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The Murder of Helen Jewett by Patricia Cline Cohen

Powerful Essays
The Murder of Helen Jewett by Patricia Cline Cohen

In The Murder of Helen Jewett, Patricia Cohen uses one of the most trivial murders during the 1800’s to illustrate the sexiest society accommodations to the privileged, hypocritical tunneled views toward sexual behavior, and the exploitation of legal codes, use of tabloid journalism, and politics. Taking the fact that woman was made from taking a rib from man was more than biblical knowledge, but incorporated into the male belief that a woman’s place is determined by the man. Helen had the proper rearing a maid servant, but how did she fall so far from grace. Judge Weston properly takes credit for rearing her with the proper strictness and education. Was Helen seduced at an early age and introduced to sexual perversions that were more persuasive that the bible belt life that the Weston’s tried to live? Was Helen simply a woman who knew how to use what she had to get what she wanted? Through personal correspondence, legal documentation, census reports, paintings, and newspapers we are able to make our own determinations. Cohen provides more than enough background and history to allow any one to make their own opinion how the murder of a woman could be turned into a side show at a circus.

Helen Jewett, a prominent New York prostitute, was murdered and not only was this rare but a heinous crime. Helen’s murder brought to the forefront the industry of prostitution. This would include the owners, managers, and the clients.

In the Victorian era, in New York City, men and women roles within the society were as different as night and day. A man regardless of his extra curricular activities could still maintain a very prevalent place in society. A woman’s worth was not only based family name which distinguished her class and worth, but also her profession if that was applicable.

During this time in society the industry of prostitution was an economic gold mine. The women operate the brothel while very distinguished men in the community own and take care of the up keep. The brothel keepers are seen as nothing more than common home wrecking whores. However, the owners of the brothels are viewed as successful business men.

For example, John Livingston, brother to President Jackson’s, Sec of State, own the 41 Thomas St brothel. Men of great wealth and statue were frequent to...

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...use. This was customary for Richard to do. As the young suitor made his way up the steps Helen greeted him by saying, Richard I’m glad that you could make it. Helen retired to her room with her suitor and they remained there for the some time.

Helen emerged from her room around 11:00 pm asking for a bottle of wine and Mrs. Townsend delivered the wine and engaged in brief conversation while noticing the young man lying on the bed reading. She was very familiar with Robinson and was able to say without a doubt that he was the one that was in the bedroom with Helen. No one saw him leave nor did anyone let him out. Mrs. Townsend testified that a man had knocked on her door asking to be let out, but told him to have his woman to come and get the key. No one returned for the key so there is no possible logical explanation of how Richard got out of the house, nor was a logical possibility of how anyone else could have gotten in the house.

There were also several eye witnesses to the fact that Robinson was the owner of the cloak and that the hatchet used in the murder resembled the hatchet missing from Hoaxie’s store. Hoaxie just so happened to be Robinson’s boss.