Harry Kendall Thaw was well-known in Pittsburgh at the turn of the 20th century for his playboy lifestyle as the heir to a multi-million dollar mine and railroad fortune.
“The parade of newsprint happened almost with his birth in 1870 in the old Thaw mansion on Downtown Stanwix St.,” an article in The Pittsburgh Press stated.
His antics included lavish parties, drug use, and participation in high-stakes poker games (for which he was reportedly expelled from Harvard). He spared no expense in wining and dining the ladies. In 1901, he met then 17-year-old Evelyn Nesbit, a Pittsburgh girl labeled by New York artists as “the most perfect model in America.” The two were married on Christmas Eve 1905.
Nesbit had previously gained the attention of noted New York architect Stanford White, with whom she used to “sip wine in his apartment.” Their relationship was something that caused Thaw great agony.
On the night of June 25, 1906, the newlyweds gathered with other wealthy socialites on the roof of Madison Square Garden in New York for the premiere of a musical show. That’s when Thaw spotted White, walked over to his table, and calmly shot him three times for “some real or fancied wrong that White had done Evelyn Nesbit …”
Thaw was arraigned the following morning and reportedly admitted to the murder, saying, “That man ruined my wife. … That man ruined my home. I guess he won’t ruin any more homes.”
The resulting trial was one of the most sensational of the century, with Thaw pleading temporary insanity and his wife claiming White had previously drugged and raped her.
After an initial trial yielded a hung jury, a second acquitted Thaw but ordered him to a New York asylum for the criminally insane. In 1913, he escaped from the asylum, fled to Canada and was quickly captured. However, in 1915, he was ruled sane by the New York Supreme Court and walked away a free man, 9 years and 21 days after the start of his first trial. An article in the Press stated, “His return to Pittsburgh was hardly triumphal, although a parade was arranged from the East Liberty station to his home.”
Thaw made headlines in the coming years for a number of incidents, including the kidnapping of a young boy, which once again landed him in a mental institution. In 1940, he opened his new Philadelphia home to “ladies over 16 and gentlemen over 18” to visit him. It was his last major public appearance.
He lived a relatively quiet life from then until his death in February 1947 at his vacation home in Miami Beach, Fla. At the time, Ms. Nesbit, 62 and living in Atlantic City, said she was “very depressed and sorry to hear the news” about her ex-husband, who once killed another man for her love. She said she would not attend the funeral.
Thaw was buried in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Cemetery.