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Six Capsules

The Gilded Age Murder of Helen Potts

George R. Dekle Sr (author)

ISBN: 9781606353707

Publication Date: Apr 2019

Format: Paperback

Traces the 19th century murder of Helen Potts by Carlyle Harris and Harris's subsequent trial, highlighting what has been overlooked - the decisive role that the second-class status of women in Victorian Era culture played in this tragedy.

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As Ted Bundy was to the 20th century, so Carlyle Harris was to the 19th. Harris was a charismatic, handsome young medical student with an insatiable appetite. His trail of debauched women ended with Helen Potts, a beautiful young woman of wealth and privilege who was determined to keep herself pure for marriage. Unable to conquer her by other means, Harris talked her into a secret marriage under assumed names, and when threatened with exposure, he poisoned her.

The resulting trial garnered national headlines and launched the careers of two of New York's most famous prosecutors, Francis L. Wellman and William Travers Jerome. It also spurred vigorous debate about Harris's guilt or innocence, the value of circumstantial evidence, the worth of expert testimony, and the advisability of the death penalty.

Six Capsules traces Harris's crime and his subsequent trial and highlights what has been overlooked – the decisive role that the second-class status of women in Victorian Era culture played in this tragedy. The Harris case is all but forgotten today, but Six Capsules seeks to recover this important milestone in American legal history.


"A snapshot that captures the state of forensic science–and its limitations–in 1890s America. There's a lot more to unpack here–the reliability of circumstantial evidence, the impact of sensational press coverage, the second-class status that made women vulnerable to predators like Harris in the Gilded Age–and Dekle delivers."–Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine

"A secret marriage, a mother desperate to silence a burgeoning scandal, a medical student and ladies' man with a lot to lose, a headlines-dominating trial, and fierce debate over forensic test results–these are the elements of the case at the center of true-crime book Six Capsules.... The cast of characters is remarkably well drawn.... The trial reads like a legal thriller, with enough twists, turns, and reversals to keep the reader gueessing about how the increasingly circuslike proceedings will conclude. Six Capsules is a remarkably fascinating and compelling history, a true-crime study of manners, murder, science, and social attitudes that brings the era to life in gritty, absorbing detail." The Strand

Pages 240
Dimensions 229 x 152 x 51
Date Published 30 Apr 2019
Publisher The Kent State University Press
Series True Crime History
Subject/s History of the Americas   Biography & True Stories  
George R. Dekle Sr. served as a legal skills professor at the University of Florida, where he directed the Prosecution Clinic. His most recent book, Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln, won a Superior Achievement Award for Scholarship from the Illinois State Historical Society and Gold Medals for Biography and Politics from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

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