Elma Sands

This is FREE sample
This text is free, available online and used for guidance and inspiration. Need a 100% unique paper? Order a custom essay.
  • Any subject
  • Within the deadline
  • Without paying in advance
Get custom essay

During the summer of 1799, the city of New York was infamous for yellow fever. This summer was unusually hot, and its marshlands were home to large numbers of mosquitoes. With the fear the epidemic would spread many New Yorkers left the city for the summer months until the cool winter air returned. All hoped for an early frost, there seemed to be a confounding link between the cold winter weather and the regression of yellow fever. Aaron Burr thought of a method to create running water throughout the city. He felt that the springs feeding the marshland of Lispenard’s Meadow could provide clean fresh water for the entire city. Burr helped create The Manhattan Company to build the pipelines that would provide fresh water to the entire city.

Meanwhile, Elias Ring and his wife Catharine ran a Quaker boarding house in Manhattan. Her tenants included a young carpenter named Levi Weeks, his apprentice, William Anderson, Hope Sands, and Hope’s cousin, Elma Sands. The newest tenant was Richard Croucher, a cloth merchant.

Levi worked as the lead carpenter for his architect brother, Ezra Weeks. Together, they were awarded a contract for building wooden pipelines to provide water for the city, from The Manhattan Company. They had also built some of the finest homes in the city, including the new mansion owned by the town’s most well-known resident, Alexander Hamilton, one of the country’s founding fathers.
On January 2, 1800, the body of Elma Sands was found murdered in the Manhattan Well. Levi Weeks, a carpenter who lived in the same boarding house as Elma was charged with her murder. The trial of Mr. Weeks was the first well-documented murder trial of the young United States.

During the turn of the century, standards of evidence and secured crime scenes still had not been thoroughly developed. Investigating the death of Elma Sands was the responsibility of the City Prosecutor, Cadwallader Colden. Although there were no witnesses to Sands’ death, rumors pointed directly to Levi Weeks, and the newspapers were sure they had their man. Weeks however had many powerful friends including Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Levi knew Hamilton from building and designing Hamilton’s home. Levi’s brother, Ezra Weeks was willing to forgive the debt Hamilton owed on his home in exchange for his legal services. Aaron Burr knew the Weeks’ brothers from their work for the Manhattan company. Weeks had a third attorney as well, Brockholst Livingston, a younger attorney, well known in the city and more experienced in criminal law than Hamilton and Burr.

The court recorder, William Coleman, was an expert at shorthand, and after the trial, was permitted to publish the court transcript, as a supplement to his income. His book would become the first published transcript, the fullest record of a trial in US legal history.

As the trial started, the judge had other cases on his docket and had not planned to allow for recesses or breaks of any kind. Colden’s case was entirely circumstantial, which meant a lengthy parade of witnesses, each presenting another link in a narrative chain that would lead, inevitably, to only one conclusion; that Elma Sands had been murdered and at the hand of Levi Weeks. At three o’clock in the morning of the first day of trial, Colden was still not finished, and so the court recessed. The next day grew lengthier and lengthier, as Burr, Hamilton, and Livingston tore apart the prosecutor’s case. Finally, at four in the morning of the second day of the trial, Colden was completely exhausted, along with the defense, and the jurors. Both sides were so tired they told the judge they would forego closing arguments. The jury was then released to deliberate and decide the fate of Mr. Weeks. Ten minutes later the jury returned, and their verdict was clear, “Levi Weeks was not guilty”.

It turns out that most of the evidence of Weeks’ presumed guilt came from a single source, Richard Croucher, the other boarding-house tenant. It was Croucher who had created and spread rumors about Weeks for the local papers, and Croucher whose trial testimony was proven to be a lie by Alexander Hamilton during cross-examination. Croucher, who would be convicted within a few months of the trial, of raping a thirteen-year-old servant girl in a different boarding house. Croucher had motive, opportunity, and a dangerously demented past. Croucher was certainly the killer of Elma Sands.

The rest of the book is as fascinating as the trial scenes themselves. The Burr-Hamilton duel gets a chapter all its own, with the main emphasis on Hamilton’s actions of deliberately missing his one shot, as Aaron Burr shot him dead. We also get the subsequent histories of the main actors in the tale. The Elma Sands’ case was thought at the time to be crucial to the career of Cadwallader Colden. However, losing the case doesn’t seem to hurt him at all. He became Mayor of New York and founded the city’s first scientific foundation. Brockholst Livingston eventually became a US Supreme Court Justice. Ezra Weeks built some of the finest hotels in New York and died wealthy. Burr killed Hamilton in a duel, then was tried for treason, and years later, when he was able to return to New York from foreign exile, he eked out a meager living as an early practitioner of family law. Levi Weeks became restless after the trial, moving further and further west and south. Levi finally settled in Natchez Mississippi, where he found a wife, had children and became a local architect.

I personally did not care for the book Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins. I thoroughly enjoyed the murder mystery aspect as the plot changed throughout the book. However, I feel Mr. Collins worked extremely hard to include as many factual details as possible. In doing so, I found it difficult to follow the storyline. Having to re-read paragraphs and sometimes even pages continued to make progress difficult.

On the front cover and throughout the various summaries of the book there is a sentence that I found misleading. The book is advertised as “The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery.” As the author did include information on Hamilton and Burr, I feel the book was more about the trial of Levi Weeks. Mr. Collins did provide details of Hamilton and Burr, and the duel between them after the trial. However, I did not notice as much focus on Hamilton and Burr, and how they came to be Weeks’ counsel for the trial.

One aspect about the book that I enjoyed, is that to this day the mystery remains unsolved. I enjoyed the author’s acknowledges that over the years, there has been much speculation about the murder and even provides hints to some of the other possibilities. Allowing the reader to visualize other possibilities such a Richard Croucher and his presumed rape of a little girl after the trial, or the possibility of Elias Ring due to a supposed affair he was having with Elma.

This book has provided me more intrigued about the mystery itself and I plan in the near future to read through other accounts of the murder and trial to grasp the varying points from which the book was written.


Cite this paper

Elma Sands. (2021, Feb 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/elma-sands/

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Peter is on the line!

Don't settle for a cookie-cutter essay. Receive a tailored piece that meets your specific needs and requirements.

Check it out