Tag Archives: Grace Brown

Roy Higby’s account of the Gillette case


Higby, ‘a man from the past’ Chapter XVI

Ruth Reynolds, ‘Echo of An American Tragedy’ – Daily News (NY) 9-18-1966


Posted here is Chapter XXX, “An American Tragedy,” from Roy C Higby’s book … a man from the past. (New York; Big Moose Press, 1974).

It is odd that Higby’s editor never caught the misspelling of Chester Gillette’s last name.

Roy Higby was a thirteen-year-old boy when Grace Brown was murdered on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks in July 1906.

A search was made for Grace (and also her companion, Chester Gillette, since he was believed to have drowned as well). Higby was aboard the steamer Zilpha with a search party when Grace’s body was sighted and brought to the surface.



I am also posting an article by Ruth Reynolds — “Echo of ‘An American Tragedy’ ” (Daily News ]New York], September 18, 1966) — in which Higby’s role is discussed.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2022

she “just jumped in”


Elmira (NY) Gazette and Free Press

November 28, 1096

1 ‘Gillette Says Grace Brown Jumped Into Lake’ – Elmira Gazette and Free Press 11-28-1906 pg 1


Elmira (NY) Gazette and Free Press

evening edition

November 28, 1906

2 ‘Gillette Says Grace Brown Jumped Into Lake’ – Elmira Gazettte and Free Press (evening ed) 11-28-1906 pg 5


Louisville Courier-Journal

November 29, 1906

‘Billy Brown Just Jumped In’ – Louisville Courier-Journal 11-29-1906


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  May 2023

Dapping and Higby on the Gillette case


From various newspaper accounts.

1 ‘Roy Higby’s Own Story’ – Adirondack Daily Enterprise 3-28-1958

2 ‘Newspaperman Tells Of Unknown Details’ (Dapping on Gillette case) – Austin American 3-30-1958

3 ‘Higby and Dapping Telll Story’ – Adirondack Daily Enterprise 3-31-1958

4 ‘Anniversary of Murder Rekindles Memories ‘ – Sun-News (Las Cruces, NM) 7-6-1966 (2)

5 ‘American Tragedy celebrates 60th anniversary’ – Messenger (Athens, OH) 7-7-1966 (2)

6 ‘Big Moose Slaying Recalled after 60 Years’ – Indiana Eve Gazette 7-7-1966 (2)

7 ‘Drowning Sparked Dramas’ – The Sun (Yuma, AZ) 7-7-1966 (2)

8 ”Famous Brown Murder Lives on’ – Oda (OK) Evening News 7-7-1966

9 ‘Few Remember Big Moose Murder’ – Daily Review (Hayward, CA) 7-7-1966 (2)

10 ‘Murder of a Farm Girl Seized Country’s Imagination’ – The Evening Capital (Annapolis, MD) 7-7-1966 (2)

11 ‘Sensational Murder Trial 60 Years Ago’ – Sheboygan Press 7-7-1966 (2)

12 ‘American Tragedy Case Opened 60 Years Ago’ – Northwest Arkansas Times 7-11-1966 (2)

13 ‘A Murder Remembered’ – The Post (Frederick, MD) 7-12-1966

13 Robert T. Gray, ‘Original Tragedy Ended 50 Yrs Ago’ – Kingsport (TN) Times-News 7-30-1966 (2)

14 Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Summer 2007, Volume 19, Number 3, p 54


William O. Dapping was a reporter for The Auburn (NY) Citizen from 1905 to 1960. Dapping was present at Chester Gillette’s execution in Auburn Prison on March 30, 1908.

Roy C. Higby, son of the local justice of the peace, was a thirteen-year-old boy at the time when a steamer was sent out to search for Grace Brown’s body in Big Moose Lake. The story of the search and the case were recounted by Higby in his book … a man from the past (Big Moose, NY: Big Moose Press, 1974).


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2023

“Dueling Narratives in An American Tragedy and the Criminal Law”


‘Dueling Narratives in An American Tragedy and the Criminal Law

Posted here (PDF above):

Vanessa Laird, “Dueling Narratives in An American Tragedy and the Criminal Law,” Tennessee Law Review 59.1 (fall 1991), pp. 131-157


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  April 2023

Grace Brown’s and Roberta Alden’s letters


letters of Grace Brown and Roberta Alden


Please see downloadable Word file posted above.

Roberta Alden and Clyde Griffiths were the two main characters in Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

An American Tragedy was based on an actual case: the murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette in 1906.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2022



Note: I transcribed Grace Brown’s letters from court records. They were presented as exhibits at the trial of Chester Gillette.

I would appreciate being informed of any errors I may have made in transcribing the letters.

review of Adirondack Tragedy: The Gillette Murder Case of 1906 and Murder in the Adirondacks: An American Tragedy Revisited


review of Brownell and Wawrzaszek, ‘Adirondack Tragedy’ – New York History


Posted here (PDF above) is an excellent review of two books on the Gillette murder case:

Adirondack Tragedy; The Gillette Murder Case of 1906, by Joseph W. Brownell and Patricia A. Wawrzaszek

Murder in the Adirondacks: An American Tragedy Revisited, by Craig Brandon

reviewed by Katherine E. Compagni

New York History, vol. 68, No. 1 (January 1987), pp. 117-122


— posted by Roger W. Smith

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.

the Gillette trial, November 19, 1906


It was a memorable day, beginning with testimony by Frank Brown, Grace Brown’s father and including testimony by Ada (Brown) Hawley (Grace Brown’s sister), Carrie Wheeler (Grace Brown’s landlady), Noah H. Gillette (Chester Gillette’s uncle, the owner of the skirt factory), and Harold R. Gillette (Noah’s son, Chester’s cousin); from factory employees; and from Albert B. Raymond, who, a few weeks before Grace Brown was drowned by Gillette, had rented a boat to Chester Gillette at an outing by Gillette and Grace Brown near Cortland (where the skirt factory was located) and noticed after they returned that Grace was in tears.

Washington Post, November 20, 1906

‘Gillette Faces Jury’ (father testifies; Harriet Benedict mentioned) – Washington Post 11-20-1906


Adirondack News, November (20?), 1906

1 ‘Probing Girl’s death (Harriet Benedict mentioned) – Adirondack News, November 1906

3 ‘Probing Girl’s death (Harriet Benedict mentioned) – Adirondack News, November 1906 (2)


trial transcript

Gillette trial testimony 11-19-1906


posted by Roger W. Smith

  November 2021

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