The Murder of Dr. Chapman: The Legendary Trials of Lucretia Chapman and Her Loverby Linda Wolfe
A gripping story of a wily con man, a woman's seduction, and a ghastly crime. With exceptional skill, Wolfe braids trial transcripts, intimate love letters, and period recollections into a compelling historical thriller that culminates in a courtroom drama as timely as any in today's headlines. Connoisseurs of sensational murder stories, from Lizzie Borden to O.J.
A gripping story of a wily con man, a woman's seduction, and a ghastly crime. With exceptional skill, Wolfe braids trial transcripts, intimate love letters, and period recollections into a compelling historical thriller that culminates in a courtroom drama as timely as any in today's headlines. Connoisseurs of sensational murder stories, from Lizzie Borden to O.J. Simpson, shouldn't miss this one.
"Has all the elements of a good novel."
"Wolfe has always been a keen observer of contemporary true crime: here she delves deeper into history to disinter a quintessential con man."
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The Murder of Dr. Chapman
The Legendary Trials of Lucretia Chapman and Her Lover
Bucks County, PennsylvaniaJune 1831
Early on the morning of June 19, 1831, Dr. John Phillips, one of the most highly regarded physicians in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was awakened in his Bristol home by a persistent banging on his front door. Phillips arose reluctantly. It was a Sunday, and he'd hoped to sleep until it was time for church. God knew he needed some rest. But he wasn't like some of the doctors who were practicing nowadays, the kind who put their own needs first and turned away patients when being called upon didn't suit them. Some of those shirkers didn't even have diplomas. Others had them, but from places he'd never heard of, and as far as he was concerned, if a doctor hadn't been trained as he was, at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, he had no use for him, none whatsoever.
Still sleepy, he threw off his covers and peered out the bedroom window to see who was making the commotion. It was Mina, that Spanish or Mexican fellow who was boarding at the home of his good friend Dr. William Chapman. A handsome fellow, with olive skin and deep-set anthracite eyes. Tiny, though. But many men looked small to the six-foot-tall Dr. Phillips.
Bounding downstairs on his long legs, he let the foreigner in and, hoping the clamor hadn't disturbed his wife and children, asked him who was sick. One of the Chapmans' children? One of their students? William and his wife ran a boarding school at which Lucretia taught reading, writing, and comportment, mostly to young ladies, though she had a few male pupils, too, and William gave speech lessons to stammerers who sought him out from all over the country, and even from Europe.
In a torrent of garbled English, the foreigner began answering Phillips's questions. He was difficult to understand, but after a while the doctor was able to gather that it was William who was sick. He'd been throwing up since Friday night.
Nothing unusual about that, Phillips thought. It was almost summer. Cholera morbus time. In the warm months people frequently came down with that nasty stomach affliction that made them regurgitate all they ate and turned their stool to water. There wasn't much a doctor could do -- just wait till it subsided, which it almost always did.
Still, according to the Mexican, Lucretia Chapman was insisting he come over and have a look at William. So Phillips dressed himself, got into his carriage, and followed the voluble man over to the Chapman house, which was ten miles away in the town of Andalusia.
When he arrived, Lucretia and William's brood of five children and half a dozen or so of their students were just finishing breakfast. Lucretia, looking harried, was serving them herself. Her housekeeper, she explained, had recently quit.
She was a striking woman, buxom and almost as tall as Phillips himself, with pleasing features and a cascade of fashionably bobbing reddish-brown curls, a head of hair that belied her profession. She offered him some food, but he declined and went upstairs to look at the patient.
William was pale, his corpulent body so flabby and white that, lying in the middle of the big marital bedstead, he looked like a beached whale, and the bedstead itself like an island in an archipelago of beds. It was surrounded by a scattering of the trundle beds the Chapmans used to accommodate very young students.
He felt weak, William said to Phillips. He'd been vomiting copiously. Could it be because of the pork he'd had for both dinner and supper on Friday?
William wasn't a medical doctor. He was a scientist, but he'd taken a few courses at the University of Pennsylvania's medical school. Phillips respected him. He told Chapman it could have been the pork, but most likely it was cholera morbus, the cause of which no one could say precisely.
Cholera morbus wasn't the same ailment as cholera, the virulent bacterial disease of the intestinal tract that was, even as William lay sick, advancing relentlessly from its birthplace in India across the European continent. Phillips had heard about that deadly Asiatic cholera, which in a year would reach the shores of America and produce one of the most frightening epidemics the young country had ever known. But on this bright June morning in 1831, cholera, with its notorious ability to kill within hours after delivering its first symptoms, had yet to cross the Atlantic, and cholera morbus was not a killer. Indeed, it generally got better in just a few days. After examining William, Phillips prescribed a light diet.
His plump friend was well enough to be annoyed by that recommendation. "A beefsteak," William said testily, "would do me more good than anything else."
But Phillips was adamant that he eat lightly. He directed Lucretia to feed William rice gruel. And chicken soup. He might even have a little of the chicken with which she made the soup. "Not much," he advised. But the broth would be very good for him. "He may eat plenty of that."
Phillips was busy the next few days. He had a great many patients, spread out over the entire area of lower Bucks County, and he was the consultant of choice among the county's medical men, the doctor they turned to when they had particularly difficult cases. But on Tuesday, after hearing that William Chapman was still sick, he made up his mind he'd drive to Andalusia the next day and check on him again.
When he got there on Wednesday Lucretia informed him, to his surprise, that William had been so violently ill the night before that she'd called in another doctor, his colleague Allen Knight. Knight had given the Chapmans the same diagnosis Phillips had: cholera morbus ...The Murder of Dr. Chapman
The Legendary Trials of Lucretia Chapman and Her Lover. Copyright © by Linda Wolfe. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Linda Wolfe is the author of several books, including the Edgar Award-nominated Wasted. She lives in New York City.
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