HERKIMER, N.Y., July 7 — Agnes Vona, a retired librarian from Highland, N.Y., has for years been fascinated by the murder of Grace Brown — so much so that on the anniversary of Miss Brown’s death, Ms. Vona and a friend will travel to the scene of the crime . . . Perhaps several thousand people from around the country will make a pilgrimage this year to a few tranquil Adirondack towns to mark the 100th anniversary of a real-life murder that became the basis for Theodore Dreiser’s classic 1925 novel, “An American Tragedy.”
On July 11, 1906, Miss Brown, 20, climbed into a boat with her boyfriend, Chester Gillette. They rowed onto Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks, where Mr. Gillette bludgeoned Miss Brown with a tennis racket and pushed her overboard, knowing she could not swim. After her bruised body was plucked from the water the next day, an autopsy showed she was several months pregnant. The police also found her desperate letters to Mr. Gillette, 23, saying she knew he was dating other women, and was terrified he would run off. Mr. Gillette’s trial in the village of Herkimer, the county seat, was the biggest this region had ever known, drawing reporters from around the country and making front-page news. Historians said the 1996 guilty plea of the child murderer Lewis Lent Jr. in the same courthouse did not compare.
“The murder will never die,” said Susan R. Perkins, the executive director of the Herkimer County Historical Society, which receives dozens of requests for information each year. The anniversary of Miss Brown’s death will be marked on Tuesday with events including boat tours along Big Moose Lake and the dedication of a historical marker at her gravesite in South Otselic, a hamlet roughly 50 miles north of Binghamton by car. “I feel very sorry for her,” said Ms. Vona, 63. “She was misled.”