Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

An American Tragedy: The Murder of Grace Brown


According to Brandon, Grace Brown's childhood was much more sedate than Chester's. Born in 1886 to a farming couple in a remote area of New York, Grace had a typical rural childhood of family and school and boredom. As a young woman, life handed Grace an opportunity to escape the small-town life when she moved to Cortland to live with her older sister Ada's family. Grace helped with a new baby, but looked for something else to occupy her time and found work at the Gillette Skirt Factory in a variety of roles in the manufacturing and inspection of the clothing before it was shipped out.

Grace Brown, school photo
Grace Brown, school photo

Chester and Grace probably didn't meet for some time, as they worked in different departments on separate floors. One story, possibly too romantic to be true, said that the two met when a ring fell off Grace's finger and dropped to the floor, rolling away until it was stopped by Chester's shoe.

Regardless of how they met, the two began seeing each other often during the summer of 1905, bonding to the degree that when Grace visited her family that autumn, Chester would write to her:

"You don't know how lonesome it is now ... with nothing to do evenings. Sunday was the dullest day I have known in a long time. (That night) I went to bed about nine, but laid awake for nearly two hours thinking of everything, principally you. Hurry back, as you don't know how lonesome it is here."

While this letter shows the deep affection Chester had for Grace at the time, she was probably not the only woman Chester was seeing. In their book Adirondack Tragedy, Joseph W. Brownell and Patricia W. Enos state that Chester dated other girls from the factory or in the neighborhood during the course of his relationship with Grace.

Noah Gillette, uncle
Noah Gillette, uncle

Grace, however, saw Chester exclusively, although she knew of and was distressed by stories circulating around the factory of his being seen in someone else's company. Many of the young women Grace did not know personally, as Chester (with the help of Uncle Noah) could move within the wealthier circles of society that Grace could never approach.

Chester and Grace remained serious about each other, however – to the point that by the spring of 1906, Grace discovered she was pregnant. Brownell and Enos pinpoint this as the beginning of the fissure in their relationship, as Grace pressed Chester for action and Chester tried to naively ignore the situation in the hope that it would go away.


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