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Harry Thaw Trials: 1907-08

Evelyn Nesbit Comes To New York, Thaw Is Tried For Murder, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: Harry Kendall Thaw
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: Delphin M. Delmas, John B. Gleason, Clifford Hartridge, Hugh McPike, and George Peabody; Second trial: Martin W. Littleton, Daniel O'Reilly, and Russell Peabody
Chief Prosecutor: William Travers Jerome
Judge: First trial: James Fitzgerald; Second trial: Victor J. Dowling
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trials: First trial: January 23—;April 12, 1907; Second trial: January 6-February 1, 1908
Verdict: First trial: None, jury deadlocked; Second trial: Not guilty by reason of insanity

SIGNIFICANCE: Harry Thaw married the glamorous showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, who had previously been the mistress of the famous architect Stanford White. Thaw shot White during a public performance in Madison Square Garden and was subsequently tried for murder. Thaw's attorneys took the insanity defense to murder to new extremes, successfully arguing that Thaw suffered from "dementia Americana," a condition supposedly unique to American men that caused Thaw to develop an uncontrollable desire to kill White after he learned of White's previous affair with Nesbit.

Harry Thaw was born in 1872 into a family of wealthy Pennsylvania industrialists. His father made a fortune estimated at $40 million in the Pittsburgh coke business and had also invested heavily in the Pennsylvania Railroad. Thaw's mother spoiled him as a youth and indulged him throughout his life—with tragic consequences.

As a young man, Thaw went to Harvard University for his higher education, but he was expelled because he spent all of his time playing poker. Over his father's objections, Thaw's mother provided him with a substantial allowance and paid off massive gambling debts that Thaw incurred after moving to New York City. Thaw also had a taste for pleasures more decadent than gambling, such as frequent visits to a whorehouse. Although Thaw had several incidents with the police, his mother and his family's money always secured his release.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917