Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

An American Tragedy: The Murder of Grace Brown


Grace Brown, victim
Grace Brown, victim

Grace returned to her parent's home about this time, but kept her condition secret, and urged Chester to make a decision in a series of letters that began with a friendly tone, but quickly escalated:

"You have succeeded in making me leave Cortland for a time. It makes me feel badly to think that you think I don't know why you wanted me to come home (to my family) ... I ain't no fool ... Please write me ... and tell me all about how you have not thought about me once or missed me at all and how you don't want me to come back."

Grace also said mutual acquaintances had written to her and detailed Chester's shameful behavior with other women during her absence.

Chester, perhaps hoping Grace would become so angry with him as to want to rid herself of him, encouraged Grace's thinking in his letters back:

"As to the numerous accusations you make, they are all true, so perhaps I had better not come (to visit at Grace's parents' house) at all. In fact, I think that would be better for both. I hope you will feel better when you come back, but do not rush your work too hard because of it. Hoping you will understand my reasons for writing as I do."

But Grace did return to Cortland, and as the spring and summer of 1906 progressed, others noticed an increasing frequency of his raised voice and her tears at the factory or at each other's homes. Grace continued to press Chester for some kind of decision, while Chester played for time with vague statements about their future and of their going away on a trip sometime soon.

While on another stay with her parents, and perhaps thinking that the proposed trip would include a wedding, Grace wrote to Chester, urging him to set a date for the journey – and threatening to go back to Cortland, if they didn't leave soon:

"If I could only die ... if I die, I hope then you can be happy. I hope I can die ... oh, please come and take me away.

"Please write and tell me you will come for me before Saturday. I will come straight back to Cortland if you don't come before then."

Chester continued to stall, and so Grace began making veiled threats that she would not keep the identity of the baby's father a secret:

"My life is ruined and, in a measure, yours is too. The world and you, too, may think that I am the one to blame, but somehow I can't. Just simply can't think that I am. I said no so many times."

Chester's life could only be ruined, Grace hinted, if people knew that he had gotten her pregnant.

Tired of waiting, Grace gave Chester an ultimatum for their journey:

"In your last letter, you said you could get away (for the trip) the 7th (of July), and in tonight's letter you (say) July 9th. I expect any time to hear you can't come for a week or two – yet I am awfully sorry, but I have planned on Saturday (the 7th) and I shall be in Cortland that night."

After hearing from Chester, Grace did relent, and agreed to meet Chester in the small town of DeRuyter, New York, on the morning of July 9.

Chester actually arrived in DeRuyter the evening of July 8 and he registered as "Charles George" at a local hotel. He settled into his room with what he'd brought with him: his suitcase and a tennis racket.

He waited for Grace.

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