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Vera Stretz Trial: 1936 - A Revolver And Bloodstains, Vera Stretz Tells What Happened

gebhardt york november german

Defendant: Vera Stretz
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Samuel S. Leibowitz
Chief Prosecutor: Miles O'Brien
Judge: Cornelius F. Collins
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: March 20—April 3, 1936
Verdict: Not guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: For defense counsel Samuel S. Leibowitz, the Vera Stretz case was the 116th of 139 consecutive trials in which he saved his client from death in the electric chair. Many lawyers believe the case marked his peak as a trial lawyer before he became one of the New York courtroom's most respected judges.

Vera Stretz was 29 years old when she spent some of her $35,000 inheritance from her mother on a cruise aboard the Vulcania in December 1934. There she met Dr. Fritz Gebhardt, a German financier who was 42. Chatting in German (her German was better than his English), they became casual friends.

Soon after returning to New York, Stretz and the doctor dated. Witty and gallant, Dr. Gebhardt seemed determined to sweep Vera Stretz off her feet. But he had a wife and two children in Germany. The marriage, he said, had been one in name only for 10 years.

"He told me that he loved me," Stretz later said. "And then he said that he was an unusual person. Ordinary laws applied to ordinary people, but for an unusual person there must be different standards. I was fascinated by him." Stretz found herself so deeply in love that in May she traveled with him to Lake George as Mrs. Gebhardt.

Soon Stretz moved to Gebhardt's building, Beekman Towers, taking an apartment two floors below his. As he traveled often, they exchanged passionate love letters.

By November, Stretz regularly responded to late-night calls from Gebhardt, applying a heating pad to help him through stomach cramps as often as once a week. Early in November, when he returned from a European trip, he said, "I am going away again in December and you are going with me."

Stretz assumed he had decided to end his marriage. "I'd better hurry with the wedding invitations," she said. No, said Gebhardt, he knew now that he was not the type to get married. They would go on as before.

She told him she would not compromise: She wanted a home and a husband. "No one has ever left me before," he announced, "and you are not going to leave me."

Late in the night of November 11, in great stomach pain, Gebhardt called her. She put a coat on over her nightgown, slipped into shoes, and went up the back stairs.

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