The Murder of Helen Jewett by Patricia Cline Cohen

The Murder of Helen Jewett

In 1836, the murder of a young prostitute made headlines in New York City and around the country, inaugurating a sex-and-death sensationalism in news reporting that haunts us today. Patricia Cline Cohen goes behind these first lurid accounts to reconstruct the story of the mysterious victim, Helen Jewett. From her beginnings as a servant girl in Maine, Helen Jewett refashioned herself, using four successive aliases, into a highly paid courtesan. ...

Details The Murder of Helen Jewett

TitleThe Murder of Helen Jewett
Release DateJun 29th, 1999
GenreHistory, Crime, True Crime, Nonfiction, Mystery, Biography, New York, North American Hi..., American History, Literature, 19th Century, Historical

Reviews The Murder of Helen Jewett

  • Matt
    The Murder of Helen Jewett is a misleading title, in a way. The murder takes place in the first few pages; then, this central event is set aside in favor of an exploration of Helen's life and times. This involves a bit of historical detective work, and I will say that I am impressed with the author's scholarship and writing ability. She does an admirable job of digging into the past and shedding light on mysteries I didn't know existed. The book ...
  • Katherine Addison
    This is the book I wanted The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers: Sex and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York to be. If Helen Jewett had been published first, I would assume that Mary Rogers was an attempt to imitate it, but in fact, Mary Rogers was published in 1995, three years before Helen Jewett.It's clear that Srebnick and Cohen are attempting to do the same thing: to take a cause celebre murder of New York in the mid-nineteenth century and ...
  • Dixie Diamond
    I thought this was fascinating and I was astonished at how much primary material--letters, contemporary accounts--was available for Ms. Cohen's research, so long after the fact. However, it's probably not for the casual reader: It's exhaustive, rather long, and you have to be interested not only in Jewett and the murder but the process of the research or you might find it tedious. Personally, I am a detail fiend and thought that material that som...
  • Christine
    Sometimes a good cast isn’t enough to get me to continue to watch a show. Copper was such a show. I tried. I really did. I tried again when I heard that new actors were being added to the second season. I mean, Alfre Woodard. But no, couldn’t get into it. I was always left with a feeling that the show, if not the staff, really didn’t like women. Granted, it took place in Five Corners during the Civil War, but in terms of female characters y...
  • Chana
    History, not mystery. Historical and sociological research of 1830’s New York; it’s brothels, boarding houses, business practices, justice system, newspaper coverage and the prominent families of the times, particularly those involved with or related to Helen Jewett and Richard Robinson. The book is written around the murder of a prostitute called Helen Jewett in a NY city brothel on April 9, 1836. The murderer most likely is a young man from...
  • emily
    I think I have never before read a book and thought "whoooooooeee, this could use some serious editing." The story of Helen Jewett's actual murder is fascinating and bizarre, no doubt. There's all sorts of stuff going on here that is all sorts of fascinating. We've got prostitution, cover-ups (maybe), small-town girls going off to the big city, all that.And it's really, really meticulously researched -- heavily footnoted, tons of minor stuff sour...
  • Jennifer
    This book was great. It took one event from 19th century New York and expanded upon it and all the relevant characters to provide a wealth of information about 19th century America and Americans. Really, really interesting.
  • Jonathan
    A wonderful book, not always easy to bear but always captivating. Patricia Cline Cohen tells the story of a notorious 1836 New York murder trial, using it to immerse us in Jacksonian urban society and reveal some of the anxieties the case brought to the surface of public discussion. She relates the life stories of two mysterious city dwellers, first the charismatic 22-year-old prostitute calling herself Helen Jewett and then the 19-year-old clerk...
  • L
    Patricia Cline Cohen is a good writer, in the sense that she displays mastery of the language (a rich vocabulary and the like). But she's not a good editor. The subject matter here is terribly interesting - from the story of the murder itself to the time in which it took place. Cohen delves into the cultural elements of 1830s New York and the back stories of the main characters. Of course it's a good instinct to provide context to a murder trial,...
  • Michael
    If I was more of a fan of mystery, I probably would have absolutely loved this book. This book goes into amazing detail of everyone and everything that had even the slightest involvement with the story. I will say this was probably the most intensively researched book I ever read and my hats off to the author. The reading was hit and miss for me. A lot more details than I cared for in some areas. But overall I would say I liked it. In my opinion,...
  • Brett
    This is exactly what narrative historical nonfiction should be, in my opinion. The story of the murder of prostitute Helen Jewett in 1830s New York City is a fascinating panorama of a time & place that is so engrossing, the reader finds it almost more real than the world currently around them. Plus, it's so much more than just a book about a sensational murder & trial of days past: the birth of modern journalism, particularly of the investigative...
  • Corinne
    When I first started this book I couldn't put it down. It opened up with Helen's murder and then started opening up 19th century New York and Helen (born Dorcas Doyen)'s life. I could just feel the author digging around in archives to get to understand Helen (and her murderer's life). I wanted to give this book four stars. I really did. But about 2/3 of the way in it was starting to repeat itself too much and its tangents were no longer relevant....
  • Naomi
    I found this book absolutely fascinating. I agree with reviewers who have stated that this book reads more as a history book vs. a true crime story, but I think that is why I have enjoyed it so much. The author went much deeper in her writing and research of this "story" versus your "average" true crime book. If you are looking for a book written in the style of such authors as Gregg Olsen's nonfiction work, Phelps, M. William or Ann Rule, you ar...
  • Lucy
