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Harry Thaw Trials: 1907-08

Evelyn Nesbit Comes To New York

Evelyn Nesbit's background was much more modest than Thaw's but became equally as sordid sexually. Nesbit's parents in Pittsburgh were poor and could never provide for their daughter's education. Nesbit was beautiful, however, and from an early age she also showed some skill as a singer and dancer. Nesbit's family came to rely on the money she earned as a model and in the theater. Within a short time, Nesbit's career soared and she became a "Floradora girl," joining a prestigious all-girl chorus.

During a performance of the Floradora chorus, Nesbit attracted the attention of architect Stanford White. White had made a fortune designing the homes of New York's society set and had designed several famous buildings, including Madison Square Garden. White kept a private suite of rooms for himself in the Garden's tower. The apartment was decorated with oriental furnishings, and featured a red velvet swing hung from the ceiling. White's wealth enabled him to bring young showgirls to his apartment and have them use the swing while he looked underneath their long dresses. Showered with gifts and presents, Evelyn Nesbit soon became White's mistress, and their affair lasted for three years. As Nesbit later testified at trial, White's behavior was not limited to voyeurism; he ultimately got Nesbit intoxicated and raped her when she passed out.

Nesbit left White early in 1905 for Harry Thaw, who like White had seen Nesbit on stage and for some time had been pursuing her at every opportunity. Whether out of love or a desire for another wealthy benefactor, Nesbit married Thaw April 4, 1905. Thaw took Nesbit to Europe for their honeymoon and reportedly began to whip and beat her. Thaw became obsessed with Nesbit's previous relationship with White and forced her to repeat intimate details of their affair. Thaw's obsession became a conviction that he had to avenge Nesbit's disgrace and rid the world of a human monster.

On June 25, 1906, Thaw acted on his obsessions. At Madison Square Garden, where the Thaws were attending the public performance of a new musical, Thaw spotted White. With no thought in his mind but murder, Thaw charged up to White's table and pulled out a pistol; he shot White several times while hundreds of people at the musical watched in horror. Thaw made no attempt to resist arrest, and he was promptly seized by policemen who rushed to the Garden.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Harry Thaw Trials: 1907-08 - Evelyn Nesbit Comes To New York, Thaw Is Tried For Murder, Suggestions For Further Reading