Murder in the Adirondacks, An American Tragedy Revisited (North Coutnry Books, 1986, 380 pages, 95 illustrations, $32.50 hardcover. ISBN 0-932052-58-4 ). Revised edition with new introudction by the author. April 2006.
Part true-crime story, part local history and part social commentary, "Murder in the Adirondacks" tells the true story of the 1906 Chester Gillette - Grace Brown murder case that was the basis for Theodore Dreiser's 1926 novel "An American Tragedy" and the movie "A Place in the Sun."
Now in its 13th printing, the book is a perennial best seller in the Adirondacks and has been praised by Dreiser scholars and historians as the best version of the story, which was once front-page news all over the country. Using local newspaper articles, the trial transcripts and letters and documents that remained hidden away for decades, Brandon tells the story of Brown and Gillette, describes the sensational trial and then explains how the story was turned into a legend, complete with ghost stories and folk songs.
"I am deeply indebted to Craig Brandon for "Murder in the Adirondacks."
Richard Lingeman, executive editor of The Nation, author of
Theodore Dreiser: An American Journey.
"An excellent case history."
David K. Frazier,
author of Murder Cases of the Twentieth Century.
"Well researched and readable."
Rochester Times Union
"Murder in the Adirondacks is well crafted and absorbing, capable of delivering a few surprises."
New York Alive
"Certainly this was the most notorious crime in the history of the Adirondacks...Brandon has done a thorough job of researching all the available records...and then weaving an exciting narrative that holds one's attention completely."
"Murder in the Adirondacks is more haunting for its detail and truth than any of the legends that sprung from Big Moose Lake."
John D. Hubbard, Oneida Dispatch
"Brandon's writing is straight and informative...the book will be around for a long time."
Dick Case, Syracuse Herald American
"It's an incredible story"
Paul MacEnroe, WUTR-TV Utica
"A more definitive account is unlikely...Brandon's attention to details raise Murder in the Adirondacks to a level equal to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood."
Owen McNamara, professor of English, Herkimer Telegram
"Tells not only a true story, but a good story."
Jarlath Hamrock, Ithaca Times
"Love, sex, murder and mystery are the ingredients of best-selling fiction, but rarely are they the subject of local history publications. Craig Brandon's Murder in the Adirondacks is the interesting exception to this...local history at its most fascinating."
Leslie C. O'Malley, Ph.D, The Association Quarterly
"An exciting tale...Brandon has given us a very important document, which will have a permanent place in Dreiser studies."
Philip L. Gerber, professor of English, SUNY Brockport,
"Leaving out few details, Brandon keeps the story mode on a fascinating level."
Larry Hart, Schenectady Gazette
Murder in the Adirondacks is avaiable from your local bookseller as well as directly from the publisher, North Country Books (315) 342-7409 or by e-mail at
For more information go to the Murder in the Adirondacks page
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Grace Brown's Love Letters
(Surry Cottage Books, March 2006, First Edition. 80 pages, large format 8 1/2 by 11 $15)
Every word of the famous correspondance between Grace Brown and Chester Gillette from 1905 and 1906. Read the words that infatuated the nation when they were read at Gillette's murder trial. Complete with extensive footnotes on the possible hidden meanings of what they were actually saying to each other, a chart of the dates of the letters and a new introduction by the author. Twenty photos, including actual photos of the letters and the envelopes.
For more information and ordering instructions, click here.
The Electric Chair: An Unnatural American History (McFarland and Co. Inc. Jefferson, North Carolina 1999 ISBN 0-7864-0686-0 288 pages, 50 illustrations. Cloth $39.95)
This book traces the history of the electric chair for over 100 years from the initial idea in 1881 to the present day. First designed as a method of killing unwanted animals by the SPCA, electrocution was substituted for hanging by New York State in 1888. The first use of the electric chair was in 1890.
While the New York legislature said it was making the change for humanitarian reasons, the real reason was money. Since the middle 1880s, the two chief American electrical entrepreneurs, Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, were competing against each other in a no-holds-barred “battle of the currents” to win contracts with every city in the nation. At stake were millions of dollars in sales of equipment.
Publicly, Edison seemed to be staying on the sidelines of the electric chair debate, offering the use of his laboratory and testifying at hearings. Stolen letters and other information included in this book show that the chief lobbyist for the chair, Harold Brown, was taking direct orders from Edison, consulting with him at every step.
Westinghouse, also in secret, hired the best lawyers in the country to fight the electric chair all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the electric chair could not be considered “cruel and unusual punishment” because no one was sure what would happen when it was used.
After describing the first use of the chair, the book describes the executions of many famous victims, including women and children. Among the people who died in the chair were the assassin of President McKinley, the Lindbergh baby, the character that Theodore Dreiser used as the basis for An American Tragedy, Sacco and Vanzetti, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Ted Bundy. In all, over 4,200 Americans have been killed in the electric chair.
Over half the states and the District of Columbia used the electric chair at some point during the 20th Century, but most states have now switched to lethal injection. Only four states still use the electric chair as the sole means of execution. The four remaining states, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Nebraska, all have bills in the works to pull the plug on the chair. The history of this strange invention seems to be drawing to a close.
Using newspaper articles, letters from archives and old reports, this book explains how such a bizarre invention came to be accepted by the public, despite the fact that it never worked very well. It explains why the courts refused to ban it and why, eventually, states pulled the plug and put “Old Sparky” into museums with other gruesome artifacts of the past.
REVIEW EXCERPTS"A history of the first decade of the electric chair. Brandon tells an absorbing story...an excellent, readable work”—Choice
“One must admire Brandon’s extensive research...essential”—Library Journal
“Highly readable, meticulously documented and absolutely fascinating history...an important contribution to the ongoing debate over capital punishment in this state and this country...recommended”—Bookmarks
“[the] most thorough study of the first man to be executed by current in America. Any serious student of law, New York history or politics owes himself the opportunity to read this great book”—New York Law Journal.
Table of Contents
Part One: A Shocking Invention
1. The Genie of the Gilded Age
2. The Hangman’s Terrible Legacy
3. The Death Commission
4. The Battle of the Currents
5. The People v. William Kemmler
6. Westinghouse’s Counter-Attack
7. Cruel and Unusual Punishment
8. The Human Experiment
9. The Reaction: ‘A Thrill of Indignation’
Part Two: Four Thousand Victims
10. The First Era: 1891-1966
11. The Electric Chair Reborn
This book is available in most local libraries
To purchase your own copy, try Amazon.com or your local bookstore.
Or try the McFarland and Co. Website.
This page created and maintained by Craig Brandon
Last updated December 2005