Jennie Cramer





Jennie Cramer Murder Trial: 1882
Great American Trials   Smith, Tom  

Defendants: Blanche Douglass, James Malley Jr., Walter Mal ley
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Samuel F. Jones, Levi N. Blydenburgh, William C. Case, Timothy J. Fox (both Malleys); Louis C. Cassidy (James Malley); Edwin C. Dow, William B. Stoddard (Douglass)
Chief Prosecutors: Tilton E. Doolittle, Charles Bush
Judge: Miles T. Granger
Place: New Haven, Connecticut
Date of Trial: April 25-June 30, 1882
Verdict: Not guilty


SIGNIFICANCE: Possible witness bribery and an overly specific grand jury indictment helped wealthy defendants elude responsibility for one of Victorian New England's most notorious crimes.
At daybreak on Saturday morning, August 6, 1881, a fisherman found the lifeless body of a young woman floating by the West Haven, Connecticut, shoreline. She was Jennie Cramer, the twenty-year-old daughter of a German immigrant and his wife, who lived in nearby New Haven. Cramer's death shocked the city, for she was well known for her beauty and high spirits, especially among local young men.

One of her most persistent admirers was James Malley Jr., nephew of wealthy dry goods store owner Edward Malley. James Malley had called on Cramer at her father's cigar shop and sent her messages from his uncle's store, where he worked as a clerk. Cramer seemed uninterested in Malley's attentions, but she accepted several of his invitations to go walking or have dinner. The pair was always accompanied by James Malley's cousin Walter—Edward Malley's son—and a woman named Blanche Douglass, whom Walter had met in New York.

Despite her popularity with local bachelors, Jennie Cramer's moral character was considered to be spotless. Consequently, her mother was frantic when Cramer did not return home on the night of Wednesday, August 3. When she turned up on Thursday morning, Blanche Douglass accompanied her. Douglass assured Mrs. Cramer that she and Jennie had spent the night at a rooming house called the Elliott House, where no gentlemen were allowed, but Mrs. Cramer surmised that Douglass was no lady.

"Don't you know that you are disgracing yourself and disgracing your parents by staying out overnight?" Mrs. Cramer cried. "If you carry on like that we must find a place for you to stay when your little sister comes home. We can't have you here!" Mrs. Cramer left the room sobbing. When she regained her composure, Jennie was gone. Mrs. Cramer was terrified by the possibility that Jennie had taken her banishment threat seriously. Guilt-ridden, Mrs. Cramer visited James Malley at his uncle's store that afternoon and accused him of introducing her daughter to bad company. Malley replied that Blanche Douglass was a perfect lady and that the two young women had spent Wednesday night at the Elliott House. Nevertheless, he promised to bring Jennie home or contact the Cramers if he saw her. On Friday, the Cramers received a note from Malley stating that neither he nor Douglass were aware of Jennie's whereabouts. Saturday morning, the Cramers learned that Jennie was dead.

An Inquest's Second Thoughts
Because West Haven lacked a city government, investigating the death fell to a six-man coroner's jury. Bruises on the body nearly led to a conclusion that Cramer had drowned, but an official autopsy was conducted when one juror expressed second thoughts. The autopsy revealed that Cramer had not drowned. Hardly any water was found in her lungs and there was evidence that she had been raped within 48 hours of her death.

When the inquest sought clues about Cramer's last hours, Douglass and "the Malley boys" were called to testify. Douglass now said that she and Cramer had spent Wednesday night at the Malley mansion, where they had been singing and drinking wine alone with James and Walter. When Douglass felt ill, she convinced a reluctant Cramer to remain with her at the mansion all night. In the morning she accompanied Cramer home and witnessed the quarrel with Mrs. Cramer. Douglass swore that she last saw Cramer passing on a streetcar about noon on Thursday.

James Malley testified that he last saw Cramer when the two women left the mansion Thursday morning. Asked about his whereabouts on Friday night, he said that he was at home and that his entire family would swear to it. "My father came to me after the newspaper reports were concluded and asked me where I was Friday night," he replied, peculiarly modifying his answer. "No, he came to me and said, 'It's a lucky thing for you that you were home Friday night.'" Walter Malley echoed his cousin's testimony, adding that he thought that Cramer had gone to her brother's home in New York, accompanied by Douglass.

Other witnesses, however, swore to have seen Cramer with one or more of the trio on Thursday or Friday. It was also learned that Blanche Douglass was a New York prostitute, not Walter Malley's fiance, as newspapers had reported. Detectives arrested her in a bordello and returned her to West Haven, where she was charged with perjury. Walter and James were arrested shortly thereafter.
According to the inquest autopsy, Cramer's body tissues indicated that she had ingested a fatal dose of over three grains of arsenic hours before her death. Verdicts were returned on September 3, holding James Malley "criminally responsible" and Walter Malley and Blanche Douglass "morally responsible" for the death of Jennie Cramer by "poison and violence."

