Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century

Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century

by Harold Schechter
3.5 8

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Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century by Harold Schechter

From renowned true-crime historian Harold Schechter, whom The Boston Book Review hails as “America’s principal chronicler of its greatest psychopathic killers,” comes the riveting exploration of a notorious, sensational New York City murder in the 1890s, the fascinating forensic science of an earlier age, and the explosively dramatic trial that became a tabloid sensation at the turn of the century.

Death was by poison and came in the mail: A package of Bromo Seltzer had been anonymously sent to Harry Cornish, the popular athletic director of Manhattan’s elite Knickerbocker Athletic Club. Cornish barely survived swallowing a small dose; his cousin Mrs. Katherine Adams died in agony after ingesting the toxic brew. Scandal sheets owned by Hearst and Pulitzer eagerly jumped on this story of fatal high-society intrigue, speculating that the devious killer was a chemist, a woman, or “an effeminate man.” Forensic studies suggested cyanide as the cause of death; handwriting on the deadly package and the vestige of a label glued to the bottle pointed to a handsome, athletic society scamp, Roland Molineux.

The wayward son of a revered Civil War general, Molineux had clashed bitterly with Cornish before. He had even furiously denounced Cornish when penning his resignation from the Knickerbocker Club, a letter that later proved a major clue. Bon vivant Molineux had recently wed the sensuous Blanche Chesebrough, an opera singer whose former lover, Henry Barnet, had also recently died . . . after taking medicine sent to him through the mail. Molineux’s subsequent indictment for murder led to two explosive trials, a sex-infused scandal that shocked the nation, and a lurid print-media circus that ended in madness and a proud family’s disgrace.
In bold, brilliant strokes, Schechter captures all the colors of the tumultuous legal case, gathering his own evidence and tackling subjects no one dared address at the time–all in hopes of answering the tantalizing question: What powerfully dark motives could drive the wealthy scion of an eminent New York family to foul murder?

Schechter vividly portrays the case’s fascinating cast of characters, including Julian Hawthorne, son of Nathaniel Hawthorne, a prolific yellow journalist who covered the story, and proud General Edward Leslie Molineux, whose son’s ignoble deeds besmirched a dignified national hero’s final years. All the while Schechter brings alive Manhattan’s Gilded Age: a gaslit world of elegant town houses and hidden bordellos, chic restaurants and shabby opium dens, a city peopled by men and women fighting and losing the battle against urges an upright era had ordered suppressed.

Superbly researched and powerfully written, The Devil’s Gentleman is an insightful, gripping work, a true-crime historian’s crowning achievement.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345509420
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/30/2008
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 267,474
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Harold Schechter is a professor of American literature and culture at Queens College, the City University of New York. He is widely celebrated for both fiction and true-crime writing, including The Serial Killer Files. He lives in Brooklyn and Mattituck, Long Island, with his wife, the poet Kimiko Hahn. Visit the author’s website at

From the Hardcover edition.

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Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
villivodder More than 1 year ago
This is a superbly researched and very well written book. As the story progresses, it takes you more and more to the edge of your seat, with very few dull moments. Not only is the depth of research exceptional, but it has been disseminated masterfully and put into an easily flowing narrative. I wish I had found and read this book much sooner (was published in 2007), but it is a worthwhile read anytime. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is incredibly well-written and -researched. It captures the period very well and is just a rollicking good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished The Devil's Gentleman and was intrigued throughout the book. I purchased this book because I enjoy reading about New York City history at the turn of the 20th Century. I appreciated Harold Schechter's true account of the Molineux trial. The author did not have to add dramatics to this book, the history of the case did it for him. Because of the author's extensive research on this case, he did not need to flourish this story with fiction. I researched the New York Times articles written at the time of the trial and they clearly match the author's writings in this book. If you enjoy history or crime stories, I recommend you give this book a try. I truely gained a sense of what life was like in New York City at turn of the 20th Century.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As always you can tell Harold Schechter researched his subject well. It was really interesting. Definitely worth a read.
detective-fan More than 1 year ago
I love a good historically based crime novel, but a great one is better. Unfortunately Devils Gentleman is not a great one. This is not to say its bad; in fact it seemed well researched and had the power to keep you reading on in anticipation. The major complaint was the authors slightly plodding and repetitious style of writing, though the story was in itself so intriguing (at least in my opinion) that it managed to overcome any stylistic shortcomings. If you like historical novels set in the late 1890's-1900 America, especially the seedier side, I'm sure you will enjoy this competent work.
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