Chester Gillette and Grace Brown Collection
The Chester Gillette and Grace Brown Collection contains letters, newspaper clippings, court documents, a diary and scrapbook documenting the tragic relationship between Chester Gillette and Grace Brown. Of special note are their love letters, Grace Brown's "goodbye" letter to her farm, Chester Gillette's prison diary, and Grace Brown's autopsy report. Researchers accessing this collection will gain insight into an early 20th century true crime story in the Adirondacks of upstate New York.
- Creation: 1898-2008
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on accessing material in this collection.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.
Biographical / Historical
Chester Gillette, a prep school graduate, met Grace Brown, a farmer's daughter, in 1905 while they were both employed at a skirt factory in Cortland, New York owned by Chester's uncle. Their relationship was kept secret from most of their friends and family. In 1906 Grace discovered that she was pregnant and shortly thereafter she and Chester embarked on a trip to the Adirondacks which Grace assumed was to be their wedding trip.
At Big Moose Lake, Herkimer County, Chester rented a boat and rowed to a secluded location in South Bay. Chester and Grace never returned. Grace's body was found the next day at the bottom of the lake and Chester was arrested in nearby Inlet two days later.
The prosecution argued that Chester, seeking to extricate himself from the relationship, had murdered Grace by striking her on the head with a tennis racket found near the scene. Chester countered first that Grace had slipped and struck her head, accounting for the cut there. Later he stated that she was despondent and committed suicide.
The month-long trial was an international sensation. The Herkimer courthouse where the trial took place was at capacity each day and the media covered all aspects of the testimony including several of Grace's love letters admitted into evidence. Ultimately Chester was found guilty in one of the first murder convictions based entirely on circumstantial evidence. He was later executed despite pleas to the Governor by Chester's mother and repeated assertions of innocence by Chester.
The Gillette story endures through a best-selling book based on the case, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, 2 motion pictures, An American Tragedy  and A Place in the Sun . More recently, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned Tobias Picker's work, An American Tragedy which premiered in the Lincoln Center in 2005.
The Gillette story endures through a best-selling book based on the case, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, two motion pictures, An American Tragedy  and A Place in the Sun . More recently, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned Tobias Picker's work, An American Tragedy which premiered in the Lincoln Center in 2005.
Source: The Glenmore, https://hotelglenmore.com/big-moose-lake/the-murder-trial-of-chester-gillette/, accessed Sept. 20, 2023.
9 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
The Chester Gillette and Grace Brown Collection is arranged by genre and chronologically within each format.
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