The case was immediately referred to West Haven's local court, where numerous witnesses placed Cramer with the defendants at times conflicting with their stories. The West Haven trial seemed to dispose of one report that Cramer had been on a carousel at the town's Savin Rock amusement district, accompanied by a man with a black mustache. Margaret Kane produced her mustachioed companion and claimed to be the woman on the flying horses that Friday night. Kane said that a dizzy spell prompted her to say, "My God, I'm paralyzed!" a comment attributed by others to Jennie Cramer.

James Malley's sisters and a servant testified that he had been at home on Friday night, but the defense could not overcome suspicions that the defendants were lying. The case was referred to New Haven's Superior Court for a full trial. Meanwhile, the case became an international sensation and the Malley family's reputation declined. James' and Walter's haughty attitude did not win them public sympathy, nor did Edward Malley's dismissal of the tragedy with the blithe comment, "Boys will be boys." Amid rumors of bribery, prosecutors seethed over increasing memory lapses suffered by witnesses. A dime pamphlet bearing Cramer's portrait on the cover and containing the testimony leading to the arrests enjoyed a second printing, thanks to the Malley family's efforts to buy up every available copy at local bookshops.

The Elm City Tragedy
On January 17, 1882, multiple charges against all three defendants were consolidated by New Haven's grand jury into a single count of first-degree murder. Cramer's body was exhumed to address arguments that she, like many Victorian girls, habitually ate arsenic to improve her complexion. An examination found little of the substance in her bones, discounting the defense's claims.
When the case finally went to trial on April 25, 1882, prosecutor Tilton Doolittle charged that Walter had brought Douglass to New Haven for the purpose of helping James to "ruin" Cramer. The conspiracy succeeded and Cramer had been poisoned with liquid arsenic for fear that the crime would be discovered.

Despite confusion over dates and times, the defendants' version of Cramer's and their own whereabouts were opposed by a parade of prosecution witnesses, many of whom had testified in the earlier proceedings. A woman who lived opposite Elliott House repeated that she had seen Cramer there alone on Wednesday night and together with the Malleys and Douglass on Thursday. A New Haven waiter testified that he had served Walter, Douglass, and Cramer at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, casting doubt on the story of the party at the Malley mansion. A drugstore clerk recalled serving Cramer and Douglass sodas on Thursday night. A married couple disputed Margaret Kane's story, insisting that it was Cramer who claimed to be stricken on the carousel. The defense offered a sole witness, a doctor who disagreed with medical reports that Cramer had been raped. He also proposed that she had drowned and that the arsenic in her system was the result of habitual use.

In final arguments, one defense attorney theorized that Cramer had committed suicide. Another emphasized the Malleys' alibis, belittled the prosecution's scientific evidence, and said that too little attention had been given to the possibility of a drowning. Douglass's attorney argued that even if Cramer had died of arsenic poisoning, the state had introduced no evidence that the defendants administered it to her. Yet it was the grand jury's decision to charge the defendants only with murder that doomed the prosecution's quest for justice. On June 30, 1882, Judge Miles Granger instructed jurors that they were only to decide if the defendants had murdered Jenny Cramer with arsenic—the accused were not on trial for rape or for telling lies.

The jury acquitted the defendants in less than an hour. Douglass, James, and Walter were freed, but charges that the Malleys had bought their freedom dogged the family for decades. Despite Walter Malley's outspoken desire to discover the real killers, the Cramer case remains unsolved.

