The tale of The Cherry Hill Murder begins with Jesse Strang, of Putnam County, New York, deserting his wife and children in the belief that his wife had been unfaithful. He became a drifter in Ohio but around 1826 made his way back to NY and decided to seek a job in Albany.
Meanwhile there’s the socialite Elsie Whipple. Elise was the daughter of Abraham Lansing and Elsie Van Rensselaer and wife of John Whipple.
These two collided when Jesse took a job as a handyman at Cherry Hill, the Van Resselaers’ beautiful Gregorian mansion. He took the job under the name Joseph Orton, which I believe had something to do with the fact that he had abandoned his wife but I’m not totally sure why he did that.
By all accounts when the two met it was love at first sight. Jesse fell in love with Elsie, and Elsie in turn fell in love with Jesse.
During this time Elsie felt dominated and controlled by her husband, it is said that she tended to be a overall grumpy person who was prone to hysterics and violent shouting fits. Her affair with Jesse was an exciting escape from her marriage. The lovers kept in touch with the help of members of the household who passed letters between them. This to me, seems like a pretty bold thing to do, I guess the staff must have liked Elsie way more than they liked her husband John but I digress.
Elsie decided, as many married people in the midst of an exciting new affair have done throughout all time, that the best thing for them to do would be to kill John and run away. Jesse was a reluctant co-conspirator in all of this, probably because he had already successfully run away from a marriage once before without any bloodshed but Elsie was dead set on seeing her plan through. First, she tried to poison John’s tea with arsenic but that attempt failed.
Meanwhile, John Whipple became suspicious that something was going on with his wife (who remember was known for her violent shouting outbursts) and he started keeping a loaded gun.
Fast forward to May 1827: Elsie steals a bullet and gives it to Strang and starts insisting that Strang kill her husband. Strang climbed onto the roof of the shed one night and used his $15 rifle (purchased for his by Elsie) to shoot and kill Whipple. Strang then immediately ran towards a local store to secure an alibi for the police. He then returned to Cherry Hill and helped a doctor remove the bullet from Whipple’s body.
The plan had worked, but not perfectly.
You see, the police soon became suspicious and ruled that Jesse could have traveled the mile from Cherry Hill to the store and detained him on suspicion of the murder. Once arrested a fearful Strang confessed to the murder and blamed Elsie for conception of the plan in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence. This led to the incarceration of Elsie. Whenever they communicated in jail, Elsie reminded him that had he not confessed, they could have seen their plan through of running away to Montreal instead of being in that cold jail awaiting what would be one of the most talked about trials of the time.
Believing Elsie would be given a lighter sentence as she was a woman, and because he really just wasn’t a standup guy by any reach of the imagination, Jesse asked his lawyer, Calvin Pepper, to plant documents at Cherry Hill incriminating Elsie as the mastermind behind the plan. But Pepper refused to do this and just as Jesse had suspected, Elsie was made out to be the victim. Of course the reality of the situation was that the rifle had been bought with her money, she removed the curtain in John’s room so Jesse could shoot and she was the one who could poison John’s tea. And you might be like “oh well this was a long time ago of course they blamed the man” but actually go ahead and look up the Ken and Barbie Killers of Canada, this stuff still happens all the time.
The trial was WILDLY popular due to the social status of Elsie Whipple. The New York State House had to be used as the court house.
At Strang’s trial, the district attorney was Edward Livingston, a relative of the Van Rensselaers and Lansings’ who told Jesse to his face, “You are guilty, you must be convicted, you must die!” and Judge Duer called him a “serpent” and a “fiend”. When the judge asked the jury for a verdict, the jury deliberated for less than 15 minutes before pronouncing him guilty of murder.
Three days after Strang’s trial, Elsie Whipple stood trial for aiding and abetting the murder of her husband. In four days, Elsie was pronounced not guilty and cleared of charges. After Strang finished testifying on the stand at Elsie’s trial, he was sentenced to death by hanging.
On August 24, 1827, Jesse Strang was hanged in the last public hanging in Albany. Over 30,000 people came to watch his hanging and it was the last public hanging in Albany.
At first Elsie continued to live at Cherry Hill but then moved and died just five years later. Could she have moved to quickly because this was a very controversial trial and a lot of people still thought she was responsible? Maybe. Or maybe because it is said that the ghost of her husband still haunts the property to this day. The Cherry Hill Mansion stayed within the Van Rensselaers family for generations but in 1964 was bequeathed by Emily Rankin to the State of New York who opened it up as a museum. People often see a ghostly man walking the halls and the grounds and everyone seems agree that it is the ghost of Ghost Whipple.
To learn more about the Strang-Whipple murder and other tales of love gone wrong listen to our episode “Love Hurts! I’d Rather Get Ghosted” anywhere you can find podcasts or by clicking HERE