Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Trial of the Century!

Amelia Buck (my Great Grandmother) had a sister named Margaret Ann “Maggie” Graham. She lived in Hilton Village, Virginia with her husband, Walter Christian Graham. Maggie was co-founder of the Hilton Village Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a member of the Daughters of the Revolution, and a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy.

In September, 1931 their daughter, Jenny Kane, came to Hilton Village for a visit with her husband. Jenny was married to Dr. Elisha Kent Kane III, a professor at Tennessee University. On September 11, the family went to Grandview beach for a swim and a picnic. Tragically, Jenny drowned during the excursion under circumstances the family considered suspicious. Dr. Kane was a strong swimmer and should have been able to pull his wife to shore with ease. Rather than carrying her directly to the car, Dr. Kane left Jenny on the sand. He then walked to his car and drove it back to where Jenny lay. Jenny’s parents felt Dr. Kane intentionally wasted valuable time. Kane drove Jenny to Dixie Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Two hours after her funeral, Dr. Kane was arrested for murder. Because of his position at the university and because of his prominent northern family, the ensuing trial was followed by newspapers all along the east coast. Some even called it the “trial of the century”. Jenny’s mother and father testified for the prosecution during which they complained of Dr. Kane’s impious lifestyle:

Allegations of profanity made by relatives of Mrs. Kane caused him to leap from his chair and rush to judge Spratley’s bench and shout denials” (Daily Press, Dec. 12, 1931).

Dr. Kane was acquitted for lack of strong evidence. His reputation as a “wife killer” followed him for the rest of his life (this was how he was remembered in my family). He eventually resigned his professorship.

Just a few months later in January of 1932, Dr. Kane’s 70 year old father, surgeon Evan O'Neill Kane, performed a hernia operation on himself (see creepy photo). Time magazine records that “He chatted and joked with the nurses as he cut, sponged and sutured for 1 hr. 45 min.” This was not a unique event, however. Several years prior (in 1921), Dr. Evan Kane removed his own appendix and thus became the first surgeon in history to operate on himself.

According to Wikipedia, Dr. Kane was the son of Civil War Major General Thomas L. Kane, founder of Kane, Pennsylvania and a prominent abolitionist. Wikipedia also mentions the trial above in this article.

Following the Sources, you'll see a Google Books preview of a well researched book, Down by the Back River Light: The Sensational 1931 Murder Trial of Professor Kane. Author Ann Davis adds this touching note in the epilogue: for all who grieved her passing, the time of mourning was vandalized by the unsavory publicity…

Davis invites us further into the story by saying I would like to hear from you to know, if after reading this book, it is still you are a pain Ian that Elisha Kent Kane, III did willfully and maliciously hold his wife under water until she drowned.

- The Good Old Days in Hampton and Newport News by Parke Rouse, Jr.
- Down by the Back River Light by Ann Davis, Morgan James Publishing, Garden City, NY.
- “Country Surgeon”, Time Magazine, Monday, Jan. 18, 1932

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