The Henry Thaw & Stanford White case of 1906 is perhaps one of the most famous cases of the 20th Century in terms of newspaper coverage and books written about it. The case had all the elements a lasting true crime story requires: high society, famous people, sex, jealousy, and cocaine. The following story was published in 1910. There is a book about this case, The Great Harry Thaw Case, Or A Woman’s Sacrifice, by Benjamin H. Atwell, 1907, which is available as a free download when you sign up for our weekly email alerts.
Stanford White was born in 1852, and after receiving a college education in America, his father sent him to Europe to study architecture.
When he returned to New York he became a member of the firm known as McKim, Meade & White. He advanced rapidly in his profession, until he was considered one of the greatest architects in America. He drew the plans for the famous Madison Square Garden in New York, where he subsequently came to a tragic end.
Although he had an estimable wife residing in Cambridge, Mass., and a grown son who was at the time attending Harvard College, White had a suite of rooms in the tower of the Madison Square Garden, which he called his studio, but where he gave a great variety of spicy entertainments.
Frequently his guests were girls of tender years. One of the “events” in the tower was a stag dinner, and when the time for dessert arrived an immense pie was brought into the room. Suddenly a beautiful 15-year-old girl, scantily attired, burst through the crust, and after posing for an instant, she joined the guests.
It was claimed that this girl afterward became one of White’s victims.
Evelyn Nesbit was born near Pittsburg on Christmas Day, 1884. Her father died when she was 12 years of age, and about three years later her mother, who has been referred to as a frivolous and extravagant woman, married a Pittsburg broker named Charles Holman.
As Evelyn was a remarkably beautiful child she earned considerable money by posing for artists in Pittsburg and afterward in New York. She subsequently became a chorus girl.
In the spring of 1901 Evelyn met a wealthy married man named James Garland, and shortly afterward she and her mother were his guests on a yachting trip.
Later Mrs. Garland sued her husband for a divorce and Evelyn Nesbit was said to have been mentioned as the reason.
According to Evelyn’s own statement a young woman friend invited her to dinner in New York in August, 1901, and without having the slightest idea as to where she was going to dine, Evelyn was inveigled by this girl into the studio in the tower where she met Stanford White for the first time.
About one month after the first meeting, White invited her to the tower at the conclusion of the Florodora performance in which she was a chorus girl.
She claimed that White represented that three other girls would be in the party. When Evelyn arrived at the studio White stated that the other girls had disappointed him, but he invited Evelyn to remove her hat and take a glass of champagne.
She reluctantly accepted the invitation, and after partaking of the wine she immediately lost consciousness. When her mind again cleared she found herself in the bedroom of the suite, the walls and ceiling of which were covered with mirrors.
Realizing that an assault had been committed upon her, she became hysterical, but White finally succeeding in pacifying her and then exacted a promise that she would never tell her mother of what had just transpired.
For several months afterward White met Evelyn clandestinely and the intimate relationship continued. In the meantime he was introduced to Evelyn’s mother and won his way into her confidence. Posing as the protector of the family he rendered financial assistance to Evelyn with the mother’s knowledge and consent.
William Thaw was one of the most prominent men in Pittsburg, and when he died he left an estate valued at $35,000,000, to be distributed among his family, consisting of Mrs. Thaw and several children.
Among these children was Alice Thaw, who married the Earl of Yarmouth, but was subsequently divorced; and Harry Kendall Thaw.
The latter was a wild, eccentric youth with such extravagant habits that his father provided in his will that Harry should receive only a monthly allowance. He had a penchant for chorus girls, and in that manner met Evelyn Nesbit some months after her first experience with White in the tower. They became very friendly, and Thaw showered her with tokens of his regard.
About this time White gave a dinner to which several guests were invited, including Jack Barrymore the actor, and Evelyn Nesbit. According to Evelyn’s statement, Barrymore afterward proposed marriage to her, and as White was apparently jealous of the young man, he suggested to Evelyn’s mother that the girl be sent to Mrs. De Mine’s private school in New Jersey.
