A Murder That Shocked New York

It happened just 103 years ago this week -- a murder that stunned New York. 

On the night of June 25, 1906, millionaire Harry Thaw was sitting with his wife, Evelyn Nesbit, in the theater on the roof of the old Madison Square Garden on 26th Street. Stanford White, the famous architect who had designed this very building, was in the same room. Suddenly, as an actor on stage sang '' I Could Love a Million Girls,'' Thaw approached White and shot him point  blank three times. White fell to the floor, fatally wounded. 

The other people in the room at first thought it was part of the show.  Then, according to accounts at the time, there was general hysteria. Tables were overturned as people fled the scene.  Thaw surrendered to the police immediately. 

In the days that followed, details of the relationship among Thaw, White and Evelyn Nesbit emerged.  It turned out that White and Nesbit had been involved in a torrid love affair when he was 47 and she was 16.  The red-haired Nesbit, guided by her ambitious mother, had enjoyed a successful career as an artist's model and actress.  White apparently had an appetite for young women and he had a red velvet swing installed in his home, so he could enjoy watching Evelyn and other girls going to and fro.  The swing and other lurid details of White's life became fodder for the press at the trial of Harry Thaw.

William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon, loved the story. His newspapers headlined it as "The Trial of the Century."

On the night of the murder, Thaw's fury was described by witnesses.  He told the policeman who arrested him: "He deserved it. I can prove it. He ruined my wife and then deserted the girl." It wasn't clear whether he said that or whether his actual words were: "He ruined my life."  

The story was a newspaper sensation. Nesbit was the subject of intense coverage as "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing."

In the first murder trial, the jury was deadlocked. At the second, Thaw pleaded temporary insanity. Nesbit testified that White had raped her and Thaw had tried to avenge her honor. Thaw was acquitted and later spent several years in a mental hospital. Nesbit and Thaw were divorced and she resumed her stage career, although she never achieved great success. 

On the night of the shooting there was a bizarre coincidence. Both White and Thaw dined at the Cafe Martin but they never saw each other. Thaw dined with his wife and father-in-law.  White had dinner with his son Lawrence and a friend. They never met. 

Hours later, the confrontation  that shocked New York would take place at the Garden.

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