Chester Gillette

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Chester Gillette Chester-Gillete.jpg
Chester Gillette

Chester Ellsworth Gillette (August 9, 1883 – March 30, 1908), an American convicted murderer, became the basis for the fictional character Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy , which was the basis of the 1931 film An American Tragedy and the 1951 film A Place in the Sun .

Theodore Dreiser Novelist, journalist

Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was an American novelist and journalist of the naturalist school. His novels often featured main characters who succeeded at their objectives despite a lack of a firm moral code, and literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of choice and agency. Dreiser's best known novels include Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925).

<i>An American Tragedy</i> novel by Theodore Dreiser

An American Tragedy is a novel by American writer Theodore Dreiser, published at the end of 1925. He began the manuscript in the summer of 1920, but a year later abandoned most of that text. In 1923 Dreiser returned to the project, and with the help of his wife Helen and two editor-secretaries, Louise Campbell and Sally Kusell, he completed the massive novel in 1925.

<i>An American Tragedy</i> (film) 1931 film by Josef von Sternberg

An American Tragedy is a 1931 Pre-Code drama film, produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures, and directed by Josef von Sternberg. The film is based on Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel An American Tragedy, which itself alludes to the real-life 1906 murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette.



Gillette was born in Montana, but spent part of his childhood in Spokane, Washington. His parents were financially comfortable, but deeply religious, and eventually renounced material wealth to join The Salvation Army. The family traveled around the United States West Coast and to Hawaii during his adolescence. Chester never took to the religious aspects of his upbringing. He attended Oberlin College's preparatory school on the generosity of a wealthy uncle, but left after two years in 1903. After leaving school, he worked at odd jobs until 1905 when he took a position at an uncle's skirt factory in Cortland, New York.

Montana State of the United States of America

Montana is a landlocked state in the Northwestern United States. Montana has several nicknames, although none are official, including "Big Sky Country" and "The Treasure State", and slogans that include "Land of the Shining Mountains" and more recently "The Last Best Place".

Spokane, Washington City in Washington, United States

Spokane is a city in Spokane County in the state of Washington in the northwestern United States. It is located on the Spokane River west of the Rocky Mountain foothills in eastern Washington, 92 miles (148 km) south of the Canada–US border, 18 miles (30 km) from the Washington–Idaho border, and 228 miles (367 km) east of Seattle along Interstate 90.

The Salvation Army Protestant Christian movement and international charitable organization structured in a quasi-military fashion

The Salvation Army (TSA) is a Protestant Christian church and an international charitable organisation. The organisation reports a worldwide membership of over 1.7 million, consisting of soldiers, officers and adherents collectively known as Salvationists. Its founders sought to bring salvation to the poor, destitute, and hungry by meeting both their "physical and spiritual needs". It is present in 131 countries, running charity shops, operating shelters for the homeless and disaster relief and humanitarian aid to developing countries.

Murder of Grace Brown

Grace Brown Grace brown photo.jpg
Grace Brown

At the factory, Gillette met Grace Brown, another employee. Gillette and Brown soon began a sexual relationship, with Brown's assuming Gillette would marry her. In the Spring 1906, Brown revealed that she was pregnant. She continued to pressure Gillette to marry her, often writing him pleading letters. Brown then returned to her parents' home for a time, but returned to Cortland when she discovered that Gillette had been courting other girls. One popular story involved Miss Harriet Benedict, a wealthy acquaintance of Gillette who the newspapers later speculated was the "other woman" for whom Chester had left Grace. Harriet heatedly denied this, going so far as to issue a formal press release proclaiming: "I have never been engaged to Chester E. Gillette ... Our acquaintance was of ... a limited duration, and that not a word or suggestion was ever made between us [about an engagement]." [1]

As the spring and summer of 1906 progressed, others noticed an increasing frequency of Gillette's raised voice and Brown's tears at the factory or at each other's homes. Brown continued to press Gillette for some kind of decision, and Gillette played for time with vague statements about their future and of their going away on a trip sometime soon. [2]

Finally, Gillette made arrangements for a trip to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. The pair stayed for a night in Utica, New York, and then continued to Tupper Lake in Franklin County, spending the night. Rain the next day ruined their plans for an outing on a nearby lake, so they returned south to Big Moose Lake in Herkimer County. At the lakeside Glenmore hotel, Gillette registered under a false name (although one that used his own initials to match the monogram on his suitcase). He was carrying one suitcase and a tennis racquet. Brown, at this point, may have expected some kind of elopement ceremony.

