Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery
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Duel with the Devil is acclaimed historian Paul Collins’ remarkable true account of a stunning turn-of-the-19th century murder and the trial that ensued – a showdown in which iconic political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr joined forces to make sure justice was done. Still our nation’s longest running “cold case,” the mystery of Elma Sands finally comes to a close with this book, which delivers the first substantial break in the case in over 200 years.
In the closing days of 1799, the United States was still a young republic. Waging a fierce battle for its uncertain future were two political parties: the well-moneyed Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the populist Republicans, led by Aaron Burr. The two finest lawyers in New York, Burr and Hamilton were bitter rivals both in and out of the courtroom, and as the next election approached—with Manhattan likely to be the swing district on which the presidency would hinge—their animosity reached a crescendo. Central to their dispute was the Manhattan water supply, which Burr saw not just as an opportunity to help a city devastated by epidemics but as a chance to heal his battered finances.
But everything changed when Elma Sands, a beautiful young Quaker woman, was found dead in Burr's newly constructed Manhattan Well. The horrific crime quickly gripped the nation, and before long accusations settled on one of Elma’s suitors, handsome young carpenter Levi Weeks. As the enraged city demanded a noose be draped around the accused murderer’s neck, the only question seemed to be whether Levi would make it to trial or be lynched first.
The young man’s only hope was to hire a legal dream team. And thus it was that New York’s most bitter political rivals and greatest attorneys did the unthinkable—they teamed up.
At once an absorbing legal thriller and an expertly crafted portrait of the United States in the time of the Founding Fathers, Duel with the Devil is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.
everyone was at breakfast, of course—Croucher, living cheaply as he did, refused to pay for a home-cooked meal, and Elma hadn’t gotten up either, though she was enough of a layabout that it was hardly worth noting. When Levi got back to the boardinghouse for lunch, though, he still did not find her at the table. “Is Elma got home?” he asked as he came in. “I have not seen her,” Mrs. Ring said plainly. “I expect she is upstairs.” “She’s not in the second story,” he called back down in a puzzled
heavy thud: The cornmeal slop, darkened with a few dribbles of molasses, was a prisoner’s sustenance. Only a fortunate few had actual plates or utensils to eat it with; the rest used their fingers. Levi was arriving late enough in the day that he’d missed lunch, which was just as well. That meal was more mush and molasses; breakfast was even more molasses still, albeit with a hunk of rye bread and a draft of boiled cocoa shells—the latter being a sort of brewed warehouse sweepings. It was, one
the witnesses now needed only to gaze upon the darkened windows of the courtroom itself. Approach the stand. Three young boys came shuffling up in succession, all kept up far past their bedtime. This was like nothing anybody in the court had seen before: Colden was still calling up one witness after another, as if trying to damn Levi Weeks with the sheer weight of his neighbors’ testimony against him. But now—children? State your age to the court. “Eleven,” said one. “Thirteen,” vouched
was another question altogether. What they surely could understand, however, was the evidence that Hamilton had placed before them—and they also understood that Levi was a man whose moral character bore testimonials by local worthies. I now have a passage that I wish to read to you, Burr announced, as he drew out a copy of Matthew Hale’s Pleas of the Crown. “In some cases, presumptive evidences go far to prove a person guilty, tho’ there be no express proof of the fact to be committed by him,
room as the corpses were opened up: For example, Wharton and Stillé, Treatise on Medical Jurisprudence, 526. 55 believing that a rape could not produce a child: Farr, Elements of Medical Jurisprudence, 46. 56 pointedly disagreed with this notion: Paris and Fonblanque, Medical Jurisprudence, 1:437. 57 signs of virginity that their texts relied upon: Ibid., 1:417. 58 “A report prevailed injurious to her honor”: GNDA, 16 January 1800. 59 “A verdict of WILFUL MURDER”: NYCA, 6 January 1800.