The Tragic Death of Grace Brown
The shocking 1906 murder of a pregnant factory worker from Upstate New York by an ambitious socialite
Grace Mae Brown was the pretty daughter of farmer Frank Brown and his wife, Betsy Minerva Babcock. She was born in South Otselic, New York, on March 20, 1886 — the fifth of nine children. Grace graduated from a one-room school at age 16. She moved to the nearby town of Cortland in 1904 to live with her sister after a brief stint as a farmhand in Norwich.
Grace was a lively young lady who loved singing and dancing and attended live music shows whenever she could. She especially loved a song called “Won’t You Come Home Billy Bailey,” and started using the name Billy to sign her correspondence.
Soon after the move to Cortland, Grace found work at the Gillette Skirt Factory on Miller Street. Here, she made the acquaintance of a young, handsome socialite named Chester Ellsworth Gillette, who happened to be the owner’s nephew.
Chester was born on August 09, 1883, in Wickes, Montana. His parents were Frank, a silver miner, and Louisa Rice. When Chester was three, the family moved to Spokane, Washington. Unfortunately, the family lost everything they owned in the Great Spokane Fire of 1889.
After the tragic fire, the Gillettes became profoundly religious and joined the Salvation Army. In keeping with their religion, the family shunned worldly goods and possessions — including money. They frequently moved in the name of evangelism, making it difficult for Chester to receive a proper education.
In 1902, Chester’s wealthy uncle, Noah Horace Gillette, provided him the chance to attend Oberlin College’s Preparatory Academy in Ohio. Chester didn’t do well in school and left in 1903, so his uncle gave him a job working in his factory where he met Grace.