Harry Kendall Thaw

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Harry Kendall Thaw
Harry Kendall Thaw circa 1905 headcrop.png
Thaw circa 1905
Born(1871-02-12)February 12, 1871
Allegheny City,[1] Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedFebruary 22, 1947(1947-02-22) (aged 76)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
Resting placeAllegheny Cemetery
EducationUniversity of Pittsburgh
Harvard University
Known forMurder of Stanford White
Evelyn Florence Nesbit
(m. 1905; div. 1915)
ChildrenRussell William Thaw
Parent(s)William Thaw
Mary Sibbet Copley
RelativesAlice Cornelia Thaw (sister)
Benjamin Thaw Sr. (brother)

Harry Kendall Thaw (February 12, 1871 – February 22, 1947)[2][3] was the son of Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron William Thaw Sr. Heir to a multimillion-dollar mine and railroad fortune, Thaw had a history of severe mental instability and led a profligate life. His historical legacy rests on one notorious act: on June 25, 1906, on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden, Thaw murdered renowned architect Stanford White, who had previously sexually assaulted Thaw's wife, model/chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit, when she was 16.

Plagued by mental illness since childhood, Thaw spent money lavishly to fund his obsessive partying, his drug addiction, and the gratification of his sexual appetites.[4] The Thaw family wealth allowed them to buy the silence of those who threatened to make public the worst of Thaw's reckless behavior and licentious transgressions. Throughout his life, however, he had several serious confrontations with the criminal justice system, which resulted in his incarceration in mental institutions.

Thaw shot and killed Stanford White as a result of his jealousy over the relationship between his wife, Evelyn Nesbit, and White. After one hung jury, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Years later, White's son Lawrence Grant White would write, "On the night of June 25th, 1906, while attending a performance at Madison Square Garden, Stanford White was shot from behind [by] a crazed profligate whose great wealth was used to besmirch his victim's memory during the series of notorious trials that ensued."[5]

Early life[edit]

Thaw was born on February 12, 1871, to Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron William Thaw, Sr.,[2][3] and his second wife, Mary Sibbet (Copley) Thaw. The elder Thaw fathered eleven children from his two marriages.[2] Thaw had five siblings, Margaret (born 1877), Alice Cornelia (born 1880), Edward (born 1873) and Josiah (born 1874).[6] A brother, born a year before Harry, died an accidental death in infancy, smothered by his mother's breast while he lay in her bed.[5] Thaw's mother herself was known for her abuse of the servants, and episodes of ungovernable temper.[7]

In childhood Thaw was subject to bouts of insomnia, temper tantrums, incoherent babbling and, notably baby talk, a form of expression which he retained in adulthood. His chosen form of amusement was appropriating heavy household objects as weaponry to hurl at the heads of servants. The misfortune of others brought on fits of giggling. He spent his childhood bouncing from private school to private school in Pittsburgh, never doing well and described by teachers as unintelligent and a troublemaker. A teacher at the Wooster Prep School described the sixteen-year-old Harry as having an "erratic kind of zig-zag" walk, "which seemed to involuntarily mimic his brain patterns." Still, as the son of William Thaw, he was granted admission to the University of Pittsburgh, where he was to study law, though he apparently did little studying. After a few years he used his name and social status to transfer to Harvard College.[8]

Thaw later bragged that he had studied poker at Harvard. He reportedly lit his cigars with hundred dollar bills. He also went on long drinking binges, attended cockfights, and spent much of his time romancing young women. In 1894, he chased a cab driver down a Cambridge street with a shotgun, believing he had been cheated out of ten cents change. He claimed the shotgun was unloaded.[9] Thaw was ultimately expelled from Harvard for "immoral practices", as well as intimidating and threatening fellow students and teachers. His expulsion was immediate; he was given three hours to pack up and move out.[10]

Thaw's father, in an attempt to curb his son's narcissistic excesses, limited his monthly allowance to $2,500. This still was a great deal of money in an era when the average workingman earned $500 a year and a lavish dinner at the famed Delmonico's restaurant cost $1.50. The elder Thaw died in 1893, leaving his 22-year-old son $3,000,000 in his will.[2] Upon the death of her husband, Thaw's mother increased his allowance to $8,000, enabling him to indulge his every whim, however outrageous, and gratify his sadistic sexual impulses. Thaw was the beneficiary of this monthly income for the next eighteen years. In addition, he held the distinction of being heir to a fortune estimated at some $40,000,000.[9]

