Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Jean Harris Case

Integrity Jean Takes the Stand

Jean Harris in court (AP)
Jean Harris in court

The most dramatic part of the trial occurred when Jean Harris testified in her own defense.  She seemed alternately depressed and agitated, sorrowful and snobbish.  Under Joel Aurnou's gentle questioning she went through her background, her problems at work, and her long love affair with Hy.

During direct examination, Joel Aurnou read aloud to the jury a poem that his client had written. The lawyer chuckled frequently as he read his client's work.  He apparently believed the poem showed Jean Harris was not jealous but bemused by Tarnower's promiscuity.  However, patterned after "Twas the Night Before Christmas," the poem is, as Shana Alexander noted, "pathetic, not funny" and barely conceals the writer's feelings of inferiority and despair under a thin surface of brittle humor.  Titled "A Very Merry to Vivian and Arthur and Herman," the poem was written for the Christmas of 1979 and concerns Vivian and Arthur Schulte as well as Herman Tarnower. All of the female names are, according to Jean Harris, made up rather than those of Herman's actual bedmates.

'Twas the night before Christmas, and in part of the house
Arthur was snuggling with Vivian, his spouse.
In the guest room lay Herman who, trying to sleep,
Was counting the broads in his life ­ 'stead of sheep!
On Hilda, on Sigrid, on Jinx and Raquel;
Brunhilde, Veronica, Gretel, Michele;
Now Tanya, Rapunzel, Electra, Adele;
Now Susie, Anita ­ keep trucking, Giselle. . . .
But 'tis the time to be jolly ­ and very upbeat ­
And for now that's not hard because Herman's asleep!
Beside him lay Jeannie, headmistress by Jiminy ­
Who was waiting for Santa to come down the chimney.
A huge stocking they'd hung by the hearth, those four sinners!
In hopes St. Nick would forgive and they'd all end up winners.
Would he leave them a prize or a well-deserved switch?
And how would they know which switch went to which?
But for now they were snuggled all safe in their beds
While visions of dividends danced through their heads.
Then all of a sudden there arose such a clatter,
Herm woke from his sleep to see what was the matter.
And with Jeannie obediently three paces back,
They tip-toed to the living room to watch Nick unpack.
He smiled to himself as he looked at their list.
And thought to himself, 'what an ironic twist!
I know perfectly well they've been gambling and boozing
But they're likable sorts ­ so it's rather confusing.
I'll leave them some bauble to match their uniquenesses.
And cater a bit to their favorite weaknesses!'

The poem continues with Santa giving jewels and books to Viv, a jug of alcohol to Arthur, a "black book" full of the phone numbers of "some new red-hot mamas" to Herman, and nothing at all to Jean.  Unfortunately, Jean Harris's attorney missed the barely concealed scorn in the poem, the guilt-ridden and sado-masochistic connotations of the "well-deserved switches," as well as the choking despair of the headmistress ignored by Santa.


We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'