On a blazing hot summer night in 1906 on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden, Harry Thaw, heir to a $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 feverish 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.
Evelyn Nesbit, the 'it-girl' of the early 1900s, was sexually assaulted by architect and socialite Stanford White when she was 16-years-old
Evelyn's husband, multi-millionaire Harry Thaw (left) shot dead Stanford White (right) by assassinating him on the roof of Madison Square Garden in 1906
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.
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 $10 a day in the early 20th century - the equivalent of about $275 today - she and her mother and younger brother lived together in a single room in the back of a building on 22nd street and struggled to make ends meet.
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.
Thaw was arrested after the murder, and when asked why he did it, said White deserved it because he 'ruined' Evelyn
As the chorus sang the final notes of Mam'zelle Champagne, Thaw approached White and shot him three times in the head. An artist's rendering of the crime was used in court
Thaw was held in the Manhattan Detention Center, better known as 'The Tombs', through the duration of the trial where he had meals catered by Delmonico's, slept in a brass bed, and was allowed wine and champagne
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 street 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.'
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.
White was introduced to Evelyn by another chorus girl during her time on Broadway - he invited her to his West 24th Street playhouse where he gave her champagne that made her lose consciousness, then assaulted her in 1901
Evelyn 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
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 Street 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 awoke, she was naked in his bed and no longer a virgin.
The last thing Evelyn said she remembered from the evening was changing into a yellow kimono in White's 'Mirror Room' - which was 10x10 feet of walled and ceiling mirrors
When she awoke, she was naked in his bed and realized she was 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.
'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 rumored to have aborted.
Evelyn's affair with White (who was married with a son) lasted for years. When it ceased, he still remained a strong figure in her life as a beneficiary and father figure to her younger brother
Eventually, Evelyn began to meet other men who vied for her attention and hand in marriage - including Harry Thaw
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.
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 peaked Evelyn's interests by delivering her roses encased in $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