Early on and for years into the future, his mother and a cadre of lawyers dedicated themselves to the business of damage control, shielding Thaw's transgressions from any public scandal that would dishonor the family name. Monetary pay-offs became the customary method of assuring the required silence. One such notorious example occurred in Thaw's London hotel room, where he purportedly devised a lure for an unsuspecting bellboy, whom Thaw proceeded to restrain naked in a bathtub, brutalizing him with beatings from a riding whip. Thaw had to pay out $5,000 to keep the incident quiet.[11]

With an enormous amount of cash at his disposal, and reserves of energy to match, Thaw repeatedly tore through Europe at a frenetic pace, frequenting bordellos where his pleasure involved restraining his partners with handcuffs and other devices of bondage. In Paris in 1895, Thaw threw an extravagant party, reputedly costing $50,000, which drew wide publicity. The attendees were Thaw himself and twenty-five of the most beautiful showgirls/bordello prostitutes he could assemble. A military band was hired to provide musical entertainment. For Thaw, John Philip Sousa’s marches were the favored party music as "they lifted the roof off the place." Each of the Parisian beauties found a unique party favor at the end of the meal. The dessert course was a $1,000 piece of jewelry wrapped around the stem of a liqueur glass.[12]

Exhibiting the classic characteristics of the skilled, manipulative sociopath, Thaw was able to keep the more sinister side of his personality in check when it suited his purposes and furthered his current agenda. He had the faculty, when required, to impress upon others that he was a gentle, caring soul. The term "playboy" entered the popular vernacular, it is alleged, inspired by Thaw himself— a vivid encapsulation of the lifestyle he so vigorously pursued.[5]

Stanford White

Obsession with Stanford White[edit]

After his expulsion from Harvard, Thaw's sphere of activity alternated between Pennsylvania and New York. In New York, Thaw was determined to place himself amongst those privileged to occupy the summit of social prominence and to take his rightful place as a bona fide member of its rarefied atmosphere. His application for coveted membership in the city's elite men's clubs - the Metropolitan Club, the Century Club, the Knickerbocker Club, the Players' Club - were all rejected. His membership of the Union League Club of New York was summarily revoked when he rode a horse up the steps into the club's entrance way, a "behavior unbefitting a gentleman." All these snubs, Thaw was convinced, were directly or indirectly due to the intervention of the city's social lion, lauded architect Stanford White, who would not countenance Thaw's entry into these exclusive clubs. Thaw's narcissism rebelled at such a state of affairs and ignited a virulent animosity towards White. This was the first identifiable incident in a long line of perceived indignities heaped on Thaw, who maintained the unshakable certainty that his victimization was all orchestrated by White.[13]

A second incident subsequently occurred that furthered Thaw's paranoid obsession with White. A disgruntled showgirl whom Thaw had publicly insulted reaped revenge when she sabotaged a lavish party Thaw had planned by hijacking all the female invitees and transplanting the festivities to White's infamous Tower room. Thaw, stubbornly ignorant of the real cause of the train of events, once again blamed White for single-handedly destroying his revelries. Thaw's social humiliation was completed when the episode was reported in the gossip columns. Thaw left with a stag group of guests, and a glaring absence of "doe-eyed girlies."[13]

The reality was that Thaw both admired and resented White's social stature. More significantly, he recognized that he and White shared a passion for similar life styles. However, unlike Thaw, who had to operate in the shadows, White could carry on without censure, and seemingly with impunity.[14]

Drug use[edit]

Various sources document Thaw's drug use, which became habitual after his expulsion from Harvard. He reportedly injected large amounts of cocaine and morphine, occasionally mixing the two drugs into one injection known as a speedball. He was known to also use laudanum; on at least one occasion he drank a full bottle in a single swallow.[15] Thaw's drug addiction was verified when Evelyn Nesbit, Thaw's wife, found confirmation upon opening a bureau drawer. In her own words she related, "One day...I found a little silver box oblong in shape, about two and one half inches in length, containing a hypodermic syringe...I asked Thaw what it was for, and he stated to me that he had been ill, and had to make some excuse. He said he had been compelled to take cocaine."[16]

Evelyn Nesbit[edit]

Evelyn Nesbit


Thaw had been in the audience of The Wild Rose, a show in which Evelyn Nesbit, a popular artist's model and chorus girl, was a featured player. The smitten Thaw attended some 40 performances over the better part of a year. Through an intermediary, he ultimately arranged a meeting with Nesbit, introducing himself as "Mr. Munroe". Thaw maintained this subterfuge, with the help of confederates, while showering Nesbit with gifts and money before he felt the time was right to reveal his true identity. The day came when he confronted Nesbit and announced with self-important brio, "I am not Munroe...I am Henry Kendall Thaw, of Pittsburgh!"[17]

Candid about his dislike of Thaw, Stanford White warned Nesbit to stay away from Thaw. However, his cautions were generalizations, lacking the sordid specifics that would have alerted Nesbit to Thaw's all too real, aberrant proclivities. A bout of presumed appendicitis put Nesbit in the hospital and provided Thaw with an opportunity to insert himself emphatically into her life. Thaw came in bearing gifts and praise, managing to impress both Nesbit's mother and the headmistress at the boarding school Nesbit attended. Later, under Stanford White's orders, Nesbit was moved to a sanatorium in upstate New York, where both White and Thaw visited often, though never at the same time.

