Stanford White Murder
Murder on the Rooftop Garden
In the breezy heat of summer, June 25, 1906, a group of wealthy revelers gathered on the roof of the old Madison Square Garden (the gilded building that was actually located at Madison Square) to watch the premiere of a mediocre musical review. The women wore elaborate, beaded dresses and feathered hats. The men, dressed in dapper suits and many sporting sculptured facial hair, smoked cigars. The good-humored crowd paid some attention to the chorus girls and singers, but also actively socialized. Thus, the performers struggled to be heard above the din of voices and clinking glasses.
One man, a jovial fifty-something redhead with a fashionable moustache, appeared mesmerized by the showgirls. He sat near the front of the stage by himself, which was unusual for this highly social man. The man applauded wildly, grinning and winking at the virginal-looking girls who sang a lively song about dueling.
Meanwhile, another, younger man moved through the crowd towards the older man. This handsome, glowering figure drew a slight amount of attention by wearing a black overcoat in the heat of summer. Earlier in the evening the hatcheck girl had made numerous attempts to check the coat, but the man had steadfastly refused.
Still, the crowd paid little attention to the eccentrically dressed man, assuming he sought out friends. Most recognized him, if they did not know him personally. A couple of people noticed him approach the older mans table, only to fall back for a few moments and stare. As a performer broke into a song called I Could Love A Million Girls, the younger man finally strode over to table of the older man.
From beneath the overcoat, the young man produced a pistol and fired three close range shots directly into the face of the older man. The victims elbow, suddenly inert, slid off the table, which overturned with a thump and a clatter. The body slumped to the floor.
At first, there was awkward silence. Then, there came a bit of terse laughter as many assumed the spectacle to be part of the show. Elaborate practical jokes were commonplace among New York society. As the mangled and bloody face, blackened with powder burns, became visible, the screams began.
The killer, showing little emotion, removed the rest of the bullets from his pistol. As he moved towards the exit, he held the gun aloft to indicate he had ceased shooting, but this gesture did no good. Panic ensued, and people raced for the doors. The theatre manager pleaded for calm and absurdly bade the show to go on, but the orchestra petered out after a half-hearted attempt to play. The terrified chorus girls could not sing. Someone threw a white tablecloth over the victim, still flopped across the floor next to his overturned table. When blood soaked through the sheet, the man hastily added a second cloth.
Meanwhile, the killer found his confused party of friends standing by the elevators. A stunning, copper-curled woman in a white eyelet dress saw the pistol, still held aloft in her husbands hand.
Good God, Harry! What have you done? asked Evelyn Nesbit Thaw.
All right dearie, replied Harry Thaw of Pittsburgh calmly, I have probably saved your life.