On the afternoon of August 30, 1895, Mary Alice Livingston Fleming ordered clam chowder and lemon meringue pie from the kitchen of
’s Colonial Hotel, where she lived with her three children. When it arrived, she wrapped the pie, poured the chowder into a pail, and asked her ten-year-old daughter Gracie to deliver the food to her mother, Evelina Bliss, who lived nearby. New York
The gesture was surprising, and suspicious. Mary Alice’s relations with her mother had been less than cordial, despite later protests to the contrary. She had borne three children out of wedlock and was pregnant with a fourth, an accomplishment that drew Mrs. Bliss’ ire. Mary Alice was also desperate for money, and Evelina was all that stood between her and a massive inheritance from her father. When Mrs. Bliss died hours after eating the chowder, Mary Alice was arrested for murder and became the darling of the
press. New York
|Henry Hale Bliss|
In addition to recounting the crime, trial, and aftermath, Livingston explores issues such as jury bias, capital punishment, women’s rights, and the precise meaning of “reasonable doubt” in court cases. I didn’t find these statistic-laden sections as compelling as the rest of the narrative, but readers seeking a broader overview of the forces that helped decide Mary Alice Livingston Fleming’s fate will find persuasive evidence that the jury’s verdict was a foregone conclusion.
Arsenic and Clam Chowder can be enjoyed by True Crime fans, social historians, or mystery buffs wanting to see life imitate art.