Nesbit had undergone an emergency appendectomy, at which time the kind-hearted side of Thaw came into play. He solicitously promoted a European trip, convincing mother and daughter that such a pleasure excursion would hasten Nesbit's recovery from surgery. However, the trip proved to be anything but recuperative. Thaw's usual hectic mode of travel escalated into a non-stop itinerary, calculated to weaken Nesbit's emotional resilience, compound her physical frailty, and unnerve and exhaust Mrs. Nesbit. As tensions mounted, mother and daughter began to bicker and quarrel, leading to Mrs. Nesbit's insistence on returning to the United States. Having effectively alienated her from her mother, Thaw then took Nesbit to Paris, leaving Mrs. Nesbit in London.[18]

In Paris, Thaw continued to press Nesbit to become his wife; she again refused. Aware of Thaw's obsession with female chastity, she could not in good conscience accept his marriage proposal without revealing to him the truth of her relationship with Stanford White. What transpired next was a marathon session of inquisition, during which time Thaw managed to extract every detail of that night—how—when plied with champagne—Nesbit lay intoxicated, unconscious—and White "had his way with her". Throughout the grueling question and answer ordeal, Nesbit was tearful and hysterical; Thaw by turns was agitated and gratified by her responses. He further drove the wedge between mother and daughter, condemning Mrs. Nesbit as an unfit parent. Evelyn Nesbit blamed the outcome of events on her own willful defiance of her mother's cautionary advice and defended her mother as naïve and unwitting.[19]

Thaw and Nesbit traveled through Europe. Thaw, as guide, chose a bizarre agenda, a tour of sites devoted to the cult of virgin martyrdom. In Domrémy, France, the birthplace of Joan of Arc, Thaw left a telling inscription in the visitor's book: "she would not have been a virgin if Stanford White had been around."[20]

Thaw took Nesbit to a castle, the Schloss Katzenstein in the Austrian Tyrol, the foreboding, gothic structure sitting near a high mountaintop. Thaw segregated the three servants in residence - butler, cook and maid - in one end of the castle; himself and Nesbit in the opposite end.[21] This was where Nesbit, to her horror, became Thaw's prisoner. She was locked in her room by Thaw, whose persona took on a dimension she had never before seen. Manic and violent, he beat her with a whip and sexually assaulted her over a two-week period. After his reign of terror had been expended, he was apologetic, and incongruously, after what had just transpired, was in an upbeat mood.[22]


Thaw had pursued Nesbit obsessively for nearly four years, continuously pressing her for marriage. Craving financial stability in her life, and in doing so denying Thaw's tenuous grasp on reality, Nesbit finally consented to become Thaw's wife. They were wed on April 4, 1905. Thaw himself chose the wedding dress. Eschewing the traditional white gown, he dressed her in a black traveling suit decorated with brown trim.[23]

The two took up residence in the Thaw family home, Lyndhurst, in Pittsburgh. In later years Nesbit took measure of life in the Thaw household. The Thaws were anything but intellectuals. Their value system was shallow and self-serving, "the plane of materialism which finds joy in the little things that do not matter—the appearance of ...[things]."[24]

Envisioning a life of travel and entertaining, Nesbit was rudely awakened to a reality markedly different; a household ruled over by the sanctimonious propriety of "Mother Thaw". Thaw himself entered into his mother's sphere of influence, seemingly without protest, taking on the pose of pious son and husband. It was at this time that Thaw instituted a zealous campaign to expose Stanford White, corresponding with the reformer Anthony Comstock, an infamous crusader for moral probity and the expulsion of vice. Because of this activity, Thaw became convinced that he was being stalked by members of the notorious Monk Eastman Gang, hired by White to kill him. Thaw started to carry a gun. Nesbit later corroborated his mind-set: "[Thaw] imagined his life was in danger because of the work he was doing in connection with the vigilance societies and the exposures he had made to those societies of the happenings in White’s flat."[25]

