The deadly jealousy involving Stanford White, Evelyn Nesbit, and Harry Thaw has been immortalized in countless articles and books - and now there is another for the bookshelves that promises a new take on the famous scandal that climaxed in a rooftop garden.
The author is Paula Uruburu, who describes herself as "a devoted true crime fan." This time, the author promises to offer us a hard look, in words and photos, at the apex of the love triangle.
Other authors already sing the praises of this new book. Harold Schechter, one of my favorite living authors, calls it "a tour de force of historical crime writing." Karen Abbott, who wrote Sin in the Second City, calls the book a meticulously researched study of a case that had it all. Satan's Circus author Mike Dash calls it a "trumph."
Q. Does your book offer anything genuinely new about the case?
Paula Uruburu: Evelyn and the murder of Stanford White resurface every decade or so, although most recent memories probably only go back as far as Joan Collins' movie from 1955 The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (visually impressive, quaint and utterly silly for the most part.)
The two most recent books that deal with the topic (but which are obviously focused on Stanford White) are Paul Baker's biography Stanny (a decade old) and Suzannah Lessard's personal memoir about how White's life and legacy affected her and her family, Architect of Desire. Neither book devotes much space to the murder and subsequent trial whereas my book devotes five chapters to the subject, which offers a more detailed and expanded cultural context with Evelyn Nesbit as the focus, as well as information and insights from never-before published personal letters, personal interviews with Evelyn's family, a decade of research into the trial using a wealth of material from newspapers of the time and the original trial transcript.
I also include 50 photos, a number of which are trial-related. E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, published in 1975, is a brilliant book but of course fictional and the Thaw murder case is one part of its much larger tapestry depicting the era.
There was a book written in the early 70's by Michael MacDonald Mooney that was absolutely awful in my opinion, making outrageous claims and reducing Evelyn to a she-wolf. I also have and used Harry Thaw's original manuscript for his self-published book from 1925, The Traitor.
My perspective, as a student of literature and devoted true crime fan, is to separate the fact from the fiction regarding Evelyn's place as the girl in the middle of the murder that shook America in 1906. I wanted to offer an intimate look behind the scenes, as it were, into the events leading up to the grisly murder, the aftershock, the trial preparation, etc from the inside, using as much of Evelyn's own memories and words as possible which has not been done (I also took it upon myself to sift through her own self-mythologizing at crucial points in her life.)
Q. Did you find anything new or surprising while researching the case?
I discovered the reasons why Evelyn was willing to stand by a clearly demented Harry Thaw in spite of the fact that she said White was the only man she ever loved; I discovered why Harry's mother, the indomitable Mother Thaw, was so hell-bent on defending her son and the psychological reasons behind her own love-hate relationship with alienists and the insanity defense.
I also offer my speculation on Thaw's latent homosexuality and the issue of premeditation in his murder of White as well as other issues (such as Evelyn's son, whose paternity Thaw always denied).
A number of the photos are either previously unpublished or have not been seen in 100+ years. I think the ultimate appeal of this infamous puzzle is its astonishing ongoing relevance to American culture and larger cross-cultural issues that expose the currencies of power that run the world -- money, sex, power, class, beauty, youth-- it is, in my opinion, the first modern trial -- including the spin-doctoring, the insanity issues, issues of jury selection, disbarment, brainstorms, corruption among the rich and powerful, etc. It really exposed for the first time to the public the dark side of the American dream on all levels -- and destroyed the Victorian notion of the Unwritten Law, no matter how much Thaw's lawyer tried to push the idea of a Dementia Americana.