Adirondack Mountains Mountain range in northern New York state, USA

The Adirondack Mountains form a massif in northeastern New York, United States. Its boundaries correspond to the boundaries of Adirondack Park. The mountains form a roughly circular dome, about 160 miles (260 km) in diameter and about 1 mile (1,600 m) high. The current relief owes much to glaciation.

Utica, New York City in New York ----, United States

Utica is a city in the Mohawk Valley and the county seat of Oneida County, New York, United States. The tenth-most-populous city in New York, its population was 62,235 in the 2010 U.S. census. Located on the Mohawk River at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains, Utica is approximately 95 miles northwest of Albany, 55 mi (89 km) east of Syracuse and 240 miles northwest of New York City. Utica and the nearby city of Rome anchor the Utica–Rome Metropolitan Statistical Area, which comprises all of Oneida and Herkimer counties.

Tupper Lake (New York) lake in New York, United States

Tupper Lake is a lake in New York in the United States. The lake is in the Adirondack Park and crosses the county lines of St. Lawrence County and Franklin County.

On July 11, Gillette took Brown in a rowboat on Big Moose Lake, where he clubbed her with his tennis racquet and left her to drown. An overturned boat was found floating in the lake, together with Gillette's hat, leading authorities initially to believe both had drowned. Meanwhile, Gillette, carrying a suitcase, hiked through the woods to Fulton Chain Lakes, where he checked into the Arrowhead hotel under his real name. Later, witnesses said that Gillette seemed calm, collected, and perfectly at ease; nothing seemed to be amiss. Brown's body was found at the bottom of the lake the next day. An autopsy revealed she had suffered major head trauma, turning an accidental drowning case into a murder investigation. [3] Gillette had done a poor job of planning the cover-up, and was quickly arrested in nearby Inlet, New York.

Big Moose Lake

Big Moose Lake, at the head of the Moose River, is a large lake about five miles (8 km) north of Fourth Lake in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. The lake is part of Herkimer and Hamilton counties, covering portions of the towns of Webb and Long Lake. Located southwest of the lake is the hamlet of Big Moose.

Inlet, New York Town in New York, United States

Inlet is a town in Hamilton County, New York, United States. The population was 333 at the 2010 census. The name is derived from its location at the east end (inlet) of Fourth Lake, part of the Fulton Chain of Lakes.

Trial and execution

The trial took place in Herkimer County, and quickly drew nationwide attention. Gillette's uncle refused to pay for his defence. Court appointed attorneys claimed that their client was innocent, that Brown had committed suicide, and that Gillette was a helpless onlooker to the suicide. It did not help that Gillette had changed his story - claiming he wasn't there when Brown drowned, then accidental drowning, then suicide. He also had a hard time explaining to the jury Brown's injuries, why he took his suitcase on a boat ride, and how it ended up dry even though the boat overturned. The jury convicted Gillette of murder. The New York Appeals Court upheld the verdict, and Governor Charles Evans Hughes refused to grant clemency or give a reprieve. [4] On March 30, 1908, Chester Gillette was executed by electric chair at Auburn Prison in Auburn, New York. [5] The case was officially reported as People v. Gillette, 191 N.Y. 107, 83 N.E. 680 (1908).

In recent years

The television series Unsolved Mysteries aired an episode about the historical incident of Gillette and Brown in January 1996[ citation needed ].

In 2007, Gillette's diary, which he wrote during the last seven months he was in prison, was donated to the Hamilton College Library by Gillette's grandniece. In addition to the diary, 12 letters written by Gillette during his time in prison also were donated. Eleven of the letters were addressed to Bernice Ferrin, a friend of the family who moved to Auburn, New York to stay with Gillette's sister Hazel. The twelfth letter, a farewell letter written the day before his execution, was addressed to Hazel Gillette. The diary and letters were published in December 2007, almost 100 years after the execution of Chester Gillette.

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  2. "truTV - Reality TV - Comedy". truTV. Archived from the original on 2010-04-26. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  3. Blanco, Juan Ignacio. "Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers".
  4. "Reprieve Denied" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-01-02.
  5. Brandon, Craig (2006). "Murder in the Adirondacks". Archived from the original on 2011-02-08.