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Jennie Cramer Murder Trial: 1882

An Inquest's Second Thoughts, The Elm City Tragedy

Defendants: Blanche Douglass, James Malley Jr., Walter Mal ley
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Samuel F. Jones, Levi N. Blydenburgh, William C. Case, Timothy J. Fox (both Malleys); Louis C. Cassidy (James Malley); Edwin C. Dow, William B. Stoddard (Douglass)
Chief Prosecutors: Tilton E. Doolittle, Charles Bush
Judge: Miles T. Granger
Place: New Haven, Connecticut
Date of Trial: April 25-June 30, 1882
Verdict: Not guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: Possible witness bribery and an overly specific grand jury indictment helped wealthy defendants elude responsibility for one of Victorian New England's most notorious crimes.

At daybreak on Saturday morning, August 6, 1881, a fisherman found the lifeless body of a young woman floating by the West Haven, Connecticut, shoreline. She was Jennie Cramer, the twenty-year-old daughter of a German immigrant and his wife, who lived in nearby New Haven. Cramer's death shocked the city, for she was well known for her beauty and high spirits, especially among local young men.

One of her most persistent admirers was James Malley Jr., nephew of wealthy dry goods store owner Edward Malley. James Malley had called on Cramer at her father's cigar shop and sent her messages from his uncle's store, where he worked as a clerk. Cramer seemed uninterested in Malley's attentions, but she accepted several of his invitations to go walking or have dinner. The pair was always accompanied by James Malley's cousin Walter—Edward Malley's son—and a woman named Blanche Douglass, whom Walter had met in New York.

Despite her popularity with local bachelors, Jennie Cramer's moral character was considered to be spotless. Consequently, her mother was frantic when Cramer did not return home on the night of Wednesday, August 3. When she turned up on Thursday morning, Blanche Douglass accompanied her. Douglass assured Mrs. Cramer that she and Jennie had spent the night at a rooming house called the Elliott House, where no gentlemen were allowed, but Mrs. Cramer surmised that Douglass was no lady.

"Don't you know that you are disgracing yourself and disgracing your parents by staying out overnight?" Mrs. Cramer cried. "If you carry on like that we must find a place for you to stay when your little sister comes home. We can't have you here!" Mrs. Cramer left the room sobbing. When she regained her composure, Jennie was gone. Mrs. Cramer was terrified by the possibility that Jennie had taken her banishment threat seriously. Guilt-ridden, Mrs. Cramer visited James Malley at his uncle's store that afternoon and accused him of introducing her daughter to bad company. Malley replied that Blanche Douglass was a perfect lady and that the two young women had spent Wednesday night at the Elliott House. Nevertheless, he promised to bring Jennie home or contact the Cramers if he saw her. On Friday, the Cramers received a note from Malley stating that neither he nor Douglass were aware of Jennie's whereabouts. Saturday morning, the Cramers learned that Jennie was dead.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882