As the mother was also opposed to Barrymore she readily agreed to White’s suggestions.
While at this school Thaw and White were such frequent visitors that there was considerable gossip among the pupils regarding their relations with Evelyn. About this time she underwent an operation for appendicitis, but as soon as she recovered she returned to New York, where she resumed the improper relationship with White, the meetings usually taking place in the tower after her night’s work at the theater. During this time White was contributing liberally toward her support.
In the early part of 1902 she discontinued her intimate relationship with White, according to her statement, but when she and her mother left for Paris a few months later as the guests of Thaw the girl had in her possession a letter of credit from White.
After Evelyn and her mother traveled in Europe a few months with Thaw, the mother and daughter had a violent quarrel, which resulted in the former returning to America, leaving Thaw and the daughter alone. The pair then traveled under assumed names as man and wife.
According to Evelyn’s statement she and Thaw were in Paris in June, 1903, when Thaw proposed marriage to her. She claimed that she hesitated and finally answered “No.”
When pressed for a reason for her refusal, she stated that she then confided to Thaw all of her relations with White.
Evelyn returned to New York on October 25, 1903, and was followed by Thaw in November.
On October 27 Evelyn met White by appointment and went with him to the law office of Abe Hummel.
In this office a lengthy affidavit was prepared in which it was charged that while on the trip through Europe Thaw frequently beat Miss Nesbit until she became unconscious, and that his reason for so doing was because Evelyn had refused to make an affidavit to the effect that White had drugged and outraged her, she, according to the affidavit, stating that such a statement would be false. The affidavit further alleged that Thaw was a cocaine fiend and that Miss Nesbit found a hypodermic syringe in Thaw’s bureau and saw him swallow cocaine pills.
Although Evelyn Nesbit signed this statement she afterward claimed that she had been wilfully misquoted and that while she signed a paper some days later at the tower, she did not know its contents at the time. A. S. Snydecker afterward swore that Miss Nesbit read the paper carefully before signing it.
When Thaw returned from Europe Evelyn told him of this incident, and at Thaw’s request the affidavit was subsequently burned in Hummel’s office in Evelyn’s presence, but Hummel took the precaution to have it photographed first, and this photograph afterward became one of the principal exhibits in one of the most sensational murder trials in the criminal history of America.
After the affidavit was burned Evelyn ceased to associate with White and devoted most of her time to Thaw. They registered at several hotels in New York, but were requested to leave.
According to a statement made by Ben Bowman, an employee at the Madison Square Garden, White called after the performance on December 28, 1903, and inquired if Evelyn Nesbit had gone home.
When informed that she had, White pulled out a revolver and swore that he ‘would kill Thaw at once. Bowman related this alleged occurrence to Thaw shortly afterward.
After much persuasion Mrs. Thaw consented to her son’s marriage, and he and Evelyn became man and wife in Pittsburg on April 4, 1905.
A few months later Thaw visited Anthony Comstock, Superintendent of the Society for the Prevention of Vice in New York, and reported that White was using his suite in the tower as a trap for young girls.
An investigation was instituted, but no tangible evidence was obtained. Thaw did not mention his own wife’s experience.
Mrs. Harry Thaw claimed that after she was married she saw White a couple of times and he attempted to annoy her by his attentions. She related these incidents to her husband and also told him that a Miss Mabel MacKenzie had informed her that White had openly boasted that he would get her (Mrs. Thaw) back from Thaw.
On the evening of June 25, 1906, Thaw and his wife and Truxtun Beale, formerly, of San Francisco, had dinner at the Cafe Martin in New York. While they were dining, White and his son passed through the cafe, and Mrs. Thaw called her husband’s attention to the occurrence.
After dinner the Thaw party proceeded to the Madison Square Roof Garden, where the play “Mam’zelle Champagne” was being produced.
Presently White entered alone and took a seat within view of the Thaw party. Harry became very restless and began walking about the place. Finally Mrs. Thaw suggested that they leave and the party proceeded to do so, Thaw apparently following the remainder of the party.
