On a blazing hot summer night in 1906 on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden, Harry Thaw, heir to a US$40 million railroad fortune, crept up behind Stanford White - a revered New York City architect and socialite. As a choir sang the closing notes to Mam'zelle Champagne on the venue's rooftop, Thaw raised a pistol inches from White's head, and fired three shots.

The bullets went straight through his left eye, killing him. When asked by police why he did it, Thaw's answer was simple: "He deserved it. He ruined my wife."

In the investigation that ensued, a tragic and bizarre "love triangle" was revealed between the architect, the millionaire, and his model wife - New York City's first "it-girl" Evelyn Nesbit. She was the crux of the conflict, a stupefying young beauty, whose tragic story was the backbone of what became known as the Trial of the Century, according to the Daily Mail.

Evelyn was just 15 when she began modelling in New York City, and she looked even younger. She quickly skyrocketed to popularity in the magazine industry, and graced the covers of Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, and Harper's Bazaar in the early 1900s.

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The image of her copper-brown tresses and pale skin were plastered on postcards, beer trays and tobacco cards.

Her often sexual poses earned her the title of the world's first pin-up girl, and she later worked with one of the first fashion photographers, Joel Feder, as a live model - staged in various costumes, such as a wood nymph, gypsy, geisha, and Grecian goddess.

Evelyn's father passed away when she was young, she became the sole breadwinner for her family. Even though she was making US$10 a day in the early 20th century - the equivalent of about U$275 today - she and her mother and younger brother lived together in a single room in the back of a building on 22nd St and apparently struggled to make ends meet despite Evelyn's income.

When she made her debut into the Broadway circuit as a chorus girl in the play Florodora, her graduation into the New York City elite was cemented.

No one was more invested in Evelyn's success than Stanford White, an architect whose firm constructed the second Madison Square Garden, Washington Square Arch, and mansions for the Vanderbilts.

White met for the first time Evelyn in 1901 - she was 16 and he was 47, with a known proclivity for young women.

Evelyn had become close friends with a mother-daughter duo she worked with on Florodora - Edna Goodrich and Nell King. In August of 1901, Edna invited Evelyn along to a lunch at Stanford White's West 24th St apartment, which sat above FAO Schwarz. Nell King, Edna's mother, convinced Evelyn's mother that the girls would be safe.

Evelyn wrote in one of her two memoirs: "Mama dressed me in a little homemade black and white dress. I wore my best hat, my copper brown curls hanging down my back tied with a taffeta ribbon."

Stanford White was introduced to Evelyn by another chorus girl during her time on Broadway. Photo / Getty Images
Stanford White was introduced to Evelyn by another chorus girl during her time on Broadway. Photo / Getty Images

The dingy door they arrived at was the stark opposite of what awaited them inside: red velvet curtains, tapestries hanging on the walls, nude artwork, and champagne.

After lunch, Stanford gave Evelyn and Edna a tour of his luxurious apartment. He pushed the two girls on a giant red velvet swing he had installed in one room - which later became the inspiration for a 1955 movie about Evelyn's life, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.

Evelyn didn't tour the entire apartment that day. A few weeks after their first meeting, she was introduced to the "Mirror Room".

White convinced Evelyn's mother that it would be a good idea for her to visit friends back in Philadelphia. While her mother was away, Evelyn came back to White's West 24th St flat.

Again, the two made the tour of the apartment drinking champagne, and this time adjourning to the 10x10ft room with mirrors installed entirely around the walls and on the ceiling. This time, the alcohol made her lose consciousness. The last thing she remembered was changing into a yellow kimono, and when she regained consciousness, she was naked in his bed and no longer a virgin.

Suzannah Lessard, the great-granddaughter of Stanford White, wrote of what happened after that day in her book The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family.

Harry Thaw, the millionaire accused of murdering the architect Stanford White in 1906 over an alleged affair with his wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit. Photo / Getty Images
Harry Thaw, the millionaire accused of murdering the architect Stanford White in 1906 over an alleged affair with his wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit. Photo / Getty Images

"Evelyn had two choices," she wrote. "She could repudiate Stanford, on whom her family depended, or she could gloss over the violative aspects of what had happened.

"What footing did this sixteen-year-old have from which to reject one of the most powerful men in New York? Evelyn chose to fall 'head over heels in love' with Mr White."

