Murder in the Brothel: The Courtesan and the Clerk

Oct 13, 2009 - by Doris Lane - 0 Comments

Helen Jewett

Helen Jewett

Helen Jewett was famous in 1830s New York. Elegant and strikingly dressed, she was known to every pedestrian along Broadway. Young Richard P. Robinson, one of her regular clients at the brothel, became infamous by murdering her in bed and getting away with it.

by Doris Lane

It is the opinion of this Jury from the Evidence before them that the said Helen Jewett came to her death by a blow or blows inflicted on the head, with a hatchet by the hand of Richard P. Robinson--Coroner's Inquest April 10 1836

The Courtesan

Helen Jewett was a great letter writer. She was a familiar figure in the mid-1830s as she strolled along Broadway to the post office at Wall Street, fashionably dressed in green silk. Among the many illustrations that appeared in the New York penny press and crime pamphlets in which she was featured dead, one with both breasts fully exposed, another with the blade about to fall on her neck, was one in which she appeared as in public life in her signature green silk dress and a veiled hat. She carried a parasol in one hand and a letter in the other.

In her room at 41 Thomas Street, one of a row of Federal townhouse brothels, Helen hung a picture of Lord Byron, who was her favorite poet. She had a small library of books by Byron, Fitz-Greene Halleck, Sir Walter Scott, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and a copy of Flowers of Loveliness, recently published by Lady Blessington. She had current subscriptions to literary journals, such as the Knickerbocker and the Albion. Theatrical sketches were pinned over her mantle. A worktable held pens and ink and good quality writing paper. Police found a trunk in the room holding almost 100 letters to and from Helen's admirers.

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