When he reached the table where White was seated Thaw suddenly turned, and facing White he drew a revolver and fired three shots, the first bullet passing through White’s eye into the brain, causing instant death ; the other two producing superficial wounds.
Thaw immediately surrendered to an officer, to whom he stated: “I killed him because he ruined my wife.” Mrs. Thaw rushed up and after embracing her husband asked him why he did it. He replied: “It’s all right, I probably saved your life.”
Three days later Thaw was indicted for murder. January 23, 1907, was the date set for the trial in Justice Fitzgerald’s court. District Attorney William T. Jerome personally prosecuted the case, and D. M. Delmas, the celebrated San Francisco attorney, appeared as chief counsel for the defense.
Nothing of importance which has not already been briefly related in this narrative was brought out by either side. Mrs. Harry Thaw testified in accordance with the statements previously made by her.
It was the contention of the defense that Thaw was in-sane when he killed White but that he became rational afterward.
During the trial District Attorney Jerome asked that the jury be excused. He then requested that a commission be appointed to ascertain the condition of the defendant’s mind. His request was finally complied with, and after a lengthy examination the commission reported that Thaw was sane at the time of the examination. The trial was then continued.
On April 6 the arguments began. Delmas charged that Evelyn Thaw’s mother received the wages of her child’s downfall, with which she bedecked herself with diamonds and finery and afterward assisted the prosecutor of the girl’s husband.
Jerome referred to the tragedy as a mere, sordid, Tenderloin homicide, and referred to Mrs. Thaw’s testimony as a tissue of lies invented to prevent a deliberate, cold-blooded murderer from being put under ground.
The case was finally submitted to the jury on April 10, 1907, but after deliberating for forty-seven hours the jurors decided they could not agree and were discharged.
Seven jurors believed the defendant guilty as charged, while five voted for an acquittal on the ground of insanity.
On January 6, 1908, the second trial began before Justice Dowling. On this occasion M. W. Littleton represented Thaw, and produced evidence tending to show that Thaw had inherited insanity.
, On February 1 Thaw was found not guilty on the ground that he was insane when he killed White. He was immediately transferred to the asylum for the criminal insane at Matteawan.
In July, 1909, Thaw attempted to procure his release on a writ of habeas corpus. The case was heard before Justice Isaac Mills, at White Plains, New York, and Jerome again represented the State.
Several alienists testified that Thaw was a degenerate paranoiac and would never recover.
Mrs. Susan Merrill testified that between 1902 and 1905 she conducted in succession two lodging-houses in New York where Thaw rented rooms under assumed names and to which he brought at various times over one hundred girls. Thaw represented that he was a theatrical agent, and Mrs. Merrill stated that on several occasions she caught him lashing the girls on the bare arms and bodies with a whip. Mrs. Merrill further testified that Thaw had subsequently provided her with money to purchase the girls’ silence, one of them receiving $7,000.
Clifford Hartridge, former counsel for Thaw, then took the stand and produced a whip which he testified had been delivered to him by Mrs. Merrill and a woman named Wallace.
On August 7, 1909, Thaw’s attorney, in his closing argument, accused Evelyn Thaw of secretly assisting Attorney Jerome during the case then drawing to a close.
On August 12 Justice Mills dismissed the writ of habeas corpus and declared that the release of the petitioner would be dangerous to public peace and safety and that he was afflicted with chronic delusion insanity. Thaw was then re-turned to the asylum.
In a suit to recover $92,000 from the Thaws for services alleged to have been rendered, Attorney Clifford Hartridge testified on April 1, 1910, that he paid hush money amounting to $30,000 to feminine acquaintances of Harry Thaw. He further testified that a woman named Mrs. Reed, whom Thaw met at Mrs. Merrill’s, received $5,000.
Originally Published: “Synopsis of the Case of Harry Thaw, Who Killed Stanford White at Madison Square Garden, New York,” by Thomas Samuel Duke, Celebrated Criminal Cases of America, The James H. Barry Company, 1910.