BOOK REVIEW: 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

By Paul Collins | Crown Publishers | $26 | 289 pages | 2013

In 1800 Levi Weeks was tried at New York City Hall on Wall Street for murdering Elma Sands three days before Christmas 1799. The prosecutor’s theory was that Weeks strangled her, then dumped her in a well. This excellent book takes the reader through background and trial and acquittal. It was the first American trial with a verbatim transcript, thanks to a court clerk adept at shorthand.

Weeks was well represented by Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and Brockholst Livingston (later on U.S. Supreme Court). Cadwallader Colden did a good job for the People, calling eighteen witnesses to create a chain of circumstantial evidence.

Author Collins gives his educated guess about the real killer. I believe he is correct.

He also describes the 2010 discovery of the well. If you visit Gotham, go to Manhattan Bistro in Greenwich Village. The well is in the basement.

I recommend this book. Buy it, read it, and learn.


Donald F. Paine DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP.