Missed it by that much.
On June 25, 1906, Harry Kendall Thaw, professional heir and nutcase, walked up to noted architect Stanford White on the roof of Madison Square Garden (during the opening night of something called “Mam’zelle Champagne”) and shot White in the head.
When I call Thaw a “nutcase”. I mean that quite literally: historical evidence seems to show that he had a long history of mental problems, and that his enormously wealthy family spent a a great deal of money covering for him. Indeed, the Thaw trial is an early (though not the first) example of the interaction between great wealth and criminal justice.
It is also claimed that Thaw’s family spent a lot of money smearing White. Specifically, Thaw’s supposed motivation for the murder was that White had “ruined” Evelyn Nesbit when she was 16. Ms. Nesbit later went on to become Thaw’s wife: she supposedly told Thaw all about her affair with White, which drove Thaw crazier than he allegedly already was…
The end result was that Thaw went through two trials. The jury hung in the first one, and found him not guilty by reason of insanity in the second one. Thaw was sent to the Matteawan asylum for several years. In 1913, he walked out of the asylum and escaped into Quebec. He was eventually extradited back to the US, where he received a new sanity hearing, was found “not guilty and no longer insane”, and was released. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested and confined again for beating a 19 year old boy. He was released in 1924 and died in 1947. Thaw obit from the NYT.
Evelyn Nesbit died in “relative obscurity” in 1967. NYT obit.
I actually had hopes and plans for doing a much longer and better post on this, but they didn’t pan out. I’ve had trouble laying my hands on the source material I wanted to find. (And I still haven’t been able to find out what gun Thaw used, alas.)
So I’m going to be a little lazy and point to:
The website for the American Experience documentary “Murder of the Century”. It does not have the film available for streaming, but it does have the transcript and background material.
The Thaw trials from Douglas Linder’s “Famous Trials” website. This is actually a website that I keep forgetting about, even though it has been around since 1995, so I’m glad to be able to bookmark it here. Professor Linder has spent the past 21 years documenting everything from the trial of Socrates through Thomas More, Aaron Burr, our old pal Big Bill Haywood, and all the way up to George Zimmerman. This isn’t the be-all end-all website for most of these trials, but it serves as a good jumping-off point if you want to do more research.
(If those NYT links don’t work for you, would you please send an email or leave a comment? I think they should work, but I’m not 100% sure.)