Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Jean Harris Case

The Scarsdale Letter

In between meetings with angry teenagers and their parents, Jean Harris sat down to write a letter to Herman Tarnower.  In it, she would chronicle the many wrongs she felt she had suffered on his behalf and plead for better treatment by the doctor.  This letter was notable for its rage and pain as well as its extreme hatred for Lynne Tryforos, the forty-something blonde secretary/receptionist whom Harris believed was replacing her in Tarnower's affections.  In it, Harris derided Tryforos as a "vicious, adulterous psychotic."  Discussing the banquet to be held in Tarnower's honor, Harris vowed that she would be there "even if that slut comes ­ indeed I don't care if she pops naked out of a cake with her tits frosted with chocolate."  She repeatedly called Lynne a "slut" and a "whore."

In the letter, Harris also claimed that she has suffered some grotesque wrongs at the hands of the other woman.  The headmistress wrote that Tryforos "took a brand new nightgown that I paid $40.00 for and covered it with bright orange stains."  She also asserted that she found one of her dresses "smeared and vile with feces."

Harris told her lover that she, Harris, had found her clothes that she had left in a closet of the Tarnower residence destroyed.  Later, "I called your slut to talk to her about it and see what she was going to do about it she said 'You cut them up yourself and blamed it on me.'

"That was the first time it occurred to me they had been 'cut' not ripped.  Only someone with a thoroughly warped mind would decide that a woman with no money would ruin about one-third of her wardrobe for kicks."

Harris further claimed that some of her expensive jewelry had been stolen.  She assumed that Tryforos was the thief and said, "I only hope if she hocked them you got something nice as a 'gift' ­ maybe I gave you some gold cuff links after all and didn't know it."

In this letter deriding Tryforos as "dishonest, ignorant and tasteless," Harris admits to certain behaviors of her own that could easily be called "tasteless" and even criminal.  For example, "twice I have taken money from your wallet," the first time to pay for the stained nightgown and the second time to reimburse herself for the smeared dress.  She also "ripped up or destroyed anything I saw that your slut had touched and written her cutesie name on ­ including several books that I gave you and she had tasteless, unmitigated gall to write in."  After Tryforos falsely [according to Harris] accused Harris of making harassing phone calls, Harris did just that: "The next month I called her virtually every single night only because of your rotten accusation while she sat simperingly by letting you make it."

Jean Harris sent this bizarre and disturbing missive to Herman Tarnower by registered mail because, she said, other of her mail often failed to reach him.  Soon after, she decided she did not want him to read it after all and called him Monday, March 10, 1980 to ask him to discard it as soon as it arrived.