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Books: Temptations to Kill

Linda Wolfe: The Murder of Dr. Chapman - The Legendary Trials of Lucretia Chapman and Her Lover


By Joel Kasow

NEW YORK, 5 March 2004—Is it a confession of ignorance on my part to say that I had never heard of either Lucretia Chapman or her lover, Lino Espos y Mina, before reading Linda Wolfe's reconstruction of a notable murder in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in the early 1830s. Using contemporary accounts, Ms. Wolfe says that she has not invented the dialogue, though she may occasionally add her own gloss. Until now, the last word has always fallen to Lino, whose memoir postdates any comment by Lucretia Chapman who in fact faded into oblivion, going on the stage without much success and following other careers before her death in 1843. It is clear that Ms. Wolfe's sympathies lie with Lucretia who she believes innocent, the entire blame falling on the Cuban con man who seems constitutionally unable to tell the truth.

Backtracking, Lucretia was a moderately educated woman who seemed destined to be a spinster until she attracted the attention of Dr. Chapman, known at the time for his treatment of those who stammered. Together they established a school in the Bucks County town of Andalusia. All goes well until Lino turns up on their doorstep, a weary, penniless traveler, who is taken in. It does not take long before a complicity between him and Lucretia is established. He is treated as one of the family, with Lucretia obnubilated by the expectation of the sums of money he claims to possess. From the evidence presented at each of their trials, it is clear that he purchased the arsenic that poisoned Dr. Chapman, but it nonetheless remains unclear as to who was responsible for administering it.

Ms. Wolfe tells a good story, holding our attention through the trials that acquit Lucretia but condemn Lino to death by hanging. At the same time, she is not sparing in her social commentary while providing us the context in which contemporary social attitudes were rooted.


The Murder of Dr. Chapman - The Legendary Trials of Lucretia Chapman and Her Lover, by Linda Wolfe

The Murder of Dr. Chapman
The Legendary Trials of Lucretia Chapman and Her Lover
by Linda Wolfe
Hardcover: 288 pages
HarperCollins, New York, January 2004
ISBN: 0060196238
$23.95

Joel Kasow is a senior editor and member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.com

 

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