The Story of Nan Patterson

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In ancient times, it was said that a beautiful woman, the likes of Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships. In 1919, Irving Berlin, the song writer, penned, “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody.”

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who invented psychoanalysis wrote, “A particularly beautiful woman is a source of terror.” And on another occasion said, “As a rule, a beautiful woman is a terrible disappointment.”

Lots of women have been talked about in similar ways, but one thing that is seldom said about a beautiful woman is, “She’s guilty of murder.”

Nevertheless, that is exactly what the police said after investigating the early morning suicide death of Frank “Ceasar” Young on June 4, 1904.

The newspapers reported later that day that the NYPD homicide detectives were called to Lower Manhattan to investigate what they were told was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

When they arrived at the scene, they found Young’s body in the seat of a Hansom cab, slumped over into the lap of a young actress named Nan Patterson.

The scandalous love-affair between Young and Patterson was one of New York’s worst kept secrets.

Nan told the police that Young had shot himself when she refused to follow him to England, where he expected to travel for a length of time with his wife.

Sadly, for her, the police believed otherwise, and Nan was arrested and charged with Young’s murder.

Patterson was just 22 years of age when she was arrested and one of the youngest defendants ever to stand trial for a capital crime in the New York courts.

What followed was not one, but three sensational murder trials. As each trial ended, the interest in Nan Patterson’s future grew to the point of hysteria. It seemed that every New Yorker across all five boroughs had an opinion about Patterson and many were saying, “Guilty of Murder” as if it were the title of a dime novel.

Nan Patterson was born as Ann Elizabeth Patterson in Washington, D.C., in 1882. Her father, John Patterson was the senior partner in the architectural firm that built the Treasury Department building in the 1880s. At that time, John Patterson was finishing the last of his government contracts – the Treasury building – at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue – one block east of the White House.)

When Ann met her husband, Leon Martin, she was 17 years old. They married in 1900 and soon after the wedding they moved to California to enable Leon to take a job as a railroad executive. The marriage was doomed from the start; Leon constantly complained about Ann’s “stage fever.” They separated about 1901 and divorced in 1903.

Soon after Leon and Ann separated, she took the name Nan Rudolph and auditioned for a role in the New York production of the musical Florodora. She won a part in the chorus in 1901. The musical was an immediate success in America and the girls of the chorus became famous as the “Florodora Girls.”

Early the following year, Nan met Francis “Frank” Caesar Young. She was still married, although separated. He was married, too, but still living with his wife. They began a rather public affair. Caesar Young was a wealthy bookmaker and racehorse trader. He was so taken by her that he paid for her divorce.

With Frank and Nan as the principals in one unpleasant event after another: public arguments, lover’s spats, and a myriad of screaming fits, their antics found a way onto the society pages of the newspapers. Each new happening caused Young’s wife to enter the fray. She hired private detectives to find the cause of “all this displeasure.” She vowed to end her husband’s dalliances and extra marital liaisons.

Young was, by every measurement ever used, a completely immoral individual. In the early morning hours of June 4, 1904, he left his home to visit Nan, one last time before leaving for Europe with his wife to travel until he forgot Nan’s name. Perhaps his plan would have worked if he ever reached the dock. He had convinced Nan to accompany him to the White Star Line’s Hudson River departure pier, but on the way, they quarreled, and he finished the trip at the corner of Franklin Street and Broadway (three blocks south of Canal Street) with a bullet hole in his chest.

The police (in the person of a junior foot patrolman) were on the scene almost immediately. The body was taken to the Houston Street Hospital and Nan was taken to jail and held on a $5000 bail. A bond was posted by her lawyer, and she was released.

Nan’s wait lasted only a few weeks before her murder trial began on November 15, 1904. That trial lasted for weeks but ended abruptly in a mistrial when a juror had a stroke and no alternate juror was available. An immediate retrial was scheduled for December 5, 1904.

The second trial mirrored the first with the same prosecutor, defense lawyers, and witnesses, but with a new jury (with alternates) included Nan’s own testimony on December 19th, finished with a hung jury on Christmas Eve. The jury foreman reported that 10 (for acquittal) to 2 (guilty) seemed unbreakable.

On April 18, 1905, she was subjected to a third trial but that one too, ended on May 3, 1905, because the jury was deadlocked and unable to reach a verdict.

It all ended on May 12th. Nan was released; she was 23. Her case had generated enormous press coverage and had made her a celebrity. The public was overwhelmingly in her favor and thousands cheered her eventual release.

She left Manhattan immediately and returned to her parent’s home in Washington for the first time in seven years. In what seemed to be a most bizarre reaction to her new freedom, she remarried her first husband, but again it did not last. She married again in 1910, this time to a man named Sumner Scott.

Ann Elizabeth “Nan Randolph” Patterson Martin Martin Scott died in 1947 at age 65.


Postcard History
wishes to Thank
Gary & Peggy Spengler
for suggesting that we tell the story of
Nan Patterson
and thanks again for providing the postcard used to illustrate
this postcard history lesson.

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Thank you for an interesting and enjoyable read.

What an interesting tale! Love the history behind the postcards. Thanks!

Based on the evidence mentioned in this article, I’d have found Nan guilty of murder.

Fascinating story.

Very interesting.
Modern forensics might have cleared up the mystery – but if it did, the story would have died with the victim, even if Nan were proven guilty or innocent.
I see a new TV series in the offing – “Historical Cold Cases Solved”.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x