An American Tragedy ~ The Haunting Legacy Of Murderer Chester Gillette
Chester Gillette (August 9, 1883 - March 30, 1908), was an American convicted murderer who was executed in 1908 in Auburn Prison by electrocution for the death of his pregnant lover.
Chester Gillette met Grace Brown while working at his uncle's skirt factory in Cortland NY. Some of the circumstances surrounding Grace Brown's death are vague, but it seems after a year-long secret relationship she became pregnant and was pressuring Gillette to marry her. When returning from a visit with her parents, she discovered he was running around on her. Gillette then asked her on a trip to the Adirondacks. After spending the night in Utica they checked into another hotel under a false name. He took her boating on Big Moose Lake, knocked her out with a tennis racquet, and allowed her to drown. The overturned boat was found floating in the lake, together with Gillette's hat, leading authorities initially to believe they both had drowned. Gillette then hiked through the woods to Fulton Chain Lakes where he checked into a hotel under his real name. Brown's body was found the next day, and Gillette was arrested in nearby Inlet.
The murder trial caused a national sensation, especially when the victim's letters to Gillette were read aloud in court. Copies of the letters were sold outside the Herkimer County Courthouse.
According to Wikipedia, 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, twelve letters written by Gillette during his time in prison were also donated. Eleven of the letters were addressed to Bernice Ferrin, a friend of the family who moved to Auburn, 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.
During his stay at the Herkimer County Jail, Gillette befriended the County Sheriff and asked him to purchase film, which was very expensive and extravagant at that time. He had the sheriff take his photo while looking his best, and sold the prints outside his jail cell to all visitors. He used the money to pay for his meals from the corner diner because he didn't like the jail food.
The Chester Gillette story and many of the letters were adapted into An American Tragedy becoming the basis for the fictional character Clyde Griffiths in the Theodore Dreiser novel, An American Tragedy, which in turn was the basis of a 1931 Paramount film An American Tragedy and the 1951 film A Place in the Sun. Another book featuring Chester Gillette is A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.
Gillette was executed in 1908 in Auburn Prison by electrocution.
Discover these locations and more at Herkimer's Haunted Crossroads Investigation.