New York American on June 26th, 1906

Murder of Stanford White[edit]

It is conjectured that Stanford White was unaware of Thaw's long-standing vendetta against him. White considered Thaw a poseur of little consequence, categorized him as a clown, and most tellingly, called him the "Pennsylvania pug"—a reference to Thaw's baby-faced features.[26]

June 25, 1906, was an inordinately hot day. Thaw and Nesbit were stopping in New York briefly before boarding a luxury liner bound for a European holiday.[27] Thaw had purchased tickets for himself, two of his male friends, and his wife for a new show, Mam'zelle Champagne, playing on the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden. In spite of the suffocating heat, which did not abate as night fell, Thaw inappropriately wore over his tuxedo a long black overcoat, which he refused to take off throughout the entire evening.[28]

At 11:00pm, as the stage show was coming to a close, Stanford White appeared, taking his place at the table that was customarily reserved for him.[29] Thaw had been agitated all evening, and abruptly bounced back and forth from his own table throughout the performance. Spotting White's arrival, Thaw tentatively approached him several times, each time withdrawing in hesitation. During the finale, "I Could Love A Million Girls", Thaw produced a pistol, and standing some two feet from his target, fired three shots at Stanford White, killing him instantly. Part of White's blood-covered face was torn away and the rest of his features were unrecognizable, blackened by gunpowder.[3][30] Thaw remained standing over White's fallen body, displaying the gun aloft in the air, resoundingly proclaiming, according to witness reports, "I did it because he ruined my wife! He had it coming to him. He took advantage of the girl and then abandoned her!"[30]

The crowd initially suspected the shooting might be part of the show, as elaborate practical jokes were popular in high society at the time. Soon, however, it became apparent that Stanford White was dead. Thaw, still brandishing the gun high above his head, walked through the crowd and met Evelyn at the elevator. When she asked what he had done, Thaw purportedly replied, "It's all right, I probably saved your life."[31]


Thaw in jail cell on "Murderers' Row", Tombs Prison

Thaw was charged with first-degree murder and denied bail. A newspaper photo shows Thaw in The Tombs prison seated at a formal table setting, dining on a meal catered for him by Delmonico's restaurant. In the background is further evidence of the preferential treatment the Thaw influence and money provided the incarcerated man. Conspicuously absent is the standard issue jail cell cot; during his confinement Thaw slept in a brass bed. Exempted from wearing prisoner's garb, he was allowed to wear his own custom tailored clothes. The jail's doctor was induced to allow Thaw a daily ration of champagne and wine.[32] In his jail cell, in the days following his arrest, it was reported that Thaw heard the heavenly voices of young girls calling to him, which he interpreted as a sign of divine approval. He was in a euphoric mood; Thaw was unshakable in his belief that the public would applaud the man who had rid the world of the menace of Stanford White.[33]

The "Trial of the Century"[edit]

As early as the morning following the murder, news coverage became both chaotic and single-minded, and ground forward with unrelenting momentum. Any person, place or event, no matter how peripheral to the murder of Stanford White, was seized on by reporters and hyped as newsworthy copy. Facts were thin but sensationalist reportage was plentiful in this, the heyday of tabloid journalism.[34] The hard-boiled male reporters of the yellow press were bolstered by a contingent of female counterparts, christened "Sob Sisters". Their stock-in-trade was the human-interest piece, heavy on sentimental tropes and melodrama, crafted to pull on the emotions and punch them up to fever pitch. The rampant interest in the White murder and its key players were used by both the defense and prosecution to feed malleable reporters any "scoops" that would give their respective sides an advantage in the public forum. Thaw's mother, as was her custom, primed her own publicity machine through monetary pay-offs. The district attorney's office took on the services of a Pittsburgh public relations firm, McChesney and Carson, backing a print smear campaign aimed at discrediting Thaw and his wife Evelyn.[35] Pittsburgh newspapers displayed lurid headlines; a sample of which blared, "Woman Whose Beauty Spelled Death and Ruin."[36]

Only one week after the murder, a nickelodeon film, Rooftop Murder, was released, rushed into production by Thomas Edison.[37]

Defense strategy[edit]

The main issue in the case was the question of pre-meditation. The formidable District Attorney, William Travers Jerome, at the outset, preferred not to take the case to trial by having Thaw declared legally insane. This was to serve a two-fold purpose. The approach would save time and money, and of equal if not greater consideration, it would avoid the unfavorable publicity that would no doubt be generated from disclosures made during testimony on the witness stand—revelations that threatened to discredit many of high social standing. Thaw's first defense attorney, Lewis Delafield, concurred with the prosecutorial position, seeing that an insanity plea was the only way to avoid a death sentence for their client. Thaw dismissed Delafield, who he was convinced wanted to "railroad [him] to Matteawan as the half-crazy tool of a dissolute woman."[38]

