Craig Brandon is the author of Murder in the Adirondacks, the definitive book about the Chester Gillette murder case. This case, which resulted in Gillette’s execution in Auburn State Prison in New York in 1908, provided the basis for Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy.
Chester Ellsworth Gillette (1883-1908) was arrested on July 14, 1906 at the Arrowhead Hotel in Inlet, New York, an Adirondack outpost, for the murder of Grace Mae Brown (1886-1906).
Brandon gives lectures about the case, about which he is recognized as the foremost authority. In one such lecture, I recall that Brandon spoke of an uncle from Chicago who, learning of Gillette’s arrest from the newspapers, tried to contact either his nephew or the authorities. (I can’t recall which was the case.) Brandon expressed befuddlement over this and implied that the so called uncle was not in fact Chester Gillette’s uncle.
There indeed was such an uncle and his name was Josiah Rice. He was an uncle of Chester Gillette on Chester’s mother’s side.
Attached (see below) is the death certificate of one Josiah Rice. The details are as follows:
residence: 5400 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago
died in Edgewater Hospital [Chicago] on April 8, 1939
widower; husband of Matilda Rice
his date of birth: February 5, 1855
his age: 84 years 1 month 23 days
his place of birth: Oxford, Massachusetts
father’s name: Leonard Rice (born Oxford, Massachusetts)
mother’s maiden name: Matilda Coyne (born Rock Island, Illinois)
Now, some facts about Chester Gillette’s mother:
Her maiden name was Louisa Maria Rice;
She was born in Millbury, Worcester County, Massachusetts on May 12, 1859;
Her parents were Leonard Rice and Dulcena (or Dulcimer) S. (Gale) Rice;
Leonard Rice and Dulcena Gale were married in Millbury on April 25, 1855.
So, it is apparent that Josiah Rice was the son of Leonard Rice by a first wife of Leonard — namely, Matilda (Coyne) Rice — and it would seem to be a certainty that Matilda died giving birth to Josiah.
Therefore, it is conclusive that Chester Gillette’s mother, Louisa (Rice) Gillette was the half-sister of Josiah Rice of Chicago. So, it would be quite natural and proper for Josiah Rice to call himself Chester Gillette’s uncle and to inquire after Chester upon learning of his arrest from newspapers.
— Roger W. Smith
Chester Gillette (1883-1908) was the prototype of the character Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy.
Grace Brown (1886-1906), Chester Gillette’s murder victim, was the prototype for the character Roberta Alden in the novel.
The murder occurred on July 11, 1906 on Big Moose Lake in Herkimer County in the Adirondack region of Upstate New York.
The trial of Chester Gillette took place in Herkimer, NY from November 12, 1906 through December 4, 1906.
Gillette was convicted of first degree murder and was executed at Auburn (NY) State Prison on March 31, 1908
Photographs from the trial were rare.
Posted here (below) are illustrations (mostly sketches done by courtroom artists) from newspaper accounts of the trial.
Dreiser followed the events of the trial very closely – almost exactly – in An American Tragedy.
— Roger W. Smith
Craig Brandon’s Murder in the Adirondacks is considered the definitive book about the Chester Gillette murder case, upon which Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy was based. It is indeed an authoritative source, but there are some gaps and factual errors.
For instance: Franklin Gillette and Louisa (Rice) Gillette were the parents of Chester Gillette (1883-1908), who was convicted of and executed for the murder of Grace Brown. Chester Gillette was the prototype of the character Clyde Griffiths in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.
Brandon states, in Murder in the Adirondacks: ‘An American Tragedy’ Revisited (Utica, NY: North Country Books, Inc., 1986), pg. 15, re Gillette’s parents:
Sometime after 1880, Frank Gillette met his future bride, Louisa Maria Rice, a native of Millbury, Massachusetts. … The circumstances of the couple’s meeting, courtship and marriage have not been recorded, but the ceremony probably took place sometime in the summer of 1882. Soon after the marriage they moved to Wickes [Montana], a mining town just south of Clancy. …
This paragraph has been deleted from a revised and expanded version of the book: Murder in the Adirondacks: An American Tragedy Revisited; Fully Revised and Expanded Edition (Utica, NY: North Country Books, Inc., 2016). Brandon merely states (pg. 15) that Chester Gillette was born on August 8, 1883 “less than a year” after his father, Frank Gillette had married Louise Rice.
There is a record of the marriage of Chester Gillette’s parents. It indicates that Franklin Gillette and Louisa Rice were married on October 21, 1883 in Jefferson County, Montana Territory, shortly after their first child, Chester Gillette, was born.
The witnesses to the marriage were Franklin Gillette’s brothers Rembrandt Gillette (1848-1893) and Ellsworth Gillette (1861-1896).
Frank and Louisa’s first child, Chester Ellsworth Gillette, was born on August 9, 1883 in Wickes, Jefferson County, Montana.
transcription of marriage certificate (see copy below):
Franklin Gillette and Louise
October 21, 1883
County of Jefferson; Territory of Montana
recorded Nov. 19, 1883
Territory of Montana / County of Jefferson
This is to certify that I a minister of the Gospel did join in lawful wedlock Franklin Gillette and Louise Rice on the 21st day of October 1883 in the presence of Carrie Gillette and Rembrandt Gillette witnesses / W W Van Onsdele (?) / Recorded Nov the 19th 1883 at 7 o’clock am / Joseph (?) D. Taylor; County Recorder.
— Roger W. Smith
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
Ellsworth Porter Gillette (1861-1896) was the proprietor of the Columbia Hotel in Spokane, Washington. He was the uncle of Chester Ellsworth Gillette (1883-1908), who was executed for the murder of Grace Brown. Chester Gillette was the prototype of the character Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy.
Lucille I. Gillette (1891-1965) was the sister of Chester Gillette.
She married Frank Sternard Jr. (1898-1965).
Frank Starr Gillette (1852-1915) was the father of Chester Ellsworth Gillette (1883-1908).