    Cohen knows EVERYTHING about this case. It's an in-depth study of so many facets of early 19th century history: gender roles, prostitution, the justice system, the caste system, and Manhattan itself. It's exactly the kind of history book I love - when the author introduces a peripheral character, she starts with his grandfather. If you're not into that kind of storytelling and are looking for a juicier read, I recommend "Sin in the Second City" -...
  • Leslie
    The murder of Helen Jewett in April 1836 provides a springboard for a rich social history of the period, including policing, family, gender, sex work, urban life, law. There’s hardly a sideroad that the author doesn’t find interesting enough to venture down, at least for a while.
  • Amanda
    This was a required reading for one of my graduate classes in history, and I must say, it was one of the best ones to read. Cohen uses the research from newspapers, journals, and letters to bring the murder of the time to life. She shows how life was for the women during that time period, and how the newspapers embellished the crime. She writes the story in a prose format, and with intriquite detail to the crime. However, I do wish she would have...
  • Ted
    I like non-fiction. I like well-researched books. However, not every detail found in research needs to make it into the book. That's how it felt when I tried to read this one. I think the story and time period would have been an interesting read, something I would have enjoyed, but I just couldn't make it through the heavy detail. The flow of the story was bogged down in facts about which I had to ask "Do I really care to know this?" I made it th...
  • Lora Shouse
    In April of 1836, a young prostitute who called herself Helen Jewett was found murdered in her bed. Her bedclothes had been set on fire.In The Murder of Helen Jewett, Patricia Cline Cohen minutely examines the history of this murder. She goes into great depth, looking at the newspaper coverage of the time (the murder provided a lot of material for several papers of New York’s so-called ‘penny press’, the forerunners of today’s tabloids, a...
  • William
    Finished book ages ago. Thought I reviewed at that time. Great book. Very prescient in light of Poe's story. Would recommend to all who would prefer fact to fiction, especially those who have an interest in the historical time period covered here, and the stark sililarities and differences in procedurals as compared to today's investigative processes.
  • Leslie
    Brain Food: Steak and PotatoesScandal Level: Historial discussion of prostitutionViolence: Descriptions of 19th century murder sceneMust be ___ old to read: 14Read if you liked: The Devil in the White City or The Great Train RobberyRe-readability: Worth reading a Second timeThoughts: I was assigned this book in my History 601 class and absolutely loved it. Historical true crime does an amazing job at crossing the divide between pop and acade...
  • Michelle
    I gave up on this book. The writing is very poorly done. She goes back and forth with the dates of the story, which is really confusing. I thought it was going to be more about the murder case itself, and how it had an impact on mid-nineteenth century New York City; instead, the book is mainly about building up the character of the prostitute Helen Jewett, who she was as a child in Maine, how she came to be a prostitute in New York City, and her ...
  • Nicole Sackin
    This book could have been titled "The Social Implications of Prostitution in the 1800s" since it is not so much a murder mystery as a representation of the societal impact of prostitutes in the 1800s and examination of what their daily life would be like.Very interesting read but long and bogged down by details to back up each assertion. I feel like this book could have been much easier to digest if there were a summary, just story about what hap...
  • Natalie
    Meh. This was an interesting subject matter but it was sooooo dry. I feel like the author was trying to cram in too many official documented proofs. It read too text booky. Which is unfortunate because a lot of the topics were really interesting. How the newspapers treated the story. The legal process in the 1830s. How prostitution worked in the 1830s. Etc. But man, I just could NOT get through it. I ended up skipping ahead to the last two chapte...
  • Marie Hew
    The history geek in me wants to give this book 3 stars, but my want-something-fun-and-captivating -summer-reading self lowers the rating. What could be more interesting than a story about the murder of a high-end sex worker?! This isn't a pedestrian history, it's a for real historian's history. The author was exTREMEly thorough in her research about Helen Jewett and the circumstances surrounding her death; at times her due diligence was tedious. ...
  • Nathan
    Helen Jewett was a prostitute in 19th Century New York. One day, a man a step or two above her on the class ladder, murdered her. Then he was tried for the crime. And he got off. The Murder of Helen Jewett recounts this otherwise unsurprising case with suspense and a rare talent for social commentary. As well, the case's presence in the new tabloid industry caused it to reach from coast to coast. The temporary effect it had on the country as a wh...
  • Fraser Sherman
    This is surprisingly dry, to the point of dull, for a book about a once-sensational murder involving a high-class prostitute whose client killed her with an axe, then set fire to the brothel. Normally I love history books that paint a picture of the times and this does that, with details about prostitution, small town life, sex in New York, popular views of the novel (Jewett was a voracious reader) but Cohen's handling of the story just bogs down...
  • Robert Davis
    I've been reading this in bits and pieces for a while--mostly because I never wanted it to end! Simply put, this is an amazing book. It tells a deeply compelling story of a woman's life, her murder, and the resulting trial; however, the context that Cohen builds is equally fascinating. Few books evoke the social world of antebellum New York City like this one. In telling Jewett's story, she provides a more insightful look at the lives of women in...
  • Aishuu
    It took me over a year to get through this, but I persevered. This is more of a scholarly treaty than a history book for the masses - the author included tons of primary resources (letters, newspaper articles). I learned a lot from this about 1830s NY prostitution (which is a fascinating topic, particularly if a person is interested in the morals war of America), but it was a slog to get through.
  • Emily
    I enjoyed this book. What made it really interesting for me is that I have family in Augusta and seeing the city in the early 19th century was very interesting.