Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Jean Harris Case

Telephone Harassment and Tryforos

While Herman Tarnower slept around with a variety of women, Jean Harris's jealousy started to focus on a single rival, his secretary-receptionist, Lynne Tryforos.  In Harris' estimation, Tryforos was the sort of ignorant, common woman a man might enjoy as a sexual "tootsie roll" but unworthy of being escorted to dates and dinner parties by a man as fine and respected as the eminent cardiologist, Dr. Herman Tarnower.

Jean Harris started being awakened from sleep by middle-of-the-night phone calls.  They were not made by Lynne Tryforos or by anyone whose voice Harris recognized.  They could be either male or female.  The anonymous caller would tell Jean that she was "old and pathetic" or taunt her with graphic descriptions of Tarnower's enjoyment of another woman's sexual acumen.  At work, the headmistress would frequently get a call back number that turned out to be that of Lynne Tryforos.  The two women would end up screaming at each other over the phone.  Lynne Tryforos would change her unlisted number no less than five times over the ensuing years.  Each time, Jean Harris would get the new number as a call back.

What kind of person is Lynne Tryforos?  That is not publicly well known.  Tryforos has, as is her right, turned down all of the many interview requests she received after the doctor's killing.  She never testified at Jean Harris's trial.  Thus, we simply do not know her side and, in fairness, must remember that the awful things she is said to have done were just allegations made by her rival, Jean Harris. Photographs of Lynne Tryforos show an attractive and modestly dressed blonde with her hair fastidiously coiffed. 

As the cliché goes, love makes a man (or a woman) do crazy things but did Lynne Tryforos steal jewelry and destroy her rival's apparel?  We do not know.  Was she paying people to anonymously torment Jean Harris over the phone?  We cannot know that either.  The limited funds of a divorced secretary-receptionist supporting two young children would appear to make it unlikely.  Moreover, the fact that Tryforos went to the trouble of changing her own phone number so frequently makes it probable either that she did not want Jean's call backs or, at least, that someone was making unwanted phone calls to her.

The apex of this triangle, Tarnower, also received anonymous phone calls.  He wasn't bothered by them however and just hung up.

There is at least one incident in which Tryforos did something that might be considered of questionable "taste" or creatively cute, depending on one's standards. She took out a tiny advertisement on the front page of the New York Times saying, "Happy New Year Hy T. Love Always Lynne."

Apparently Tarnower didn't appreciate the gesture for when he saw it he exclaimed, "Jesus, I hope none of my friends see it!"

Jean Harris was at his elbow.  She did not say what she should have said and what was in her heart, "I see it, Hy.  Aren't I your friend?"  Instead she said, "Why don't you suggest she use the Goodyear Blimp next year?  I think it's available."

Lynne Tryforos made a good impression on many people.  She is said to be a most efficient office assistant and many of the doctor's friends believed that she put him at ease and was a good influence on him.  Those who liked her have described her as a kind, pleasant, and thoughtful person.

In 1974, Jean Harris found herself out of a job.  The Thomas School had merged with the Low-Heywood School and ceased to exist as a separate institution.  While she was given the option of staying on, Harris decided to leave the educational arena for a while to take a job as Manager of Sales Administration for Allied Maintenance, an enormous firm based in Manhattan.  Within a year, however, Harris was back in school administration as the headmistress of Madeira.


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