upon that no one ever saw them out together in public. Gillette would visit Grace in the evening at her landlady’s house.

Gillette was the poor nephew, from humble beginnings, of factory owner Noah H. Gillette, his uncle. His cousin, Harold R. Gillette, was a supervisor at the factory. (Just as in the novel, the cousin seemed to have had little personal contact with Gillette.) I think Gillette did not want his romance with Grace Brown to become known because it would ruin his chances for professional advancement and his reputation — including, perhaps, his chances of marrying a rich girl. He seemed ashamed of the relationship.

He seems to have thought that he could do away with Grace “quietly” and escape detection. Then he could have returned to the factory from his “vacation” and resume his normal life. He was definitely interested in girls and in becoming a regular, accepted member of the Cortland social set.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  November 2021

3 thoughts on “what was Gillette’s motive?

  1. L.

    Good points. While there wasn’t any evidence of a serious relationship between Harriet Benedict and Chester, he had purchased Harriet a poster at a social event and had taken her on at least on date/outing. Chester also casually dated other women, including a coworker named Grace Hill. Grace Brown, in one of her letters, asked Chester if he was seeing that “detestable Grace Hill”.

    Chester had been attempting to ignore Grace Brown after she went back to her family’s home, but Grace’s phone call to him at the skirt factory made it clear that she wasn’t going to go off quietly. Unfortunately then as now, one of the most dangerous times for a woman is when she is pregnant by a man who perceives both her and the pregnancy as obstacles.


    1. Roger W. Smith Post author

      Thanks for the comment. This is very well put and on point. You have probably read Craig Brandon’s books on the Gillette case. He is the authority, although he makes occasional mistakes due to some overlooked facts about Gillette and his family; and taking the film “A Place in the Sun” as being a literal representation of Dreiser’s novel, which Brandon apparently has not read. Harriet Benedict was by no stretch of the imagination Chester’s girlfriend or lover; but, yes, Chester, did like to flirt with Cortland belles. Chester did grow to see Grace as an encumbrance and he probably had thoughts of advancing socially as his relationship to the factory owner became more well known; and as he was promoted at the skirt factory.



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