Cover image for Arsenic under the elms : murder in Victorian New Haven
Arsenic under the elms : murder in Victorian New Haven
McConnell, Virginia A., 1942-
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiv, 260 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1290 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6555.U52 M33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A high-profile murder can function as a mirror of an era, and attorney and crime researcher Virginia McConnell provides a fascinating view of Connecticut in Victorian times, as glimpsed through the unrelated, but disturbingly similar murders of two young women near New Haven in the late 1800s. The colorful characters involved in the commission, investigation, and prosecution of these crimes emerge as real, vibrant individuals, and their stories, compelling in themselves, reveal much about Victorian sex and marriage, drugs from arsenic to aphrodisiacs, early forensic medicine, and 19th-century courtroom procedures.

Both victims in these sensational killings were young women from the New Haven area. The first, Mary Stannard, was a 22-year-old, unmarried mother who worked as a domestic and believed herself to be pregnant for a second time. The man accused of her murder, Reverend Herbert Hayden, was a married lay minister whose seduction of Mary was fairly common knowledge. Upon hearing from Mary of her pregnancy, he assured her he would obtain some quick medicine for an abortion and they agreed to meet in the woods. Mary's body was found clubbed and poisoned, her throat slit; chemical tests revealed she had been given 90 grains of arsenic. Hayden's wife perjured herself on the witness stand to protect him (subsequently becoming a darling of the press) and despite convincing forensic testimony from Yale professors, the minister ultimately went free.

Three years later, another woman of relatively low social stature was found floating face-down in Long Island Sound off West Haven. This strikingly pretty 20-year-old daughter of a cigar-maker came to be known as The Belle of New Haven, and though she had been seen frequently in the company of young people of questionable character, had never been a loose girl. The autopsy of Jennie Cramer revealed that she had not drowned, but had been savagely raped and poisoned with arsenic just before her death. Three people were put on trial for her murder: two scions of the wealthy Malley department store family, and their prostitute friend from New York. It was believed that the victim was killed to prevent her disclosure of the date rape by one of the young men, but they were likewise acquitted. Arsenic Under the Elms meticulously reviews the evidence, the personalities involved, and the society that produced them, resulting in a mesmerizing contribution to the literature of true crime.

Author Notes

Virgina A. McConnell teaches English, literature, and speech at Walla Walla Community College's Clarkston Center in Clarkston, Washington.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

McConnell examines two Victorian-era murders that shocked the residents of staid New Haven, Connecticut. Separated by a period of three years, the murders of Mary Stannard in 1878 and Jennie Cramer in 1881 paralleled each other in several ways. Both young women had become involved with men whose social station exceeded their own, both had ingested lethal doses of arsenic, and both had been sexually abused. By carefully reconstructing the crimes, the bungled investigations, the sensationalized newspaper coverage, and the glaring prosecutorial blunders that resulted in the acquittal of the accused, the author places the events firmly in cultural context, providing a fascinating glimpse into the arenas of late-nineteenth-century law, journalism, morality, and social structure. A superb piece of historical detection that will gratify true-crime buffs. --Margaret Flanagan

Library Journal Review

McConnell (English, literature, and speech, Walla Walla Community Coll.) believes that "murder provides us with a mirror of an era." A specialist in researching historical crimes, she sees the newspaper coverage of the murders of Mary Stannard in 1878 and of Jennie Cramer in 1881 as a "time machine" that allows a reader "to eavesdrop on the people of Victorian New England, to listen to their speech patterns, their opinions, and to see the clothes they wore...the tools they used...the food they ateÄnot as examples in a history text or artifacts in a museum, but as vibrant and real." Her painstaking reconstruction, both of the murders of these two young women and of the trials in which their alleged killers were acquitted, reveals fascinating insights about law, justice, and the position of women in post-Civil War Connecticut. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries.ÄRobert C. Jones, formerly of Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Part I The Murder of Mary Stannardp. 1
Chapter 1 Maryp. 3
Chapter 2 The Reverend Herbert H. Haydenp. 14
Chapter 3 The Stannard-Hawley Clanp. 28
Chapter 4 Discovery: The Rockland Community Takes Overp. 34
Chapter 5 Justice Court Trial: Prelude to "The Great Case"p. 47
Chapter 6 Interim: Preparing for "The Great Case"p. 59
Chapter 7 The Great Casep. 67
Chapter 8 Arsenic at Center Stagep. 76
Chapter 9 Experts on Paradep. 91
Chapter 10 Lay Testimonyp. 100
Chapter 11 Verdictp. 116
Part II The Belle of New Haven: The Tragedy of Jennie Cramerp. 125
Chapter 12 "Drifting with the Tide"p. 127
Chapter 13 Jennie, Jimmy, Wall, and Blanchep. 135
Chapter 14 Boys Will Be Boysp. 144
Chapter 15 An End and a Beginning: Inquest Verdictp. 161
Chapter 16 Justice Court Trial in West Havenp. 171
Chapter 17 Superior Court Trial in New Havenp. 186
Chapter 18 What Happened to Jennie Cramer?p. 198
Aftermathp. 209
The Victims' Families: The Stannards, Hawleys, and Cramersp. 209
The Defendants' Families: The Haydens and Malleysp. 213
Notesp. 223
Selected Bibliographyp. 253
Indexp. 255