In 1913 Harry Kendall Thaw escaped from the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane where he was confined for having shot and killed Stanford White, resulting in “The Trial of the Century,” a decade long media frenzy featuring sex, seduction, jealousy, glamour, and obsession in the lives of the rich and famous.
Stanford White (1853–1906) was one of America’s most prominent architects. He designed many important private residences and public structures, including the Washington Square Arch, the First Bowery Savings Bank, the Century Club, and Madison Square Garden – where on June 25, 1906 he was killed by Thaw, the wayward son of Pittsburgh tycoon William Thaw.
The case attracted boundless national attention. At the center of it was Harry Thaw’s beautiful wife, Evelyn Nesbit, “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing,” who as a 16 year old artist’s model had been Stanford White’s mistress before she married Thaw in 1905. Thaw’s obsession with Evelyn prompted his killing White.
Thaw, still very much in the headlines, bribed a guard at Matteawan, escaped to Quebec, and was found in New Hampshire. See Matter of Thaw, 167 A.D. 104 (1st Dept. 1915), creating another round of media excitement. After extradition, a jury adjudged him sane and he was released. See People ex rel. Woodbury v. Hendrick, 215 N.Y. 339 (1915). Thaw went on to live a life of recklessness and profligacy, having declared the killing a “noble act” and that under the same circumstances “I’d kill him tomorrow.” See his obituary in The New York Times, February 23, 1947.
New York American, June 26, 1906, front page