Thus began the teenager's years-long affair with the architect, who had a wife, Bessie, and son Lawrence. At the time, Evelyn was still 16, and White's son was just a year older than her.

However, Evelyn was not White's only mistress, and she was after all, a beautiful bachelorette born to a poor widow. Choosing a husband out of love wasn't a luxury she could afford. At the age of 17, she had already turned down several proposals, including that of a budding illustrator John Barrymore, whose baby she was rumoured to have aborted.

Six millionaires vied to have her as a wife, but despite her affair with White coming to a devastating close, he remained a significant influence in her life and continued to serve as her benefactor.

Evelyn Nesbit, the celebrated ideal Gibson Girl of New York society. Photo / Getty Images
Evelyn Nesbit, the celebrated ideal Gibson Girl of New York society. Photo / Getty Images

In her memoir, Evelyn wrote: "When I was robbed of my illusions by Stanford's continued interest in other women, love had died in my heart. And I did resolutely put him out of my mind too. I went on adoring Stanford for his kindness, his thoughtfulness, no more."

Eventually Evelyn met Harry Thaw, the multi-million dollar railroad heir who was known to be mentally ill - but piqued Evelyn's interests by delivering her roses encased in US$50 bills.

While on a trip to Europe, Evelyn decided to come clean about her past with White, and told her husband to-be about being drugged and raped in the Mirror Room. After the scandalous revelation, the couple made a stop at the Katzenstein Castle in Austria - where the severity of Thaw's evil ways were revealed.

Over a two-week period, he kept Evelyn locked in one of the castle's rooms, and beat her repeatedly with a cowhide whip and sexually assaulted her. Despite the horrific abuse, the two were still married in April 1905.

"I was so sorry for him," Evelyn reflected on her decision to accept his proposal. "And...we'd been so terribly poor."

Evelyn later said telling Thaw the truth about White was "the costliest mistake of her life".

In 1906 Harry Thaw shot and killed world-famous architect Stanford White in the roof theater at Madison Square Garden. Photo / Getty Images
In 1906 Harry Thaw shot and killed world-famous architect Stanford White in the roof theater at Madison Square Garden. Photo / Getty Images

The knowledge that his wife had been assaulted by White exacerbated Thaw's already rage-fuelled obsession with the architect, who had previously snubbed Thaw an elite Manhattan party and black-balled him from several upscale clubs.

On June 25, 1906, his hatred culminated on the rooftop theatre at Madison Square Garden, when Thaw shot White dead in front of the horrified crowd - in a twisted act of retribution for White stealing away his wife's virginity.

The show didn't immediately stop because the gunshot was thought to be a part of the act - elaborate pranks were standard in entertainment of the era. It was only when a few women noticed White's exposed skull and skin blackened from gunpowder and began to scream that the choir stopped singing.

A witness told the New York Times that Thaw, on his way out, asked him if White was dead. When the witness told him that he was, he said: "Well I made a good job of it, and I'm glad."

The man said he then saw Evelyn run to her husband, embrace and kiss him, and say: "I didn't think you would do it in this way."

Thus began the "Trial of the Century" in February 1907.

Harry K. Thaw (L) sits with the jury that found him sane after his trial for the murder of architect Stanford White, who was having an affair with Evelyn Nesbit Thaw. Photo / Getty Images
Harry K. Thaw (L) sits with the jury that found him sane after his trial for the murder of architect Stanford White, who was having an affair with Evelyn Nesbit Thaw. Photo / Getty Images

A media frenzy quickly ensued, and gave way to the beginnings of tabloid journalism. The case covered the front of newspapers for weeks, and became common knowledge in most households, making jury selection difficult. It was the first time in United States history that the jury was sequestered, meaning they were kept together in a private location for the duration of the trial.

Evelyn became a star again on the stand - and testified that White had raped her years before. In exchange for her testimony defending her husband, she had been promised US$1 million from Thaw's family, the LA Times reported. She was to receive support from them under the condition that her husband was found not guilty.

Meanwhile, countless witnesses came forward to tell shocking stories of evil at the hands of Thaw.

Other women testified that they experienced similar torture, much as Evelyn did during those petrifying weeks in Austria. Several chorus girls said on the stand that Thaw had beaten them with a "pearl-handled dog whip" - and that his mother had paid them to keep quiet.

