The courtroom, filled with smoke and mirrors, undulates as I rustle my papers. I cough slightly, nudging against the woman next to me, noticing as she brought her white lace handkerchief to her mouth and nose, no doubt wanting to avoid whatever disease or foul humors I appear to have. Murder trials always brought the most unusual crowd of men and women, and a murder such as this, with so much controversy created a stiflingly large crowd. The sick stench of people filled the thickening air as we wait for James McDermott and Grace Marks to be brought into the room. I scrape the sweat from my brow, and clutch my fountain pen reassuring myself that it is full. The judge bangs his gavel to call for quiet. We all snap to attention, and the prisoner’s door opens. James McDermott is slovenly, slouching, and sullen as he sits down on the convict bench. Grace Marks enters the room, and ensnares the attention of all. Slim, attractive and slowly making her way across the courtroom, she takes on the rabid curiosity of the crowd blankly. She is wearing a well-made dress and could be almost stately. If she had not been accused for murder she could be mistaken for a well off wife of a merchant. The judge demands attention. I am poised to write.
“James McDermott, how do you plead to the double murder of Thomas Kinnear Esq. and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery on July 28, 1843?” the Judge’s nasal voice creaks over the courtroom.
McDermott considers the Judge. He sways slightly, as if teetering between admission and omission.
The Judge harrumphs, and focuses on Grace.
“If I may cut in, Your Honor, I simply must request that Grace Marks and James McDermott are tried separately.” interrupts representation for the two, a man by the name of Mackenzie.
“Granted,” sighs the Judge, “however, we will have her plea now. Grace Marks, how do you plead to the killing of Thomas Kinnear Esq. and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery on July 28, 1843?”
Grace opens her mouth to speak, and the air in the room shivers with anticipation. We wait, holding in air, waiting to hear the voice of the murderess.
“My client pleads not guilty.” cuts in Mackenzie. A murmur runs through the courtroom. Why didn’t he let her speak? My hand, dutifully recording everything, hiccups and stops, paused in a description of the slovenly James McDermott.
McDermott’s trial begins. Mackenzie, acting as both defense prosecution, and furiously examines and cross-examines each witness, and with each revelation the crowd murmurs, stirs, and surges at the gristly picture painted by the men standing witness. They had been found in the cellar, Nancy strangled and Thomas Kinnear shot and bludgeoned. Kinnear had been shot in the kitchen, as determined by the chief of police.
“I says, I found Ms. Montgomery thar, under that tub thar. She ‘ad been sitting awhile thar. We found her much long after Mr. Kinnear, you see. At this same time we found that curious...