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Levi Weeks Trial: 1800

A Less Than Discreet Affair

Gulielma Sands—Elma to her family and friends—was a vivacious 22-year-old who lived with her cousin Catherine Ring on Greenwich Street. Catherine and her husband, Elias Ring, were Quakers who ran a boarding house, and in July 1799, a young carpenter named Levi Weeks moved in. His arrival was unfortunate, for the Rings and their other boarders soon noticed that Weeks was paying excessive attention to Sands. The two spent a great amount of time together, a lot of it in Sands's bedroom, the door of which they sometimes locked. The hours at which Weeks came and went, the piles of clothes that Sands left in odd places, and even the sounds from her bedroom told the story that the two were sexually involved. Because this was inappropriate behavior for an unmarried couple, everyone suspected that Sands and Weeks must be planning on getting married: only that step could make their behavior somewhat less scandalous.

But Sands's life was less than happy. She was often ill, and in the fall of 1799 she seemed depressed, sometimes telling her cousin and others that she wished she were dead and toying with the idea of taking an overdose of laudanum. Weeks, too, had emotional outbursts and run-ins with other boarders. Nobody ever knew for sure, but the circumstances suggest that Sands, herself an illegitimate child, might have been pregnant.

Eventually, though, Sands grew much happier, confiding to her cousin Catherine that she and Weeks were in fact getting married. The wedding, she said, was set for Sunday evening, December 22. For a day or two beforehand, she seemed in good spirits as she and her cousins prepared for the nuptials. Finally Sunday evening arrived. This would be the last time anyone would see her alive.

Nobody actually witnessed Sands and Weeks leave the Rings' house together, but nearly everyone thought that that was what happened. Sands was upstairs dressing, and Weeks was by the front door. People heard someone come down the stairs, and then they heard whispers by the door, which opened and closed. Shortly thereafter, a friend saw Sands in a crowd on Greenwich Street and went to speak with her. But someone—the friend did not notice who—told Sands, "Let's go," and Sands said good-night and moved on. She was never seen again. But a half hour later, a woman's cries of "Murder!" and "Lord help me!" were heard coming from the vicinity of the Manhattan Well, near Greene and Spring Streets, and people saw a one-horse sleigh, with a dark horse and no bells, traveling away from the area. The description of this vehicle matched the appearance of one belonging to Ezra Weeks, Levi's wealthy brother. Witnesses would later swear that they saw Ezra's sleigh leaving his premises that evening, and others would say that they saw a sleigh in the vicinity of the well containing two men and a woman, all of whom were laughing loudly. No positive identification of these persons was ever made. The entire scenario involving the sleigh has a macabre resemblance to the song "Jingle Bells," except that no bells were involved, and the ride ended in cries of "murder," which no one bothered to investigate.

Late that evening, Weeks returned to the Rings' house alone, asking where Sands was. This made Catherine Ring suspicious, and a few days later, with Sands still missing, she told Weeks so. She also told him that Weeks had mentioned the planned wedding to her. The revelation that people knew of the secret engagement seemed to upset Weeks greatly.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832Levi Weeks Trial: 1800 - A Less Than Discreet Affair, Weeks Indicted For Murder, A Two-day Trial