These allegations were furthered by Susan Merrill, a former housekeeper for Thaw, who testified that for three years from 1902-1905 she worked as a middleman between the railroad heir and two brothels in New York City. She said that she caught Thaw "lashing girls on the bare arms and bodies with a whip" - and that Thaw paid at least one woman US$7,000 (nearly US$200,000 today) not to speak out about his perverse habits. Merrill pleaded with the judge to commit Thaw - who she said would continue to be a threat to society.

Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, member of family involved in Stanford White murder. Photo / Getty Images
Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, member of family involved in Stanford White murder. Photo / Getty Images

As the trial continued, it was revealed that Thaw had employed a number of detectives to badger White, out of fear and jealousy that he was still having an affair with Evelyn.

White had bankrolled a body guard whom he paid US$6,000 over the course of four months out of fear for his own safety, and had planned to file charges against Thaw on the day he was shot and killed, according to a 1908 report in the Los Angeles Herald.

Through the duration of the case, Thaw was charged with first-degree murder, denied bail and confined to The Tombs, a nickname for the Manhattan Detention Complex, which still stands today.

During his time there he was granted special treatment because of his multi-millionaire status. Though he sat on "Murderers Row", he had white-tablecloth dinners catered to his cell from Delmonico's restaurant, was provided a steady stream of champagne and wine, was permitted to wear his own tailored clothes rather than a prison uniform, and slept in a brass bed.

Harry Thaw dined in style in Poughkeepsie jail shortly after he killed Stanford White. Photo / Getty Images
Harry Thaw dined in style in Poughkeepsie jail shortly after he killed Stanford White. Photo / Getty Images

The first trying of his case ended in a deadlocked jury in April 1907 - something Thaw did not take in his stride. He erupted into a fit of screams when the news was delivered.

Following a retrial the following winter, Thaw entered a plea of temporary insanity. In February 1908, the defence was successful - he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, but was ordered to spend the rest of his life in the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in New York.

His expensive and dedicate legal team, however, weren't going down without a fight.

When an attempt to have Thaw freed under habeus corpus failed, the prisoner simply walked straight out of his detention centre and fled to Ottowa, Canada in 1913. It was believed that his mother orchestrated his escape.

He was later extradited back to the United States, but was granted his much desired release in July 1915, when he was granted a retrial, deemed to no longer be insane, and freed from the asylum.

Evelyn Nesbit was 16 at the time - and had recently skyrocketed to fame and graced the covers of magazines like Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair, and Cosmopolitan. Photo / Getty Images
Evelyn Nesbit was 16 at the time - and had recently skyrocketed to fame and graced the covers of magazines like Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair, and Cosmopolitan. Photo / Getty Images

The asylum, however, did little to cure Thaw of his mental illness. Six months after his release, on Christmas Eve 1915, he was arrested again for kidnapping and whipping a nineteen-year-old schoolboy named Frederick Gump nearly to unconsciousness. Thaw led police on a wild chase to Philadelphia - and when he was finally apprehended, he tried to commit suicide by cutting his own throat. He was committed to the Kirkbride Asylum in Philadelphia until April 1924.

For Evelyn Nesbit, widely considered to be the world's first supermodel, her life only continued to spiral even after Thaw was removed from it. She had a child in 1910, whom she named Russell Thaw and claimed her murderous ex-husband was the father, a point he vehemently denied. The two were divorced in 1916, and when he died in 1947, he left her one per cent of his fortune (US$10,000 - the equivalent of US$112,000 today).

She went on to act in a series of silent films, but over time, faded from the limelight.

Farley Granger as Harry K Thaw and Joan Collins as Evelyn Nesbit in the film, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. Photo / Getty Images
Farley Granger as Harry K Thaw and Joan Collins as Evelyn Nesbit in the film, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. Photo / Getty Images

Eventually, she left New York for California, and lived a "bohemian" lifestyle throughout the World Wars. She lived with her three cats, Weirdie, Alley Kahn, and Stumpy, and began teaching ceramics classes at the Grant Beach School of Arts and Crafts.

In 1955, the Hollywood film The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing presented a highly fictionalised version about her life. She was played by Joan Collins - and was paid US$10,000 to be a consultant.

The end product, however, wasn't remotely what she had anticipated - and claimed it made it seem like she seduced Stanford White, 30 years her senior, rather than the other way around.

Despite the tumultuous, often heartbreaking path her life took because of White, she never regretted falling in love with him.

Just before she died in 1967 at the age of 82, she said: "Stanford White was the most wonderful man I ever knew."