April 10, 1836: The matron in a New York City brothel discovers about 3 a.m. that somebody has killed Helen Jewett, a 22-year-old prostitute from Maine, and has set Jewett’s bed on fire, partially charring her body.

One of Jewett’s regular clients, Richard P. Robinson, later is arrested, tried and acquitted amid a storm of lurid press reports about the case, which set a template for sensationalistic treatment of future criminal cases.

The cover of a pamphlet titled “The truly remarkable life of the beautiful Helen Jewett, who was so mysteriously murdered. The strangest and most exciting case known in the police annals of crimes and mysteries in the great city of New York,” published ca. 1878 Courtesy of Cornell University Library

The case becomes a significant factor in the influence of the New York Herald, whose editor, James Gordon Bennett, proclaims Robinson innocent months before the trial begins and a mere two days after thrashing his reputation soundly in print. Bennett bases his assertion on secret information gleaned from insiders.

Other New York newspapers draw the opposite conclusion about Robinson, also claiming to have insider details. Both sides cited their duty to the public in reporting on the murder investigation.

“Yet for all their invocations of journalistic principle, for all their proclamations of civic duty, these furious editors were making up their stories as they went along,” writes ABC News documentary producer Andie Tucher in a 1994 book on the case.

Jewett, whose real name was Dorcas Doyen, was born in Temple, Maine. She worked as a servant in the Augusta home of then-Associate Justice Nathan Weston of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court before becoming a prostitute in Portland and, later, New York.

Jewett appears as a character in a few prominent works of fiction and also is the subject of several historical books about the period, including Patricia Cline Cohen’s 1998 book “The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-century New York.”

April 10, 1963: The nuclear-powered Navy attack submarine USS Thresher (SSN 593), completed in 1960 at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, collapses and sinks during deep-diving tests about 200 miles off the Massachusetts coast. The catastrophe kills all 129 of the crew members and shipyard workers who are aboard, making it the world’s worst submarine accident in terms of loss of lives.

SNN 593 Thresher, photographed on July 24, 1961. Collections of Naval History and Heritage Command

The Thresher’s hull collapses in a fraction of a second at a depth of about 2,400 feet. Its remnants are found later on the seabed at a depth of about 8,000 feet.

The disaster prompts changes in submarine design and quality control of submarines.

“We have not forgotten the lessons learned. It’s a much safer submarine force today,” then-Vice Adm. Bruce DeMars, the Navy’s chief submarine officer, says in 1988.

The Thresher continues to be controversial, however.

After the accident, a Naval Court of Inquiry finds that major flooding probably doomed the vessel, but other experts challenge that conclusion. Retired Navy Capt. Jim Bryant served on three Thresher-class submarines, commanding one of them. In his recent analysis of the sinking, he cites discrepancies between the court’s findings and evidence available at the time.

Bryant claims the court finding disregards detailed acoustical data gathered by the Navy’s underwater Sound Surveillance System that shows flooding was not occurring in the vessel.

Much of the testimony from the Navy’s Thresher inquiry remains withheld from the public. In 2019, 56 years after the sinking, Bryant sues the Navy in an effort to get the Thresher documents released.

April 10, 2012: An improvised explosive device detonates in Afghanistan, critically wounding U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, of the 82nd Airborne Division, four days before he turns 25.

After amputation of parts of both his arms and both legs, and long treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Mills and his wife, Kelsey, establish the Travis Mills Foundation.

The foundation opens a recreational center for wounded veterans in 2017 at the Maine Chance Lodge, the former Elizabeth Arden estate, in the Kennebec County town of Rome.

Mills also releases a best-selling memoir, “Tough As They Come,” on Oct. 27, 2015.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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