The Devil's Gentleman

By Harold Schechter | Ballantine Books | $27.95 | 494 pages | 2007

You and I know about the evidence principle that other crimes are inadmissible in an accused's trial for the indicted crime. It is ensconced in Rule 404(b).

A famous case applying that principle is People v. Molineux, 61 N.E. 286 (N.Y. 1901). You may have read excerpts in a casebook during your law school days.

Now we have an excellent book recounting Roland Molineux's 1898 murders of Henry Barnet and of Harry Cornish's landlady, Katherine Adams. Cyanide of mercury was the fatal agent.

Molineux was tried and convicted and sentenced to death for murdering Katherine Adams. The New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in that state) reversed because evidence of the Barnet murder was introduced at trial. On remand Molineux was acquitted.

Was he guilty or innocent? The author divulges his opinion in a fine print endnote at page 450: "[T]he jury at Roland's first trial rendered the correct verdict."

What happened to Roland Molineux after the trial? He was executed by "syphilitic infection" on Nov. 2, 1917. He was 51 years of age.


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, Bickers, and Tillman LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, BAR/BRI Bar Review, Tennessee Judicial Conference, and UT College of Law. He is reporter to the Supreme Court Advisory Commission on Rules of Practice and Procedure.