The Adirondack slaying of Grace Brown in 1906 has inspired novelists and entranced journalists and sleuths for more than a century. Now the prison diary of the man who killed her has found a final resting place in the Burke Library collection. The library is preserving and restoring the writings of Chester Gillette, which will also be transcribed and scanned so they can be made available on the library's Web pages, according to Couper Librarian Randy Ericson.
Gillette kept the diary from September 1907 until March 1908 while he awaited execution in an Auburn prison for the murder of Brown at Big Moose Lake. The case inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, the film A Place in the Sun and even an episode of the television series "Unsolved Mysteries," among scores of other accounts.
The library received the diary from his grandniece, Marylynn Murray, in a spring ceremony. Murray said that she chose to donate the diary and related papers to the College because Hamilton's previous collection of items about the case did not dwell on its sensationalist aspects.
In receiving the diary, President Joan Hinde Stewart said, "We are very fortunate that diary came into the hands of someone so discerning and generous" — Murray inherited the diary in 2003 — and noted that the papers will be "a wonderful resource for Hamilton's course on the Adirondacks and will help us understand the complexity of history."
Ericson predicted that the diary will be of particular use to scholars exploring the psychology of Gillette. "What we've lacked is a better and fuller understanding of Chester and what he went through," he said. "This diary fills out the character of Chester. It shows a Chester no one knew existed."