Little Bits of History

Murder, She Wrote

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 24, 2011

Jean Harris

February 24, 1981: Jean Harris is convicted of murder. Harris was the headmistress of The Madeira School for girls in McLean, Virginia. The murder victim, Dr. Herman Tarnower, was a cardiologist and author of The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet. They had been lovers. Harris was a divorcée at the time and Tarnower was a lifelong bachelor and continued to see other women even as he dated Harris. Tarnower’s infidelities were distressing to Harris and on the night of March 10, 1980 she drove from Virginia to his house in New York carrying a handgun.

Harris began dating Tarnower in 1965, about two years after her divorce. Tarnower showered her with gifts and took her on wonderful trips. He also had several affairs over the fourteen years of their relationship. He did not try to keep his affairs secret. Eventually, he hired a new, young secretary-receptionist – Lynn Tryforos. He began a casual affair with her, as well. This affair lasted for several years.

Harris still claims she was going to commit suicide after talking in person to the doctor. However, when she got to his house, she found Tryforos’ lingerie scattered throughout Tarnower’s bedroom. Harris and the doctor argued and she then pulled the gun and shot him four times at point blank range. She was charged with second degree murder because in New York, first degree murder was only used for law enforcement officers killed while on duty. Harris pled not guilty and was released on $40,000 bond raised by her siblings.

She hired attorney Joel Aurnou for her defense. The case went to trial on November 21, 1980 and lasted for fourteen weeks, becoming one of the longest trials in the state’s history. The press sensationalized the story and the case became known across the country. She was found guilty, making her ineligible to receive the $220,000 left to her by Tornower’s will. She was sentenced to 15 years to life. She served eleven years and was released and pardoned by Governor Mario Cuomo on December 29, 1992. While in prison she wrote three books. She maintains to this day that she did not mean to kill Tornower and the gun discharged as they were fighting over the control of it.

“Jesus, Jean, you’re crazy! Get out of here!” – Herman Tornower, the night he died

“We are grateful to Jean Harris for her splendid assistance in the research and writing of this book…” – from the acknowledgements page of The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet

“We wish, especially, to thank Lynne Tryforos…” – two paragraphs later in the acknowledgements page of The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet

“Loving an old bachelor is always a no-win situation, and you come to terms with that early on, or you go away.” – Jean Harris

Also on this day:
Smile – In 1938, DuPont created a nylon-bristle toothbrush.
Opera – In 1607, the first opera premiered.


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