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The Sensational Murder of Alexander Crittenden by his Mistress, Laura D. Fair, 1870

Home | Short Feature Story | The Sensational Murder of Alexander Crittenden by his Mistress, Laura D. Fair, 1870

Article by Thomas S. Duke, Celebrated Criminal Cases of America


Laura Fair, Courtesy University of Nevada at Reno Special Collections.

Alexander Crittenden was born in Lexington, Ky., on, January 14, 1816. Andrew Jackson was a close friend of his family, and it was through Jackson’s influence that Alexander was sent to West Point. He graduated from this military college with Sherman and remained in the army about one year. At the age of twenty-two he married and went to Texas, where he was admitted to the bar. In 1852 he came to San Francisco and associated himself with S. M. Wilson. Under the firm name of Crittenden & Wilson, they became one of the most prominent law firms in San Francisco.

Laura D. Fair was a native of Mississippi, and at the age of sixteen she married a man named Stone, who died about one year afterward. She then married a Thomas Gracien of New Orleans, but a divorce was obtained six months afterward. In 1859 she married Colonel W. B. Fair, who was at that time Sheriff of Shasta County, California, but who subsequently moved to San Francisco with his wife. Owing to family troubles he committed suicide in December, 1861. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Fair conducted the Tahoe House in Virginia City.

During the war her sympathies were with the South to such an extent that she took a shot at a Northern soldier, but as her aim was very bad she was never punished for her action. On another occasion she shot a man at the Russ House in San Francisco, whom she claimed had made a disparaging remark concerning her, but again her aim was bad and again she escaped prosecution.

Mrs. Fair had some ability as an actress and appeared at the Metropolitan Theatre in Sacramento on March 5, 1863, as Lady Teazle in the “School for Scandal.” In August, 1870, a young man named Jesse Snyder married her, but on October 8 of the same year they were divorced.

In September, 1870, Crittenden sent his wife and seven children East for a pleasure trip, and on the afternoon of November 3 he went to Oakland to greet them on their return. He met his family at the Oakland pier and accompanied them aboard the ferry El Capitan. From the time of the family reunion, Mr. Crittenden’s son, Parker, noticed a woman dressed in black and heavily veiled, who seemed to be watching their actions very closely, and when the family were seated on the boat she hurried toward them and suddenly whipping out a pistol, shot Crittenden Senior in the chest. The wounded man fell unconscious and the woman hurried away and took a seat, but Captain Kentzel of the Harbor Police, who was on the boat at the time, disarmed her and placed her under arrest. It was subsequently learned that she was Mrs. Laura D. Fair. Immediately after being arrested she began to act in a peculiar manner, and when a stimulant was handed to her in a glass of water, she bit a piece out of the glass.

At 6 p. m., November 5, Crittenden died, and on the day of his funeral the Federal, State and municipal courts adjourned. His funeral was one of the largest ever held in San Francisco up to that time.

Mrs. Fair was charged with murder, and during the trial, which occurred in San Francisco, she testified that she and Crittenden had been intimate for seven years past. The defense offered was that Crittenden’s perfidities had wrought havoc with Mrs. Fair’s mind and that she was in a blind frenzy when she shot him.

On April 26, 1871, the jury after a short deliberation brought in a verdict of guilty of murder, and on June 3, 1871, Mrs. Fair was sentenced to be hanged on July 28.

On July 11 the Supreme Court granted her a stay of execution and finally granted her a new trial, at which she was acquitted, because of her attorney’s plea to the jury that the defendant was a victim of emotional insanity.

For many years after her acquittal Mrs. Fair made a living as a book agent in San Francisco.

You can read more online about Laura Fair including her trial transcript.

Source: Celebrated Criminal Cases of America, by Thomas Duke, 1910


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