A pretty girl’s mysterious morphine overdose

In January 1891, Helen Potts was a brunette beauty at the Comstock School, an elite finishing school at 32 West 40th Street.

One night, the 19-year-old complained of a headache. She took a quinine pill a medical student had prescribed for her. Within hours, after waking momentarily and telling classmates she was having fantastic dreams, she was dead.

Reporters, captivated by the mysterious death of a wealthy good girl, began digging around. What they found dominated newspaper headlines for years.

Turns out that Helen and the med student, Carlyle W. Harris, had secretly wed a year earlier.

Harris must have regretted it, because he rather quickly stopped seeing Helen—who soon told him she was pregnant.

After an abortion (or “operation,” as The New York Times put it in this article), Helen enrolled at the Comstock School. The following January, her life was over.

In 1892, Harris was hauled into court. Prosecutors insisted that he put a lethal dose of morphine in Helen’s quinine pill so he could be free of her.

After a three-week sensational trial, which hinged on whether Helen’s body showed signs of an opium overdose, Harris was convicted of murder.

He was electrocuted at Sing Sing in May 1893, insistent that he was innocent.

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3 Responses to “A pretty girl’s mysterious morphine overdose”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Fascinating crime story. Here’s a picture of the site but in 1907, some years later


  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Cool building! At the time of Helen’s death, 40th Street was across from the 42nd Street reservoir, where the New York Public Library main branch is now.

    Here’s a photo of what Helen likely saw out her finishing school window:


  3. The Hatching Cat (@HatchingCatNYC) Says:

    Did you know that Carlyle was befriended by a black prison cat at the Tombs? The cat was the last friend he had while on Murderer’s Row. http://hatchingcatnyc.com/2014/10/12/black-cat-tombs-prisoners-murderers-row/

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