Tag Archives: Chester Gillette case

Weaving Legal Web in Grace Brown Mystery.



Summer Visitors to the Adirondacks Subpoenaed as Witnesses May Be Detained to Testify.


Coroner’s Investigation Next Wednesday–Prosecution Claims Strong Case.

The World (New York)

Sunday, July 22, 1906

Pg. 1W


(Special to the World.)

Utica, N. Y, July 21. — The fate of Chester E. Gillette, of Cortland, now in the Herkimer jail suspected of murdering Grace Brown, of South Otselic, depends very largely on the outcome of an inquest over the death of the girl to be conducted in Herkimer next Wednesday by Coroner Coffin, of Ilion. This inquest will be conducted in the Court-House, which is directly across the street from the jail in which Gillette is confined.

Coroner Coffin, District-Attorney Ward, the Sherriff and several deputies have put in a busy week following up clues and securing bits of evidence which they say makes their case against Gillette strong.

Summer Visitors Detained.

Coroner Coffin has summoned about thirty whiteness to the inquest. They will include several persons who were sojourning in the Adirondacks at the time, and who have been unable to return to their homes as they planned to on account of the subpoenas that were promptly served on them in the Gillette case. There is a notable feature about the witnesses in this case. They are all wiling to testify.

Most of the witnesses called are either resorters or hotel people from the vicinity of Big Moose. Some of them were miles away when Gillette and the Brown girl started on their row the day of the girl’s death, but in some way they have become in possession of knowledge which the prosecutors believe valuable to their case.

Saw the Young Girl Grieving.

A young man who saw the pair on a north-bound train the day before the alleged murder will tell the Coroner how happy the young woman appeared to be, and by way of proving that something happened in the succeeding twenty-four hours to drive the girl to tears numerous persons who saw the couple at Big Moose will describe the indifferent attitude of the young man and the worried appearance of Miss Brown at the Glenmore Hotel just before they started out on the lake.

A woman employed in the hotel kitchen will testify that the girl rushed to her in the kitchen in the afternoon, just before she started rowing with Gillette, and threw her arms around the woman’s neck, weeping bitterly and trying to unburden herself of her secret. Gillette put in an appearance at that moment, and Miss Brown made an effort at regaining her composure. What it was that the Brown girl wanted to say no one knows, for she didn’t come back to the hotel room again until she was brought in dead after being found in the lake on the succeeding day.

He Appeared Nervous.

Miss Gladys Westcott, of Truxton, and Miss Josephine Patrick, of Cortland, who met Gillette at Inlet after his twelve-mile tramp through the woods, will tell the nervous actions of the young man and what he said to them. Depositions of these young women were taken the other day by the District-Attorney.

It is not likely that all of the evidence gained by the authorities in their week of investigation will be divulged at the inquest. They say they have enough facts to present to the Coroner to warrant a decision that Grace Brown was murdered by Gillette, and still have several strong points left untouched for presentation at his trial.

Although Gillette has been in jail since a week ago to-night, it was not until to-day that he received any message whatever from friend or relative. This morning he received a telegram from “Bert,” presumably Bert Gross,* saying that a representative of his uncle in Cortland will call to-morrow morning. It is said that Gross and Gillette worked together in the Gillette factory at Cortland, and were associated as Sunday-school teachers and in social circles.

District-Attorney Ward stated to-day that some day next week he will ask Gov. Higgins to call a special term of court for the trial of Gillette. It is probable that Judge Devendorf will be assigned to the case.

Gillette’s Big Appetite.

Gillette, whose early collapse was looked for at the time of his arrest, has proved to be the calmest man in the jail. He eats all that is set before him and has not since the very first day allowed a plate to leave his cell until he has cleaned it off completely. His appetite became a matter of comment and Gillette was laughed at by the other prisoners, but he is not fazed a bit by their gibing. Last night he capped the climax by announcing that he was being starved to death and demanded more liberal rations. The jail authorities say they have housed some husky prisoners in their experience, but they never came across an appetite to compare with Gillette’s.

Shephard Hart, of Oswego, has announced his intention of putting in a claim for the $250 reward offered by District-Attorney Ward for Gillette’s capture. Mr. Ward arrested the man himself, and at once speculation became rife as to whether he could claim the money he had offered in the name of the county. Now comes the claim from Hart that Gillette’s capture was due to a clue discovered by him.

He and a friend named Harold Parker, from Goshen, were the two who came across Gillette in the woods and from whom Gillette inquired the way to Eagle Bay.

