3 minute read

Jennie Cramer Murder Trial: 1882

An Inquest's Second Thoughts

Because West Haven lacked a city government, investigating the death fell to a six-man coroner's jury. Bruises on the body nearly led to a conclusion that Cramer had drowned, but an official autopsy was conducted when one juror expressed second thoughts. The autopsy revealed that Cramer had not drowned. Hardly any water was found in her lungs and there was evidence that she had been raped within 48 hours of her death.

When the inquest sought clues about Cramer's last hours, Douglass and "the Malley boys" were called to testify. Douglass now said that she and Cramer had spent Wednesday night at the Malley mansion, where they had been singing and drinking wine alone with James and Walter. When Douglass felt ill, she convinced a reluctant Cramer to remain with her at the mansion all night. In the morning she accompanied Cramer home and witnessed the quarrel with Mrs. Cramer. Douglass swore that she last saw Cramer passing on a streetcar about noon on Thursday.

James Malley testified that he last saw Cramer when the two women left the mansion Thursday morning. Asked about his whereabouts on Friday night, he said that he was at home and that his entire family would swear to it. "My father came to me after the newspaper reports were concluded and asked me where I was Friday night," he replied, peculiarly modifying his answer. "No, he came to me and said, 'It's a lucky thing for you that you were home Friday night.'" Walter Malley echoed his cousin's testimony, adding that he thought that Cramer had gone to her brother's home in New York, accompanied by Douglass.

Other witnesses, however, swore to have seen Cramer with one or more of the trio on Thursday or Friday. It was also learned that Blanche Douglass was a New York prostitute, not Walter Malley's fiance, as newspapers had reported. Detectives arrested her in a bordello and returned her to West Haven, where she was charged with perjury. Walter and James were arrested shortly thereafter.

According to the inquest autopsy, Cramer's body tissues indicated that she had ingested a fatal dose of over three grains of arsenic hours before her death. Verdicts were returned on September 3, holding James Malley "criminally responsible" and Walter Malley and Blanche Douglass "morally responsible" for the death of Jennie Cramer by "poison and violence."

The case was immediately referred to West Haven's local court, where numerous witnesses placed Cramer with the defendants at times conflicting with their stories. The West Haven trial seemed to dispose of one report that Cramer had been on a carousel at the town's Savin Rock amusement district, accompanied by a man with a black mustache. Margaret Kane produced her mustachioed companion and claimed to be the woman on the flying horses that Friday night. Kane said that a dizzy spell prompted her to say, "My God, I'm paralyzed!" a comment attributed by others to Jennie Cramer.

James Malley's sisters and a servant testified that he had been at home on Friday night, but the defense could not overcome suspicions that the defendants were lying. The case was referred to New Haven's Superior Court for a full trial. Meanwhile, the case became an international sensation and the Malley family's reputation declined. James' and Walter's haughty attitude did not win them public sympathy, nor did Edward Malley's dismissal of the tragedy with the blithe comment, "Boys will be boys." Amid rumors of bribery, prosecutors seethed over increasing memory lapses suffered by witnesses. A dime pamphlet bearing Cramer's portrait on the cover and containing the testimony leading to the arrests enjoyed a second printing, thanks to the Malley family's efforts to buy up every available copy at local bookshops.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Jennie Cramer Murder Trial: 1882 - An Inquest's Second Thoughts, The Elm City Tragedy