An American Tragedy: The Murder of Grace Brown
The Missing Boat
Few areas in New York are as pastoral as the Adirondacks in the northeast. The scenery is breathtaking: The wooded mountains are popular destinations for hikers, there are an estimated 2,800 lakes and ponds in the vast area, and it's become a popular vacation spot for people wanting a break from the hustle of New York City and other metropolitan areas in New England.
As the 20th century dawned, the Adirondacks became a good place for a family vacation. It was a good place to escape the industrialization of the cities and make a brief return to nature. It was a good place to hunt and fish. But it was not, as Chester Gillette would find out, a good place to commit murder and dump a body.
On the morning of July 11, 1906, Robert Morrison, who rented rowboats to tourists wanting to pass a sunny afternoon on Big Moose Lake, was approached by a young couple from the nearby Glenmore Inn. Morrison later recalled the young man "asked me if he could get a boat. I told him yes. I pulled a rowboat out of the boathouse. They got into it and went up the lake." Although Morrison rented boats every day, he thought it odd that the man took a formal suitcase and tennis racket with him into the boat.
Throughout the afternoon, other boaters and people on shore occasionally saw the couple, and at least once the twosome went ashore for a picnic. As evening approached, however, darkness fell and the couple disappeared silently into it.
When they didn't return the rowboat that night, Morrison didn't worry. Sometimes tourists misjudged the size of the lake and the swiftness of oncoming night and stayed overnight at a different inn, returning the next morning.
Thursday morning came, but the couple and the boat did not return. Morrison gathered a few others and began a search of the lake by steamboat. Eventually the searchers came upon the overturned rowboat (some say Morrison found it himself, while another story says it was a young girl who found the boat and reported it to the searchers).
The rescue team hurried to the spot, and a young boy acting as the steamboat's purser spotted something odd on the lake's bottom and pointed it out to members of the crew. They dismissed it as garbage, but the boy persisted until a long spiked pole was lowered and the crew poked around at the object before hauling it up through the waters.
In his book Murder In The Adirondacks, author Craig Brandon described the grisly discovery: "The head and chest (of a young woman) came out of the water first," and the corpse was quickly hauled on board the steamboat and hurried towards shore. The crew noticed the woman had horrible lacerations on her forehead and mouth.
Some of the rescue crew wondered if the woman's companion was also on the lake's bottom.
The authorities were called, who, discovering that the couple was staying at the Glenmore, checked the registration book and discovered they were "Carl Grahm of Albany" and "Grace Brown of South Otselic".
As was common in these situations during the early 1900s, newspaper reporters arrived close on the heels of the authorities, and they eventually identified Grace Brown as an employee of the Gillette Skirt Factory in Cortland, New York. Further investigation turned up the fact that while nobody who knew Grace had ever heard of a "Carl Grahm," they did know that the nephew of the factory owner, Chester Gillette, was known to "keep company" with Grace.
The search for Carl Grahm ended and the hunt for Chester Gillette began.