Thaw's mother, however, was adamant that her son not be stigmatized by clinical insanity. She pressed for the defense to follow a compromise strategy; one of temporary insanity, or what in that era was referred to as a "brainstorm". Acutely conscious of the insanity in her side of the family, and after years of protecting her son's hidden life, she feared her son's past would be dragged out into the open, ripe for public scrutiny. Protecting the Thaw family reputation had become nothing less than a vigilant crusade for Thaw's mother. She proceeded to hire a team of doctors, at a cost of half a million dollars, to substantiate that her son's act of murder constituted a single aberrant act.[39]

Possibly concocted by the yellow press in concert with Thaw's attorneys, the temporary insanity defense, in Thaw's case, was dramatized as a uniquely American phenomenon. Branded "dementia Americana", this catch phrase encompassed the male prerogative to revenge any woman whose sacred chastity had been violated. In essence, murder motivated by such a circumstance was the act of a man justifiably unbalanced.[40]

The two trials[edit]

Harry Thaw was tried twice for the murder of Stanford White. Due to the unusual amount of publicity the case had received, it was ordered that the jury members be sequestered—the first time in the history of American jurisprudence that such a restriction was ordered.[41] The trial proceedings began on January 23, 1907, and the jury went into deliberation on April 11. After forty-seven hours, the twelve jurors emerged deadlocked. Seven had voted guilty, and five deemed Henry Kendall Thaw not guilty. Thaw was outraged that the trial had not vindicated the murder, that the jurors had not recognized it as the act of a chivalrous man defending innocent womanhood. He went into fits of physical flailing and crying when he considered the very real possibility that he would be labeled a madman and imprisoned in an asylum.[42] The second trial took place from January 1908 through February 1, 1908.[43][44]

At the second trial, Thaw pleaded temporary insanity.[45] This legal strategy was developed by Thaw's new chief defense counsel, Martin W. Littleton, whom Thaw and his mother had retained for $25,000.[46][47] Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and sentenced to incarceration for life at the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Fishkill, New York. His wealth allowed him to arrange accommodations for his comfort and be granted privileges not given to the general Matteawan population.

Nesbit had testified at both trials. It is conjectured that the Thaws promised her a comfortable financial future if she provided testimony at trial favorable to Thaw's case. It was a conditional agreement; if the outcome proved negative, she would receive nothing. The rumored amount of money the Thaws pledged for her cooperation ranged from $25,000 to $1,000,000.[48] Nesbit was now well aware that any solicitude or kindness shown her by the Thaw enclave was predicated on her pivotal performance on the witness stand. She was to present a pitiful portrait of innocence betrayed by the lascivious Stanford White. Thaw was to be the white knight whose noble, courageous act had avenged his wife's ruin. Throughout the prolonged court proceedings, Nesbit had received financial support from the Thaws. These payments, made to her through the Thaw attorneys, had been inconsistent and far from generous. After the close of the second trial, the Thaws virtually abandoned Nesbit, cutting off all funds.[49] However, in an interview Nesbit's grandson, Russell Thaw, gave to the Los Angeles Times in 2005, it was his belief that Nesbit received $25,000 from the Thaw family after the end of the second trial.[50] Nesbit and Thaw divorced in 1915.[51]

Legal maneuvers: Push for freedom[edit]

Immediately after his commitment to Matteawan, Thaw marshaled the forces of a legal team charged with the mission of having him declared sane.[52] The legal process was protracted.

In July 1909, Thaw lawyers attempted to have their client released from Matteawan on a writ of habeas corpus. Two key witnesses for the state gave testimony at the hearing detrimental to the defense. Landlady Susan "Susie" Merrill recounted a chronology of Thaw's activities during the period of 1902 through 1905. Merrill had rented apartments at two separate locations to Thaw, who presented himself under an alias. Using a false name and representing himself as a theatrical agent, Thaw then proceeded to bring girls into the premises, where he physically abused and emotionally terrorized them. Newspaper reports speculated on an item brought into evidence by Merrill. The "jeweled whip" was insinuated into the proceedings, a graphic element suggesting the scenarios played out in Thaw's rooms. Money was paid to keep the women silent. A Thaw attorney, Clifford Hartridge, corroborated Merrill's story, identifying himself as the intermediary who handled the monetary payoffs, some $30,000, between Merrill, the various women and Thaw. On August 12, 1910, the court dismissed the petition and Thaw was returned to Matteawan. The presiding judge wrote: "... the petitioner would be dangerous to public safety and was afflicted with chronic delusion insanity."[31]