—Tom Smith 

On the market: A home to Westport history ... and Paul Newman

  
   Meg Barone

 Stand in the center of the enchanting 10.46-acre estate at 277 and 275 North Ave. in the Coleytown section of town, and harken back to the sounds of 18th-century, horse-drawn wooden plows clopping through its flax and corn fields. Two centuries later, imagine the laughter of Paul Newman's children as they sledded down the hillside on the back of their famous father.
Influential farmers, artists and actors have inhabited that large property at the corner of North Avenue and Coleytown Road, currently on the market. The site will be sold as a whole or in two separate parcels.
The property is rich with Colonial and contemporary history. Generations of the Coley family lived there for almost 200 years. It's significant that it remained in the Coley family until 1920, according to Bob Weingarten, the Westport Historical Society's house history chairman. David Coley purchased a large area in what was then Fairfield in the early 1700s. That area became known as Coley Village, then Coley Town, and finally the Coleytown area of Westport.
The village had a mill, shoemaker, blacksmith, yarn manufacturer, stables, small village green and one-room school house, which has since been razed and replaced with a large, modern Colonial residence.
As a whole, it is one of the largest residential parcels in town, comprising three houses -- the main house, the former grist and later cotton mill, carriage house, two barns -- one of which is 200 years old and the other was converted into studio space with one bedroom and one bath -- and an approved 2-acre building lot for a five-bedroom house and pool with its own driveway and ample road frontage on North Avenue.
The 10-acre parcel has 680 feet of water frontage on the Aspetuck River.
The earliest portion of the main residence, known as the Ebenezer Coley House, is a well-preserved Colonial Saltbox built circa 1763. Kirby Grimes, noted Hamptons architect, designed the newer addition, which adds functionality and comfort yet echoes the saltbox form and brings the total square footage to 6,442. The transitional space from the old house to new addition has seven sets of French doors to the rear patio and wisteria-entwined pergola.
It is also known as the Kerr Eby House after the noted artist and anti-war activist, who lived there and named it "Driftway." He made sketches and etchings of it between World Wars I and II, which are still sold today. Other notable names from Westport's arts colony who owned portions of the property are sculptor James Earle Fraser and his former student-wife Laura Gardin Fraser, also a famous sculptor, and sculptor Lila Wheelock Howard and her husband, illustrator Oscar Howard.
Unconfirmed rumors suggest the main house was a stop along the Underground Railroad.
The 1,600-square-foot carriage house was built circa 1900 and has three bedrooms and two baths.
The manicured grounds contain formal and informal gardens, heated in-ground Gunite swimming pool near the main house, vintage stone walls and mature trees. And a river runs through it. Closer to the second house the Aspetuck River winds its way through the property. A footbridge crosses the river by a waterfall, and a sunroom in the second house provides a picture-perfect river view.
The second house, the former mill, sits along Coleytown Road and dates back to 1790. It has 2,100 square feet of living space and two fireplaces, one with a bread oven.
Melissa Newman, daughter of the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, who once owned the Coley mill house and property with wife Joanne Woodward, has fond memories of life there, including sledding down the hill with her siblings atop their father's back as he navigated a Flexible Flyer.
"My grandmother kept a dresser full of fabric scraps in the house that she used to share with me. I still have some of them," she said.
"My little sister had a tag sale in front of the barn so she could buy a pony with her friend Susan. My parents came by with Sir Lawrence Olivier, and he was so charmed he gave them a check. They did, in fact, buy the pony, a handful named Sugarbear, who they kept and rode for several years," Newman said.
The main house and the mill maintain their central fireplaces. Both houses are within walking distance of the Newman-Poses Nature Preserve.
For more information or to make an appointment to see this house, contact Mary Palmieri Gai of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties at 203-984-2169.

ABOUT THIS PROPERTY
- TYPE OF HOUSE: Antique Colonial, main house
ADDRESS: 277 North Ave.
PRICE: $7,499,000
NUMBER OF ROOMS: 12
FEATURES: 1900-era carriage house, 200-year-old barn, heated Gunite in-ground swimming pool, 7.34-acre level property, 355 feet of river frontage, wine cellar and tasting room, patio, porch, two pergolas, wood shingle roof, first floor master bedroom, five working fireplaces, wide-plank chestnut floors, exposed beams, original woodwork, stone walls, energy-efficient features, well water, proximity to Coleytown Elementary and Middle schools, six bedrooms, five full and one half baths
ASSESSMENT: $3,837,200
TAXES: $68,640
- SECOND HOUSE: Antique Colonial, former Coley mill
ADDRESS: 275 North Ave., formerly known as 39 Coleytown Road
PRICE: $2,399,000
NUMBER OF ROOMS: 8
FEATURES: 330 feet of frontage along the trout-stocked Aspetuck River, footbridge, waterfall, corner lot, converted barn/guest house, 3.12-acre level and sloped property, two-acre building site, potting shed, stone patios and decks, two fireplaces, well water, three bedrooms, two full and one half baths
ASSESSMENT: $938,900
TAXES: $16,844
SCHOOLS for both homes: Coleytown Elementary, Coleytown Middle, Staples High
TAX RATE: 17.94 mills
PRICE for the entire package: $9,898,000 (10.46 acres)
 More Information
ABOUT THIS PROPERTY
TYPE OF HOUSE: Antique Colonial, main house
ADDRESS: 277 North Ave.
PRICE: $7,499,000
NUMBER OF ROOMS: 12
FEATURES: 1900-era carriage house, 200-year-old barn, heated gunite in-ground swimming pool, 7.34-acre level property, 355 feet of river frontage, wine cellar and tasting room, patio, porch, two pergolas, wood shingle roof, first floor master bedroom, five working fireplaces, wide-plank chestnut floors, exposed beams, original woodwork, stone walls, energy-efficient features, well water, proximity to Coleytown Elementary and Middle schools, six bedrooms, five full and one half baths

ASSESSMENT: $3,837,200
TAXES: $68,640
SECOND HOUSE: Antique Colonial, former Coley mill
ADDRESS: 275 North Ave., formerly known as 39 Coleytown Road
PRICE: $2,399,000
NUMBER OF ROOMS: 8
FEATURES: 330 feet of frontage along the trout-stocked Aspetuck River, footbridge, waterfall, corner lot, converted barn/guest house, 3.12-acre level and sloped property, two-acre building site, potting shed, stone patios and decks, two fireplaces, well water, three bedrooms, two full and one half baths
ASSESSMENT: $938,900
TAXES: $16,844
SCHOOLS for both homes: Coleytown Elementary, Coleytown Middle, Staples High
TAX RATE: 17.94 mills
PRICE for entire package: $9,898,000 (10.46 acres)   

  

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