Crime of the Century
Chester Gillette and Grace Brown worked together
in 1905 at a skirt factory in Cortland, New York owned by Chester's uncle.
Chester was born in Montana and traveled around
the Pacific Northwest with his parents, who were captains in the Salvation
Army. He attended Oberlin Academy prep school and later worked as a railroad
brakeman before coming to Cortland. There he met Grace Brown, a farmer's
daughter from South Otselic in Chenango County, New York, who had originally
come to Cortland to baby-sit for her sister's child.
They dated occasionally but most of their relationship
was conducted in secret. In the spring of 1906 Grace found herself pregnant
with Gillette's child and she went home to her parents after Gillette promised
to take her away on the trip to the Adirondacks. While she apparently assumed
this was to be a wedding trip, it is unknown whether Gillette actually
promised to marry her.
After a number of letters begging him to fulfill
his promise, Gillette met Grace in Deruyter, New York on July 9, 1906 and
they began a trip together. They spent the first night in Utica and then
took the train to Tupper Lake, where they spent their second night together.
On the morning of July 11 they took the train back towards
Utica and stopped at Big Moose Lake in Herkimer County. They rented a boat
together and spent the entire afternoon out on the water. Grace left her
trunk in the train station and her hat in the hotel, but Chester took everything
he had with him out onto the boat.
Sometime around 6 p.m. Grace ended up in the bottom
of the lake, She had told Gillette in one of her letters that she could
not swim. Chester, taking his suitcase, camera and tripod, ran off into
the woods and found a trail to the south. Later that night he arrived at
the Arrowhead Hotel in Inlet and stayed there until his arrest three days
During his trial in November and December, Gillette
said Grace had jumped into the lake and committed suicide because of her
plight. The district attorney said Chester hit Grace over the head with
the tennis racket that had been attached to his suitcase. The jury found
him guilty of first degree murder and sentenced him to die in the electric
chair. He was executed on March 30, 1908.
The case has lived on in fiction and legend.