Determined to escape confinement, in 1913 Thaw walked out of the asylum and was driven over the border to Sherbrooke, Quebec. It is believed Thaw's mother, who had years of practice extricating her son from dire situations, orchestrated and financed her son's escape from Matteawan. His attorney, William Lewis Shurtleff, fought extradition back to the United States. Thaw was taken to Mt. Madison House in Gorham, New Hampshire, for the summer and kept under the watch of Sheriff Holman Drew, but in December 1914, Thaw was extradited to New York where he was able to secure a new trial.[clarification needed] On July 16, 1915, the jury found Thaw not guilty[clarification needed] and no longer insane, and set him free.[53][54]

Throughout the two murder trials, as well as after Thaw's escape from Matteawan, a contingent of the public, seduced by the resulting exaggeration of the press, had become defenders of what they deemed Thaw's justifiable murder of Stanford White. Letters were written in support of Thaw, lauding him as a defender of "American womanhood". Sheet music was published for a musical piece titled: "For My Wife and Home".[50]

Soon after the court decision, The Sun, in July, 1915, weighed in with its own estimation of the justice system in the Thaw matter: "In all this nauseous business, we don't know which makes the gorge rise more, the pervert buying his way out, or the perverted idiots that hail him with huzzas."[55]

After Thaw's escape from Matteawan, Evelyn Nesbit had expressed her own feelings about her husband's most recent imbroglio: "He hid behind my skirts through two trials and I won’t stand for it again. I won’t let lawyers throw any more mud at me."[56]

Arrest for assault[edit]

New York Times, January 12, 1917

In 1916, Thaw was charged with the kidnapping, beating, and sexual assault of nineteen-year-old Frederick Gump of Kansas City. His acquaintance with Gump dated to December 1915, and Thaw had worked to gain the trust of the Gump family. Thaw had enticed Gump to come to New York under the pretense of underwriting the teenager's enrollment at Carnegie Institute. Thaw reserved rooms at the Hotel McAlpin awaiting Gump's arrival. In a New York Times article titled "Whipping of Boy Starts Hunt for Harry K. Thaw", dated January 12, 1917, it was reported that Gump in the hotel room was confronted by "Thaw, armed with a short, stocky whip rushing for him." After his assault of Gump, Thaw fled to Philadelphia with the police in pursuit. When apprehended he was found to have attempted suicide by slashing his throat. Initially, Thaw tried to bribe the Gump family, offering to pay them a half million dollars if they would drop all criminal charges against him. Ultimately, Thaw was arrested, jailed and tried. Found insane, he was confined to Kirkbride Asylum in Philadelphia where he was held under tight security.[2][54][57] He was ultimately judged sane and regained his freedom in April 1924. Thaw's obituary, printed in The New York Times the day after his death in 1947, implies that Thaw's mother and the Gump family arrived at a monetary settlement.[2]


Evelyn Nesbit gave birth to a son, Russell William Thaw, on October 25, 1910, in Berlin, Germany. Nesbit always maintained he was Thaw's biological child, conceived during a conjugal visit to Thaw while he was confined at Matteawan. Thaw, throughout his life, denied paternity.[58]

Later life[edit]

In 1924, Thaw purchased a historic home, known as Kenilworth, in Clearbrook, a farming community in Frederick County, Virginia. While living at Kenilworth, Thaw ingratiated himself with the locals, joined the Rouss Fire Company, and even marched in a few local parades in his fireman's uniform. He was regarded as an eccentric by the citizens of Clearbrook but does not seem to have run into a great deal of additional legal trouble.

In 1926, Thaw published a book of memoirs titled The Traitor, written to vindicate his murder of Stanford White. Thaw never regretted what he had done. Twenty years after having taken White's life Thaw said: "Under the same circumstances, I’d kill him tomorrow."[2]

In the late 1920s, Thaw went into the film production business, based on Long Island. His initial plan was to make short comedies and stories about bogus spiritualists. In 1927, he contracted with John S. Lopez and detective-story author Arthur B. Reeve for a batch of scenarios focused on the theme of fraudulent spiritualism. This association generated a lawsuit against Thaw, who refused to pay his collaborators for the script work they had done. Thaw, rejecting the original concept, now conceived of a project to film the story of his own life. He asserted, therefore, the original agreement was no longer valid and he had no financial obligation to his partners. Ultimately, in 1935, a legal judgment ruled against Thaw and in Lopez's favor in the amount of $35,000.[59]

