While most Valentine’s Day stories feature love and romance, we know that all love stories are not so lovely. Here are some historical New York love stories that, instead of arriving at the altar, ended at the morgue.
Helen Jewett was a gorgeous young prostitute in 1830’s New York. Prostitution was widespread at that time, especially in the Five Points neighborhood, where randy young men could have their choice of brothels. Helen, after starting her career in Portland, Maine then Boston, came to New York in the 1830s and found gainful employment in a more upscale house of prostitution, known as a parlor house at 41 Thomas street within the Five Points (today’s Chinatown.)
On the evening of April 10, 1836, Helen Jewett’s partially clothed and mostly burned body was discovered in her bedroom, within her den of iniquity. The coroner determined that she had been murdered with a “sharp object, possibly a hatchet.” A young client of her parlor house, 19 yr old Richard Robinson was quickly arrested and tried for her murder. Despite witnesses and ample evidence, a jury took just 30 minutes to acquit Robinson of the most sensational sex crime of the early 19th Century. Love hurts.
Stanford White was one of the leading architects and bon vivants of Gilded Age New York. A partner in the famed Beaux Arts firm of McKim, Mead and White, White’s work is all over New York: the Washington Square Arch, Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, The Century Club on 5th Ave & 61st St, and the Capitale Restaurant in the former Bowery Savings Bank at Bowery and Grand Street.
He was a connoissuer of fine wines, gourmet food and young women. Very young women. He would have his teenaged mistresses display their charms for White’s cronies in “various states of undress,” most famously portrayed as the Girl in the Red Velvet Swing in White’s bachelor apartment near Madison Square. One of White’s mistresses was a beautiful young showgirl named Evelyn Nesbit. When Nesbit grew too old for White’s tastes, (debatable, but many historians put her at 17,) he dumped her and she married Harry K. Thaw, a mentally unstable millionaire from Pittsburg.
On their honeymoon in Europe, Nesbit explained to her husband that she was no longer “pure and unsullied,” and accused White of raping her. Thaw became enraged by the idea of his virginal young wife having been sullied by an older man, and hatched a plan. On June 25th, 1906, at a gala party in the rooftop garden of White’s own Madison Square Gardens at Madison Ave and 26th St, in front of the creme de la creme of NY society, Thaw approached White and murdered him with a single gunshot to the head. Thaw fled to Canada. He was promptly extradited back to NY for trial; Thaw was acquited of murder, based on his defense that the thought of White ravishing his young bride drove him to commit the crime. Love really hurts.
Sid Vicious and his bandmate Johnny Rotten were among the very first of the punk rockers; their band the Sex Pistols defined the early years of this anarchic strain of rock and roll. Yet even punks need love, and Vicious found affection with his beautiful but emotionally troubled girlfriend Nancy Spungen, a groupie and stripper who pursued a number of punkers before snarring Sid.
Sid and Nancy moved into New York’s famed Chelsea Hotel in 1978; the Sex Pistols had broken up and Sid was attempting to resuscitate his musical career. Sid and Nancy were dedicated drug abusers, favoring heroin, cocaine and barbiturates, which made their relationship often violent. Sid’s friends quickly coined her “Nauseating Nancy” due of her frequent out-of-control public behavior.
On October 12, 1978, her body was found in Room 100 at the Chelsea hotel with a deep stab wound in her abdomen. Sid was quicky arrested. He confessed. “I stabbed her but I didn’t mean to kill her. I loved her but she treated me like s**t.” Despite his confession, Sid was far too stoned on heroin to remember anything about the night in question, and conspiracy theorists rumored that Nancy was murdered by drug dealers, some fingers pointing to 1970s glam figure Rockets Redglare. Four months after being released from Rikers Island, Sid OD’d on heroin. His mother claimed she found a a note from Sid that said, “We had a death pact and I have to keep up my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby in my leather jacket, jeans, motorcycle boots, goodbye.” Nancy was buried in a Jewish cemetary near Philadelphia and Sid’s mom claims that she scattered his ashes on her grave. Love sure does hurt.
By Mark Levy
(Postscript: the leading pic is from the 2006 centennial of the Stanford White assassination; so we hosted a Assassination Impersonation Celebration, in Madison Square Park outside the location where White was murdered, starring Gideon as White, Heather Troy as Nesbit and Matt as Thaw.)