The New York City newspapers referred to her as “the girl in green” - green was her color and it caught reporters' eyes. 23 year old Helen Jewett was a beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated prostitute at Rosina Townsend’s upscale brothel not far from New York’s city hall. Her clients included politicians, lawyers, journalists, and wealthy merchants. One cold April night in 1836 one of them smashed her skull with an axe and set her bed on fire. It was the story that shocked New York and gave birth to sensational journalism.
Date: April 9, 1836
Location: New York, NY
Victim: Helen Jewett
Cause of Death: Blows from an axe
Accused: Richard P. Robinson
For women in the nineteenth, century prostitution was a last resort, when poverty, shame or abandonment left them with nowhere to turn. But for Helen Jewett it was a true calling and she embraced it with enthusiasm.
When she sixteen or seventeen Dorcas became sexually active. Several men have been suggested as her possible seducer, including Judge Weston himself. The details of her seduction are not clear, but the act appeared to be consensual. The story became public and the judge had to do something. Though Dorcas was only seventeen, she and the Westons agreed to say she was eighteen and end her service. This freed the judge from having to take action against her seducer, and allowed Dorcas to go her own way.
Dorcas may have been kept by a lover briefly after she left the Westons, but three months later she was living an Augusta brothel kept by Maria Stanley. Soon after, she changed her name to Helen Mar and moved to Boston. She worked there as prostitute for five or six months then changed her name again and moved to New York City. Now known as Helen Jewett, she went to work in an upscale Manhattan brothel run by Rosina Townsend.
In New York, Helen Jewett was more a courtesan than a common prostitute. Her clients included successful lawyers, merchants and politicians who viewed their relationships with her almost as romances, with rendezvous and exchanges of gifts and letters.
Three day before the murder she sent him a letter trying to reconcile and renew their relationship, but closed by saying "You have known how I have loved, do not, oh do not provoke the experiment of seeing how I can hate." In his response Richard Robinson said, "You are never so foolish as when you threaten me. Keep quiet until I come on Saturday night and then we will see if we cannot be better friends hereafter."
Mrs. Townsend recalled seeing Robinson with Helen that night wearing al long dark cloak. Outside they found a bloody hatchet and the cloak she had seen Robinson wearing. Richard Robinson was arrested and to try to elicit a confession he was brought to the scene of the crime. But he showed no emotion, just calmly denied killing Helen Jewett.
Trial: June 2, 1836
A movement had begun to grow among young men who sympathized with Robinson, asserting that men should not be subject to threats from prostitutes. They expressed their support by wearing black cloaks similar to the one worn by Robinson. In opposition, women who wanted to see Helen's killer punished wore white beaver caps trimmed with black crepe.
The jury deliberated for half an hour. There were cheers from Robinson's supporters when they returned a verdict of not guilty. After leaving the courtroom, a companion of Robinsons was reportedly seen givining an envelope to one of the jurors.
Verdict: Not Guilty
Soon after the trial Richard Robinson left New York for Texas. He died two years later of a fever. Reportedly, on his deathbed he repeated the name Helen Jewett.