In 1944, Thaw sold the Kenilworth home and moved to Florida.[citation needed]


Thaw died of a heart attack in Miami, Florida, on February 22, 1947, at the age of 76.[2][60][61] At his death Thaw left an estate with an estimated value of $1 million (equivalent to $11 million as of 2017).[62] In his will, he left Evelyn Nesbit a bequest of $10 thousand ($110 thousand as of 2017),[63] about one-percent of his net worth.[64] He was buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing – a 1955 movie in which Farley Granger played Thaw[65]
  • The 1975 historical fiction novel Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
  • "Dementia Americana" – a long narrative poem by Keith Maillard (1994, ISBN 9780921870289)
  • My Sweetheart's the Man in the Moon – a play by Don Nigro (ISBN 9780573642388)[68]
  • The Interpretation of Murder (2006, ISBN 9780805080988), a novel by Jed Rubenfeld in which a fictionalized Thaw appears

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Lucas, Doug. "Harry Thaw - The Notorious Playboy of Old Alleghany" Allegheny City Society Reporter Dispatch (Summer 2007)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Harry K. Thaw is Dead in Florida. Coronary Thrombosis Fatal to Former 'Playboy' Who Shot Stanford White in 1906". New York Times. February 22, 1947. Retrieved 2008-07-23. Harry K. Thaw, 76, died at his Miami Beach home about 8 pm tonight. His family physician said that the attack of coronary ...
  3. ^ a b c "Benjamin Thaw Too Ill to be Told of His Brother's Crime". New York Times. June 26, 1906. Retrieved 2010-10-09. Social and financial circles in Pittsburg were greatly shocked to-night by the news from New York that Harry K. Thaw had shot and killed Stanford White. The Thaws have for years been social leaders here. Harry Kendall Thaw, the husband of Florence Evelyn Nesbit, over whom Thaw and White are said to have quarreled, has for some years been the black sheep of the Thaw family.
  4. ^ Uruburu
  5. ^ a b c Uruburu, p.193
  6. ^ "Benjamin Thaw" Profiles in Time website (February 26, 2007). Retrieved: July 20, 2012
  7. ^ Uruburu, pp.296,309
  8. ^ Uruburu, pp.191-192
  9. ^ a b Uruburu, p.189
  10. ^ Uruburu, p.258
  11. ^ Uruburu, pp. 209-210
  12. ^ Uruburu, pp.190-191
  13. ^ a b Uruburu, pp.180-181
  14. ^ Uruburu, p.274
  15. ^ "Murder of the Century". PBS. Retrieved July 15, 2012.
  16. ^ "Affidavit: Evelyn Nesbit v.s. Harry K. Thaw". UMKC.edu. October 27, 1903. Retrieved July 28, 2012.[permanent dead link] Deposition dated October 27, 1903, presented as State's evidence at murder trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, 1906.
  17. ^ Uruburu, pp.182-188
  18. ^ Uruburu, pp.212-213
  19. ^ Uruburu, pp.216-218
  20. ^ Uruburu, p.221
  21. ^ "Evelyn's Story". UMKC.edu. October 27, 1903 (Affidavit: Evelyn Nesbit vs. Harry K. Thaw). Retrieved July 29, 2012. Check date values in: |date= (help)[permanent dead link] The affidavit was introduced at the close of the state's case in the Harry Thaw murder trial.
  22. ^ Uruburu, p.225
  23. ^ Uruburu, p.255
  24. ^ Uruburu, p.256
  25. ^ Uruburu, pp.260-261
  26. ^ Uruburu, p.181
  27. ^ Uruburu, p.270
  28. ^ Uruburu, pp.272,280
  29. ^ Uruburu, p.279
  30. ^ a b Uruburu, p.282
  31. ^ a b Duke, Thomas Samuel, Celebrated Criminal Cases of the America, James H. Barry Co., 1910. pp.647-851. Retrieved: July 28. 2012
  32. ^ Uruburu, pp. 298, 300
  33. ^ Uruburu, p. 292
  34. ^ "Mrs. Thaw Urged Her Husband On" Washington Post (July 9, 1906); pg. 1. From a statement allegedly made to police by Nesbit’s former friend, actress Edna McClure
  35. ^ Uruburu, p. 319
  36. ^ Uruburu, p. 311
  37. ^ Uruburu, p. 301
  38. ^ Uruburu, p.305
  39. ^ Uruburu, pp.323-324
  40. ^ Gillman, Susan (Winter 1988). ""Dementia Americana": Mark Twain, "Wapping Alice," and the Harry K. Thaw Trial". Critical Inquiry. The University of Chicago Press. 14 (2): 296–314. doi:10.1086/448439. JSTOR 1343448.
  41. ^ Uruburu, p.322
