Episode from the podcastThe Bowery Boys: New York City History

#222 Who Killed Helen Jewett? A Mystery By Gaslight

Released Thursday, 16th February 2017
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In the spring of 1836, a young woman named Helen Jewett was brutally murdered with a hatchet in a townhouse on Thomas Street, just a few blocks northwest from City Hall.

This was not a normal crime. Helen was a prostitute of great beauty and considerable intelligence, making her living in a rapidly transforming city.

Among her client list were presentable gentlemen and rowdy young men alike -- their kind fueling the rise of illicit pleasures throughout New York City in the 1830s.

This was the era of the sporting man. Young single men with a little change in their pocket hit the streets of New York after dark, looking for a good time. For some single young women struggling to survive, the sex industry -- from the 'high end' brothels to the grimy upper tiers of the theater -- allowed them to live comfortable, if secretive, lives.

But it placed many in great danger. The prime suspect for Helen's murder was a young Connecticut man who worked at a respectable New York firm. His trial would captivate New Yorkers and even interest newspaper readers around the country. But would justice be served?

ALSO: Find out how this incident helped shape the nature of American journalism itself. PLUS: Meet more than one person named Ogden!  

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