As a matter of fact, it was the information volunteered by these young men that led the Big Moose folks to abandon their search for the second body in the lake after that of Grace Brown had been discovered. Until Hart and Parker reported that they saw a man in the forests carrying a suite case no hint of murder had been thought of in connection with the overturned boat.

It was supposed to be a double drowning.

*Albert (Bert) Gross, a foreman at the Gillette Skirt Company and a friend of Gillette’s.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  March 2022

Gillette Shows Signs of Collapse.



But He Still Insists that Grace Brown Was Drowned by the Boat Capsizing.

The World (New York)

Monday, July 16, 1906

pg. 2


(Special to The World.)

Utica, N. Y., July 15 — Pacing to and fro between a cell door and the little barred window, or sitting on his cot with his hands to his head, Chester E. Gillette, of Cortland, charged with murdering Miss Grace Brown, of South Otselic, shows signs of approaching collapse.

District-Attorney Ward spent several hours with Gillette to-day endeavoring to wring from him an admission of guilt, but the accused young man persisted in his original story that he nearly lost his own life at the same time.

At the request of the young man’s relatives, former Senator A. M. Mills visited Gillette in the Herkimer jail and advised him to say absolutely nothing about the case. Gillette at once ceased to receive callers and announced that he had no statement to make.

Since Gillette was brought to the Herkimer jail yesterday he has had little if any sleep and has eaten nothing.

Unless Gillette confesses the evidence will be entirely circumstantial, but the District-Attorney says he is sure of his case. A new clue is the discovery of a small lock of woman’s hair on the oarlock of the boat.

Gillette has the appearance of a degenerate. His brow is low, his eyes deep set and his complexion sallow. His friends in Cortland, however, say he would be the last man in the world to commit such a crime.

Gillette’s story of being on a vacation and wanting to make Miss Brown happy by taking her with him is not taken seriously by District-Attorney Ward. “How much of a vacation do you think two could have in the Adirondacks on $15?” he asked Gillette. Fifteen dollars was all that Gillette took with him from Cortland. He tried to dodge the question, but said finally that he did not know.

The girl had undoubtedly begged Gillette to marry and he at times consented. The authorities say that he promised her he would marry her if she would accompany him to the woods.

“Billie” Brown, as Grace was called by her acquaintances, was buried to-day in a little ceremony at South Otselic, where she was born and where she lived until leaving for Cortland a year ago. When the casket was carried from the house the hands of the clock pointed to the same hour they did a week ago to-day when the girl, full of life and apparently happy, left the house ostensibly to go back to her work at Cortland; in reality she had arranged to meet Gillette at De Ruyter and go with him to the Adirondacks.


posted by Roger W. Smith

  March 2022




In July 1906, as a participant in a conference organized by Jeff Steele of Herkimer Community College, I visited the jail and saw Gillette’s cell. In the group was Professor Renate von Bardeleben, a distinguished Dreiser scholar. We both agreed that it was terribly depressing.

“Gillette sees his parents”


‘Gillette Sees His Parents’ – NY Times 3-1-1908


Posted here (above) as a downloadable PDF file is a New York Times article about a visit Chester Gillette’s parents made to the prison in Auburn, NY where he would be executed a month later. Gillette had just lost an appeal of his conviction.

“Gillette sees his parents,” New York Times, March 1, 1908


— posted by Roger W. Smith



Gillette, Brown genealogy


descendants of John Gillette

descendants of Leonard Rice

Descendants of Daniel Brown

Descendants of Charles H. Babcock



This post contains four reports — posted above in downloadable PDF format — showing the genealogy of the families of Chester Ellsworth Gillette (1883-1908) and Grace Mae Brown (1886-1906).

Gillette was executed in Auburn, NY in 1908 for the murder of Grace Brown.

Chester Gillette was the prototype of the character Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy. Grace Brown was the prototype for the character Roberta Alden in the novel.

The reports posted here were generated using genealogy software. They include:


Descendants of John Gillette

John Gillette (1729-1760) was an ancestor of Chester Gillette.


Descendants of Leonard Rice

Leonard Rice was an ancestor of Chester Gillette. Rice was the maiden name of Chester Gillette’s mother, Louisa Maria (Rice) Gillette (1859-1939).


Descendants of Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown (1696-1771) was an ancestor of Grace Brown (Chester Gillette’s murder victim), the daughter of Frank B. Brown (1856-1918) and Minerva (Babock) Brown (ca. 1858-1939).


Descendants of Charles H. Babcock

Charles H. Babcock (ca. 1832-1881) was the maternal grandfather of Grace Brown. Babcock was the maiden name of Grace Brown’s mother Minerva (Babcock) Brown.


—   Roger W. Smith

     June 2017; updated August 2020