  42. ^ Uruburu, pp.312,354
  43. ^ Uruburu, p.358
  44. ^ Great American Trials, vol. 1
  45. ^ "Thaw lays killing to a "brainstorm" New York Times (July 30, 1909)
  46. ^ "New Counsel for Thaw: Said Martin W. Littleton Will Receive Fee of $25,000". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. 1907-08-02. p. 2 – via ProQuest.
  47. ^ "Insanity Thaw's Plea: Martin W. Littleton Decides Upon Client's Defense at Second Trial". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. 1907-10-31. p. 3 – via ProQuest.
  48. ^ Uruburu, p.324
  49. ^ Uruburu, pp.358-361
  50. ^ a b Rasmussen, Cecilia. "Girl in Red Velvet Swing Longed to Flee Her Past" Los Angeles Times (December 11, 2005). Retrieved: August 18, 2012
  51. ^ Uruburu, p. 368
  52. ^ Uruburu, p.359
  53. ^ "Immigration Officials Seek Writ from New Judge and Hope to Rush Him Across Border". The New York Times. August 30, 1913. Retrieved 2009-11-01. Sensational developments are expected to-day in the fight to get Harry Kendall Thaw out of Canada and back to the Matteawan Asylum. ... Thaw was represented by Mr. Shurtleff and the prosecution by Hector.
  54. ^ a b "New York City 100 Years Ago" Retrieved: July 13, 2012
  55. ^ Uruburu, p. 357
  56. ^ "Murder of the Century" American Experience, Retrieved: July 27, 2012
  57. ^ "Old Print Articles: Harry K. Thaw And Evelyn Nesbit, After Stanford White’s Murder, New York Times (1917, 1926)" Afflictor.com website. Retrieved: July 13, 2012
  58. ^ Uruburu, pp.360,363
  59. ^ "Harry K. Thaw Sued by Two Scenarists; Ask $5,000 for Eleven Screen Stories They Say He Was to Produce". The New York Times. February 26, 1928. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  60. ^ "Harry K. Thaw, Ex-Millionaire Playboy, Is Dead". Chicago Tribune. February 22, 1947. Retrieved 2010-10-09. Harry K. Thaw, 76, former multimillionaire playboy, died in his home here tonight of coronary thrombosis.
  61. ^ "Died". Time magazine. March 3, 1947. Retrieved 2008-07-23. Harry Kendall Thaw, 76, multimillionaire turn-of-the-century playboy whose murder of famed architect Stanford White over Evelyn Nesbit in 1906 was the granddaddy of all tabloid sensations; of coronary thrombosis; in Miami Beach. Eccentric girl-chaser Thaw put three bullets in White at a Manhattan roof garden for the alleged seduction, before Thaw had married her, of ex-Floradora Girl Evelyn.
  62. ^ DollarTimes.com, Accessed June 1, 2018
  63. ^ DollarTimes.com, Accessed June 1, 2018
  64. ^ "Harry Thaw Will Leaves $10,000 to Evelyn Nesbit". Associated Press. March 30, 1947. Retrieved 2008-07-23. Harry K. Thaw, multi-millionaire playboy who died at his Miami Beach home February 22 at 76, bequeathed $10000 to the wife ...
  65. ^ The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing at the TCM Movie Database
  66. ^ Ragtime at AllMovie
  67. ^ Ragtime at the Internet Broadway Database
  68. ^ "My Sweetheart's the Man in the Moon". Samuel French, Inc. Retrieved 2018-06-23.


  • Baatz, Simon, The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (New York: Little, Brown, 2018) {{ISBN|978-0316396653}}
  • Uruburu, Paula, American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White: The Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008 ISBN 978-1594489938

Further reading[edit]

  • Collins, Frederick L. Glamorous Sinners (1932).
  • Geary, Rick. Madison Square Tragedy: The Murder of Stanford White (2011).
  • Langford, Gerald. The Murder of Stanford White (2011).
  • Lessard, Suzannah. The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family (1997).
  • Mooney, Michael Macdonald. Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White: Love and Death in the Gilded Age (1976).
  • Samuels, Charles. The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1953).
  • Thaw, Evelyn Nesbit. The Story of My Life (1914).
  • Thaw, Evelyn Nesbit. Prodigal Days (1934).
  • Thaw, Harry K. The Traitor (1926).

External links[edit]